Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2023Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Bez ShahriariLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Akha HulzebosAge: 10+
Publisher: Surprised Stare GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5
Plastic (by weight): <1%Air (by volume): 60%

It was either us or them. We were the only two teams on a planet far, far away, a planet that was crawling with bug-eyed monsters or BEMs as we had started to call them. My navigator moved around the directional grid to guide the vehicle across the planet’s surface and allow the gunner to take aim at one of the weird inhabitants of this rock in space. We had to be careful though. We had to target the right BEMs to come out victorious in this fight to the end. It was all about who was going to be the Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! by Bez Shahriari from Surprised Stare Games.

Thrice Removed

As final as the intro sounds, this game isn’t really a fight to the ultimate end. In fact, it’s much more of a really interesting 2-player abstract strategy game of trying to influence what is happening at the end of a chain of commands. Sounds unusual, I know, and it is. It should be no surprise that this game is a bit different to other games you may have previously played, given it was designed by the wonderful Bez Shahriari. Her games are always interesting and so different from the usual fare that our hobby has on offer – and always in a good way.

So while your ultimate goal is to remove the three copies of the monster that your opponent has chosen, achieving that is rather tricky. You have no immediate control over which BEM gets targeted. That’s because there are three areas in this game. At one end is a circle of 12 monster tiles, consisting of three tiles per four different monster types. At the other end is a navigation grid that offers the directional input of the planet itself that is in the middle.

On your turn, you can move the so-called navigator a number of spaces clockwise around the navigation grid and thereby choose a direction: up, down, left and right, as well as all the diagonals in between. The problem is, because the navigator can only move so many spaces on the grid’s clockface, you can’t choose any direction you want. You can only change direction gradually, which by itself already makes your life quite difficult.

the navigation grid with the navigator on the left, the 4x4 planet tile grid with the vehicle in the middle and part of the Circle of Doom and gunner on the right
the navigation grid with the navigator on the left, the 4×4 planet tile grid with the vehicle in the middle and part of the Circle of Doom and gunner on the right

Pull the Lever to spin the Disc to Drop the Hammer

Once a direction has been determined, the middle section activates. There is a four-by-four grid of tiles representing the planet. Each tile shows one of the four different types of monsters. There is also a vehicle on the planet that moves one space in the direction set by the navigator. If it reaches one of the grid’s edges, it simply bounces back.

Next, we move to the last stage of this three-part puzzle: the Circle of Doom. It represents our targeting system. Here is another marker, the gunner, that moves a certain number of spaces clockwise around the circle based on the tile the vehicle is on. If the monster that the gunner lands on matches the monster that the vehicle is on, the monster tile is removed and the Circle of Doom gets smaller.

Next, you check if the last of the three copies of the monster were removed. If so, the players look at the monster they chose at the beginning of the game. If it matches, then they lose and the other player immediately wins.

So the goal is simple enough, but getting there is tricky. It’s the three-stage process of a player’s turn that makes Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! such an interesting and unusual game. It would be easier if each player had their own navigator, vehicle and gunner, but no, both players share them. So as your opponent pushes the vehicle in one direction, you might despair because you wanted to go in the opposite direction. However, on your next turn, you will find it hard to get the vehicle to move where you need it to. So you have to rethink and try and find another option.

Action Conversion

I suppose a lot of games give players actions to convert one thing into another and maybe a third to eventually get what they need. Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! is a bit like doing resource conversion, but with actions. It’s almost like some sort of clever machine that gives you one controller, which activates other parts that hopefully give you the result you were hoping for. As both players share the same machine, but have different targets, they interfere with each other, making the manipulation of this machine several times harder.

Like in other games, in Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! you have to try and predict what the other player is planning on doing on their turn and then decide what you will do on your turn now and what you might be able to do on your next turn. If you can predict your opponent’s actions correctly, you should be able to at least stop them from doing what they want or even get to do what you need for yourself.

It’s a really delicious challenge that tickles parts of my brain that other games certainly don’t. At the same time, the game feels very familiar. It certainly is very easy to learn, even if reading the rulebook can make you feel a bit confused. I strongly recommend you set it all up and play a couple of turns without expecting to get the outcome you want. Just follow the steps in the rulebook and make random choices, just so you get a feel for how it all works. It will click very quickly and you can put the rulebook back in the box, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to play it without any further help.

a close-up of the vehicle and the 4x4 planet tile grid from Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom!
the illustrations in Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! are wonderful

Bug-Eyed Monsters

So yes, Last Bug Standing in the Circle of Doom! is a great 2-player abstract strategy game that’ll keep you coming back for more. The illustrations are really fun and there are additional variations that come with the game that change things in interesting ways. So no, you won’t get bored with it any time soon. Get yourself some BEMs and send your navigator, driver and gunner on a mission to squash a few of them.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Sound Effects: bbc.co.uk – © copyright 2023 BBC

Music I Use: Bensound.com/free-music-for-videos
License code: WOJQZT9EFDQIRLUC

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review: