District 9 sets you in the role of one of the many factions within the beloved movie universe vying for power and a foothold in the district. Each faction has its own goals, but the path to power is all the same. Each faction needs to gain an edge by gathering the invaluable alien tech that is scattered around the district. This sci-fi scavenger hunt is bound to put you at odds with each other and the prawn, the local inhabitants of the district. This means you are going to have to gear up on the fly as you rush to collect as much tech as you can before others come trying to do the same.
Grab Your Cat Food…It’s Gonna be a Wild Ride.
District 9 is a pickup and delivery game played over the course of three “days” in the District 9 universe. Each “day” consists of a series of rounds with players each taking actions to move, claim areas, reveal or pick up tech tiles, upgrade their faction or engage enemy hostiles. While each faction starts off on a similar footing, you can modify them to great degrees thanks to many different stats that can be upgraded and an asymmetric deck of upgrades and ally cards that give each faction their own “feel” and allow you to tailor your team to your needs and playstyle.
Along with these asymmetric factions, players work to build the game map together, much like Twilight Imperium. Players take turns placing various sized hex pieces together to build the map so even here the replayability factor is a huge boon to the experience. From the very start, the player has a great deal of say in what footing they have in District 9.
Rules of Engagement
What the Heck is Alien Tech?
So what is all the hubbub about this tech you need? These rare and exotic items are fragments of the alien ship that hovers over the district. The local prawn are often protecting these items so you may have to get a bit “forceful” in your search to find these items….greater good and whatnot (or just not.) Tech is doubly beneficial in the sense that it helps build your influence pool, as well as counting for victory points if you retain these tiles until the end of the game.
Influence is the currency you use to purchase cards to upgrade your faction as well as to issue orders to your units on the board. You can have a maximum of six influence per turn so spend it wisely! Tech comes in three rarities: white, grey and orange. Each carries increased victory points but also adds more prawn to the board when you search for the tech which makes it harder to retrieve. Tech is one of the three ways in which you will calculate end game scoring so be sure to try to snag the best bits for yourself!
Around and a Round we go!
As mentioned earlier, District 9 is played in rounds over the course of three “days,” so let’s discuss what those rounds look and feel like. On a players turn in any given round there are a few simple steps to work through. First, a player will gain influence (max 6) from their vehicle, tech tiles, and any allies and equipment in play on their dashboard. That influence is what will fuel the rest of your turn. Once you have your influence, you are ready to get treasure hunting! You can use your influence to issue orders to your troops on the board and purchase upgrades or new units, called allys, for your faction.
Since you need to get moving around the District it is important to issue your troop’s orders to effectively navigate the ever-changing situation. It is imperative to collect as much tech as you can without getting into unnecessary fights with the locals that could cost you the lives of your allies or even worse….the very tech you are looking to collect.
To that end, there are several orders you can issue your troops. The first is the understandably necessary move order. This order gets your units from A to B so you can set up for future orders. Next, you can have your troops evict prawn from there homes as you search for tech in that area of the district. In-game terms, this means you are going to be flipping a face down tech tile on your zone and adding prawn equal to the shown number to represent your troops kicking them out into the streets. This clearly is not a fun thing for the locals so this action will raise the unrest in the district which moves you closer to a riot taking place (that’s not something you want to participate in.) What is worse, the prawn may engage you in combat directly from this action depending on what a revealed card event indicates. While evict is the main way to gain tech quickly, it can put you in a pickle if you are not properly prepared for the unrest you are stirring up.
A kinder alternative to evict is to claim a face-up tech tile on your zone. While you still add more prawn, there is no chance for conflict and things are much more peaceful. An important note to make as well at this time is that to evict or claim, you need to control the zone you are in. To do this you need to have MORE strength that that of any other player or prawn in that zone. It’s important to avoid the big fish and plan carefully to maximize your turns.
Not feeling like being kind? Don’t have control of the zone and angry about it? Well then the engage action is for you! With this action, you can have units in one zone attack another player or the prawn in that zone. This will enter you into combat. Attackers will calculate their power by the strength stat while defenders will look to their defence stat. Each player or AI will flip a card from a corresponding deck and add the shown influence value to their total. The faction with the highest number wins that conflict. Conflicts can result in reducing the number of prawn in an area which allows tech grabs to happen as well as can result in players being forced to remove allys or even remove collected tech from their vehicle. Along with all of these negative issues, engaging anyone will always raise the unrest in the District cause ain’t nobody got time for that.
Lastly, you can bank tech from your vehicle to your home base, provided there is an empty spot available. Tech placed in your base is safe from being lost so it is advisable to bank your high-value pieces of tech here ASAP!
You and What Army?!
