Light Sting #Boardgame with Scorpius Freighter (@alderac, 2018)

BLUF – A lightly-themed optimization boardgame that combines several different game mechanics into an easy-to-learn, fast-playing, somewhat satisfying race for points.

As a long-time Traveller RPG player and a fan of the TV series Firefly and movie Serenity, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Space Western. So it was a pretty easy sell when @tabletopbellhop posted a secret deals update and pointed me to Scorpius Freighter (Alderac Entertainment Group, 2018) for a nice bargain. Judging from the ad copy on the box back, it’s the perfect space western:

It’s been almost 100 years since the Scorpius system was settled. Over the decades, the Government has taken control of everything. Tens of billions of Sentients live in Scorpius with no hope of advancement, no hope of escape.

Except that not everyone in the Government toes the line; some still believe in freedom. A few bold freighter captains use the system against itself, handling their sanctioned job duties… as well as a lot of extracuricular activities like smuggling restricted medicines, passing censored information, and facilitating transactions below the Government radar. They are fueling the revolution.

And the Revolution is coming.

RECRUIT CREW – From the back alley brute to the elite educated, they are the best at what they do.

CUSTOMIZE SHIPS – Outfit your standard sanctioned freighter with hidden holds and an upgraded cockpit.

SMUGGLE GOODS – Conduct illegal transactions while dodging the authorities.

Sounds awesome, eh? Reality is Scorpius Freighter is a boardgame with a thin theme that drives component art and provides the barest of framework to hang several different game mechanisms off of.

Yet somehow it still works.

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Courtesy AEG via BGG

Contrary to my initial impression (desire?), Scorpius Freighter is not a pick-up and deliver game. Instead, on our turn you advance the Government freighter around one of three planets (rondels) and take the action of the space you land on. Usually this means taking a new compartment (card drafting) and placing it on your ship (tile placement). Depending on how those tiles are arranged and the skills of your crew (variable player powers) actions can be made more powerful (engine building). Your objective is simply to get the most points through placement of cargo (cubes) and finishing Side Jobs and Contracts (set collection). You win by gaining the most fame and fortune (points).

Reading that last paragraph closely you might note that I describe Scorpius Freighter in terms of very generic game mechanisms. That’s because there is no real theme used in play.

  • Recruit Crew – In the basic game rules, one chooses a crew by taking picking a crew based on a homeworld. I guess this is done to ensure your crew is balanced in needed skills. You then place the crew into one four crew slots (Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Bodyguard) but it doesn’t matter at all where you place them. In-game you can pay for an upgrade. There is a optional rule to allow drafting your crew cards – the closest the game gets to recruiting.
  • Customize Ships – Your ship is a 4×4 grid. As you draft tiles you place them on the grid. Placing certain tiles in proximity to others is advantageous. I guess if placement of tiles is considered customizing then it matches the hype. There is a piece of artwork in the corner showing your ship and name – the closest you get to seeing what the ship is.
  • Smuggle Goods – On your turn, you can take certain actions to Pick Up Cargo. Then you can take other actions to Make a Side Deal or Fulfill a Contract. Nowhere does this invoke the idea of smuggling. The cargo cubes are colored not based on their type of cargo, but rather based on the Storage Tiles they can be played on. So what makes one orange cube different from another? Of the three tag lines this is the one that absolutely doesn’t resonate with me in game play.

If Scorpius Freighter has a saving grace it’s the components. Top quality. Thick tiles, a double-sided board with a nice recessed grid for placing your tiles. Cards with artwork that at least looks like somebody tried to base it off a common theme. Three Government ships with ‘confiscated cargo’ compartments make really nice countdown timers.

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I really want to compare Scorpius Freighter to Firefly: The Game (Gale Force 9, 2013). I was hoping Scorpius Freighter would be a faster playing, smaller footprint, just as exciting skirt-the-law boardgame as Firefly. Alas, aside from the theme, there is really no relationship between the two titles. So I really have to look at Scorpius Freighter for what it is.

Optimization. Optimization is the best way to describe Scorpius Freighter. You are trying to optimize your movement around the planets. You are trying to optimize the placement of tiles on your ship. You are trying to optimize the collection of sets. You are trying to optimize your game engine to generate points.

Both RockyMountainNavy Jr. and myself went into our first play of Scorpius Freighter expecting to be a smuggler. We expected to misbehave. On the other hand, RockyMountainNavy T went into the game with no preset expectations. Which is probably why he won so easily. He was the first of us to see the game for what it is, not what we thought it was. He was the first to realize he needed to optimize his actions. He was the first to solve the optimization puzzle.

