Don't Panic!(Steve Be)United Kingdom
These are my thoughts after a single play, and should be taken exactly as that. We were playing under the instructions of a member of the Esdevium team at the UK Games Expo. To set the scene, we were in a busy room next to some noisy Daleks, and a Doctor Who look alike with a water pistol.
To start with, the game is based upon the most recent movie. I grew up with the original series, and loved it as a child. I watched and enjoyed most of Next Generation, DS9, and Voyager, but didn’t watch Enterprise. I enjoyed the new film, but find the entire Star Trek world no more than interesting.
How Does It Look?
Well, the miniatures are fantastic. The Klingon ship was my personal favourite, but they are all exceptionally well made. The board however looked dull – a part of a planet’s surface as seen from space, and it lacked any real definition. The board is divided into section by the addition of some white lines, rather than try and make something of the artwork. I would have liked to have seen an aerial view of a futuristic city divided up into districts just to try and help set the scene, but if then this may hamper future scenarios. The spaceship tracks were functional, and took away from the impact of the two ships moving back and forth (mostly back for the Enterprise in our game). The card art was passable, simple, and generally uninteresting, but perfectly functional.
What Is The Setup?
Well, this was already done when we sat down, but the planet’s surface is divided into 15 different territories, and each territory gains a card face-down, and an item that can be used to aid either the Enterprise or the team. All the players start on the enterprise, and Kirk has the first turn.
Additionally, there is a seperate board with three tracks, which shows the final outcome of the game. Each track has a marker to track your successes and failures. Each track has different sections from a good outcome down to a bad outcome – you start there, so have to improve to get a respectable result by game end.
What Do You Do?
Each round a bad thing happens, depending on what level you play at. Then you take actions, such as moving, beaming up or down, taking cards, picking up items, swapping crew, or using a skill. Apologies if I’ve missed anything here – but as per Pandemic, each player had a card showing all their possible actions, with an icon depicting where you needed to be in order to take the action (the surface of the planet or on Enterprise).
When you move to the planet, you reveal the card on your location. This then has a challenge for you to complete, either as part of the main mission, or as a side event. These cards are of a good size, and do have some flavour text. To complete a mission, you look at the type of mission it is, and find your stat from the base of your figure, clearly done by colour. You then add points for any additional ‘skills’ you possess, and also you gain +2 for every other player figure present at your location. To this you add the roll of 2 dice, and you pass or fail. These are regular 6-sided dice, with the exception that 6 has been replaced with 7 (-1). This means you get a 7, but you take 1 wound.
Each time you complete a main mission, how well you do decides which mission is next from the 2 possibilities. The goal is to complete all of the main story missions before either Enterprise is destroyed or the day track reaches the end.
How Does It Play?
The game mechanic is maths and optimisation. Which player has the right stats to complete the missions with the highest score? Who has the right crew members? Who has the right cards? We were told you can talk about cards, but not show them. Crew members are played to the table anyway, so this is open. We were openly stating which cards we had, and each turn was spent calculating who goes in what order. The choices were always obvious, with no subtlety at all, and the theme slipped into the background. We have a yellow 22 mission to complete, but really we want to roll 24 to get the best outcome. Who has the highest overall yellow score? Do they need another player to be there for the +2?
The ‘bad things happen’ cards had no flavour text at all. They simply stated ‘no beaming’ or had the attack symbol, and displayed a number to tell players how many actions they could utilise that turn. Because of the ‘no beaming’ we had a key player stuck on Enterprise, so had to take the next best option, but again this was obvious. Failing a mission meant nothing – you take a wound and try again if you have enough actions, so you simply make sure you allow for this.
We played through the missions, using Spock’s special action to detect where they were amongst the face-down cards. This allowed us to avoid the pitfalls, and concentrate on the missions that needed to be completed. McCoy heals, Kirk moves around, Uhuru gets stuck on the Enterprise. Well, in fairness I’m not fully illustrating the possibilities here, but this is how it worked for us. Kirk has a special ability to pass crew around, which through the card draw we didn’t really feel was necessary (there was always something more important to do) and from memory, Uhuru can hand cards out to other players when she draws them.
How Did We Do?
