March of the Ants: Minions of the Meadow Game Expansion Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 1 to 5 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Herd your aphids and defend your nest from new enemies

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

English nature writer, Richard Jefferies, wrote “It would seem that the ant works its way tentatively, and, observing where it fails, tries another place and succeeds.” Ants are industrious and tenacious, never losing site of their goals. With this expansion, players are given additional opportunities and pathways to explore, but also new dangers to avoid. Nothing comes easy in the world of ants.

March of the Ants: Minions of the Meadow, designed by Tim Eisner, Ryan Swisher, and to be published by Weird City Games, will reportedly be comprised of 24 unique cards, 1 Trapdoor Spider meeple, 1 Black Centipede meeple, 10 Major Worker meeples, Predator cards, 4 Aphid Starting tiles, 5 Major Worker Nest mat extensions, 2 Quick Reference sheets, and 24 Aphid tokens. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the component quality. The new meeples are planned to be made of wood and the new cards are unique to the expansion.

Note: This is a review of a game expansion for March of the Ants. Read our review of the base game to learn how the game is played.

What’s New in the Meadow

If I were to sum up the expansion in a single sentence it would be: “March of the Ants on steroids”. The expansion builds off all the tactical and strategic game play in the base game and introduces new elements that can further a player’s plans and thwart their foes. A summary of the most important game elements the expansion introduces are summarized here.

Aphids

From an ant’s perspective, aphids are like little cows. They are herded and milked for their sweet honeydew secretion. New Aphid tiles are included with the expansion that are shuffled in with the rest of the tiles during game set up. When they are revealed during exploration, Aphid tokens are placed on the tile. Aphid tokens can also be placed through the effects of cards.

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Once the aphids are out, they can be herded by the players. If a player’s ant in located in the same tile as an Aphid token, the aphid is permanently attached to that Ant token. That is to say, the aphid follows the ant wherever the ant goes. The aphid will remain with the player’s ant until such time the player decides to leave it (in which case, it remains on the tile) or the aphid is destroyed (which means it was eaten). Aphids are automatically drawn to an ant and will follow along without question. Luckily for the player, aphids are fast and will not hinder ant movement.

After herding the aphids, the player can farm them during the harvest actions completed towards the end of their turn. Aphids provide bonus resources. The number and type of resources depend on which tile the ant and its aphids are on and how many Aphid tokens are present. The number of ants on the tile will also determine how many resources are provide. 1 Aphid token will not provide anything, but 4 Aphids tokens will provide up to 3 Colony points for a single player or 1 new card and 1 Colony point for 2 or more players sharing a tile.

Aphids are frisky little minxes and will breed like rabbits. If a tile contains one or more Aphid tokens, romance and miracles will occur. One new Aphid token is placed on the tile’s collection site that does not already contain an Aphid token. If there are no free collection sites, the Aphid’s will not reproduce.

As fun as it sounds to be an aphid, there is a dark side to their existence. Aphids are cute, cuddly, and unfortunately, exceedingly tasty. Like I said, they are like cows and when was the last time anyone said a burger tasted bad? That’s right. No one. Ever. A player can devour an Aphid token they currently control and receive 1 card for their traitorous efforts.

Major Workers

Ants have a social order that is tantamount to a rigid caste system. Every ant plays a role. At the top is the Queen who commands and ensures the nest grows. Next are the Soldiers who live to fight and defend the nest. Then there are the Workers who toil all day to provide for the nest. A new caste is introduces in the expansion that upsets the order of things. The Major Worker (2 per player) is a hybrid that is somewhere between the Worker and the Soldier. Their abilities depend a great deal on the evolution of the player’s nest. The Major Worker’s abilities are summarized here, but a number of them are only available if the nest has evolved beyond its original design.

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  • Rally: Increase the overall strength of numbers on contested tiles.
  • Push: Move another ant owned by a player to an adjacent tile that occupies the same tile as a Major Worker.
  • Scout: Reveal an additional tile when exploring, allowing the player to uncover new territory at a much faster rate.
  • Populate: Increase the nest’s numbers by populating each tile occupied by a Major Worker with a larvae.

Predators

In the base game, the players had to contend with their opponents (who they could make deals with) and the centipedes (who only wanted to eat the players’ ants). This made the Meadow and the system of tunnels into a war zone with brief breaks of calm before the violent storms of conflict. In the expansion, the aphids have drawn the attention of new predators who want in on some of that sweet, sweet, aphid honeydew.

Other than the usual enemies, namely the centipedes and overly aggressive opponents, the Trapdoor and Black Centipede make an appearance. In almost all cases, the Trapdoor Spider and the Black Centipede act and battle like the normal centipedes and resolve combat accordingly. However, each new predator has several tricks up their sleeve.

marchofantsminions_pred

The Trapdoor Spider can be found at all the collection sites, waiting for its prey. Ants unlucky enough to stumble on such a tile are trapped and can no longer be used by their owning player to pay for cards. Combat will result in either the ants winning (giving the player 2 Colony points) or the Trapdoor Spider feasting and then moving to a new hunting location.

The Black Centipede is big and bad, but worst of all, it can rally the other centipedes, making them stronger. The Black Centipede itself is also a deadly enemy, being both strong and ferocious. Even if the player wins in combat, the Black Centipede will take down half of the player’s ants. If the Black Centipede is victorious, it eats as many ants as it likes, equal to its strength.

Parasites

The Meadow is inhabited by more dangerous things than spiders and centipedes. Parasites threaten the health of the player’s nest, interfering with the colony goals. Parasite cards are played to an opponent’s cards. Specifically, to Evolution cards and Goal cards. There the Parasite card will remain until it’s removed. When a new Goal or Evolution card is played, it can replace and trump the Parasite card. Until then, the player will have to learn how to work around the effects of the parasite that have invaded their nest.

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New Ant Tactics

The expansion introduces new cards and components to move on the tiles, mainly focused on pushing personal agendas and hijack opponent’s ambitions. Tactic cards are included in the game that specifically provide the player a possible tactical advantage during combat. I say “possible”, because the outcome of the battle will determine the Tactic card results.

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Tactic cards are played during combat and placed face-down to represent the player’s Ferocity. Tactics will influence the following:

  • Events: Event tactics will provide a one time effect that is immediately resolved.
  • Evolution: After winning the battle, the player can immediately evolve their nest.
  • Colony Goals: After winning the battle, the player can immediately play the tactic into their Colony Goal area.

Tactic cards are useful against opponents and the many dangers found in and around the Meadow. The game is already tactical and strategic, with multiple layers of depth and game play. These cards add one more layer to consider and exploit.

To learn more about March of the Ants: Minions of the Meadow, visit the publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The value of an expansion is largely subjective, as you might have guessed, but most people agree that an expansion is successful if it sparks life into the base game. If the expansion makes game play more interesting and provides new opportunities, it’s a winner. If such is the case, March of the Ants: Minions of the Meadow has succeeded. It builds upon the base, improves the overall game play, and gives the players more to do and to think about.

What I like most is that the expansion does not make the game feel heavier or play longer. It makes the game feel deeper, and in some cases, more dangerous. Ranging afar for resources was always necessary in the game, but now there is even more danger to be found. But the rewards are greater to. Herding aphids is surprisingly entertaining.

For those familiar with the base game, I believe they will find March of the Ants: Minions of the Meadow to feel like a natural addition to the game play. I doubt very much that anyone who plays with it will want to remove it. It fits snugly in between the cracks in the base game, filling in some areas and expanding others. For those not familiar with the base game, playing with the expansion at the same time as learning will not make the game any more complicated. There is certainly more to do, but the new actions are optional. Farm the hell out of those aphids or don’t. The aphids are happy either way.

What the expansion does not do is strengthen any of the base game’s 4x game play. That is, the players still have the same decisions to make when it comes to exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating. At most, the exploiting portion of the game is the most improved with the addition of aphids. All other aspects of the game benefit from the expansion, but are not propelled forward to dizzying new heights of play.

Which is not a bad thing. When you introduce an expansion, you don’t want to shake things up too much. All of our players enjoyed March of the Ants and all of our players enjoyed the game just as much if not more with the expansion. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the expansion can be slipped into play easily and learned within a few minutes. The players had to work very little to learn how to use the new components, which improved their overall game playing experience.

And on that note, there were a few rumbles of disapproval. A number of the Gamer Geeks found the expansion to be “lazy”, which is to say, it just piggy backed on the existing rules, added a few new tiles, changed a few words, and called it an “expansion”. A few of the Parent Geeks noted this, too, suggesting that the expansion introduced a lot of already common elements, but with a twist. The Child Geeks just had fun playing it. All of our groups approved the expansion, finding it to be a great addition (if not necessarily an overly needed one), meaning that any sense of negativity towards the expansion was pretty much moot.

As for me, I liked the expansion and I would never play without. March of the Ants was a solid game that I found to be complete. It was only after being introduced to the expansion did I realize that the base game had a few wrinkles. The expansion smoothed those out and introduced wrinkles of its own. Nothing to stop me from enjoying the game, however. Some bumps on the road are noticeable, but do nothing to worsen the ride. It’s the potholes you have to watch out for and the game with the expansion has none to speak of.

If you are a fan of March of the Ants, this game expansion is not necessarily a “must have”, but it’s one of those expansions that improves the game and the overall experience. It’s like a really great throw pillow on an already fantastic couch. BAM! Awesome! That couch and pillow are magic. Do try the expansion. I bet you a tall cold glass of aphid honeydew that you will enjoy it.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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