A quick bit of number crunching can tell you which units have the best combat effectiveness for your rubium, but every unit has a special ability and they all have a role where they shine. While the three cheapest units are great for mining and dying, it is a rare game that can be won without purchasing at least a few of the higher end, heavy hitting units. While these larger units may be two or three times more expensive than their smaller cousins, they are worth their weight in rubium in the right situation. These guys will do most of your heavy duty offense, just be sure to keep them protected by having a cheaper unit or two around in order to siphon off any successful enemy attacks.
Rock Striders – The Cavalry
As the only unit in the game that can consistently move two spaces (Lava Leapers rarely are able to take advantage of their lava leap), Rock Striders are best thought of as fast, mobile, lightweight cavalry. They move two spaces as long as they move through OR into a Rock Plains, and since almost 1/3 of the board is comprised of Rock Plains, Striders are easily the fastest unit in the game. Most units only move one space each turn making advance planning necessary. With a few Rock Striders around, your opportunities for attack are much more flexible. Six of the eighteen exploration tiles reward a player with a new Rock Strider, so they’ll be sure to see some action in every game played. They are strong enough to fill the role of a “heavy unit” when fighting groups of weaker miners, but still cheap enough to lose in a fight against of one of your opponents more expensive units.
The Strider’s only ability is its movement. Do not underestimate its power. A good general always tries to set the maximum possible force against the minimum resistance. Striders’ fast movement means they can move to new battles faster than any other unit, spending fewer turns wasting its time just trying to get into combat range. Their mobility is even an asset on defense. A threat of Strider counter-attack can sometimes be enough to prevent an enemy incursion. With their two space movement, a group of Striders can threaten to counter-attack quite a large area. As Striders are the cheapest unit that can climb the monolith, they can be reduced to the role of cannon fodder when fighting for control of that Energize card generating location.
One good tactic is to make a rush to the Monolith with a Strider during your first turn. Since none of the six inner tiles are Rock Plains, the first player to purchase a Strider at the start of their turn will usually be able to capture the Monolith unopposed on their second turn. That is two free Energize cards for simply charging ahead. Once on top of the monolith, the first few attacks are typically other Striders making any initial challenges a toss-up. This can result in another round of Monolith ownership, since a Strider on Strider attack will only give your opponent the monolith about 1/4 of the time. A monolith rush is best performed by the 2nd or 3rd player in a game, since the first player can only afford to buy two units if one of them is a Strider. Buying and exploring with three units us typically a better option in this case.
Finally, in the late game stage, consider buying Striders over other units. Since everything else can only move one space at a time, other units bought on the last or second to last turn won’t even make it to the front before the game ends. A Strider might have just enough mobility to get where it needs to go before the game ends.
Lava Leaper – The Warrior Assassin
At a cost of 8 Rubium, Lava Leapers fall squarely in the expensive unit camp. One might think their time to shine is in battles in Magma Pools. While their terrain-specific abilities are nice, the most important Lava Leaper ability is to eliminate an enemy unit of your choice on a roll of 5+. Paired with a choice Energize card or two, Lava Leapers can become excellent ninjas of death, eliminating your opponent’s high-cost units without having to first wade through their less expensive minions.
Leapers are best used as the leader of an attack group comprised of one or more high cost units supported by a few low cost units. A Leaper and two Humans have the same cost as a Rubium Dragon, but will typically win a head to head fight, even if the Dragon has a Human or two for support. While the Magma Pool ability of Leapers is rarely used, the threat of its use is much more frequent. Sitting on a pool makes attacking look that much less enticing, and the additional mobility given by a lava-leap makes an excellent threat in an area that is usually front-line combat. If your opponent likes to use armies of just one or two high-cost units protected by masses of low-cost Humans, a purchase of a Leaper or two is just what the doctor ordered.
Rubium Dragon – The Artillery
Even the name is associated with money. Named after the main currency in the game, Rubium Dragons are the most expensive units you can buy. This makes them a double-edged sword. They are the best fighters you can buy but they are expensive; losing one can be a significant setback. Clearly, they should not attack alone or be left undefended. Where the Rubium Dragon shines the most is in the use of its plasma attack.
A small force of a Rubium Dragon and support units can typically take a hex, but the danger lies in losing the Dragon to a counter-attack. By moving adjacent to a target hex, a Dragon can breathe plasma into it, eliminating a unit about half the time without fearing any counter attack. This can also be combined with an attack on that hex. As the attacker, choose to perform the plasma attack so as to soften up enemy groups. This works particularly well when your enemy has high value units with little or no support. A dragon placed on the Monolith itself is particularly useful as there are often contentious battles fought in the innermost circle of hexagons. The dragon can help maintain control of the Monolith while simultaneously taking potshots at any nearby enemy units. Once on the Monolith, a Dragon’s ability to swoop down onto any square from on high nice, but since the Monolith’s Energize cards are so useful, a Dragon is often best left protecting it. However, the threat of a dragon swooping into a key square can hinder you opponents’ plans. For players willing to take a little risk, a behind the lines attack with a Monolith-propelled Dragon can be used to complete a needed secret mission card and end the game. As with Striders, the added range supplied by a Dragon’s plasma breath attack can help a Dragon get into battle 1 turn sooner than other units. It also increases the range available for a counter-attack, giving opponents just one more threat to worry about in multiple hexes. In a defensive game, a Dragon’s breath is one of the best weapons in the game, as your opponent will lose forces while you go unscathed. Keep in mind that Nexus Ops is not won or lost on territory, but on successful combats. Using a Dragon in a purely defensive mode is a fine strategy, but shouldn’t be the entirety of one.
The most expensive units are not the most cost effective in terms of combat efficiency, but since they attack sooner than less expensive units, they are more effective at eliminating your opponents’ units. Don’t leave them alone, as a solo high-end unit is a juicy target for a small group of inexpensive miners to attack. While Fungoids, Crystallines, and Rock Striders will tend to be purchased according to your surrounding terrain, Lava Leapers and Rubium Dragons are best purchased as a response to your opponents’ moves. Rubium Dragons are great on the defense, while Lava Leapers can help eat through your opponent’s high value units. Finally, Rock Striders are one of the most flexible units and so could be a valuable purchase at almost any time. There is no one optimal unit in Nexus Ops, so keep a balanced perspective on all their advantages and disadvantages the next time you go shopping for war.
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About the Author
A lifelong lover of games, Dr. Matt J. Carlson is the author of GamerDad Unplugged, a regular column about board games at www.GamerDad.com.