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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Caution: May contain wargame like substance
"The scientist who can genetically engineer and clone a group of lemmings that will most consistently win a race that culminates with the lemmings hurling themselves over a cliff, in violation of natural law but in keeping with the urban myth, will win the bet." - Introduction to the rules.
How can you beat that for an introduction? Leaping Lemmings is a race game where you are trying to get as many of your 10 lemmings over the cliff while scoring as many style points as possible. This hilarious premise is helped along by two hungry eagles, conniving players, special action cards and the all important feed pellets.
The game is for 2-6 players and takes about 10-15 minutes per player.
The game comes in a standard GMT sized box, but what a box! It's one of the sturdiest boxes they've put out, reminiscent of the recent deluxe edition of Twilight Struggle.
Hats off to GMT for the beautiful linen finish mounted board, as well as the immensely sturdy cards for the movement, clan and special action decks.
The counters are very cute. They're nice thick and sturdy, as good as you'll find in any Euro game. As an added bonus, each lemming counter has a different name depending which side is face up. This allows you to "customize" your team each game.
Finally, there are two custom eagle dice, one in red for Ruby and one in blue for Stephen Jr. Eagles are your friend! As long as they're not eating your lemmings of course.
The game is played on a race track that's 15 hexes long and about 5 hexes wide and ending in a cliff edge where your lemmings will leap off making "woohoo!" noises. We have a house rule that you need to make a gleeful noise when your lemmings leap.
The map is split into several areas. The first two columns of hexes are "safe", the next group of hexes has six red eagle "zones" (A-F) which mark Ruby's territory, and the final part of the map has six blue eagle "zones" (A-F) for Stephen Jr.'s hunting grounds. Because they're such good friends, they share a nice column in the middle also known as the dreaded Line of Bones. The centre of each zone has a conveniently safe sanctuary which isn't part of any of the zones.
There are six lemming clans. Each scientist selects the clan of their choice (I.Q., Biker, Soldier, Hippie, Ritz or Viking) and takes the clan card and the 10 lemmings belonging to that clan. The 10 lemmings are placed in the start area.
Each scientist is dealt 2-4 special action cards depending on the number of clans participating in the race. Special actions are discussed below.
The two eagles start in their respective zone A, and await the lemming buffet. The eagle counters have two sides - hunting (wings) and eating (holding a knife and fork - the eagles are genetically engineered too!).
Finally, the 16 feed pellet spaces are seeded with pellet counters, which have either a 1 or 2 printed on them, or the word "favor". The numbers are victory points you'll collect at the end of the game, while the favors can be cashed in during your turn for various things.
Four player set up. The clans are good to go!
There is a 33 card movement deck, with cards numbered from 2 to 5. One of the cards has the words "Game Over" on it. The latter is shuffled into the bottom six cards of the movement deck, so nobody knows how soon the game will end. It could be as soon as 26 cards, or as late as the full 32.
There are also two eagle dice.
Each die has two 1's, two 2's, one 3 and one "hover". If the value is a number, then the scientist moves that eagle the number of zones indicated either clockwise or counterclockwise - their choice! If the result is hover, then the eagle stays where they are.
The rules are nice and easy, and the game flows as follows. First there's the eagle phase.
1. the scientist currently in possession of the eagle dice rolls and resolves the eagles.
2. the scientist then resolves any feasting and scattering for each eagle.
3. the scientist resolves any hover results.
4. the top card of the movement deck is revealed.
Then we get into the lemming phase. Beginning with the one holding the eagle dice each scientist will
1. exchange favor pellets if they wish
2. play one special action card if they wish
3. move one (and only one) eligible lemming from their clan the number indicated on the movement card
As can be seen from the rules, the flow of play is relatively simple, but the real fun begins once lemmings get past the safe 2 hex zone by the start line and get into eagle territory. Lemmings must always move forward, although they're allowed to move one hex laterally during their turn. Moving into a clear hex costs 1 and into a bush costs 2 movement points. You can have up to 5 lemmings in a clear hex, and 1-3 in a bush (depending on the number of players). You can't move into or through a hex that's full. When you move into a hex that already has a lemming, then you put yours on top. If your lemming is covered by another lemming, you can't move! If you have no lemmings that can move, you can claw your way to the top of one of the piles you're stuck in.
