The as yet un-played Panic Station had been leant to Martin at our last session to see what he thought, as it had previously bombed with my Monday night group. Thankfully I had received a text from Martin to say that whilst on holiday with his family they had played it a number of times and gave it “a massive thumbs up, brilliant for suspense and paranoia”.
As Martin described the game it was obvious that he had invested some considerable time in reading various posts on BoardGameGeek (geek) concerning this game and that:
1. There were a number of issues with the published rules and that a later version was available for download from the geek that sought to correct or clarify the errors, omissions and anomalies.
2. That this was flagged as not being a simple game.
3. That it was a game that needed to be thoroughly understood by the person teaching the game. Unlike most of the games we play, which can be picked up as you played your first game.
4. Some people liked the game and others thought it flawed, but the designer David Ausloos was active on the geek responding to and clarify the various points raised.
Sadly although I had sought to play a game at Essen circumstances did not allow this (indeed it was only delivered curtsey of GamesLore after my return from Germany) and I fell foul of not understanding it well enough when we tried to play it.
Thankfully on Sunday night Martin had read more thoroughly than I had, played it a number of times and had not the somewhat negative presence of my wife (she plays many games but becomes very disinterested at the sight of anything vaguely Sci-Fi).
This review / session report follows a slightly different format to my normal reviews and is made up of the following sections: The Game Overview, Our Game, Observations, and lastly Who Do We Think Will Like This Game.
The players represent a highly trained, if not equipped (!), team from the Extermination Corps sent onto a deserted mining station to find and destroy a suspected alien parasite hive. No surprise that the last team sent had disappeared without a trace! To accomplish this challenging mission each player has two characters linked telepathically, a human Trooper and an Android. The Android has a gun but no bullets and the Trooper has a flame thrower that can only be used against the hive and not enough fuel to power it! The game begins with each player’s tokens dropping into the miming station in a room with 4 exits from which they have to start exploring, moving and searching. The exploring reveals new rooms adjacent to their current location, whilst the searching or rooms hopefully finds useful equipment that can be used in completion of the mission. Although this searching will also reveal parasites that will then move around the station seeking to kill the various members of the team.
The mechanics of the game are such that within the first round of play one player will have been infected, becoming a host for the parasites. This completely changes their objective for the game, no longer is it to destroy the hive but, through stealth and subterfuge, they will seek to infect all the other players before the hive can be found and destroyed.
The opportunities to infect fellow players occur every time one of their character tokens enters a room with another player token in it (except the first room), as this requires them to either attack the other character or exchange a concealed item. Whilst the item is concealed the players can discuss and agree in principle, at least, what objects they wish to exchange. In the nature of a concealed identity game nobody can ever be entirely sure whether the person they are about to exchange with is to be trusted and as the game progresses trust diminishes as paranoia increases.
In my view Martin identified himself almost from the off with his accusation of me as the infected party – I knew I wasn‘t and as the saying goes “he dost protest too much“. His justification being that I had thrown a grenade into the starting room as my human left it, damaging my android, one of Robin’s characters and, heroically in my view, killing two of the aforementioned parasites. How could such a generous, nay selfless act be seen as suspect –hmmm!
Oliver had his own issues to contend with when through ill-fortune he found his human character token in a room with three of the parasites and I am not sure whether it was them or the grenade thrown by a fellow player that killed him off but it left Oliver convinced everybody was infected. His remaining android seemed to be one of the few characters with bullets for their guns and a disturbing desire to shoot anybody that came near him.
In spite of my unnecessary concerns about Robin and giving away gas cans I somehow managed to uncover the much needed third can and get to the hive without further encounters and so the good guys Oliver, Robin and myself triumphed over the parasite infected hosts of Simon and Martin.
All agreed what a good game it had been with much suspense and increasing fears of other players. This may not be a game to everybody’s tastes, Martin and I being more Eurogamers than Ameritrash, but we certainly ha a lot of fun with it and all voiced our enthusiasm to give it another go.
Whilst I am used to abstract games and games where the theme or setting is only loosely painted onto a game mechanism I continually struggled with the logic of this game - with Oliver coming up with amusing explanations to explain away my doubts, including the topical ‘budget cuts‘! My issues included:
1. The team of characters is a crack or at least highly trained team yet:
a. They are sent into a hostile environment with Androids who can carry guns but rely on discovering bullets in the station to arm them? This is explained away, within the rules, as the bullets for the guns they did carry cannot penetrate the parasite bodies, but they would humans?! So the bullets they discover in their searches presumably are bigger/ stronger / different as when used they kill parasites. Yet they can be fired from the standard issue guns carried by the Androids?!
b. The humans carry no guns not even side arms, for defence against other humans?!
c. The Exterminations Teams objective is to destroy the hive and this the humans are supposed to do with flame throwers, but they are not provided with enough fuel to complete the mission. However they are expected to find fuel in a deserted station that is believed to have been overrun by these alien parasites! It put me in mind of the approach taken by the Soviet army in the Second World War and graphically represented in Enemy At The Gates! We are sending you on this mission, we know you may not all survive so pickup equipment from those that fall or have already died in the previous attempt to regain control of the station! Secondly the flame throwers cannot be used against their fellow humans?
2. I can understand that an encounter with another player may lead to infectionion but why is giving away a gas can a protection?
All this said I am not suggesting that the game would be improved by resolving these anomalies. Martin has now played this a number of times and has seen both sides win which suggests a reasonable balance to the game, a balance that would almost certainly be upset by any changes.
As said earlier we really enjoyed the game and it offers something different from the normal collaborative game.
Who Do We Think Will Like This Game?
Gamers who enjoy a collaborative game with a traitor such as Shadows Over Camelot or Battle Star Galactica. I intentionally use the term ‘gamers’ as this took quiet a lot of explaining and I sense the rules are more complex than most social gamers / non gamers are prepared to cope with. Once understood the game is fairly straightforward although there are a number of aspects that we continued to ask Martin for clarification on suggesting a lack of intuitiveness.
I might qualify my previous point further as I suspect that it is more likely to appeal to gamers who like the Ameritrash style of game rather than Euro gamers.
If you would like to see more images of the game then click here and if you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here
The contributions were once again donated to CAFOD, which means that over the last 4 meetings we have collected a total of £25 which with the governments matched funding raises our contribution to £50. Thank You.
More photo's from the evening can be seen here.
Our next event at the Blue Anchor, Crowborough is in two weeks time on Sunday 29th April starting at 7pm - £1 per head. More details can be seen on our Facebook Page Social Gamers - Crowborough