He finished in first place.

Yet, even with lack of theme in gameplay, Scorpius Freighter is oddly satisfying. Once you see the puzzle you also realize that the designers have cleverly put together several game mechanisms that can be leveraged in interesting ways. Although one is trying to optimize their actions, there is no one clearly optimal way of doing so.

If I have one worry in Scorpius Freighter it’s the end game trigger. The game ends when one of the Government ships has gone around their planet a number of times dependent on player count. When that occurs there is one last round of play. In our game, RockyMountainNavy T was far enough ahead he forced the end game. He won although the final score was a bit closer than he expected. I wonder if with more play the end game trigger will remain an enticing lure or will it fade away as experienced players all compete to optimize at a relatively equal pace.

If you want a great space western game that oozes with theme from the box to the components to play then pass on Scorpius Freighter. But if you are looking for a 45-60 minute, fairly low-complexity, engine-building boardgame that cleverly combines multiple gaming mechanisms supported by nice to handle components and a thin theme doesn’t bother you, then Scorpius Freighter could be your thing.

 

It’s not “Awful Lonely in the Big Black” when solo playing Firefly: The Game (@GaleForceNine, 2013) #boardgame

The first play of my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is Firefly: The Game (Gale Force 9, 2013). The play was satisfying, but really left me wanting both more and less.

Included in the base box of Firefly: The Game is a solo play Story Card, “Awful Lonely in the Big Black.” The special setup rules for solo play call for selecting up to four crew (no more than $1K) and placing using 20 Disgruntled tokens as a game timer. A turn consists of four Actions, and whenever you take a Fly Action the turn is over and a Disgruntled token removed. The game ends when you run out of timing tokens. There are three possible Goals to chose from; I went with “The Bad” – Crime Does Pay where you try to end the game with $15k or more.

The Story Card says play time is supposed to be about 1 hour. On the surface that does not look bad with 3 minutes for every turn and no more than 4 Actions a turn. In reality, I find that pace unachievable. Maybe for experienced players, but I found some turns where Analysis Paralysis set in, especially in the mid-game when I started feeling the time pressure. My game took more like 75 minutes; not bad for a solo game. With three Goals there is some replayability out of the box but I already found myself wanting MORE, as in more solo Story Cards. Gotta check out them other expansions…

At the same time playing Firefly: The Game solo-style made me want LESS. Face it, solo or full-play Firefly: The Game is a real table hog. It’s not that the map is too big (its 30″x20″ – very suitable for a game table with multiple players) but for a solo play with all the cards and ship tableaus you need nearly the same space. I often use my 48″x28″ desk for solo play and this game was VERY tight. All those components also need setup, adding a not-insignificant amount of time. There is nothing that can be done here about the size or the components, but it illustrates the challenges of taking a full size, multi-player game and using it for a single solo player. Sometimes it’s alot. Maybe too much?

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Setting up – Space is big but not on this gaming desk….

Having recently played Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) it is inevitable to make comparisons between these “space western” games. For solo play I guess I will find out later as Outer Rim is #7 on my solo challenge list. Check back….

Overall, I was happy with this solo play of Firefly: The Game. I won this game, passing my $15k goal with two timing tokens left. Thinking about the game more broadly, this box has languished on my shelf too long and playing solo is a good way to get it out and remind myself that we really do need to buy a couple of expansions. The game is good fun and deserves more table love than we have given it.


Feature image courtesy Gale Force 9.

 

#Boardgamer or #Wargamer? Let’s throw in a little Kickstarter rant too

I was listening to designer Tom Russell in his interview on 5 Games for Doomsday. Tom talks about how he didn’t play games with his family growing up. This got me thinking about how I got into hobby gaming and where I am today.

I got seriously into gaming in 1979 when I was in middle school and discovered Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing. In the years prior to that my parents had a few games around but we barely played them. The titles I recall are Monopoly, Clue, Othello, and Waterworks in addition to Chinese Checkers. The only games I really remember playing are Chinese Checkers and Othello.

Gulo Gulo BoxFrom 1979 until the early 2000’s I was a pure wargamer. I also dabbled in roleplaying games but wargames were my real hobby. It was not until the RockyMountainNavy Kids grew up a bit that I tried some family games like Gulo Gulo (still a favorite).

In 2016 my hobby took on a new direction with the real discovery of hobby boardgames. At the recommendation of Uwe Eickert of Academy Games I picked up Scythe – and discovered a whole new world of gaming. In 2017 and 2018 I went overboard with rediscovered wargaming and boardgaming. Too far overboard – at the start of 2019 Mrs. RockyMountainNavy asked that I look hard at my gaming budget and think about some restraint.

