Like a lot of people in this bubble of hobbyism for gaming, I also play a lot of board games. Often when playing games I think about the potential transfer of mechanics to tabletop gaming and vice versa. A couple of years ago at a board game expo at the Birmingham NEC I picked up Colt Express, a cowboy themed train heist game where the objective was to be last person standing with the cash as multiple people raid the train at once. The key mechanic at play was the concept of locking in your actions for a round before knowing what your opponents were doing. Then every action would play out in turn at once. This concept fascinates me, the idea of not only being a strategist but also someone who can read and predict opponents. I know one of my friends is quite aggressive in games so I could assume he would go for the attack. I know my wife is relatively cautious and would move at the first sign of trouble and I knew another friend was simply an agent of chaos. Reading their faces, watching where their eyes were looking at the make-shift train, I knew I could play them as I needed like a Machiavellian god. Then I’d lose.
Mini-Mech Mayhem brings this concept to VR with some of the damn cutest mechs since Astro-Bot on PSVR. The game pits you against 3 others players in a first to score limit game. Your objective is to have your mech avatar stand on a square within a large grid at the end of a turn order. This sounds quite simple but you must lock in your turns actions before anything happens. Shooting your weapon and moving are your key abilities and each requires a certain amount of action points limiting your options per turn. Once everyone has locked in their moves the order of play is dictated by the complexity of the actions set down. Someone moving 1 square on the 9 by 9 grid will get priority over someone sprinting nearly end to end.
On the grid is the coin floating, taunting everyone into making mistakes. You also have ot be warey of the red squares that indicate a death trap. If one player’s move action forces them into another they will push that receiving mech with them potentially causing their death. Finally you’re tempted by blue crystals that power up your specials. You’re given the option each round to swap out your powers and for something else from the potential pile. Wind’s that move everyone one random square, an ability stealing ability and a air strike all fall within the potentials, some are awesome, some are a little too random in a game that is already predicated to random.
Your end goal is to reach 3 points, this can be achieved by getting points for the coin, or alternatively being a sick swine and blowing enemy mechs to kingdom come. Although walking is in one of the 4 cardinal directions shooting can be done in 8 meaning a random shot across the diagonal of the board towards the coin has the chance of causing some fun chaos. Mech’s have 3 hearts indicating health and once you’re out you’re done for the turn. In theory this is fine but I found the punishment for being directed into a death pit to be slightly unbalanced vs being shot accidentally.
The game is clearly meant to be played online against humans and I found games pretty much every time I tried and to the credit of the PSVR community, much like with Firewall, I found everyone to be talkative and friendly. There was ‘banter’ as the uncouth would say but it was all pleasant and enjoyable. The big difference between this and the Colt Express board game is that obviously it’s hard to read the player. Much like with online poker you have to just learn the opponents through play and hope you are guessing their actions appropriately.
The game looks great in VR and the audio design is suitable chirpy for the aesthetic. Your own avatar and your mech can be dolled up and coloured in as you want, obviously this meant I made my avatar a bright pink bunny of death because ‘pink is punk’. The one thing I am still struggling to justify however is was this essential to be in VR? The move controllers are the way to go with controlling, you can use dualshock if you see fit, but there isn’t really any reason to look around. The board is in front of you, there’s no platforms or obstacles to look around, it’s just there and a flat screen experience, whilst less immersive, would have suited the game just fine. With online PSVR games often losing its online community a lot quicker than flat screen games I do fear for how long this is viable. The single player is absolutely fine, and the AI is fair in its playstyle, but it still feels like you need human foibles to truly stand a chance or as much fun. I love PSVR, it makes me always so happy to go in, but I wonder if this would have been fine as an optional extra to the game, play in VR or flat just to keep the community alive.
Mini-Mech Mayhem is essentially chaos on a board. The cute mechs are a selling point for me in a game filled with potential strategy and skill. It’s easy to sweep it away as pure randomness, something where luck is the only thing your really need but I’d say whilst it plays a part there is something to having a few games in a row against the same opponents and working out their play styles. I can’t read faces or watch eyes in VR but people are still people and as such they are predicatable. Mini-Mech Mayhem may not be pure mayhem as the name suggests but with the right human opponents it really does bring some wonderful mechanics and concepts to the table.