Space the final frontier…to boldly split infinitives where no man has split them before
I have always had an interest in space and the ships that sail within it. Elegant, ugly, implausible, all carrying with them their own unique (and in some low-budget movies, not so unique) personalities through the endless void. A thought occurs to me, though. How o they make the bally things/where and who makes them?..and is it actually any fun making them?
Prototypical, Analytical Playtestical!
…well fear not intrepid space enthusiasts, I have discovered the very place where said structures are conceived, created and…built!
Assembly: A real life story about real life luxury spaceship builders and fabricators by Wren games (Janice & Stu Turner) is the very place.
Nuts & Bolts:
Some background details just to put you in the mood…sitback, place your chairs in the upright positions and keep your hands off the ashtrays…
You are on an orbital platform that assembles luxury spaceships. After a recent micrometeorite impact, a deadly virus has emerged and wiped out the entire staff. Luckily, you seem to have natural immunity and now you must escape to help create
a vaccine before the virus spreads to Earth. In an attempt to quarantine the virus, the computer locked down all systems, undocked all the spaceships and is currently venting the oxygen to prevent you from ever leaving. Fortunately, it has missed one. Unfortunately, it’s still on the assembly line and only partially complete. You must finish building it to escape.Against all odds, you have outwitted the computer and are now in the control room of one of the spaceship assembly lines where the incomplete ship lies in front of you. On the screen above your head, you can see the required layout in blueprint form and on the assembly line you can see the completed Room Modules hanging around the edges ready for placement in the bays corresponding to the instructions overhead.You have discovered a rather limited set of commands to complete the ship but for some reason the controls keep glitching. Does the computer know what you are trying to do?
You must work together and use your commands wisely to assemble the ship and make your escape.Can you complete the ship and escape before you perish?
You must escape. The only way to win is to lock each Room Module into their correct bay before you run out of oxygen. The ship will then be launched and you can escape!
Game End Conditions
The game immediately ends when you win or if you have refreshed the Command deck twice (three cycles) and cannot draw a Command card.
Crafting The World:
It’s a Setup:
- Multiples of One: 1-2 players
- Playtime: 10-20 minutes
- Age of Consent: 14+ years
Elements of the Larger Whole:
There are only a small-ish number of components to the game and in its current playtest form, most cards are Euro sized. This makes for a handy small footprint and as the majority of cards are icon based, it is simple to discern what each card’s function is. The four bay cards have a small amount of text on (each with a special game condition)but as this is a simple sentence, all text is legible, fitting the space well.
There are 12 Bay cards, 4 Player Aid cards, 5 Role Cards, 16 Command Cards, 3 sets of 4 Bay Number Cards, 12 Room Module Tokens and 1d12
The premise of the game is quite simple. Complete the incomplete spaceship and leg it from the Assembly station before the mad computer vents all the oxygen. We draw action cards from a Command deck and play these action cards. These action cards are …well our actions, but also double up as a timer for the game. Each card has a specific function/action and we choose how to apply those functions to the game.
The aim is to introduce Room Module tokens to the circle of room cards (each at a random location. These then require rotation until they are positioned on their corresponding room. At this point the room can be locked and job’s a good ‘un!… Locking all rooms obviously wins us the game as this ensures the completion of the partially constructed spaceship and, consequently, allows us to get the hell off the station. Simple? Sadly no! There is a total lack of time, oxygen and, just to flick a nasty little fly into the ointment, we have a glitchy computer that is just not on our side ….so making optimum use of action cards is paramount for us to complete this ship in adverse conditions. Talk about tense, nail-biting sci-fi movie plots!
Being able to do multiple room locks, I found, is vital in order to save time, but seriously tricky to manipulate the Room Module tokens to facilitate this. If things weren’t bad enough, certain Bays also have specific conditions attached to their room locking ability and there is an expansion being worked upon where Glitch cards (events caused by the dodgy computer) that get introduce as the action deck is recycled. These can undo carefully planned strategies so beware.
Room For One More:
The game is designed as a cooperative venture for two players and the use of penalties for employing key words during player interaction looks to be a nice touch (there is even a page dedicated to a series of hand signals to aid strategy planning) I have been playing with the solo game which means that this interaction/penalty element is lost but, as the last remaining personnel on the Assembly line, there are minor adaptations to the game that make this an equally challenging prospect.
