(Tested is a format that I use to give a first or second impression of a game. Therefore, this article is not a final review, as I like to know all the ins and outs of a game before I score it. And this should be treated as giving you an idea about the game.)
Dungeon Crawlers have always been a one sided affair. A team of gallant Heroes would stand off against one evil play or dungeon master and their minions. Alone turns that on it’s head and has a team of devious masterminds hinder a lonesome Hero from achieving their objectives. It’s a nice twist in the genera. Placing it is a sci-fi setting also makes it stand out from the other board game counterparts. Giving a fresh feel and making my wish that is had the Alien licence thrown in. Even Dead Space from EA games would have been nice too. But luckily, if you know nothing of these two titles, the game feels like it’s own beast.
Let’s start with the set up, which is a little time consuming as at first. The Hero player will need to choose what suit their character will don. Each suit has its own special ability, from the Medic Suit that lets you recover a life point and mind point, to the Captain Suit that lets you reroll a die in combat. Added with that, there is a detailed miniature of each suit to represent the Hero on the main board. And a nice nod to Dead Space, instead of creating a doctor character called Ash and captain called Sheridan. Another nice touch is that all the suit not chosen may possibly be used in the game as companions that you may encounter in the quest. As you can just play a basic game (which is what I have done twice) or from a scenario from the scripted campaign book (something I haven’t looked at yet). In a basic game, there is the random drawing of the three mission cards, that are the objectives of the Hero. Kind of like what Riply did. Set the self destruct, grab the cat and get out of Dallas.
Each mission must have a different destination, so if two are in the laboratory, for example, you would redraw until you have three different ones. Two of these missions are primary missions. One will offer an upgrade for the Hero while the other gives the Hero a penalty to one of their normal actions and a reason to get this neutralised. The Hero needs to complete one of these before they can go directly onto the final mission, and win the game. Final missions consist of escaping in a pod or killing a boss creature. The 21 mission cards give a good mix to the replayability of the game. And with this Kickstarter (coming back in February 2019), there were some bonus mission added too. The Hero will then fill up the data sheet/player board with tokens, recording life and mind point, round tracker, locations for missions and turn tokens.
It’s at this point that the Evil players will stroke their evil beards, then be able to start setting up, as they now need to generate the two levels of the dungeon. Sorry, spaceship map. These are two, double sided small boards, that have corridors and room spaces layed out in different formations. And the reason that the Evil players have to wait this long to set up is so they know what locations the Hero is searching for, as they have to place the room tiles onto the map. They’ll also choose which part of the ship the Hero wakes up in. Obviously, the further apart you can place the Heroes destination, the harder it is for them to complete their missions. After placing these locations strategically, you get to add few nastie creatures from your pool of worms, parasite, hybrids and cultists. And all this will be concealed behind a screen from the Hero player, until they discover it while exploring the dark desolate vessel. And the final thing the Evil players do before the game can begin is select two of four decks of card to play with. Fury, Speed, Terror and Traps. Each give a benefit to either combat, speed of your creatures, mind damage and damage in general. These cards are reaction card, because the Evil player doesn't really have a turn. It will be the Hero who takes all the actions. The only way that the Evil player can disrupt the Hero is to play a card that says you can play it if the Hero moves. Or operates something. Then... WHAM!
The game contains a vast amount of components, from boards, cards and tiles, to more tokens than you’ll ever need. Oh, and a handful of mini’s. In the games that I played, there were never been a swarm of enemies on the main map, which I believe justifies only having 23 minis in the game. They are well detailed and again, we have hardly used many in the games we have played, lending an air of “Alien”, and not “Aliens” to the game. There are some nice “in the box” trays that you can pull out and place next to you. This lessens the burden of sorting out bits from baggies and speeds the placement of everything on the table immensely. And your going to need a big table to play this on. As well as, situate the two sides in the right way, so all the Evil players can see the minimap and relay everything the Hero encounters onto a main map area. While having the Hero, not to far away, so they can see this main map and have space for the items they collect. Depending where the Hero goes and how ever far they go, this main map could take a vast amount of space, as it stretches out with each exploration. This is until the Hero swaps floors or more likely, at the end of each round. When a round ends, any parts of the map that are not in the Heroes line of sight, are removed. Making this a memory game for them. Luckily, there is a segment on their board that they can use to trace their steps, using some of the myriad of tokens at their disposal.
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of the game play. The Hero will wake up in their location, not knowing where they are and have to complete two of three objectives to win. The Hero player will perform all the actions that you come to expect from a game of this ilk. Mainly move, fight, search and interact. With every action announced before it is performed, the Evil players then have the chance to play a reaction card and move the world around. Each card can be used in two ways. If the Hero player claims they are going to search, card marked with the search icon can be played against them. These may say that an item found is damaged and not working correctly. Or, while searching, a distant creature moves closer. Very “take that” in essence, but of course, very thematic at the same time. Hero and Evil players then do these actions in the order indicated on the card and then it’s the Heroes next turn. Do this eight times and it then it’s the end of the round.