There is a lot to do in the District so you might need a bit of help. Thankfully you can use your influence on your turn to hire allys to join you in your questionably immoral tech grab. Allys are skilled fighters who bring unique powers to the battlefield and also get one free order each per turn. These units boost your influence gain and can help expand your presence around the District.
Need to up your arsenal instead? You can purchase upgrades from your hand as well for influence. These items modify your vehicle and power up your units to give you the edge you might need to come out on top.
Don’t feel like using equipment or want a powerful advantage fast? Since your upgrade cards are double-sided, you can also choose, once per turn, to play the other side an upgrade card as an action card by paying the associated cost (usually placing prawn on the board) and gaining the benefit listed. These actions can be real game-changers and offer you some great options that opponents may not be expecting.
After you have completed your actions, you will draw and resolve a district event cards that affect the District or even bring some familiar faces from the movie into play and then draw back up to your hand size of five cards.
Day in and Day Out
Once all players have taken a turn the round is complete and the players will resolve a “Wikus phase” where players will build a literal bag of action cards that move the Wikus miniature around the board and shape how he interacts with the District. Two of the drafted cards will be played so there is a bit of luck as to what happens but this aspect of the round is always very enjoyable. There is no Wikus round in the third day of play because things get, well, mechtacular.
The first two days have specific end conditions that need to be met for those days to end, but I do not want to spoil your fun to discover how those work! I will say that players who aid in setting up these end of day scenarios are gifted with District bonuses. These are powerful modifiers to your faction that also contribute victory points during end of game scoring. You can only ever have one district bonus at a time so it is important to find the best one that matches your needs at a given time.
Once those conditions are met, players will set the board for the next day by following some simple guidelines unique to the day, and progress along. It is worth noting that, while days one and two are pretty similar, day three is very different. The third day involves you battling Wikus who is controlling a giant mech. You do note, however, that as you blast off pieces of the mech, you find valuable tech you can collect. These “mech fragments” vary in value greatly but can be quite valuable. The third day turns into a hectic free for all as players work to destroy the mech and collect its goodies while also trying to damage opponents to keep them from scoring really high-value items. After the third day is complete, players will total their tech, mech and district boost victory points to see who is king of burning rubble hill you just created. While there may be absolute chaos in the streets and many prawn are now homeless thanks to your efforts, at least you can sleep well knowing you were the most successful of the greedy home invaders.
Come to the Dark Side…we Have Cat Food!
Ethical considerations about fair treatment to aliens aside, how does District 9 stand up, and stand out in the pickup and deliver genre? District 9 feels tense and you often are gaguing the risk of running after “one more tech” or returning home to drop of your bounty before someone comes and makes you pay for your hubris. Player interaction is a very present threat and can honestly get nasty if you are ill-prepared. This is a huge selling point to me as District 9 capitalized on a feature that I feel is hollow in the genre with games such as Wasteland Express Delivery Service.
Where other games have a thin veneer of interaction, in District 9, interaction is a huge factor of gameplay with veteran players. You do not want to let players just walk home with a high-value prize and I love the risk-reward element this. District 9 also has a superb distinction of really leaning into the asymmetry of itself. Factions feel unique and have varied playstyles which adds to the value and replyabilty of the game. This coupled with the varied actions that Wikus and other NPCs take really helps the District feel alive and offer a neat PVP, PVE feel to the experience. Since combat is solved with the flip of a card, there is much less room for luck than dice chuckers so many strategists will find that a huge selling point as well. Also, District 9 has a nice “evolving” feel as the “days” of play really affect the game so that by the third round you are not playing the same game you were on day one. This helps keep things fresh.
I will say that there are a few decks of cards at play in the game and your factions double-sided cards can be a bit overwhelming to new players who are not deep board game enthusiasts. I would place this game as a bit over mid-weight which, while not being a negative, does place it in the deep end for lighter, or newer gamers.
Overall, District 9 has beautiful, and quality experience that evokes a lot of cool emotions if you love the movie that inspired the game. The unique perspective relative to the film is a really enjoyable ride that adds a lot of flavor. With that said, District 9 is not just a fan pandering wash. It has beautiful bones and core mechanics that a player with no knowledge of the movie could still play, enjoy and find to be a quality offering to their collection. That is a difficult feat to pull off so I would like to tip my hat to Weta Workshop on finding a very good balance of fan flavor and easter eggs while not skimping on quality design and attention to mechanics. If you are looking for a bit more of a “take that” pick up and deliver title, District 9 is just the ticket!
Genre: Pick up and Deliver
Pros: Asemtry in factions and board set up, Card based combat, Impactful player interaction.
Cons: A touch on the heavy side for teaching purposes, Card based means lots of text reading, has a touch of “take that” involved.
Rating: 7/10 A touch long, but a quality game that I am looking forward to adding to my personal collection.