As a solo game there is very little difference in actual gameplay to the multiplayer, with only the communication restrictions being absent. Players that like this aspect to a game will be a little disappointed with the solo game but, as a solo game it is probably not an expectation to indulge in strategy discussion…that said, I frequently discuss ideas with myself at which point I suppose I could always enforce the restricted language aspect of the game.
A Grim Prognosis
At first, I have to ashamedly admit, I really did think…”yikes, this is going to be pretty lame”. A circle of cards and a set of counters to place on them…where is the fun in that but how wrong could I be?
It really focuses one’s attention. For quarter of an hour I found myself totally engrossed in the reordering, swapping and tactical locking down of the various areas of this enormous tiny spaceship construction yard. A simple concept has been well executed producing a thoroughly absorbing game.
The action deck is limited to three cycles and in the solo game, with certain key action cards removed which further reduces potential time/actions, so choosing which action to play requires a great deal of thought to optimise the use of each card. In a sense the theme could be incidental as this is at its heart a puzzle solving exercise but setting it in a space ship construction assembly line does give a pleasant context and the special conditional text of the Bay Number cards makes perfect sence of the setting. The backstory and locations all knit together to create quite a compelling game theme. At this stage my pnp test copy is without art but I am sure with a good choice of illustrations/colour schemes the theme will be further enhanced. Below is a photo of prototype components from Wren Games, but at this stage I can’t say if this is likely to be final illustrations/graphic layout.
It states the game duration to be around 10-20 minutes which is a fair estimate for game length as the majority of my plays lasted 15-20 minutes, making this a really handy brain puzzler to fill those rare spare moments in our busy schedule.
It feels odd to consider awarding a score as I do with published games when this is only in its early play-testing stage but it is already a most enjoyable concept and one I would highly recommend. Perhaps I shall employ a smaller die roll for scoring play-test games…yes…I think I will use a trust custom carved 1d6 hard Italian cheese die…in which case Assembly has constructed itself a BSoMT 1d8 roll of a nebular, proton torpedo and solar wind veins which all equate to a (7) for sheer mind twisting puzzle solving in a limited oxygen environment.
The G, The B and The U:
As far as gameplay is concerned there are no bad elements that I have encountered. I haven’t managed to break the game which is a positive (although I have only worked my way through 60% of the characters so can’t say for certain if any I haven’t tried are unbalanced) But everything flows smoothly during a game and the rules are simple, well explained, enabling a speedy start and setup tear down is pretty quick too.
There are a number of features that are definitely good. The Bay Cards come in three sets of four. This greatly helps with replay-ability as each set has quite interesting, unique conditions attached to them dramatically changing each game. Characters, and there are quite a few to choose from, all have their own one-use special ability, once again adding to the replay-ability…I like that the ability is quite hig-powered but is a single use, making it a valued but sparing commodity.
The graphics is the only real ugly element of the game but, as would be expected at this stage, there is no refinement to the artwork on the pnp playtest set whilst the game mechanics are tested…I would perhaps add the Glitch cards in this section too…not because they are poorly conceived but because they are only in their infancy. I would like to see them throw some serious spanners in the works (maybe even sets of Glitch cards with increasing complexity made available depending on the level of difficulty a player wishes)
Compulsory Feedback Form:
Even in an unrefined playtest form, such as the set I made for testing, this title has proven to be a brilliantly engaging sci-fi brain twisting puzzle challenge. I have seen “fancified” copies go out to reviewers which looks to have a much improved artwork finish. This is definitely a title soloists need to keep an eye out for when it hits Kickstarter on 24th May 2018. A simple yet smooth game that, though not deep in complexity, has a game play that will impress all those looking for a short solo puzzle-solving game experience.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an unfinished ship to complete before this bloody stupid computer vents all the oxygen…and I happen to be immune to this unpleasant virus. I put it down to my polished knees and flock wallpapered shins. A starship construction worker’s work is never done…with current extenuating circumstances it is easy to see why…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Box of Delights plays through Assembly
Wren games: https://t.co/EbXQ3WMQ43
To Play is Human Game Preview: Assembly by Wren Games https://toplayishuman.com/2018/05/24/game-preview-assembly-by-wren-games/ via @ToPlayIsHuman
A first impression of Assembly by the marvelous David Wiley of Cardboard Clash
Wren Games on Twitter: