This could be a board game. It has the simple mechanisms of a board game. Dice allocation….or drafting. I’m not sure what it should be called on BGG. But it should be on BGG in our future. This could be a board game, but it’s not. It’s a video game that I have had the chance to preview on Steam. It also has a life on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch too.
The story sees you in control of a spaceship hurtling through space to Tharsis. To be precise, on the volcanic equator on our nearest planet, Mars. But along the way the ship is damaged by a meteor storm. One crewmember has their candle blown out in the sky full of candles. And the remaining four must adapt without them (possible with them inside their bellies) and arrive at their destination, all the while this ship suffers from a number of technical problems. Think of Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 or Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Bad crap happens, and continues to happen enroute, like what happens to Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 or Sandra Bullock in Gravity. All of this plays out in the tutorial which will help you get into the game and then you're on your own to try and survive. Playing just the main game will skip all this and concentrate on the remainder of the journey.
The tutorial takes you through the basics in a step by step fashion. You’ve been learning about each character's special ability and the importance of the life points as well as their morale. At the same time you’ll be pointed out the importance of each capsule in the spaceship. Like the greenhouse capsule that will allow you to generate food, or the maintenance room will allow you to repair the hull of the ship. You’ll get the chance to taste several turns before the main game kicks in and lose one crew member. A sad and shocking start (maybe I should put a spoiler warning!) Each round of the game is made up by moving a crew member to a capsule, where they will then roll some dice. You can then allocate these dice into five different parts of the screen. Once you’ve allocated all the dice, you choose another crew member and do the same. After you’ve activated every single crewmember that is still alive, any remaining technical problems or incoming damage will be dealt to your crew and the ship. If the ship is still functioning and there are still crew aboard, you then advance a week in time, closer to your destination and you do the same thing again.
This simple mechanic of rolling dice and allocating them to spaces it’s nothing new. Games like Role Player and Alien Frontiers have all done this well in board game form. But here also the implementation is a good match for those looking for something new. It’s not simply a case of using the dice to fulfill a need, as there are many little avenues that pull you in different directions. This is what drives the adaptability of the game, the delicate decision making that could mean life and death of your team. The main needs of the game is to fix broken down components on the ship that will, at the end of a round, destroy the hull of the ship or cause some damage to your crew. Then hopefully you will move on to the next round or get to your destination. But there will be temptation to use a die to activate the power of that crew member. Be they a medicine, they can restore a health point to all crew in the same capsule. Be they a mechanic, they can add a point of integrity to the hull. Or maybe use a die or two on the capsules specialty. Reduce crew stress in the operations capsule or gain dice in life support. All of these sections will do the best to pull you away from your main objective, repairing the ship.
This is a team effort, as all characters can go to any capsule and attempt to repair the damage. Damage is just a value, for example 18. From the dice roll, you’ll need to assign these dice to repairing that should equal or surpass the value of 18. Once done, that danger has passed. Also, crew members will no longer take a point of damage when they traverse that section of the ship. And that is important as it resembles the Discovery One from 2001. One long sausage with some bits sticking out. Plus, sometimes it’s not always possible for one character to repair all on their turn, as the value may be too high or they are tempted to use a power OR they roll poorly. But this is a team, so another member of the team can join them and use their dice to help. If the capsule is not fully repaired, you will suffer the consequences at the end of the round, but the sweet thing is, any remaining value will carry over. For example, you may remove 15 points from the 18. But someone else can remove the final 3 on their turn or in the next round, the same character can try again to get rid of the last three. It’s all nail biting stuff and very stressful.
