You never know what to expect in beta testing, but as a general rule, you tend to make certain judgements based on the designer's own enthusiasm. I hadn't been told any details about this game other than that I'd love it, that it seemed perfect for my tastes, that it would rock my world!
So this had me worried, just walking in. I went into this feeling like I was going to have to douse cold water on this guy. I felt he was TOO in love with his game, and that when I started analyzing it with an eye toward criticism and critique, I was going to break his heart.
Once I playtested this game, however, I have to say that I was very impressed. All of my fears were unfounded. This game lives up to its hype.
The designer has done an incredible job here and I think he's justified in being so proud of it.
I tried to give him what advice I could, but it was truly a great design and you can see the amount of work and playtesting that had already gone in it. We talked a bit about the game, some variant ideas, its theme, ideas for components, some business issues, methods of presentation, rules design, and other things. That being said, I had very little advice about the actual game itself -- it was well-designed, well-balanced, and surprisingly polished.
Per the designer's wishes, I won't go into any mechanical details with my "First Impressions" review, but there are some details already posted up and a rulebook should be available for download by now.
Despite not discussing the mechanics, I will point out these highlights of the gameplay:
- While words like "chaotic" and "take that" usually turn me off and seem pretty childish, this game embraces those concepts and makes them work in a way that is fun, social, and cerebral.
- There is a huge emphasis on long-term planning, bluffing, and deducing secret information. There definitely is kind of a "cold war" mentality here. None of the other players can be trusted. They are lying bastards. Since this isn't a 4x expansionist game, it's a "cold war" between players that are equally powerful and constantly competing.
- The game isn't a 4x game. There's not fleets of ships or a mighty empire of colonies to make you "better" than other players. Instead, you have a dynamic, changing universe. This change is fueled, not by randomness like in many other games, but by the choices of the players. You also have the ability to choose how you will change and adapt your own capabilities. In this way, the game isn't about becoming more powerful, it's about making better choices at the right time or bluffing your opponents into choosing poorly.
- Despite not being a 4x game, this game has a lot of awesome scifi trappings and an epic feel associated with great space opera. We are battling each other, playing with cool high-tech toys, trading, exploring planets, laying traps, teleporting, using unique racial powers, cloaking, slingshotting things around the universe, all while trying to keep your opponents off balance so they can't see what you're really up to while you change your whole strategy.
- The designer first described this to me as thematic "hard scifi." It does have a very Asimov-like "Foundation" feel to it. But I would say this game's theme is not hard sci-fi - it is "space opera". More to the point, it's great space opera. It's what space opera should be. I'm really impressed with the theme and backstory for this game, and that's without reading the rulebook or anything -- I was given a 5-minute description and then whatever was revealed during play. So yes, there is an interesting theme, and it comes out very well through play, through the cards, and through the unique alien races.
I know we talked about a few little ways that the game may be improved, but the game feels ready in its current prototype state. I would buy this game and recommend it for others if it was on sale now. I know of no higher endorsement. I want to play this again.
Can you tell I'm a fan?
If any of you are even remotely intrigued about this game, then you should. It's a fun, worthwhile experience just to play it and, looking back, I can't think of many other games that quite like it.
Good job, Mirror Box Games. I wish you the very best, and I believe this game will do well. I will help you in any way that I can.
And when it goes on sale, I definitely want to buy a copy.
P.S. My "I'm-not-really-a-board-gamer-but-all-my-friends-are-so-I-play-too" friend also had a good time and would like to play again.
Lefty / Happily Married / Parent of 2 Girls / Christian / Yucata User
Smack dat Ghoulie, Mr. Trolla!
Great review, A.
It's a difficult assignment when you write a review and want share how much you like a game, but are restricted from talking about mechanics.
"I like this!"
"Well, because there's this one thing that happens in the game that I can't tell you about...but it's really cool!"
In spite of that, your enthusiasm comes through here. And you don't sound like a mindless cheerleader. You handle the sensitive issues with grace, and still paint a good picture of what the game experience is like. Very articulate. I am looking forward to this game in large part due to your opinion.
(Remind me to approach you when I have a finished design of my own.)