Men of Iron aka 'Die Eisernen Männer'

Lionel Games, £12.95
Designed by Paul Jefferies
with Mike Clifford
2-4 Players, about 45 minutes
Reviewed by Dave Farquhar

Men of Iron is the latest release from Lionel Games, and is a two to four player game of the triathlon. Unlike Lionel's previous offerings, this is a game rather than a sports replay, and should appeal to anyone who enjoys fast playing races. Components include a map, deck of cards, plastic pawns, boats and cars, stamina counters and two average dice (faces showing 2,3,3,4,4,5).

The players' athletes take part in a competition comprising three events; swimming, cycling and cross country. These immediately follow each other, players having to drag themselves from the sea and leap onto their bicycles, with no time even to dry off. It's a tough event, and you could end up with seriously chapped skin.

Prior to the race, players roll for the athletes' various abilities, which range from zero to two in each event. This brings in a nice element of role playing, with snorts of derision as you find Rendor to be totally devoid of athletic ability. The athletic abilities are neatly balanced by the stamina rules. Each competitor starts with ten stamina points; for each level zero five stamina are gained, but five lost for level two skill. In order to prevent any one athlete from being too outstanding, a maximum of one 'level two' ability is allowed for each. Once the competitors have been prepared, the race can begin. A typical line up might be:

Athlete        Swim Cycle Run  Stamina
Rendor         0    0     0    25
Flash Gordon   1    1     2     5
Tarzan         2    1     1     5
Albert Smith   1    1     1    10

Each player is dealt five cards, with no more being receivable until all have been used. The card is split into three sections, showing a pair of numbers for each event. The race leader plays a card, and reads off the appropriate number, adding to it the athlete's skill in the event. Additional movement may be gained by use of stamina in 'forcing'. In order to use the higher value bracketed number a competitor announces an extra effort, and rolls a die, paying the resulting number in stamina tokens. The athlete then moves the bracketed number plus any intrinsic ability. Other players then each play a card and move in race order.

As an example, the end of the swimming stage is approaching. Tarzan (swimming ability two) knowing himself to be the best swimmer wishes to finish this event first. He finds the others are still with him, but with a burst of effort he could finish this turn, allowing him a head start at the cycling. Tarzan decides to use some of his valuable stamina. He therefore plays a 3(6) card, which would normally move him three spaces, plus two for his ability. He rolls the die, which comes up 5, pays this in stamina tokens, and moves eight spaces; six for the card plus two ability. He drags himself from the water, squelches across to his bike, and looks back at the others still struggling in the water. He is ahead, but at what cost? Tarzan is knackered (initial stamina 5, die roll 5 = stamina remaining 0).

Although all three events use the same system, they each feel different. The following roughly portrays the flow of the game. The players dive into the sea, swim out around a buoy, and return to the shore. While doing this they also manoeuvre photographers' boats in an attempt to block their rivals. On reaching dry land, bicycles are mounted, and the players move more quickly, but over a longer distance. Once over the bridge, the athletes reach a long stamina sapping hill. However, once at the top it's time to grab a Mars bar and a drink (replacement stamina) while free-wheeling down the other side. All this time traffic is slowing up the cyclists' progress. Once off the bikes it's onto the gruelling cross-country. Rough ground, tight bends and a narrow course hold down the speed and make overtaking difficult. Any reserves of stamina are now at a premium, and the sight of two feeding stations (a die of stamina regained) is welcome. First to stagger over the line is the winner.

Physically the game is a bit mixed. The map is a disappointment, with unpleasant colours, no visible hill, and some confusion on the cross-country bend markings. The cards are flimsy, but attractive and perform their function well. The plastic components are fine, with neat cars and boats. The map does not really detract from the enjoyment of the game, but it is important for players to clarify terrain before playing for the first time.

The game appears very well balanced. No matter how far behind one is before the final run in, usually all players are in contention at the end. There is a fair degree of excitement, and the pace alters atmospherically as the different stages are negotiated. The three events fit together well. I am not sure whether the blocking boats are worth the bother, as they usually have little effect, making their movement seem a chore (could have a 'forget the bothersome blocking boats' variant here). Conversely movement of the cars in the cycling stage adds to the tactical play. The final run in has the feel of the leader desperately struggling to stay ahead, with the others jostling for a way past. Overall then a very good effort, likely to be enjoyed by fans of Metric Mile or Six Day Race.

Dave Farquhar

On to the review of Elevation or back to the review of Chamelequin.

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