This was the amusing part – we barely made it through the game because of the pounding the Enterprise took. The shield counters helped a little, but not enough so Enterprise finished on -4, meaning each outcome track moved down 4 points once the final mission was completed. Our result was that the planet was an ecological disaster, with many dead, in the midst of a civil war, and in the control of the Klingons. Pretty catastrophic, I’d say. However, as our final score was 20, we returned to earth with a commendation! Well, again, I didn’t see the rulebook over this, so can only take the demoer’s word for it but really? I know we just sneaked into this bracket by 1 point, but did we really beat the game on our first run through after all feeling we had performed pretty badly?
In each round, each player has a turn in any order, so this allows for a single player to take two turns in a row. This is a good idea, but in practice we found it difficult to remember who had been and who hadn’t and there was probably at least one occasion when a player got skipped, or played before they were allowed to. As the same process happens before each player takes their turn, there was no obvious way of tracking this that we were told about, so this simply created some confusion. Have you been yet? I don’t know – who started the round? This would be very easy to answer – flip your player card once you’ve been for example, but it was a little frustrating.
With the dice rolls, using two dice felt far too random. The possible spread of results this allows for, from 2 to 14, is far too wide a band. Having a lower score to achieve, but only using a single die would help this a little.
The rule about cards is pointless – you can’t show cards to other players, but you can read them out. Each card has no more than a sentence on describing what the card does, so why not just show them to other players rather than reading them out all the time? There is no traitor present, nor is there a winning player at game end which might cause a player to want to keep a card to themselves – you all win, or nobody wins.
This is a backwards step for co-ops. It feels like it should have been designed around the time of Lord Of The Rings, which I would argue is probably an equal game to this, if not a little better – Lord Of The Rings feels more tense than this as the fellowship and the Sauron piece slowly converge. Pandemic has a visual spread of disease cubes, and the tension this causes. With Ghost Stories, Witch Of Salem, and Arkham Horror, you at least see the board filling up with monster cards which helps to generate an impending sense of doom. Battlestar Galactica has thematic board artwork, good miniatures, and evokes the theme throughout – the flavour text on the cards is present when required, and the traitor mechanic makes the game. With Castle Panic, you see your walls and towers tumbling, and the hordes gathering. Shadows Over Camelot has siege engines aiming at your castle walls, Defenders Of The Realm has the spread of evil forces, Forbidden Island has the tiles falling away from under you. So what does Star Trek: Expeditions have that creates this necessary tension? Well, the Klingon ship moves towards you, but if you want, you can move back a space, oh and the date track marker moves down the date track. Also, you can turn the dials on the bases of the figures, but you often have little idea how many turns have been made per figure.
Knizia has done well in the past to prove you don’t need buckets of theme to create a good game. Amun-Re is probably my top rated Knizia, and really it could be attached to most themes in some way or other, but the artwork is good, and the gameplay is excellent. I can understand why, but I feel critical of the fact that Knizia seems to have moved away from creating games for gamers, and is looking at games for the masses. With all the recent Knizia apps, and Lego tie-ins, he has lost what made him great. I understand that nobody is ever going to make their fortune from designing Amun-Re simply because the audience is too small. On the same day, I played Ankh-Morpork, the new Martin Wallace game. Ankh-Morpork is a fairly simple gateway game, and it is excellent, just to prove that this can be done, and done well.
In summary, the miniatures are excellent, the board and cards are functional, and ok, but the game is a real let down. If I owned this game, I’d probably play it at most 3 times as a solo. In contrast, I’ve registered 26 plays of Pandemic, and 9 of BSG and Castle Panic. We may have missed a couple of minor rules or nuances, but on the whole it felt like we were playing the game in the right way – nothing felt too out of place. I’m not saying that I could do better, nor am I intending to just say ‘this is rubbish’ but I feel there are plenty of co-operative games already available that are significantly better than this.
As an additional note to this, I’ve just quickly looked through the rules. The only rule we weren’t told was regarding taking wounds to increase the die rolls. With this rule, we would have finished the game a round earlier, and scored even higher than we did. I’ve also noted that we did get a commendation, and that a score of 0 counts as ‘Mission Complete! You are congratulated and sent on your next mission’. To get 0, the planet joins the Klingon empire, global civil war erupts, much of the eco system is destroyed, and large number of the population die. Congratulations.