So in 2019 I have tried to restrain myself. In doing so, I have thought about my game buying habits in 2017 and 2018. I continuously told myself that I was not a member of the Cult of the New or susceptible to the Fear of Missing Out.

Wrong. Not only was I a CotN member, but I was fully infected with FoMO.

In 2019 I initiated a series of gaming challenges (CSR, Origins, Golden Geek) that have forced me (willingly) to explore older games in my collection. I have found some bad ones, but many good ones. It has been a great reminder that I have good games in my collection and they deserve some love.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn 2019 I have tried to find my roots. As I look across the boardgaming world I find fewer and fewer titles that appeal to me. If there is one area that I am really interested in, it’s hybrid games like Root (wargame or strategy game?) or several Hollandspiele titles like the Supply Lines of the American Revolution series.

Another part of the hobby I am less-than-satisfied with is Kickstarter. I respect companies that use Kickstarter to bring games to print that would otherwise never see the light of day. But more and more I see companies using Kickstarter as a glorified pre-order system. I understand that many companies like the fact that the risk is moved from them to the consumer. They may like it but I am not as appreciative. What I see in many cases is that I am advancing the company a loan – without interest.

Now, I don’t necessarily define “interest” as money. A Kickstarter campaign that offers exclusives or stretch goals that area only available to backers is one form. But more and more I see companies not offering stretch goals or campaign exclusives – what you get in the campaign is what you can buy at retail.

I also dislike the risk that I am assuming in the enjoyment of the game. Kickstarter demands you pledge to support a game based upon only a few known, and many unknown, factors. Maybe that designer has a history of good games but I am sure there are a few turkeys in there. That company has its own history too. But what about the game? How does the game really play? This forces a dependency on hobby content providers at a time when “critical” reviews are fewer and fewer. Nobody watches a 30 minute video review of a 2 hour movie; why should we be forced to watch a lengthy video for a game? No.

So I have returned to being a wargamer first and a boardgamer second. I have several good titles in my collection. Scythe will remain. Terraforming Mars (minus several expansions) will stay in the rotation. Firefly: The Board Game will get played but Star Wars: Outer Rim is likely a pass. I’m going to finish up my challenges for the year.

And I’m going to enjoy every game played.

I was a bad outlaw in #FireflyTheGame (Gale Force Nine, 2013)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys are back from their summer travels. Before they left, they had found my Customizable Ship Models package for Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) and painted up their own ships. For our Friday Game Night they wanted to get the models to the table and misbehave!

Since this was really only our second full Firefly gameplay, we went back to the starter “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. We had all the Contact Decks on the table so we could work with any of them.

The game was really fun and we certainly created a ruckus in the house!

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Setting up….

I had Burgess as my Leader. I was immediately able to purchases Burgesses’ Gun for a whole lotta Gun Skill. To helped lead me astray as two of my three Starting Jobs were Illegal. So my life of crime began. Along the way I recruited some unsavory types with more guns, a little bit of mechanics, and not enough negotiation.

Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy tried the lawful approach, getting Solid with Harken early. This gave him easy passage through Alliance Space. He was able to stay lawful until he needed to catch up – and went outlaw! Middle RMN Boy took a mix of Legal and Illegal Jobs.

My first job was Botched and I got a Warrant for my arrest. For the rest of the game I avoided Alliance Space. I did have one encounter with the Reaver but was able to Evade.

Middle RMN got a sweet deal and picked up a job where he was able to ship 10 passengers across the ‘Verse for a $3000 (+$400 bonus) payout. This gave him the money he needed for the win. He was not far from the bank but took his time Moseying Along which caused brother and Dad to desperately race to complete their last job and then Full Burn to the bank. He didn’t let us win and with a smirk on his face arrived at the bank one turn ahead of the rest of us.

Gameplay was much faster than before. We already have the basic mechanics of the game down and can now work on strategies to win. Unlike our first game, we all took on more Illegal Jobs (in my case, all Illegal) and drew from the Misbehaving Deck heavily. After the game we all agreed that we want to try another Story Card next game.

Summer Doldrums – My Games of June 2018

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Ah, summer has arrived. A time for more outdoor activities by the RockyMountainNavy family. It is also the end of the school year, meaning Mrs. RMN has fewer students. The net result is less gaming.

June gaming breakdown:

  • Total Games Played: 16 ( -7 from May)
  • Actual “Full” Game Plays: 10 (-12 from May)
  • “Rules Familiarization” Plays: 6 (+5 from May)

June was one-third less games as compared to May. Whereas 22 of 23 games in May were “Full” games, in June a bit over half the games were “Full” and the rest were “Rule Familiarization.” Between May and June six new games arrived and I had to explore these before full plays.

