Game Name: Leaping Lemmings
Publisher: GMT Games
Designers: Rick Young and John D. Poniske
Artist: Leona Preston
Genre: Lightweight strategy game of lemming survival
Players: Two to six players
Time: 30 to 90 minutes
MSRP: No longer in print
Leaping Lemmings has pretty cute art and a silly, oddly morbid theme where you are attempting to get your family of genetically engineered lemmings to leap to their death in the most spectacular way. Keep in mind these are still lemmings and leaping to their doom is what they do! One of the great things about the game is you can get your wife, kids and non-gaming pals introduced to basic concepts like hex to hex movement, zones of control and counter stacking limits. It makes a good gateway to begin to bring folks into a much wider world of gaming.
Learning the rules is rather simple; you start at one end of the map and then move your little genetically altered rodents to the other end to hopefully leap to a spectacular death. This movement is based on a shared movement card drawn each round. Yet it’s not as easy as you might think to send these little critters off the cliff because there are two eagles who constantly circle overhead ready to munch on your tasty little furballs. Add to this the fact that everyone gets an opportunity to control these death dealing talons from on high and you’ll see that this is a bit of a twisted free for all. For a “family game”, this is brutal stuff.
Yet GMT has wrapped it all up with so much personality, the game comes across as light hearted fun even with all the animal carnage; each lemming is individually named and the various lemming clan types just make you want to hurl them off a cliff yourself.
The game does have its short comings, no doubt generally the result of conscious design decisions made in the interest of maintaining a level of accessibility and streamlined play. For example it might be nice to have a little more variation between the clans or more choices of terrain, but that would change the overall vibe quite a bit and I’m not convinced it would change much in the way of game play overall. The replay value comes not so much from there being so many interesting strategies to try out, though there are a lot more than you might think, but rather from the joy to be found sticking it to your best pals again and again. I suppose you could see people overthinking their moves at times but mostly things just click along; the game plays along at a very fast clip. I think this kind of pacing is so important in a game with this level of screw your neighbor; before you have time to get too mad you have ample opportunities for revenge.
When it comes to the components, GMT has really stepped up their production game and Leaping Lemmings is no exception. Both the physical and artistic elements are top notch all the way. I think GMT is really setting the bar as far as overall production quality in hobby games these days.
I’ve played the game with a bunch of different people and I think it’s one of those rare designs that goes over well with a huge variety of play styles and interests. If you want to get super serious it’s got enough meat to it to keep you interested; if you’re playing just for laughs, it’s got you covered. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s really a great time to play.