Tag Archives: space

Survive: Space Attack! – A Written Review

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Julian Courtland-Smith’s classic Survive: Escape from Atlantis! was an enormous mass market success over two decades ago. It’s a vicious family game of fleeing from a sinking island via lifeboats as you take turns controlling the monsters and devouring your next of kin.  The game manages to be confrontational without ever feeling mean or unfair, and it has a strong unique identity that separates itself from other games with wide appeal.  Stronghold Games perhaps flagship title has been the utterly fantastic 30th anniversary edition of the game, featuring beautiful artwork and lovely bits.  Lovely bits is a term I need to use more often, perhaps in a British accent.

Geoff Engelstein and family, best known for the exciting Space Cadets series, have continued their electric connection with Stronghold by getting their hands on Courtland-Smith’s aged baby and massaging out some of the wrinkles. They’ve taken a venerated classic and provided just the right level of development to produce some new tricks without altering the original’s DNA or smooth feel.  The amount of care and reverence displayed is enormous and you can tell everyone involved in this project just clicked and forged ahead in unison.

As an overall experience this is very similar to Survive set in space. Players take a collection of pawns numbered 1-6 and deploy them to open spaces on a space station mid-destruction.  You take three actions on your turn which includes floating your astronauts helplessly into the black or hitching a ride aboard an escape pod, possibly one contained by other players.  You’re trying to make your way to one of four warp gates which will often require fleeting moments of cooperation and, more often than not, meting out huge bouts of destruction.  The idea is to score the most points, which means you need to get your highest valued pieces to safety.

 

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After taking your three moves you choose one of the space station tiles to remove from play and dump any crewmembers occupying the tile into space. Throwing people into the mercy of the black cold void feels nearly as sweet as flipping the tile over and reveling in the new special power you’ve just acquired.  Many of the tiles afford one time use benefits that can allow for dirty tricks and swings of dramatic enjoyment.  Oh, and some will spawn ferocious beasts that immediately devour anyone paddling in zero-g.

At the end of each of your turns you roll a die which will dictate the type of creature you get to activate. You are able to choose one such monster in play and unleash your inner beast, devouring escape pods and floating citizens like a toddler on a bag of gummy bears.  It’s gruesome and fun and most importantly – hilarious.  You can’t help but burst into chuckles while mumbling curses at your Mom for moving the Queen over your escape pod and just wrecking your formerly peaceful journey.  I can just picture those little dudes in pod #213 sipping on a glass of merlot and humming along to some Muzak before being swallowed whole.  Now the air is full of a cacophony of screams as alien Queen stomach acid melts their skin from their bones.

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A selection of special powers provide a fabulous oomph to the proceedings

 

The main new wrinkle from classic Survive is that players are given more authority in manipulating these interstellar monstrosities. You can now take to a fighter and move great distances as long as you stay in a straight line.  When you land on a beast you can remove him from the map and place it in front of you.  Likewise, you can spend an action to fire a turret from the station and claim a space bug as well.

At the beginning of each turn you deposit any aliens you’ve claimed back onto the board in open spaces of your choice. So Jimmy, Sam, and Naomi are gunning for an exit at full speed in their escape pod and you throw down a Warrior and a Queen right in their path.  Next turn they’ll be ejecting their urine out the side of the pod with their first action.

 

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Aw, hell nah.

 

This ability to sacrifice momentum towards escape to shift the board position of (kinda) neutral enemies flows nicely with the baked in personality of murdering each other for fun and profit. This game is all about drama and tension, including its subsequent release accompanied by long bouts of raucous laughter.  It takes those prime emotional moments of gaming and just repeatedly slams the buttons to produce excellence again and again.

This version of Survive also includes an alternate board on the back which features only two escape points. For those masochists and sad clowns that didn’t think the original layout was quite vindictive enough, you can now narrow the exit vector and watch the body count pile up.  It’s a hilarious alternative to the standard setup and one worth trying for grins and you know what.

The question that needs to be answered is whether this is better than its older sibling. If you must choose only one version of Survive! it will likely come down to which theme you prefer.  The original Atlantis sinking/sea monster shenanigans is definitely fun, but I’m a sucker for science fiction.

The second query is whether this is worth owning if you already have that beautiful 30th anniversary edition of Survive.  That’s a difficult question to answer as there is much carry-over between the two. However, the new theme in combination with the unique ways to interact with the monsters does create a distinct identity.  In all honesty I’ll have to partake in a rare cop-out and throw up a stone wall as I cannot determine that decision for you.  What I can tell you is that my group has had a blast ejecting each other into space and tearing each other limb from limb.  You also can’t argue with the fact that this is Stronghold Games’ bestselling space title.

 

 

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Firefly: Kalidasa Expansion – A Written Review

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While I felt the base game of Firefly was a fine offering that didn’t quite get over the hump to wow me, I had a little voice in the back of my skull whispering lustful comments about expansion content. The design was clearly framed with additions in mind and the mechanisms included are ripe for extension.  Kalidasa is perhaps the last in a long line of new Firefly content and it’s no surprise that it comes across as extremely refined and full of purpose.

