Sector 219? I Hardly Know Her 219!
I was a Kickstarter backer for Darwin Kastle’s The Battle for Sector 219, published by Your Move Games. I’ve previously played Kastle’s The Battle for Hill 218, which is the direct predecessor to this game. They play quite similarly, but with distinct flavors. 219 feels like an updated version of 218.
219 is a two-player, sci-fi card game in which players battle to capture each other’s bases. It comes with a tuckbox containing two identical 26-card army decks and a single city card. Army cards include infantry, drop pods, and the usual other goodies, including devastating airstrikes. Players’ bases are empty spaces on opposite ends of the city card. Games should take about 10-15 minutes, though some can end unexpectedly quickly.
The goal of the game is to get one of your units into the enemy base, and make sure it is supplied. A supplied unit is one able to trace an unbroken line through adjacent, supplied units back to its own base. As different units trace the supply lines in certain directions, there’s a very puzzle-y feel to 219. It’s definitely a game of card placement, not combat maneuvering.
Here’s how a typical game might look at the end:
During turns, players place units in an imaginary grid to destroy enemies, support their own troops, and help maintain supply back to their own bases. Most units can only be placed where they would be in supply, and units are never moved after they hit the table. Units draw supply in different directions, as indicated on their cards.
Similarly, units attack immediately on entering play, but never again. They can only support other units’ attacks in subsequent turns. As most units are unable to destroy enemies on their own, coordinating fire between your forces is crucial, and the meat of the game. As with supplying, units only attack and support in certain directions.
The first few games of 219 can leave some people with the blah feeling of “I play some cards, you kill them, you play some cards, I kill them, repeat until the deck runs out.” Every turn seems like it completely undoes the previous player’s turn, and the game never progresses.
Eventually, you’ll hit a game where a player makes a big mistake, and lets the opponent waltz in for an easy victory. This is where players hit a crossroads: is this game random and pointless, or does this mean there’s some strategy involved?
It’s not until you’ve played a bunch that you really feel as if you can put together a plan, and start actively beating your opponents, instead of happening to win. Your supply lines are harder to break, you’ve figured out how to keep your units alive. The enemy can’t just undo your turns anymore, because you’ve learned how to build a solid infrastructure.
That’s when the game becomes interesting, and you can feel the tension as you and your opponent try to eke out the advantage, knowing one mistake could end the game. The margin of error is razor thin, and you don’t often get a chance to make a second misstep.
For a system that’s simple in practice, the rules are tough to grasp, especially since the rulebook that came in my copy was horribly misprinted. It takes a few plays to fully comprehend the basic concepts, and even then some of the trickier units can be misplayed. It’s easiest to be taught by an experienced player, but diligent gamers can fumble through and make it work. I had learned to play Hill 218 on the old iOS app, which was a great help. Keeping track of the differences in units is the biggest stumbling block while learning.
There’s definitely a learning curve to consider, and you have to want to put in the effort to get good at the game. If you do, you end up with a quick and portable head-to-head challenge. It also means it can be hard to get quality opponents. It seems to be a casual game, but requires some brainpower and drive to enjoy.
It’s much more tactical than strategic, but experienced players (should) understand the importance of overlapping fire support patterns and layering their supply lines. You might want to handicap a veteran, maybe by not using airstrikes against rookies, or the experienced player will crush them.
I wasn’t enamored with Hill 218, but the new units in Sector 219 fix the qualms I had with the earlier game. The older units, especially the tanks and artillery, were too powerful on their own, undermining the need for planning. The new units are a little weaker, and rely on coordination rather than timely draws. They really play into the focus of the game better: positioning and coordination.
While 218 was a World War II theme with period photos, 219 has slick custom artwork for both armies, and pops off the table. I have not played Steve Jackson Games’ Ogre 218, which is a new take on the system in that existing universe. I assume it’s full of crunchy goodness.
219 isn’t as deep, strategic, or thematically engrossing as other 2-player duel-type games. Units in Summoner Wars march up and down the table, for example, and LCGs have an insane amount of card options. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but 219 finds fighting to make a name for itself in a huge group of competitors.
The Battle for Sector 219 doesn’t leave my game shelf as often as I’d hoped. I enjoy it when it does, and always want to play multiple rounds. It’s a crowded field, and hard to stand out from.
With its short playing length and semi-sudden death, the game lends itself to a lot of “Crap, I almost had you! How about best of 3?” moments…
“Best of 5?”