Greetings Programs, and welcome to the first of a feature I call;
Spaceships Going Foom!
The two ships were dancing through the asteroid field, each trying to transform the other into a cloud of plasma. The Tentac-built cruiser was a ring of doom sending out destruction from all sides, but the Terran-built ship was nimble and slipped through the debris field, breaking weapon locks and evading torpedoes.
Engineers ran through the corridors, pumping every last bit of energy from the engines as marines manned the guns. Scientists angled shields and tried to teleport bombs through the enemy defenses while pilots strained to pull the ships through tight maneuvers.
Suddenly a torpedo found its target, but instead of exploding it pierced the hull and opened up, marines leaping out with guns blazing. Prepare to repel boarders!
I love science fiction and I love space battles. Combine these into a game and I am a happy geek. For this inaugural installment of SGF I’m going to review one of the most impressive examples of the genre, Battlestations, by Gorilla Games.
Released in 2004, Battlestations is a game for 2-8 players and is billed as a hybrid board and role playing game. The game does have role playing elements, such as character creation and advancement, but it definitely skews more to the board game side of things. You won’t be having in-character discussions with alien beings or meetings in a tavern to find a quest.
What you will have is a unique and engaging game that juggles simultaneous ship-to-ship combat, boarding actions, and additional mission goals all the while keeping characters from each profession actively participating.
One player takes the role of the game master, selects the scenario, and runs all the opponents. The rest of the players create characters who form the crew of a starship, taking on the roles of pilots, scientists, engineers, or marines.
The game has several species to choose from, each with their own special abilities and talents. These include beings like the tumbleweed-like Canosians who are able to quickly roll down corridors, or the Silicoids who are one armed rock piles with natural armor and great strength. There are six species in the core game and more in expansion sets. Starships are also differentiated by what species built them, with different ship layouts and special abilities based on their points of origin.
The size of the players’ ship is determined by the number of players, with larger ships having more capabilities and requiring more crew members to function. Crews may also be augmented by robot assistants who are not as capable as an actual character but able to fill in gaps.
The playing field is composed of three parts. First is the space map, a hex grid field on which the starships will maneuver and fight on. Next is the control board where you keep track of the ships’ energy allocation, speed, and hull status. Last is the layout of the ships and the location of the crew members.
Ship layout is one of the ways that Battlestations is both unique and fun. The players’ ship is laid out using ship modules, which consist of 5×5 grid heavy cardboard squares. Each module is a control room of some kind, such as a science bay or missile battery, and the size and configuration are defined by the species who built the ship and the number of player characters. Characters are placed in different locations on board and will spend a lot of time moving through the ship doing everything from assisting other crew members, to damage control, to repelling boarding parties.
Characters gain experience and prestige for completing missions. Experience brings new special abilities while prestige brings rank and access to better equipment. The game has a novel take on this by giving players an unlimited supply of clones, allowing characters to progress even if they are killed. Characters who survive and succeed gain both experience and prestige. Characters who survive but fail a mission will only gain experience. Characters who die on a successful mission gain no experience, but their new clones will have more prestige.
Battlestations is a long game, averaging around four hours, but it is not a slow game. Players will have their hands full, no matter what role they are assigned, and this is one of the game’s brilliant design elements. Gorilla Games has done an excellent job balancing the crew positions. Each role has several things they can do within their primary field or they can use secondary skills to fill in or assist other crew members.
The other unique aspect of the game is boarding actions. There are several ways to get crew members from one ship to another, including teleportation modules and my favorite, the Boarding Missile. This weapon allows two crew members jump into a torpedo and launch themselves at the enemy vessel. This leads to situations where the crew is trying to juggle maintaining their ship, fighting ship-to-ship, and repelling invading marines at the same time. It’s a delightful level of chaos.
Battlestations is well supported by Gorilla Games and there are currently six expansions to the game, including campaign books. However the core box set is more than enough to keep your gaming group occupied for a long time. The components are overall very good, with the ship modules printed on heavy cardboard and a generous number of character stand-ups of each species and profession. The only complaint I have is that the ship counters for moving on the space board are uninspired, but that’s a minor complaint. The game’s artwork is fun, evoking a Star Trek feel and a good sense of humor that doesn’t cross into goofiness.
Battlestations is a unique and multifaceted game that should be in any aspiring fleet admiral’s arsenal of space games. For more information check out the following links:
The official Battlestations website.
The Gorilla Games website.
Battlestations on Board Game Geek.