Variety is key in adventure games because much of the excitement is derived from experiencing the unknown. By adding a huge side board, tons of mission content, new scenarios, and even new mechanisms, Kalidasa seriously ups the variety.  The extended board in and of itself is not a huge boon, more so in how it is employed.  New jobs mixed into contacts from the base game will have you hopping across the outer rim and swapping tales of Beaumonde and Djinn’s Bane.

The new jobs themselves inject a greater deal of chaos and vitality into the base game structure by offering some serious payouts for greater adversity. I’m also a huge fan of the new Bonus Drop off mechanism which allows you to complete an optional third step during a run.  This is effective in that it mixes up your typical risk/reward analysis and has you reacting on the fly just a bit more often.  Keeping you on your toes and unsure of the best approach is the lifeblood of the adventure title.

 

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The concept of the nested dice roll also appears on some of these new jobs, forcing players to make a successful roll and then randomizing an outcome. This tree of branching results is noteworthy because it elevates the tension even amidst success.  It also packs extra weight to the relatively simple typical decision process and will cause you to perhaps reassess the odds and take greater care in following through.

The new AI controlled Operative Corvette is also a flavorful injection of mayhem that can bite you when you least expect it. It moves via the inclusion of new Nav cards mixed into all decks and will seize all non-stashed fugitives and force the discard of one wanted crew.  The hard-knock emphasis on law is pounded home with the new Alliance Alert tokens which can pop up around the Verse and mean bad news for the not-so-law abiding citizens out there.  Moving into an alert sector triggers an opportunity for an Alliance ship to come crashing down on your position to seize your outlaw duds.

Including additional Nav cards for the base game travel decks is fantastic. Travel is much more risky and dangerous, which gives a stronger sense of what we see in the Firefly television series.  It keeps you back on your heels and makes the Mosey action just slightly more enticing.  Wild swings and crazy events are what bolster a strong overriding narrative and it’s great to see this philosophy included here.

 

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The Verse is huge

 

Kalidasa also offers new setup cards that can be mixed with different stories to alter the starting situation. It provides an interesting change of events to everyone’s footing by mixing up starting jobs or assets.  Again, more variety and unique situations means more opportunity for surprise and excitement.  This isn’t earth shattering but it’s an element I’d want to use in most of my plays to vary it up.

And let’s talk about those new Story cards. “The Well’s Run Dry” seeks to rectify my complaint about the base game regarding the huge influx of money ships experience in stark contrast to what see in the Firefly IP.  Mal and company finally have it hard and have to contend with a limited amount of liquid cash in the Verse.

“The Scavenger’s Verse” is even more noteworthy as being one of the most fantastic inclusions I’ve seen thus far in this game series.  This Story features an objective set that is loosely defined via poem and is intended “For Experienced, Friendly Folk”.  Some may have a problem with such loose structure but this is the type of creative risk taking in design that I eat up.  With the appropriate group I’d be tempted to put all of the rest of the Story cards back in the box and only use this one every single play.

Overall this new expansion is a whole lot of quality. Excitement and chaos is packed into the open spaces in the design and everything feels much more lively and energetic.  Firefly is anything but mundane and this expansion is a large leap in achieving a greater dynamic sense of adventure.

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Space Cadets: Away Missions – A Written Review

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Space Cadets: Away Missions is the third release in Stronghold’s Space Cadet line and it’s absolutely nothing like the frantic real-time Engelstein games of past. This Dan Raspler and Al Rose light dungeon crawler bears the Space Cadets setting in theme only, hitting us hard with an approachable yet sophisticated game of ‘50s golden era sci-fi blasters and Martians.  The humor in Stronghold’s first board game Kickstarter release featuring a title with the acronym SCAM belies the strength and vitality of this spectacular game.571224cb-f6bb-48ca-826c-f77c2f28d798

While Stronghold Games has always featured great production values and attractive components, Stephen Buonocore has outdone himself here. Away Missions brandishes over 100 solid miniatures, mounds of attractive tiles, large player mats, and two huge booklets.  It feels lavish and special, fitting the attractive feel of gameplay.  How can you not fall in love with a release that boasts little plastic brains-in-a-jar and space leeches?  You immediately want to crack some skulls and pew-pew.

This game sits in a comfortable realm just above the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System in terms of depth and complexity. It’s light yet packs a bit of oomph that helps it stand out and grasp your interest for the long term.  Like its peers, you embark on different missions hurdling large packs of enemies, finding interesting loot, and exploring defiled ground.

One of the shining elements of this cooperative design are the scenarios. Mounds and mounds of scenarios.  20 of the suckers form a loose narrative of linked story that explores the alien invasion and always keeps you on your toes.  Many games in this genre offer quite repetitive goals that feed a growing sense of similarity which can deflate extended play.  Away Missions throws this notion out the window by offering you constantly evolving tactical situations with really divergent narratives.  You will break out of fish-head prisons, free human Thralls, snatch up blueprints for alien technology, and seek revenge on the malevolent foreigners.

