Blog

…of Science Fiction And Asteroid Affliction

I did it… I managed to escape ma Bernard, the psychotic computer that locked down the assembly line on the spaceship manufacturing platform…

…now I have to traverse my way through the void towards home…Earth…

Home, my arse, I should, they have disowned me…shunned me…to win favour back and be permitted to land I shall have to take a detour and waste precious oxygen searching for some samples of space dust or fossilised alien poop or something equally unexpected….

…oh, well main thrusters…IGNITE

Blast, the wick has gone out in the engine again, and me only in my Wednesday shirt.

(Press play for a deep space ambiance to accompany your read)

 

INTRO:

Way back in space and time the sci-fi game Assembly emerged from the void with its was a brain melting puzzle nature of a sci-fi game which was, for me, almost impossible to escape from… but I finally did and now I am jet-setting it across the universe with my ship sensors playing up, trying its best to thwart my escape. Typical huh? Sensor Ghost is a sequel-esque card driven movement/push your luck game with a small element of pick-up and deliver… and even with its small table footprint, compact card count, delivers a mammoth challenge to us, the budding space piloting soloists gamer.

 

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What’s All The Fuss About?

Touched upon above, the fuss here is for the eagerly awaited sequel to the very successful Assembly. A randomly generated, gridded playing area provides us with the deep space void wee must negotiate on our journey back to earth. Ahead of us are innumerable obstacles, wormholes, meteorites and even the occasional free space sector. Earth, for some inexplicable reason hates us and fears our return with our mad computer so to appease then, we must collect various items, equipment and such to offer as appeasement…then we can land and be free of the nightmare. Sounds simple? Hmmmm!

 

Immersion or Subversion?

In essence, this game is relatively abstract in nature, but the deep-space setting and the amazing component rendering (by designer Janice) really embellish the concept of space travel and generate an additional feeling of tension, as we navigate the treacherous gridded vacuum. I most certainly felt like I was at the helm of a space craft, asked with a multitude of life threatening decisions, navigating all that space has to throw at me. The mechanics within the game, the card driven movement mechanic, the randomness of the void (during setup and changeability via numerous encounters) and the disruption deck (a deck of cards depicting circumstances thrown up as a result of our friendly antagonistic on-board computer…all of which can play merry hell with the path we planned to take through space)

I think that considering it is an abstract game, theme has been seamlessly woven into the fabric of the game and we, as a solo player, can become inextricably engulfed in a deeply thematic game of space survival, as we solve the puzzle before us.

 

Mechanical Attributes:

Card driven movement features as the principle mechanic. Cards drawn from a deck into the hand, offer the limited number of movement choices which can be taken… how we use them to negotiate the vast number of hazardous sectors in space is where the game cleverly burdens us with constrained and difficult choices. Effect cards also add to the chaos of space and effectively emulate the mad-cap actions of the psychotic computer, hell-bent on out demise…it also adds the inherent dangers of deep space travel. Special abilities from selected crew members can be drawn upon, but their influence is very short lived. In essence, we have very little in the way of resource (some minimal resource management also features), skills or magical super powers. This game relies upon our ability to solve puzzles with the smallest of external assistance, and, for me, is where its design is strongest.

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Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:

As the game stood when I played and reviewed initially, all was very much prototype scraps of paper and place-holder are. As time went on, I was fortunate to receive a very fancy prototype with some excellent sci-fi illustrative components. Visually, the game will look excellent and, if its predecessor is anything to go by, all other physical components will be of a high quality when the production copy lands on Kickstarter backer’s doorsteps

 

Meeples and Standees:

  • Game Design: Janice & Stuart Turner
  • Artist: Janice Turner
  • Game Publisher: Wren games
  • Playtime:(recess for those of the American persuasion) 10-20+ minutes
  • Gangs of One: Solo
  • Age of Consent: 8+
  • DOB: 2019

 

Solitarianism:

This is a cooperative game for two players but has been fundamentally designed with the soloist in mind. There is a character/or two if playing cooperatively, possessing certain special abilities that can be called upon once during a game but beyond that, there is no book keeping or maintenance required for characters. In fact the only tracking is that of shield tokens a vital aspect as they are frequently bombarded, depleted and generally abused… and if reduced to zero we are space dust, so careful maintenance is crucial). It is a very “thinking game” that can be all consuming but works exceptionally well as a solo game. Purpose designed, it certainly delivers a short, sharp shock to the gaming system.

