Titan Board Game Review (Gorgonstar)

5

"Why are we playing this game? You hate this game."

"I don't hate this game, why do you think I hate this game?"

"Because last time we played it, you said it reminded you of all the ways in which modern games are superior."

"Oh. But that's not a bad thing."

"How is that not a bad thing!?"

Released in 1980 by Gorgonstar, Titan is an old school 6 hour board game that, despite being a "6 hour board game," is actually infinite. It is a classic game in virtually every sense of the word, from inscrutable design choices to a long, meandering gameplay. But Titan still lives -- in fact, Titan is even on the iPad, having been unleashed upon the digital world in 2011. 

Titan Game Details

Players: 2 to 6

Game Time: 6 Hours

Age: 13+

Genre: Strategy / Area Control

How is Titan Played?

In Titan, every player controls stacks of monsters. You begin with a "titan" and an "angel." Monsters have different defensive ratings and offensive ratings, in addition to features such as being "ranged." The game map has all manner of terrain, from tundra to hills, and players need to progress (via dice rolling) through the map to build their army.

Armies are built through recruitment. A lion can recruit another lion (if you are in the plains) or 2 lions can recruit, like, a centaur. I may be a little rough on this part, because there's absolutely no rhyme or reason as to how the progression goes: you just need to memorize it. You may be able to turn three trolls into a behemoth in the jungle or two trolls into an ogre in the forest, or something like that, and you're just going to have to look at a map. There's a flow chart on the back of the manual.

Titan raises an interesting question. When you consider how good a game is, must you consider it in a vacuum? Or do you need to consider where it was during its time? Titan is absolutely a product of its time, with all the implications attached -- and it may not be a good game for this time. But at some point, it was probably a good game. It's really impossible to say, since it's lost to the sands of 1980.

A Game of Roughness

Titan is an excellent study for game developers, because there's so much to it that makes playing it an absolute chore. Some of these aren't even really products of the time, they're just curious design choices. Yet for all the frustration, it's probably these little, frustrating issues that give the game its charm. 

  • Your stacks are hidden. You have no idea which units you have. You can end up with 10 stacks throughout the course of the game, each with 7 units. You can only check these by physically going through the stacks during your turn. Late in the game, a single turn can take ten minutes.
  • Your game board is random and fickle. The game board is designed so that from each terrain area you can only go in specific directions. These form little whirlpools at the edges and outlets into the center of the mountain, which then force you out. You roll and you need to take the full movement of that roll (or not move at all). You have very little control over where your stacks end up.
  • Your combat is insanely over complex. When you engage in combat, you pull out an entirely different board. You place your characters on terrain and then you take turns attacking and counterattacking until everything is dead. Combat itself can take half an hour to resolve, and you'll be fighting a lot
  • Your game is never, ever, ever going to end. You either end when someone wins 1,000 points or when all the titans are dead. In a 3 player game, we had 50 points after three hours.

Titan is one of those games that people enjoy playing because they still bear the battle scars from learning it. You need to play Titan a good three times to begin understanding and strategizing well, and that is eighteen hours of game time. Once you have muddled your way through it, it becomes something of a badge of honor, and you then want to spread Titan to others like some form of memetic virus. 

I learned this, now you have to learn this.

In the 1980s, we had very little to do. This was the time period in which Infocom could put out a game that required you to arbitrarily feed a ham sandwich to a small dog in Act 1 so you don't irrevocably die in Act 3. And that means something, because learning to play a game was actually a challenge in and of itelf. We didn't mind when games were unintuitive, because the game itself was a puzzle.

Today, the goal of the game's framework is often to get in the player's way as little as possible. As players, we want a game that we can pick up and immediately roll with, figuring out higher level strategies rather than the minutiae. It may not be better, but it's different, in a way that older games can now feel alienating.

Titan Board Game Review
  • PRO: Once you learn the game, there is a strange whimsy to it, along with is old school feel.
  • CON: You have to spend two hours on this game to even know what you're doing, and by then you haven't even gotten into combat.