…ship’s log…about 47cm long, 15cm in diameter…more a sturdy branch segment than a log, but very handy as a paper weight on my Captain’s desk. It is in circumstances such as this that you would normally find me polishing my knees and buffing my zero gravity shin protectors….usually….but on this occasion the bridge has taken significant damage from a Skadi Fighter-squadron attack and the reactor is not reacting very well to its damage…in fact it has reacted quite badly…
Press play for an Ironclad spacial ambiance whilst you cruise the stars
Go to The Crossroads space station they said….pick up some mad old scientist and take him to Helix IV they said…hand him in and get paid. Simple!…but the Corporation want us to take him to Charon and he has offered us cash in hand to take him to Melian Prime….aaaagghhhh! Sooo many choices…
What’s All The Fuss About?
The fuss is about listening to the opera…in space!…no, wait a minute, I may have got that wrong…this is the official line…
Ironclad is a cooperative space opera game for 1 to 3 players.
Ironclad’s story driven campaign puts you in the far future of our world, in the midst of a Cosmic Cold War era between various galactic spanning factions like the Gaia Nova Federation, the Galactic Council etc.
Players are freelancers aboard the Ironclad, a powerful battleworn warship that defected from the Gaia Nova Federation Navy. They will be tasked with completing missions for various factions from smuggling and collecting bounties to destroying formidable battle space stations or taking part in massive space battles.
In Ironclad players collectively control the battleship through its vital Sections (Bridge, Weapons and Hangar) by assigning Heroes and follow a campaign of 10+ scenarios. Each scenario will feature certain points where players will be called to make a choice. These choices will have benefits and/or repercussions within the current game and also on future scenarios played. Thus, with each passing scenario the story unfolds according to the choices made by the players.
Players will have to make sure that their ship and her systems remain intact, while also paying attention to the Crew and their Morale. Ironclad is designed to provide players with a challenging game and a highly replayable campaign. Players may very well lose during the course of the campaign as they are learning the game. In order to emerge victorious, players will need to customize their Hero Roster and upgrade their Battleship according to the challenges they expect to face, as well as work together to overcome the dangers that lie ahead.
Each mission uses the modular hexagonal board pieces to set up the space sector where the scenario takes place. Players have to reach their goal (they may also attempt to discover secret objectives that might lie in-between). During their journey they will encounter threats ranging from other hostile ships (pirates, warmongers etc.), while braving cosmic anomalies (like solar flares or black holes).
- Narrative driven campaign with missions that will provide players with over 15 hours of content.
- Hexagon based modular map tiles representing space stations, planets, cosmic events and the vastness of space.
- A.I. controlled threats and events (enemy ships and cosmic events)
- Customizable and upgradeable Battleship.
- A variety of unique Heroes to choose from for each scenario.
Immersion or Subversion:
I am actually having difficulty deciding on the immersive quality of this game. Aesthetically it looks great if the style of cartoon illustration meets with your tastes and I actually don’t mind it as a style. I should point out that there are all the usual sci-fi elements in the game from modular universe to a large array of enemy spacecraft but for me I require more than pretty pictures. As it happens, Ironclad has an interesting campaign style of gameplay. A Space Opera as they like to call it. If we were to play but a single game, the whole effect would be rather weak and verging on ‘subversive’. However, this is not designed as a one shot game. We have a series of scenarios to work our way through and, although each scenario is objective lead, the wholistic idea is that we coax, command and lead our ship’s crew through an extended journey. Only after several scenarios does this start to make sense from an immersive point of view. Now we discover we have to plan beyond our first game, as ill-fated consequences have repercussions later in our journey. There is a strong link between game mechanics and theme even if my personal preference for this particular game would see a more realistic artistic render, rather than cartoon illustration. I actually like the style but the game feels a little more serious than the visuals would have us believe. Just a personal feeling. Despite this wrinkle, we can become quickly engrossed in our mission and start building some attachment with our crew (especially after a certain familiarity with their abilities)
There are a large number of elements coming together to make this game and to talk you through them all would make for tedium beyond measure so I shall mention in brief, an overview of several elements that are of note.
The heart of the game is about us exploring the sectors of space in this universe. This is achieved through several means. Moving the ship from hex to hex across the modular board revealing an Intel counter each time our ship enters a new sector. The revealed counter has a title that corresponds to an encounter card which details what we have found…sometimes good, sometimes bad, occasionally optional but usually compulsory (especially the bad). We have two actions per round though game events can reduce or increase this by one so choosing what we do is important when distributing our limited action points. Moving blindly into a sector saves time and action points but leaves us unprepared for what lies ahead. Alternatively we can use our advanced scanners and consume an action revealing an adjacent sector’s intel token. This can help with choosing our path to achieving our mission objective
The game is set over a progression of ten scenarios, each having a specific mission objective. The scenarios provide background detail and potential rewards for completion of an objective. Often we are presented with several options…several, d’you hear?…and the selection of which can have positive or negative effects later in subsequent scenarios so we are required to think carefully about our long-term goals as well as immediate objectives. Secondary tasks/missions can be thrown our way and each scenario has various tables to represent hostile encounters or mission specific locations (that direct us to text passages relating the next stages of our mission. In this way replayability is vastly increased as a set number of enemy ships can be encountered in a different manner from scenario to scenario. The various options offered to us within each mission means that even repeating a single mission can playout differently each time (in conjunction with the random distribution of Intel tokens across the univers…the modular map also means a small number of components can be laid out in a different configuration for each scenario)
Each sector has its own effect on the Ironclad in addition to the Intel encounters. A reference card tells us what we have to negotiate, calling on us to use crew skills we were perhaps saving for other purposes.