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Bots and Wotnots:

There is a strange irony here in that the game is fundamentally about a psychotic computer/bot, that is once more hell-bent on our demise… yet there is not an AI bot, as such, in the game. There is a deck of cards that present a wide variety of unusual circumstances/events that are as a result of this computer’s shenanigan but no Bot system we need control or operate. This aside, the system works particularly well, as events usually result in disruption to our plans, be it hindering our movement or even complete and catastrophic changes to the space matrix/layout of cards on the table…in fact it appears to work all to well when I play…grrrrr

 

The Real Nitty Gritty:

  • Winners and Losers: This is definitely not a walk in the park. It is exceptionally challenging but not impossible but as each game will never replicate a previous session, there is always an intellectual mountain of decisions to make. It is a fun challenge come win or lose and after several plays it becomes apparent certain techniques work with certain situations (which is helpful) but as the layout is always different, these techniques will always have to be adapted or improvised as we progress.
  • Rules is Rules is Rules: My prototype has eleven pages of A5, fully illustrated with game layout and simple rule explanations. It is quick to get started and the complexity is low, which enables gamers of all abilities to quickly digest gaming concepts…and get stuck into the action quickly
  • Lucky Buggers: The turning of cards from both the Command (movement/action) deck and from the Disruption deck is very much reliant upon the draw, but beyond this pretty much all gameplay relies upon our cunning and wile to navigate, negotiate and activate our grew and ship. This is a decision making game, not a game of chance…although we do push our luck at times with our decision making/predicting possible negative effects that may flip cards, revealing nasty surprises.
  • Highs and Lows: It is always a bit of a blow to lose a game but this title offers us such an engaging challenge, a loss is merely a learning path to future victory. I have always come away from my plays feeling very positive.
  • Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The as set-up requires laying out a grid of about 70cm x 60cm, depending on how spaced out (like the pun?) a player prefers
  • Set IT Up Just To Tear It Al Down Again: There is a moment or two we must set aside for set up because of the randomised space grid used at the start of each game, and time to ponder which special character to take, but in real terms there are few components (a set of location cards, and two decks of cards) which means that little more than ten minutes need be set set aside before we can begin

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Me, Myself and I:

It was a tricky venture to try out Sensor Ghost, having had such a good experience with Assembly, its predecessor. The anticipation of a follow up game can lead to great disappointment…but I need not have worried…even in its unrefined development state it proved to be an exciting challenge. Since then it has seen development, refinement, superb graphics and has now funded on Kickstarter…it will become a reality for backer before too long.

It is us against the game…no fancy complex AI flow charts…just our wits verses the mad computer, and all the unforeseen events we may encounter…this is what tests our metal…our ingenuity and adaptation of limited resources.

It is a very challenging game, but one that stimulates and engages from start to finish…assuming you get to the finish. So many times I have failed…yet every time I am compelled to try again…to try and learn from my blunders. This has to be the sign of a good game to keep us wanting more even after failure. I like this game a lot, me and myself are in accordance so three heads are obviously better than one in this instance. Small-ish, compact and pretty quick to play, it suits the soloist down to the ground. Brain exercise that is easily accessible, quick and fun to play but all in a very small package. perfect

 

Yay or Nay?

Despite the enormity of isolation in deep space, the BSoMT 1d8 has sped through the vacuum of space for a very creditable, deeply spacable (7)

 

OUTRO:

I am truly afflicted by asteroids….oh, the misfortune, the torture, the… lack of effective medical treatment in deep space… where is that inflatable pilot-seat cushion?

 

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Something For The Weekend, Sir?

 Wren Games: https://wrengames.wordpress.com/

Wren Games on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WrenGames

 

 

 

#1Bot…AuTauPilot

Initial ramblings:

Flying solo in the deep, deep, deepest of Tau Ceti system space. Alone in space, surrounded by an infinite vacuum of nothing. Isolation, no companionship and only an on-board computer with the most irritating sardonic attitude imaginable. Adrift in the void…

 

Meat & Potatoes:

But that is all such nonsense. Tau Ceti space is absolutely teaming with life. In fact you can’t bloody move for other-worldly beings carrying on in an unruly manner or just you try and vent your space-suite without bumping into oddly formed alien life, asteroids, planetary crisis, hostile encounters or living starships. It’s a veritable nebula boiling pot of activity…and I really am referring to just the solo variant. It’s interesting to know that the solo version of this 4x-ish multiplayer game not only facilitates any number of AI opponents, but also has any number of independent living starships milling about the place chucking a spanner in the works when you least expect it…and as most space vessels tend not to rely on old-school mechanical infrastructure, getting a spanner stuck in your subsidiary conduit is not something you ought to experience alone in space.

