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Phantom League: Pilot Academy» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Posco's Perspective: The Phantom League & Pilot Academy rss

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Ian Gill
United Kingdom
Mansfield
Nottinghamshire
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I’ve been playing all sorts of games (board, card, RPG, CCG, PC) for over 40 years and yet still remember how crazy some of my PC-owning friends were about Elite. So, when a game appeared that was based upon that game experience I was naturally curious.

When The Phantom League was first reviewed there appeared to be a lot of issues with the combat system, although the rest of the game sounded very good. Unfortunately, I have so many games that I didn’t want to buy one which might not be very popular with my fellow club players and thus not get to the table (they can be a bloodthirsty bunch so combat matters). However, I was keen to see if the first expansion would improve the battles.

Unfortunately, whilst it sounded like Mostly Harmless was a very good expansion and improved the base game, I was still reticent to buy the game as the combat system had not really changed.

Finally Pilot Academy became available and, with the promise of revised combat, I ordered all three items and promos straight away. Quite a gamble ! Despite never playing the base game, the whole idea of a more free-form space board game was too hard to resist. I am a big fan of Battlestations, the RPG/Board game cross, and I was hopeful that Phantom League would give a similar feel.

The following concentrates on buying and immediately integrating the base game and both expansions. Whilst this makes it an expensive game I’m really pleased I bought the game and my fellow players really enjoy it.
I don’t intend to describe much of the game itself as hopefully you can get a clear picture from the posts of Mostly Harmless and the base game

Components:
These are very good. The cards are the main focus and are good quality but do have a black edge (so can suffer a little if not sleeved). I think there are some slight colour differences between sets but there are so many cards I don’t think this would bother most gamers.
Everything fits easily in the Mostly Harmless box.
When combining the sets, there are very few redundant items and surprisingly little errata required considering the number of cards.

Rulebook:
This is usually a major factor for me and I was aware that the rule book that comes with Mostly Harmless was held to have been a big improvement. The Pilot Academy adds some new rules/options (fairly easily) and replaces the whole combat section. You have the option to select which bits of the expansion you want to use.
I found the rulebook fairly straightforward but was a little disappointed that some rules had been amended post printing and were only highlighted in the forums.
This sounds quite poor but Timo (the designer) has been extremely proactive in supporting the players and improving the game and I find this far better than having a game with issues that are never addressed and questions that go unanswered.
I did post quite a few questions that Timo answered quickly and I helped reword some rules. When Timo asked for help with a combined rulebook I volunteered to produce one. Timo and his team are checking my new, single version, and it will hopefully be available on BGG soon. I’m hopeful it will make the complete game more accessible, as I find it good fun.

The Game Itself:
The game allows you to become some sort of space adventurer/trader/pirate but you can choose your path. There are a lot of random events but the type of character you develop has a direct bearing on many of the encounters eg smuggling drugs/slaves will not endear you with the more lawful planets; and being Mr Goody Two Shoes won’t help you when you visit a lawless planet.
The game allows you to take risks or play conservatively and the “board” is different for every game. There is also a wide choice of Captains to choose from and it can be fun to draw at random.
Despite all this, turns can be played quickly………except for combat.

Combat:
I can’t comment on the old system but the game does grind to a bit of a halt when someone needs (or wants) to fight. With more experience, this won’t be as bad, but it will still change the tempo of the game.
I made quite a few errors with the new combat rules but they should be much clearer in the new rulebook. However, we haven’t resolved enough fights ‘correctly’ to be totally clear on how good the system is.
A few combats (if you have a very fast ship vs pirates) can be foregone conclusions (and I don’t have a problem with this but it helps to check this logically before going through set-up). Generally though, the combat system can give battles a bit of narrative that doesn’t appear in other games.
Ok, Timo could have produced a combat system where each ship improvement/weapon adds to a combat value. You then roll a die and check the result on a table.
However, this game tries to give you some feeling actually making combat decisions and seeing the results. An element of luck feels right in a game of space adventure but this may not suit everyone.

What is added for existing players:
Extra cards for this type of game are always welcome.
Both the addition of surface missions and the Galactic Balance situation (the current fight between Good and Evil for dominance) round off the theme for me. I suspect the Blockading and Escaping rule changes are also good alterations. Obviously there is a revised combat system and it is really good that you don’t have to throw away existing cards – new cards have been added to make the system work.

Length:
A club night for me is about 2.75 hours max and even with set-up and regular rules explanation it is possible to finish the game within that time. Obviously things will get much quicker with experience and no new players.

Verdict:
As you can tell already I really enjoy the game and have introduced it to at least seven other players who have been similarly impressed (one has even bought the entire game) and are keen to play again.
It has a lot of theme and can be random but you do make a lot of choices and can decide on your career path and level of risk. The combat system is not as slick as the rest but I expect it to improve with familiarity and it tries hard to link what improvements your ship has into a meaningful system.

The Phantom League is clearly not for those who solely like Euro style games but if you like one that creates a story then this may well be a winner for you.

Some game expansions just provide more of the same, or make a game more complex, but I feel Pilot Academy adds important aspects/options that integrate well and make it a more complete experience.

Hope this helps

Ian

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Gary Pressler
United States
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Very nice review. I basically did the same thing, getting the base game cheap off eBay and then ordering both expansion and the promos without playing yet. They arrived last week, and I got to play my first game (3 players) yesterday! We all loved it. Even though I totally ruined my chances with some bad decisions and worse luck, it only made me excited to try again.

One small quibble, though.

Posco wrote:
...the Galactic Balance situation (the current fight between Good and Evil for dominance)...


It is NOT between Good and Evil. It's between Oppressive Government and Uncontrolled Anarchy. Order and Chaos, maybe, but neither side is particularly good nor fully evil. Which is exactly as it should be for this sort of game. Timo has done a great job keeping it in the morally grey.

In our game, I was a peaceful space miner, but a mission to provide needed medicines pushed me onto the Renegade track. Another player was the bloodthirsty Ronya the Slayer, who ended up hunting and slaying a heap of pirates for the win, but managed to help the Alliance along the way.

I can't wait to play again!
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Scott Everts
United States
Foothill Ranch
California
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Very nice review! Glad to hear you're working with Timo on a comprehensive new manual. As you mentioned, there are so many changes and revisions it makes sense to have a complete updated one.
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Ian Gill
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Quote:
It is NOT between Good and Evil. It's between Oppressive Government and Uncontrolled Anarchy. Order and Chaos, [i]maybe[/b], but neither side is particularly good nor fully evil. Which is exactly as it should be for this sort of game. Timo has done a great job keeping it in the morally grey.


Thanks for clarifying this for readers. I just logged on to check if I could improve my wording (it was typed very late at night with limited time) and your description is clearer.

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Ian Gill
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Quote:
Very nice review! Glad to hear you're working with Timo on a comprehensive new manual. As you mentioned, there are so many changes and revisions it makes sense to have a complete updated one.


Scott, you are the king of play-aids. I have the same issue that you mention in your blog on the subject - too many games so each one gets too few plays, which makes restudying rules a chore.
Your work on Mecnisburgo made it playable for me and I see you have already produced a mat for this one Excellent

I like to think I'm pretty good at understanding rules and spotting confusing sections so have tried hard to make one coherent set covering as many questions from BGG as I could.
Unfortunately, perfect rulesets are really hard to write and one set can be great for some and poor for others.
However, my version is with Timo and, once available, will hopefully make this game more accessible and tempt players to give it a try.
I like games that offer something different (I don't need 10 similar area control games, 10 stock market games or 10 risk variants) and I think Phantom League is well worth owning and playing

Ian
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Norman Hills
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Ian, good review, it pretty much sums up our experience with PL/MH/PA everything motors along quite nicely until combat happens and then everything grinds to a halt (we've only played 7/8 games so far). We didn't feel that the PA combat system sped anything up

In one game (admittedly after a few beers we invented a 'buckets or dice' approach to combat - I'll post it in the variants section of you want look.
http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/907258/alternate-faster-comb...
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Timo Multamäki
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Ian, a very nice review which I also hold to be true and fair.

Thank you.
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Jin TS
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Hi, thanks for posting this review in which i really appreciate it. This review gave me a very good understanding on how the game has developed all this while.

I have been following this game ever since it was released a couple of years back. I didn't buy it, instead, i continue to observe this game mainly because i cant afford to spend too much time to house rule a game that has too many issues or keep looking for solutions to solve problems (i use to do it and dont really mind as long as the game is good, just like the way i did for Tomb). Nonetheless, this game is excellent in theme and i personally really love the space adventure sort of games with an opened and optional path to glory.

Perhaps it's time i really take a look back on this game and think whether it is the time to purchase it. I have been waiting for the right moment so that i can purchase it and play it right away. I notice the combat phase is still an issue...will continue to monitor this game and see where i go from here. It's definitely closer to purchasing it now than before as i can see improvements have been made so far.

Jin

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Ian Gill
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The new rulebook has been written and checked and is with Timo for any last minute tweaks, then formatting, etc. Unfortunately I cant post a timescale for this but I'm sure Timo will be doing his best to make it available very soon.

Hopefully, with Timo's patience & help, I've covered as many rules questions as possible and made the complete game more accessible.

One last addition was a very comprehensive combat example involving three ships and covering as many of the more unusual aspects as I could squeeze in. This was tricky to write, and may look complicated at first, but is designed for players to recreate using the cards themselves rather than to simply read.

The combat system is very unique but will not suit every player. However it can also be far more interesting than " my ship destroys yours on a roll of 5 or 6" and translates the varied improvements on your ship directly into the combat system.







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