Highlights:

Space Ain’t Big Enough – First Full Play of #FireflyTheGame from @GaleForceNine

Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) landed on the Saturday RockyMountainNavy Game Night table. Although the game has been in-house a few weeks this was the first chance to get it onto the table for a full multiplayer experience.

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I reckon we gonna need a ruttin’ bigger table!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself made it a 3-player event. Seeing it was our first time, we used the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. I don’t recall who took which ship or what Captain beyond that the Boys “allowed” me to take Serenity and Malcom Reynolds.

After laying out the game (and it’s a lot to lay out) I spent about 20 minutes explaining the basics of the game to the Boys. They both caught on pretty fast, although there were a few hiccups like trying to start a Job without all the right Needs being satisfied. In the end, Youngest RMN Boy made it to Ezra one turn ahead of me and paid off his ship first, thereby winning the game. I was a close to the win, needing one more turn to make it to Ezra. Middle RMN Boy still needed to finish his second job but in doing so would have had enough cash on hand and be nearby to pay off his debt. Total playing time for this first game was about 2 hours.

All of us were very impressed by how perfectly thematic the game is. The whole mantra of, “Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying” is perfectly captured.

Seeing as the RMN house generally prefers wargames, I was concerned that the low-degree of player interaction would make the game less enjoyable. I need not have worried; the Boys took to their roles with gusto. Youngest RMN Boy especially took on the persona of a ship’s Captain as he fancies himself something of a charming Han Solo-type. I mean the real Han Solo; you know, “Han Shot first.”

He found that attitude last year when he was creating a character for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game. During this game, we came to realize that he has heard about the Firefly TV show but has not actually watched the entire series (I know…tragedy!). Will have to rectify that situation soonest….

Firefly: The Game also has many expansions. I usually hold off on getting too many expansions because it is hard enough getting the base game to the table, much less an expanded version. In a bit of luck, I actually have a copy of FIRE007 Firefly: Customisable Ship Models that I picked up nearly 2-years ago for pennies when a FLGS was closing. Today the RMN Boys brought it out and are each painting their own customized ship. Guess I’m near to acquiring a few other expansions (hey, The Games Tavern, are you ready?).

Both RMN Boys asked to get Firefly: The Game back on the table sooner than later. I was especially pleased to hear this from Middle RMN Boy who, though he lost, wants to jump straight to another Story Card. “We got the basics, Dad. Now let’s really misbehave!”

Featured image courtesy Gale Force Nine Games.

 

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

The New FGLS in Town – The Games Tavern, Chantilly, VA

This past weekend a seemingly random tweet appeared in my feed. It showed several gentlemen playing Flames of War at The Games Tavern in Chantilly, VA. Chantilly is just around the corner from my house but I had never heard of it! So I just had to check it out.

The Games Tavern (thegamestavern.com) is run by Warrior_Streak (@reiddenton on Twitter) and is adjacent to Covert Intervention Games.  The Games Tavern is a new shop that looks like it specializes in Gale Force 9 and Battlefront products. There is a large bright open gaming area (large tables) and a small stock area. The products are mostly Flames of War and Team Yankee. I was a bit surprised not to see Tanks there. They do stock the GF9 Firefly games. As a matter of fact, Reid brought out the store copy of Firefly: The Game and made the sale! They also have many miniatures painting and building supplies. At least one of the staff is a transfer from the now-closed Piper Hobby so there is some modeling expertise available. We took at quick look at what their distributor can get in the way of plastic models (a high interest item for the RockyMountainNavy Boys).

Good to see a new FLGS in the area. Looking forward to doing business (and gaming) with Reid and The Games Tavern gang!

Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

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Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Which #RPG do you enjoy using as is?

#RPGaDay August 16, 2017

pic536195_tI have a few candidates here; Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Mindjammer (FATE Core 2nd Edition), Diaspora, and FFG Star Wars. There are two (mostly) common threads amongst all those games. They all use a more narrative game mechanic and they are (mostly) all licensed IP.

Of the two, the narrative game mechanics (Cortex, FATE 3.0 or FATE Core, FFG Narrative Dice) means the games easily focus on story (adventure?) with world-building details coming in a less-structured manner. 20120423b

Although many of these games use licensed IPs, don’t think that by using these “as is” I am a canon-rigid thinker. I enjoy using the game systems “as is”, but the world-building details and adventures are definitely NOT limited by canon.