The Exhaustion mechanic is interesting as each character/crew member has skills, abilities and attributes we can call upon to help negotiate difficult encounters (and negate the luck element of a die roll) Using a crew member exhausts them…using them twice wounds them. Exhausted characters can use an action to rest (although R&R at certain locations can also facilitate this) but once wounded, they cannot be called upon until healed at a medical facility (or special medical abilities of crew) Twelve crew appears plentiful at the start of the game (and the roster of crew may increase although only twelve are available per scenario) but their skills soon become scarce especially as exhaustion and wounds carry over from one scenario to another. On a similar note, the space ship has a typical dashboard that tracks damage, hull integrity, crew morale etc. These stats can affect how we perform during encounters (high moral for example will give us a bonus to die rolls…similarly loosing crew moral or crew numbers can have a detrimental effect)…what ever the state of the ship, these stats follow us to the next scenario posing a conundrum…waste precious time and action points repairing the ship or chance it in a very hostile vacuum?
This forms the basis of the game. There are interesting additions to the cards that we encounter and, unusually for sci-fi, combat is not a large feature. We encounter hostile ships and have to engage but this only lasts for one round of combat (including close range and long-range). I assume that it is more an irritant, a small hurdle for us to clear, a way of adding attritional damage rather than emulating a war. A quick exchange then damage limitation on both sides. It does not clearly state this in the rules so for my understanding…to help me fully immerse myself into this universe, I would have liked to see at least some flavour text to explain why combat is so short-lived. It is not crucial for gameplay but would just help deepen the game experience
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I have already touched upon the visual style of the game and all components used with my playthroughs have been prototypes. The art, graphic layout and mechanics of the game all possess a well finished look (though I am sure changes will occur as the project develops) Assuming Alcyon have a the intention to produce Ironclad with a similar finish to their components found in Argonauts, they are sure to be to a very high standard, with quality printing on extremely sturdy cardboard (tokens & tiles) and robust linen finish playing cards.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Konstantinos Iovis, Ioannis Stamatis, Kostis Tolios
- Artist: Manos Lagouvardos
- Game Publisher: Alcyon Creative
- Playtime (‘recess’ for those in the States) : 45-90 mins (I assume this refers to each scenario)
- Gangs of one: 1-3
- Age of Consent: 13+
- DOB: 2018
The game is designed as a three player cooperative game in the first instance but the rules state how distribution of responsibilities should be arranged for two and solo player games. Obviously in our case the soloist will be expected to control the crew of all three sectors of the Ironclad. Book keeping for each individual section of the ship is minimal…consisting only of applying the fatigue/wounded marker if an ability or attribute has been used during a turn.As such, it poses very little problem or over complication for a single player to monitor sch a task. The statistics for the Ironclad itself would have to be carried out by a player regardless the head count, so we see very little extra work for a single player. As a cooperative game the concept is to discuss, as a team, which player will contribute which of their characters to particular situations the Ironclad finds itself in. A good aspect for social interaction but similarly, perhaps, more effective as a soloists resource management/application process…with less arguing or disagreement re: appropriate tactics…although I do find that I often disagree with myself over many an unwise choice.
As a solo game this actually translates quite simply from the multiplayer versin and we soloists are able to access the same game experience…especially, if like me, myself and I, you have plenty of self interaction. It can’t be judged on a single game because its strongest elements revolve around progression through the ten scenarios of the campaign. It must be judged on at least several progressions so we can experience what it is like to make a start of a new game still carrying damaged ship elements and wounded crew and limited cash and….well, you get the general idea. The battering we get from one game is taken with us to the next. This throws some difficult economic decisions our way. Do we limp on or waste time and resources healing, fixing and modifying in preparation for an even greater threat ahead.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: This title poses some interesting challenges throughout each scenario but from a game to game basis will not overly tax a player or make anyone feel like it is an uphill struggle but that said, to actually achieve success over the course of all ten scenarios is no small task.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rules over all make a decent job of explaining how the game works, details the fundamental mechanics involved and does illustrate some game components. Where it does fall down, for my thinking, is a lack of clarity in some areas. Some icons are not immediately obvious, certain outcomes on encounter cards left me feeling I was unsure what I should do with the results and the end of Combat was most unclear. I think elements such as the combat, what happens after a draw, why protagonists disengage etc (which actually consists of two parts over just one round) could be explained away with a short flavour text. Where the rules do a good job, it must be pointed out, is to have two simple tutorial missions that walk us through the game allowing the basic rules to be applied to the first scenario/mission then the advanced rules can be experienced in the second. This helps put theory into practice and avoids large amounts of abstract information to be retained before actually seeing the game components. Overall the rule book provides enough information for us to jump into the game without too much fuss but not as smooth a transition as I would hope for. Obviously the rules are , to all intents and purposes, only prototypical and there is plenty of time for clarity and fine tuning. The second booklet, the campaign book, only had three scenarios so I can only surmise it will be at least twenty pages in length. The scenarios are well thought out giving clear instructions for set up and for game length and objective. In fact we are often posed with at least two potential objectives…it is at this point the long game strategy starts to raise its cunning head. Ultimately we are concerned with gaining or losing favour with the various factions pottering about in the dusty corners of space. To this end, we need to think carefully about our long-term strategy using both flavour text and game reward text. Tables, based on the potential encounters we could face, direct us to various boxes of text which send us on a tangent path to our original adventure path. These flavour text passages are interesting to help us build substance to this universe and I suspect as our progress delves deeper into the campaign, more and more choices with extended information will arise.