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Artificial Intelligence:

A quick glance at he rule book may fool the casual bystander…byfloater, it should be, as gravity is in short supply unless we find ourselves firmly planted on the surface of a rock such as Earth.

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Don’t be lulled into believing that the solo variant is an afterthought tagged on to the end as a mere fleeting fancy to pacify the soloist fraternity. There is a mere 2 pages or so dedicated to some dedicated solo rules but don’t fall into this cunning asteroid-laced trap. Oh no! The surface has only just been scratched. Each of the Alien Races has a solo card that accompanies its Race dashboard. Each of these cards has a series of actions the AI will take dependant on a die roll and influenced by the choices you have made as the only live person in the universe, as you go blundering through the void.

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Each race will act differently and if you play, as I usually do, with two AI opponents, life can get pretty competitive. Admittedly there has to be an element of book keeping  to be undertaken on behalf of the AI (managing its Energy and Tau (currency) and a hand of cards) Now this isn’t as daunting as it appears. The hand of cards is just a growing pile of face down cards that needs the occasional shuffle and an occasional card pinching from the deck to be bunged in the centre of the table during the Enlightenment phase…oh and moving two tokens up and down a tracker. This is nothing to test the old grey matter.

 

The Real Nitty Gritty:

Like any 4x-ish game, unless there is any direct fisticuffs, there is not very much interaction with opponents as they beaver away trying to fulfil their own selfish goals. Tau Ceti, for me, at any rate, feels like it offers something a little more flavoursome. Everyone contributes cards during the enlightenment stage to help or hinder the universe…in the solo game the AI contributes randomly from its ever growing hand/deck so it really is a space lottery of excitement (as might be expected from the multiplayer game) Both your actions and those of your cunning opponents could well effect the Tau Ceti Exchange/availability of space craft upgrades making their moves unpredictable (although you can plan and strategies once you are familiar with a race’s AI card to a degree) I wont say this is smooth as a baby’s buttocks, but I really don’t think this type of game is ever a slick no-brainer. It requires planning, consideration and to badly split infinitives. There are a wide variety of actions to take and so many activities to get sidetracked with, making this an enormous universe to explore. The mechanics work well to provide a competitive opponent (I forgot the bitter sting in the adding-things-up-at-the-end tail. That enormous pile of cards building up face down in the AI’s pretend sticky little fingers could completely swing the results in the AI’s favour come the final reckoning…if they have enough cards with an appropriate scoring symbol on them) which makes for a tense, thrilling exploration of Tau CetI.

 

Multiples of Solo:

I think I waffled on significantly and sufficiently enough above to give a hint towards my feelings on this game. I think this is a splendid solo version of a multiplayer game with Artificial Intelligence that is capable of reacting to the real players life choices (within the game that is…it is not so developed as to react to you shaving your head or tattooing a on each bum cheek so it spells WOW when you touch your toes) There is a high level of replay-ability here, with a large number of different races all acting, reacting and playing differently, there is a random/different set up for each game and the large number of encounters, missions and transmissions knocking about from rock to rock make this a veritable space explorers dream…transmissions…that reminds me…the Living Starship is an independent oddity that has its own deck of cards governing if and when it might pop up and give your orbitals a jolly good pounding.

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I love this as a solo game and play frequently. I think, however, that player interaction with the AI is not as poignant as with some BOTs which might not be to some peoples tastes but I also think that this is the nature of exploration, exploitation, plastic potplant cremation. For the style of game, this BOT performs admirably.

This Tau Ceti AI mechanic and Living Starship Bot earns its self a galaxian 7/8 sides (of the octagonal gaming table)



A link to the …of Vacuums and Voids article about the Main Tau Ceti solo game #2 …of Vacuums and Voids (Tau Ceti)


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Something for the Weekend Sir?!

Game Designers: Mike & Stan Strickland, Joseph Pilkus

Outer Limit Games: https://www.outerlimitgames.com/

In Space No-one Can Hear You Scream

*COMING SOON*

Alone and adrift in deep space, desperately trying to explore, expand, exploit and exterminate as many X’s as is alienly possible in the Tau Ceti system.

…unless, of course, you have the gift of time travel or can move through space so fast that you realize time is a curve and you find yourself coming back on yourself…in which case this will already be old news