Every character gets a reroll of the dice. There is even a holding area where you can place some dice, if you like the results on them, while you roll the rest. Giving you the chance to get a more agreeable result or the chance to think a little longer on your options. This is very important as any capsule with a fault in it to be repaired, comes with some danger. Those dangers are “stasis” that lock dice up from being rerolled, “voids” that remove that die and “injuries” that remove a life point of the active crew. These are visible on the overview of the ship, so you can predict the dangers of trying to fix it. A value will be assigned to those dangers and by rolling that number, that’s what happens to that dice. It locks, it vanishes or tries to kill you, giving you another level of problem solving to get around and there are ways of getting around these hazardous events. Do you send the character who rolls the most dice but has the least life points into a 18 problem, with a great chance of getting injured? Or do you send someone else? Having one crew member solve one problem is fantastic, but when it needs several to resolve it…
Now, this all sounds very difficult. Believe me...it is. This game is tough, even in easy mode. Although, help is on hand, in the form of “research projects.” Yes, another section to deviate your dice into is this section, that requires one of every value of your six sided dice (I should have mentioned if before, there are no d20’s here.) Three random special actions will be displayed here, each with its own dice requirements. You may be able to collect 2 foods by spending three dice in your research section. Even add hull repairs, diminish damage or add assist that stop dice going into the void, deal damage or freeze. One used, the power is replaced with another. You can even burn a dice to replace all three powers with new ones, if you deem them too expensive or not practical. There is a lot of choice here and this section should never be forgotten as it could mean a lot to surviving the game. It’s also useful as on some turns you may find that you have nowhere to place your dice, or may not feel that placing a “1” in repairs is adequate. That’s a great thing, that there is always something to invest your dice into….most of the time.
Now this is not a board game, but could quite easily be. The mechanisms are all there, there would just have to be some refinement in the decks of cards that generate the events. This would lend itself to creating the various difficulty levels in the video game. Plus the video game has some other story like challenge modes. Not just an easy, medium and hard, but a mission, so to speak. Survive with just one crew member. Or keeping fires under control and make it through three weeks. There are also other characters to unlock with their own special abilities. All this adds longevity to a quite tough game, so you have these new challenges right from the get go. You can also plan ahead, as the distance bar from your target, at the top, tells you the severity of the next incoming problems. Green, yellow and red. I guess you can guess which is which! Sometimes it’s one or two, and other times...more. And they are random from game to game, much like the characters states and positions.
One of the harder parts to translate into the board game would be the stress levels of the crew, as this plays a part in the main scenario. In between each round, some delemers accur. You will have to make a choice from two circumstances, both with a positive and negative effect. You may have to sacrifice food to repair the ship's hull. Or take some extra stress to gain an extra die. The more stress your crew has, the bigger these effects are. Not just gaining or losing things by small percentages, but bigger ones. Another thing in this lul in the game is the chance to feed your crew with anything that has grown in your greenhouse. Each food will give that character three extra dice, upto the total value of five. Not only that, whenever a crew member eats vacuum and dies, their body doesn’t go to waste. Eating a fellow member will give them two bloody dice (yes, blood splats out when you roll the dice. It increases stress and in my case, makes the luck of the dice rolls a little more on the smaller value side. But that just might be me.
This game is a real challenge and a pleasure to play. It’s not an eyesore either. The graphical presentation works well. There are animation crew members, who have a very early Pixar look to them but they emote to the stress and life point they have. The ship is 3D too so you’ll be zipping from module to module with vast smoothness. Unsure what this or that means, all information is just a click away. Playing the main story comes with well presented animations and excellent voice acting, although they are fixed to the story. You can skip them with a swift tap of the space bar but I would have liked to see an option to remove them entirely. Or have some different stories play out every time. The sound effects are subtle and effective while not being in your face. And the music is a perfect fit. Instrumentals created by the group Weval pop in and out, killing the monotony of the drone of space (although they say there is no sound in space).
My BGG score 8/10
Very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it.
This, not being an actual board game, is the score I would give it if it was. Working very well as a solo game and also a multiplayer game, with a player taking on the role of one character. But beware that there may be some player elimination as death is final. It could also have the alpha-gamer syndrome. Plays comfortable in an hour or less. A simple idea that feels fresh in this format. A neat game that has you puzzling out the results of a random dice roll.
how to play multiplayer
my thanks to paul grogan for letting me appear on his livestream