The Hungry Gamer Previews Omicron Protocol
Before I get started, I demoed this game with the designers. This is not a paid review.
When I was much younger I loved miniatures games. I played tons of Warhammer, and spent tons of my parents money purchasing minis and hours painting them. As I got older I could not afford to keep up with the habit, either in time or money. Then GW started changing the rules, and in recent years completely killed the world the game I played took place in. I never got back in to miniature games because the cost and time commitment is just so high, and of course, it is double if you want to actually play with someone.
However, in recent years, skirmish miniature games have become a thing, and I have developed a bit of an interest in them again, and my brother has gained a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Shadespire. I am attracted to these games because it gives me the feel of the old miniature battle games, but the cost is far lower, and terrain is provided. So when I got the chance to try out Omicron Protocol the other day I was jazzed!
Usually this is where I will break down how to play the game...but being a miniature skirmish game, there are a lot of rules, though they are not all that hard to master. So rather than break it all down, I will do my best to give a brief summary, and highlight the things that I find unique and, unquestionably dope. (yes I am dating myself by calling something dope...quit judging.)
The game takes place in the fictional California city of San Lazaro about 30 years into the future, when virtually everyone has some sort of cybernetic modification (whats up cellphone connected to your brain directly!). This city was hit by a mysterious flu, initially thought to be a bad strain of bird flu. However, as time progresses some folks suddenly begin to develop uncontrollable rage.
This leads the military to show up and shut down the city, quarantine it completely. The official word is right out of history. The experts cry "It's those damn kids and their video games! If they didn't play so much they wouldn't be out attacking everyone!" The scientists even have developed a name for those who have lost control CyMS (Cyber-Memetic Sociopaths), and they swear up and down that it has nothing to do with this illness.
Suddenly the military leaves, though San Lazaro is still on lock down. Inside the city there are several factions (2 if you just have the base box, 4 if you got the expansions ) The two base factions are the former law enforcement or military types that have stayed in the city in order to restore order and peace, while the second are the doomsday preppers who are getting their chance to shine. (Let me pause here and say that this makes me so mad. The thought that the doomsday preppers types are actually right, and justified in their crazy? Blargh!)
The game itself begins as word gets through to the factions that something else is going on. What gets done with this info, is what creates each scenario. Each scenario sees two factions battling over the various objectives, while dealing with the CyMS on the map as well. The CyMS, in true zombie like fashion, have no care who they beat down as long as they are beating down someone.
So here is how the game works, each team has 2 or 4 characters (out of a possible 6) in play depending on how long of a game you are playing. There is an objective, or objectives set on the map, and also on the map are various CyMS and CyMS spawn points.
The game uses an action point system which allows you to move, use various special abilities, perform scenario specific objectives or attack. Now this is where the first unique, and in my humble opinion, awesome mechanic comes into play.
When you roll your attack dice (determined by the attack stat, and compared against the Dex stat of the target) you will wind up with a number of successes. Now these successes are NOT damage. Rather you use these successes to "purchase" damage and special abilities from the "market" on the left side of the card. So, using the image above as an example, if I rolled 4 hits on a ranged attack I could deal 3 damage with one die left over, or deal "1" damage and activate the special ability "stun". The only other thing to note here is that any unspent dice that are equal to or above the luck stat gain you a luck token. These token do a variety of things from increasing dice rolls, to avoiding damage.
Virtually everything that you do causes a certain amount of "noise". This noise ties into the second unique mechanic, and my favorite. After each hero activates you look at how much noise they generated. If they generated, say 3 noise, EVERY CyMS within 3 hexes will move toward them, and if they get close enough attack them. That is not particularly unique, but what I do love about it is that the other player gets to move them.
This allows for all kinds of new layers of strategy. When we played we were able to use them to set off opposing player traps, to attack them, and to move them into position where we were able to mow them down (CyMS can be killed, and if you kill enough they earn you victory points).
The last thing that I will point out is that there is no perma-death in the game. If you lose all your HP you are knocked, out and all it really costs you is some action points, depending on when in the round you are put down. It also will earn the other team a VP.
The game ends at the end of 5 rounds, or at the end of a round following a player reaching 3 VP. There are three ways to earn VP. As I already mentioned, by KOing an opposing character, for putting down 5 CyMS, or by completing scenario objectives.
Now, there is certainly plenty that I did not cover there, but if you have ever played a skirmish or miniatures game you will be able to pick up the rest easily enough.
So what do I think?
There is a lot to like here. I like the lore behind the game, there is a lot. Each character has their own story, each faction has their own story, there are various stories existing about the world and how it got where it is, and this is all before I have even gotten a chance to look at the scenario book! The gameplay 100% supports the theme. I have no quibble there. Though I am curious about how the faction of cybernetically enhanced animals fits into all of this. I can only assume that the monkey and elephant are in charge and are after peanuts and bananas.
I like the speed of the game. A two model per side game should play in about 30-45 minutes once you are familiar with the rules, and a 4 model per side game should take about an hour to an hour 15. I also really dig the market aspect of rolling attacks, and the way the CyMS play out, becoming a resource, and danger for both sides to use.
I think the balance is solid as well, though admittedly from a limited exposure. The two sides seemed balanced, though very unique. I definitely had the feeling that, though there were definitely things I was jealous that my opponent was doing, that I would have felt the same if I was on their side and they were on mine.
Finally, I really like the art. I think it is just fantastic. The rulebook is filled with great images, the miniatures are fantastic, and the box art and card images are very well done.
Now this is just conjecture, but I do wonder if it will be easy to fall into repetition with the various characters. It does seem that there are a plethora of options, but it seems to me that it is possible that there is a best tactic for each character, and a way that you will always, or almost always be spending your AP and hits in a certain way. Now having only had a limited exposure, I cannot say that for certain, but I do think it is a possibility. I do not know that, that is necessarily bad, just something to look out for.
I also could foresee that there is a lack of gameplay variance. This will really come down to the different scenarios. Does the game have a method of making each scenario objective seem unique? The one I played involved killing CyMS and picking up what they dropped, and depositing it at the center of the map. If most of the scenarios revolve around killing and picking up, then the game will get stale quickly, if they are varied and unique then it will have staying power.
EDIT: The designers let me know that the game will launch with four scenario types, with more available via stretch goals. These will be
*KO CyMS, and pick up an item they drop then deliver it.
*King of the Hill
*Collect supplies and return to base
*Delivering antidotes to infected
I think if you are a fan of miniature skirmish games, then there is not much to complain about here. The only thing that I would really like to see changed is some variety of CyMS. Currently there is only one type, and they do not seem to be much of a threat (at least in the game we played, to the faction we used). I would love to see some that are faster or stronger, or had a ranged attack or whatnot.
Bringing it all together
This is a fast paced skirmish game that can play in under an hour. It has some unique and interesting mechanics that makes me want to play it again. The art is great, the story is plentiful, and the game completely captures the theme. There is a possibility of a solo or co-op mode in the future, and I, for one, would love to see that happen. I think there is some room for improvement down the road, and I hope that in addition to additional factions, they release new types of CyMS. This is a good game, that is well worth your time.
You really think I am going to read over 20 paragraphs of your taradiddle?
* A fast skirmish game. Games can play in 30-45 minutes
* Wonderful art, cool minis
* A good story, and a theme that is realized
* It has some fascinating mechanics for combat, with a market purchase system, and an fun way to utilize the world with an enemy to both sides on the board, that is player controlled
*Could use a little more variety with the CyMS (universal foe)
* A lot of game in the base box, and additional factions are not ridiculously expensive