Then there are those all important aforementioned feed pellets. Pellets have either a number (1, 2) or the word "favor" printed on them. You can only get a pellet by starting in the same hex when it's your turn to move, and you need to be on top of the lemming stack (assuming you're not alone in the hex). The numbered pellets are exchanged for VP at the end of the game.
Favor pellets on the other hand are exchanged in game. One favor pellet allows you to move one additional space than the movement card indicates (up to a maximum of 5), two lets you move one of your previously scored lemmings one point forward on the dive point track, and three favor pellets lets you buy an additional special action card. Pellets are tempting, but they're in open hexes, so you risk being eaten or scattered by an eagle.
The eagles add a lot of fun and tension to the game, and there's nothing more hilarious than rolling an eagle die and being forced to eat your own lemming! Eagles prohibit movement into their zone, so when it's your turn to move the eagle it gives you an opportunity to block or harass your opponents and clear the way for your lemmings to move forward, earn pellets, and possibly leap off the cliff.
Every turn someone is the eagle player and decides how to move them, and odds are the eagle will move; there's only a 1 in 6 of the faces has a hover results leaving the eagle where it is. The rest of the time the eagles will move 1, 2, or 3 zones. Eagles on their eating side use up one point from the die to flip back onto their hunting side. If there are lemmings in a clear hex when the eagle arrives, one of them will get eaten. If there's a stack of lemmings, then the top one is the victim for the eagle chow pile. Uneaten lemmings, including ones hiding in the brush, are then scattered, in any order the current eagle player desires, thus giving the eagle player the opportunity to re-order any stack and also move lemmings off pellets.
There are special action cards in the game which will help you. You only have a limited selection, so timing them is the key. Maybe you have the "Mine! All Mine" card and this is the turn for you to stay on as the eagle. Maybe this is your chance to get to the top of the lemming pile you're stuck in. You also have you clan card which can be used once per game to allow you to move 5 instead of whatever the current movement card reads.
Then there's the uncertainty of the movement deck. Somewhere in the bottom seven cards is the Game Over card, so you're never quite certain how long the game will last. Lemmings earn style points (victory points) for leaping off the cliff. They earn 1VP for each point of movement remaining to them once they get to the cliff edge and are placed on the appropriate dive point track. If your lemming is scattered off the cliff edge, they only score 1 point.
So there are the fundamental tensions in the game. The rest is a matter of trying to get your lemmings from the start zone to the cliff and get them to dive for the most points possible. You can put your lemming on top of the pile to pin others in place, but it makes you more vulnerable to being eaten. You can hide in brush to avoid being eaten, but you can still be scattered into the open leaving you exposed for the next eagle player; hopefully it's you.
The game lasts until the Game Over card is turned up. At that point, all VP's from pellets and leftover special action cards are added to the current points from cliff dives and the high score is the winner. Ties are broken by having the highest scoring lemming(s) on the cliff diving track.
Everyone I have played this game with has loved Leaping Lemmings, and that includes the hard core wargamers. There's something here to appeal to everyone. The analytical gamer can plot strategy for getting the most out of their lemmings. The casual gamer can just enjoy using the eagles to chow down on other people's lemmings.
There's a lot to like about this game. It's light. It's funny. Most important, it's a lot of fun.
Get it. You won't regret it.
Great review, thank you. I've heard nothing but good things about this game. Mine's in the post and can't wait to bring it to the table!
Nicolai Broen Thorning
I had to cancel my copy as a misunderstanding led my latest big shipment of games from the US to depart without it... now my wife has imposed a ban on more games... perhaps she can be persuaded now...
Great review! Just got mine yesterday and i´m eager to play it.
Life is too short not to live it up a little!
Great review! Thanks for posting it! We have three games under our belts and everyone has REALLY enjoyed it so far!
I held off on pre-ordering for a LONG time since it's such an oddball release for GMT. I'm really glad I picked one up because it's a BLAST!
Get it. You won't regret it. I hope you're right. Just placed my order yesterday.
Thanks for the great review!
I first read about this game from this review a few days ago and ended up ordering it today.
All the little chicks with crimson lips, go...
Hey, get your stinking cursor off my face! I got nukes, you know.
Played it once and it's a hoot. I'll probably buy it...