- Lucky Buggers: Now there is a significant amount of dice rolling for every test, encounter and series of combat but the random nature of a die can simply be negated through careful allocation of crew members which can make a die roll almost uneccessary…but place too great a demand on the crew and they will struggle later in the adventure.
- Highs and Lows: The theme is upbeat and conflict is not dealt with in a particularly graphic manner so there is little to offend
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of my Table: There are a large number of components in the game, most of which will be needed throughout the game. For a comfortable game, ensuring all the tiles, decks of cards, various token pools, ship dashboard and all the crew cards are laid out in an ‘uncramped’ fashion then a minimum of 1 metre x 1 metre will be needed.
Me, Myself and I:
I will admit to being a little unsure at first…and with some ambiguities in the rule book that left me thinking “am I playing this right” it took longer than I expected to get into the flow of things. No I am fully aware this is prototype material and rules are constantly in a state of flux as aspects of game play receive fine tuning so I persevered. To both myself and Me, we actually started to enjoy the exploration, scanning ahead, dealing with encounters and allocating crew as we, I and me see fit. It has some close linked roots to Alcyon’s other title Argonauts (a title I thoroughly enjoyed that revolves around the use of crew abilities #9solo…of Titans Bronze and Sirens’ Songs (Argonauts) although not immediately obvious) so the notion of using a character’s stats or ability, exhausting them until rested (leaving them unavailable for subsequent rounds was not completely alien to me.
I think the conflict element is good in concept but as there is only a single fast (close range) and slow (long-range) attack round during combat I have been left feeling there needed to be some closure. If we fail to destroy an enemy vessel it can be called a draw but there is no game text, flavour text or rule text to tell me why we have stalemate, why the enemy does not continue to attack? I understand that the combat is not a crucial aspect of the game…it is merely interaction with other factions that share our space, a means of incurring collateral damage as we progress on the scenario mission (the main focus of the game). I would just like to have a little flavour to justify events…to help me understand this sci-fi universe I am exploring.
In the grand scheme of things this is a minor point and when some of the small ambiguities are cleared up in the rule book, I suspect this will prove to be a formidable sci-fi adventure. It has more entertainment value than a similar TV series franchise pick up and deliver space game that seed its protagonists travel the “verse”, similarities to several other explore and encounter games exist too but fortunately significant differences make it its own game. Although my prototype only had three scenarios, the progression through those demonstrated how the full ten might be in the published game. There is more to the game than surviving a singe scenario. Planning one, two, three scenarios ahead is paramount. Start a new scene with insufficient crew health or a damaged reactor and we are destined for a most unpleasant vacuumous experience. The numerous splits in the quest path provide us with some very interesting choices…taking control of the direction we wish to take our ship as we journey through the stars. We have several choices of objective, keeping in mind which faction we wish to build relationships with (this becomes important as we progress on to scenario six and onwards) but along the way alternatives and side quests/missions/whatever we shall call them throw tiny little spanners in our decision making works
Yay or Nay:
Ironclad sailed its way into a tactical position to launch attack on BSoMT’s 1d8 to achieve a die roll of (6) Six for the enjoyable progressive gameplay but I will reserve final judgement until I have access to a more explanatory rule book. I would recommend sci-fi game fans and fans of progressive campaign adventures to take a look when tis goes live on Kickstarter. The cartoon art work may not be to every sci-fi fan’s taste, but the game is entertaining for a soloist space traveler.
…now as it happens the Cartel are offering a hefty reward to locate an ancient ruin, the remnants of some antiquated space faring civilisation. What could possibly go wrong? I mean it all must be above board, right? No hidden agenda, no hidden battleships lying in wait…
…hmmmm! Think I’d best take the crochet dust guard of the twin barrelled turbo laser just in case.
Right crew, load the reactor up with three gallons of hay and make full speed for the Implausible sector….
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
IronClad BGG page: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/184802/ironclad