Dawn Rise of the Occulites board game review

At its heart “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” is a miniatures skirmish game, though it is a very different beast to the usual style of miniatures skirmish titles. The Occulites are various – weird – races who find it hard to get along, similar in many ways to humans in that respect. The game plays out through various scenarios where you’ll see these tribes going up against each other for differing reasons.

What makes Occulites differ from all of those other miniature skirmish games on the market? Well it’s scenario based (for the most part) and thus fairly story driven. Sure I know there are plenty of those on the market too, but “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” just feels different. The gameplay doesn’t only involve moving your Occulite tribes around the board, but also utilising cards in the best way possible to ensure your own victory.

Dawn Rise of the Occulites board game review by Gameapalooza Australian tabletop game news and reviewsDawn: Rise of the Occulites – Just look at all that stuff!

Setup & Gameplay
Gameplay setup includes choosing a tribe and setting up the ‘Natural Selection Deck’. There’s this whole Darwinian strand running through things (minus the blatant misogyny), as you see your occulite tribe mature and how the different species fare when warring with one another. It is essentially ‘survival of the fittest’ (which Darwin never actually said, so there’s your fun fact of the day).

The main board is a giant hex board (and it is a board, not a mat). This is altered with the use of terrain tiles, all of which fit seamlessly on top of the board (still hex based). In some ways the overall look of of the board immediately took me back to the early eighties and playing games like “OGRE: G.E.V.”, so if you’re familiar with hex movement titles, the board will immediately feel like home to you.

At the start of the game, each player gets a tribe and takes the corresponding card outlining everything they need to know about the creatures they’re using, along with character boards and tokens. The character boards all feature various stats with dials so you can keep track of what’s happening. The cards are designed in such a way that what’s happening is easy to see, which comes in handy when your eyesight isn’t as sharp as it used to be! The Natural Selection Deck (action card deck) is also set up as per the scenario being played. Iconography is used across the centre of all cards (see image below) and values are clearly denoted with numbers.

The rulebook is a chunky beast, but there’s a lot within its pages, not only with game setup and general rules, but also scenarios for gameplay. The whole thing is really well put together (it even utilises a table of contents), though probably not for the faint of heart, still, don’t be put off, as with most modern board games, the rulebook can seem daunting, until the rules click. There’s also a bunch of stuff in there non related to ‘rules’.

As always we’re not going to go through every rule here, this is a review, not a players guide, what we will say is everything is set out well enough and it’s all of a high quality.

Dawn: Rise of the Occulites board game from Darwin Games Australia - A lot of content in a huge box!The box insert is well thought out, with room for everything … and there’s a lot!

Gameplay is turn based and played over a number of rounds. Players must use their Natural Selection Deck cards to try and out do one another (players start with 7 cards each as specified in the rules). At its most basic, you play a card, activate your tribe members, the other player(s) do the same, it’s all about card activation and using them to best effect.

We played a few of the scenarios on offer and we enjoyed it for what it was, but it only connected with half those playing (that is to say two people loved it, two people were more ‘meh’). It’s not there’s anything wrong with “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” per se, because it is a really well made and clearly well thought out game, but it just didn’t connect with everyone in that “we MUST play another game” type way that something like say “Fireteam Zero” did (to name a completely unrelated, but recent scenario based miniatures game).

As far as quality goes there is no denying the effort that has gone into not only the “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” base game, but also the expansion packs. Obviously we’re reviewing the painted versions, but we imagine even unpainted, the miniatures themselves hold enough detail to be pretty impressive (and also good minis to paint should you wish you). The terrain tiles are sturdy and well made, as is the board itself, which is highly impressive despite its mammoth size. Player boards are super sturdy and pre-riveted (none of that annoying clipping plastic dials that some titles do). Nice card stock, regular well made dice, overall a really great build, so kudos to Darwin Games and Eagle Gryphon for that.

The quirky art style probably isn’t going to be for everyone, it’s strange. We had a few people who saw the playthrough’s comment, usually firstly with “what is it?”, swiftly followed by things like “it’s so weird” or that the minis were strange. It could be said that those comments aren’t necessarily a negative thing, but there was certainly a negative intonation to a couple of them. Of course discounting a game purely on the artwork or sculpts themselves is silly, all that’s going to do is make you miss out on what could be a pretty neat game and this is a pretty neat game.

So here’s the rub, is it the best skirmish game you’re ever going to play? No, their are hundreds of games that use similar play styles and some of them do it better. Having said that “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” manages to inject a few really nice concepts into proceedings and if you happen to be lucky enough to have semi deep pockets you should try and check it out. We say semi deep pockets because the best place to purchase “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” is from Darwin Games themselves. It will set you back a cool $300 for the painted base game and 3 painted expansions. Granted, not awful when you break it down to $150 for the base game and $50 per expansion when they’re all well made and painted, but we have to take this into account, because despite how good the experience, that is a big chunk of change for your average gamer. The base game plus all three expansions unpainted are $200AUD + shipping. When buying from overseas, the painted base set and three expansions are $275USD from Coolstuff and is currently available for $217USD ($301AUD at time of writing) on sale, with the unpainted set being $140USD ($195AUD at time of writing).

Dawn: Rise of the Occulites board game review by Gameapalooza AustraliaDawn: Rise of the Occulites characters – Pre-riveted people!

Gameapalooza House Rules

Players 2-4
Ages: 10+
Setup Time: A few minutes
Play Time: 60 minutes

Game Build Quality
As mentioned earlier in this review the build quality on “”Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” is great, a massive sturdy box houses everything neatly. There’s even the inclusion of a plastic insert for storing all those figures. All the components are really nice quality, really nothing to complain about at all with regards to the overall quality of the game.

Overall “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites” is a big beautiful thing. There’s no denying the sheer effort designer Ben Boersma has put into it, it’s highly impressive stuff. The miniatures are awesome, the board is huge (seriously), the quality overall is great. Sure the art style isn’t going to be for everyone (as we found via passerby commentary), but if you get the chance to give it a go do so. Is it worth a purchase? We wish we could say yes, but even with how beautiful the quality is it certainly isn’t cheap, so you’d probably need to arrange a group buy to warrant jumping in (unless you’re minted). Certainly one to check out if you can and given this is an Aussie project, we urge you to do so wherever possible.

[author] [authorimage timthumb=’off’]/content/images/2016/02/gameapalooza-micro-review-icon-sm.gif[/authorimage] [authorinfo]Micro Review – If you’re looking for a different kind of miniature skirmish game, be sure and check out Dawn: Rise of the Occulites, it’s a well made, beautiful looking thing. It may not be for everyone, because if defies convention, but we think that’s kind of cool. Check it out if you can.
info] [/author]