There is a limitation of two cards maximum that can be played each turn. Because bad shit doesn’t happen in one chunk, unless your me. It is spaced out. Building up to the climatic finally. And depending on your playing style, you could create the classic “little bumps in the night” up to the “mass attack.” Or mix it up with a loud, aggressive attack in the intro to shock your Hero and then recoop before the final onslaught, like a modern horror film. These cards go onto a track above the Hero board. Once the track is full, no more cards can be played. This has another interesting limiting device, as if two cards are played on a turn, one of those cards if placed horizontally to take up two spaces, filling the track faster. But you may have stunted the poor Hero enough to justify this risk. Filling up the track will unfortunately stunt you as the Evil players. At the end of every round, a collection of danger tokens are given to the Evil players, depending on the number of spaces left open on this track. These danger help the Evil player immensely. They active a bonus power on the reaction cards, if they are played when the Hero is in a zone with a danger token. As well as give a bonus to combat.
Now I mentioned a second use for these cards. You can spend one or two of them to spawn or move one of your existing creatures. Again, these cards go onto the track, clogging the amount of actions, you as Evil players can take. But this is a nice way to mitigate bad cards in your hand. Discarding them, so to speak. Every movement and spawn will have to be communicated to the Hero. Whether it be a “Sluuurping” sound, 4 spaces from their west or a “Haunting Gurgle” from the other floor. And all the while, the Evil players will be trying to communicate with their team, in code. Pointing. Humming. Making words up. As your not allowed to see the other players cards and you don’t want to tell the Hero what you have planned. But you want to convey the plans you have concocted in your head to the rest of your team.Giving some interesting aspects to the Evil teams play. Unless you are playing ALONE. This is a nice roll reversal on the discussion front from games like Descent, where the heroes talk about how to take out the tribe of goblins.
So with the Hero taking actions, the Evil players occasionally interfering with those actions. They are also responsible for doing the bookkeeping of the game. They adjust the hidden mini map whenever they or the Hero does something. They also update the main map for the Hero to see where they are and what’s about. Whenever a unseen creature spawns or move, they inform the Hero or move them if they are visible, while making strange noises to insight fear. All this storytelling is meant to enhance the Hero players experience. And I kind of felt that after two times playing on the Evil player team, this game is exactly that. The Hero is playing a game and the Evil players are reading the story. Although playing as the Evil player made it easy to explain the rules to both side...While playing. Which is a bonus.
For our Hero, they are having to use the items that they have collected. They are having to use their memory, to map out the ship. They are mainly going to have to use the actions wisely, because there are not many of them. Eight actions per round and only four round, which is enough to move and map out the entire ship, but you’d fail the mission. But our Hero has a little bonus in adrenaline tokens that can be used on a turn, to either heal a point of damage or go into bullet time. This lets the Hero perform two actions instead of one and prevents the Evil player from interfering with a reaction card during those actions. A little advantage for Mr No-Friends. This can be very useful when scanning for a location, in which the Evil player will tell you how many spaces away that room is and can’t react, which will allow them to lie about this information. Or even where a monster is. Knowing when to switch lights on and in which direction is also important. As the ship is in total darkness and the darkness is your enemy. It makes the creatures attacks stronger and it also makes you crap your pant. If ever a creature jumps out on you in the dark, you can kiss you mind points goodbye. Knowing when to search and after you have found an item, do you upgrade it, burning a component from another item you own? Which is again thematic and cool. And should you fight or run? Running can be a good option, as time is against you. But fighting is also a bonus. Defeating two of the same type of creature gives you a special ability. Seeing a door means there is a room. Could it be the one the Hero needs? And will there be any surprises behind it? Lots of choice for the Hero and tons of good ideas in the design that seem to balance out nicely.
Lorenzo Silva is fastly becoming a designer who’s input in any title seems to be a fresh twist to any genera of game. From Steam Park to Dragon Castle, there is always some little nuance in the rules that I like. And the same is true with this co-design here. There is a lot more to the game that I can explain here, like the combat dice that have three results. Hit, miss and a possible hit, depending if it’s dark or light. Some many nice little ideas that convey the sensation of one of the greatest horror films ever, but I’ll leave that for a final review. Everything I encountered in the game was thematic and fitted in this world of lost in space. Ever rule and mechanism, while being slightly chunky and clunky, fitted into the experience of the game. And I’m sure with more plays that it will get smoother, and timing issues will disappear, like a xenomorph out an airlock. As I mentioned earlier, this may feel one sided, where the Hero is playing a game and Evil players are story telling, but I still haven’t played as the Hero to confirm this. And I have played with two different groups, and I have trouble getting a feel for a game while teaching it. But so far from what I have played...
Tested - Liked - Want to play again soon
(Just needs a cracking soundtrack to play with ;) wink)