Moving on from a difficult scenario and flipping those huge pages to see your new opportunity for carnage is truly a treat. I was shocked how the feel could be drastically shifted by re-arranging a collection of random tiles in interesting formations and by throwing in a couple of new specific rule changes.  One of the early scenarios allows you to place your deployment hex adjacent to any outside tile as your team of cadets is boarding the enemy craft.  These clever little elements are packed into each corner of the design and constantly have you nodding in appreciation.

This strong variety does come at a cost though as setup can be somewhat labored. You have alien tokens, discovery (item) tokens, and tile tokens to mark possible objectives.  These pools of chits may have specific mixes required by the scenario so you’ll be removing or adding a defined amount and it can get somewhat fiddly.  Thankfully the effort pays off and the game delivers with beauty so this is just the cost of doing business.

 

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Suck it alien scum.

 

The lush presentation will draw you in but the heart of the design, the Overkill mechanic, will make you stay. It’s such a simple little mechanism but therein lies its genius.  Attack rolls are made with pools of 10-siders, requiring a three or below to score a hit.  Your first success inflicts a single point of damage (good enough to kill most alien types) but your subsequent hits are dubbed Overkills and may be spent as action currency to trigger special effects.

Many thematic designs feature special powers and abilities scattered across characters and items, but the process in which they’re tied to the action and turn structure is usually pretty stale and predictable. By linking this smattering of special powers to successful combat resolution rolls you fuse one of the most interesting elements of Ameritrash with the most dramatic portion of the game.  This results in high tension rolls that produce tremendous opportunity for combos and creative play as you cut down an alien, move into an adjacent space, and command a teammate to give him extra actions.  It feels outright empowering because your cast of fate determines the downstream narrative shenanigans.  It’s delicious and full of tension while maintaining a solid degree of tactical choice.

This tremendous Overkill mechanism is backed up by an action point system that allows for maximum player control in the face of stalwart danger. The enemies come in thick waves as you reveal more each turn in great numbers.  The AI controlling them is relatively simple as they tend to march straight towards you and throw lasers in the direction of human flesh.  Yet the enemies manage to feel drastically different due to various types of attacks and the included Overkill effects they can generate against you.  Additionally, it’s extraordinarily fun to light up a Saucerman Leader and trigger his Overkill ability that allows you to stun another foe.  A sense of personality develops amongst the enemies and there’s a strong mix of variety that allows you to constantly be on your toes and dreading the appearance of a brain-in-a-jar or a ferocious Sentinel.

 

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It’s all about personality. Blood sucking space worm personality.

 

I alluded to the clever touches abounding the design when discussing the scenarios earlier, but if you take a micro view you will begin to notice all kinds of positive little quirks. For instance some of the alien equipment you discover is actually blueprints as opposed to finished gear.  This results in a gentle crafting system where you need to steal alien blood or precious mysterium (no, not the Polish variety) to construct awe-inspiring gifts of forbidden fruit.  You’ll also need to take out human Thralls with a non-combat IQ check to remove the implanted brain wire in their skulls.  No, not to free the poor muggles but to hoard the wire for your mini death star that’s still under construction.  You’re being pulled by all of these disparate elements of awesomeness as you try to clear your head while the air fills with the scent of ozone and burnt green flesh.

Space Cadets: Away Missions carves itself out a niche in the dungeon crawl design space the size of a monstrous saucer. This feels fresh and alive, like a new take on an old favorite.  It delivers action and thoughtful presence in a way you wouldn’t expect.  This is not only a fantastic design, it’s quite possibly the strongest release Stronghold Games has ever been a part of.

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Darkrock Ventures (Kickstarter Preview)

 

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Darkrock Ventures is a medium-weight dice-based worker placement game where each player controls a mining company hoping to strike it rich on a deep space asteroid. But difficult mining is not the only challenge that the miners face. Their is the ever present threat of alien invasion.

This video will give you a solid understanding of this game and help you decide whether it’s worth your kickstarter backing!

http://youtu.be/LCPkja3fdVs

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Mine all Mine Review

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Mine, All Mine! is a quick, fun game of mining planets for resources. You manage a small hand of spaceships and actions, trying to outwit and outmaneuver your opponents. With only 16 game cards, 8 tracking clips, and a table-free option, Mine, All Mine! can be played just about anywhere. And with a 5-10 minute play time, it’s easy to fit a game in while waiting in line or riding in a car (playing while driving is NOT recommended). We hope you enjoy playing Mine, All Mine!

Game Play Overview:
Each player starts with 3 Ship cards. Each card has 4 options to chose from and players can play as few as 1 up to their entire hand each round. They play these Ship cards to control and mine resource laden planets, with all players laying down their chosen cards at the same time. When the resources are divided up (based on a fleet’s total Speed, Attack and Cargo) points are awarded accordingly. Then, new Ship cards are dealt, equal to the number that were just played, beginning with the player with the lowest score. New Planets are dealt and the next round begins. After 3 rounds the game ends and the player with the greatest score emerges victorious!

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