Published on March 4th, 2017 | by Colin0
Cardcore Gamer: How I Escaped Reality in 2016, part 3
Merry! Um…Happy! Err…it’s March.
Welcome, welcome, friends. Welcome to twenty-oughty-one-ety-seven. It’s a year AND SO MUCH MORE! But before I reveal what stupefying, death defying, shallow frying things the late-twenty-teens have in store for us all, THIS:
Midnight, January 1st, 2000. A slightly tipsy, definitely teenaged voice – maybe mine – from behind my parents’ sofa asks “Where’s my hovercar?”. As it turned out, the future was not one of shiny rockets and derring-do, but more akin to Pulp’s increasingly sobering Disco 2000. Still, in 2016 the non-stick futurama of the Rocket Patrol was heroically enacted on my battered table-top in Space Cadets: Away Missions.
Related by theme only to Space Cadets and Space Cadets: Dice Duel, Away Missions takes the dicey-dungeon-crawl formula into a hex-hopping, alien bopping, laser plopping game of tactical Dan Dareoism in a future that’s neither GRIM, nor DARK; favouring coke-bottle rocketships, bubble helmets and butt-chins you could lose a 5p coin in. From first contact on a mining colony, to the far-flung Invisible Planet via a thrilling space-jail breakout and the Tunnel of Terror, SC:AM (unfortunate acronym) joyously checks off outlandish pulp sci-fi clichés in it’s dog-eared I-Spy book and is home in time for astro-scones.
Gear up your crew for one of the 16 scenarios then, with the help of four pairs of sparkly D10s, scan-move-and-shoot until you are successful or dead. A typical turn sees you scan (flip over) a board hex tile, add aliens and items to it, then take actions allowing you to move, attack, use your Overkill ability, and interact with your fellow crew and the board. Once every Rocketeer has had a bit of fun, the alien turn begins and the attention to detail of SC:AM glitters. The game handles as smooth as the soapiest of space operas, resolving up to 7 unique alien AI types in a refreshingly logical manner. After a mere handful of plays I needed neither the rulebook, nor the still-unused-but-welcome reference sheets.
The simplicity of the rules allows you to focus on tackling the challenge of the game itself – and like most cooperative games it definitely feels like a puzzle to be solved. You choose on the fly who will go first, second and so on, allowing you to change your plan based on how each player’s turn pans out. The heart (of Gold) and soul of the puzzle is the aforementioned Overkills which turn excess die roll successes into freebie actions based on your rocketeer’s innate ability, weapons, and even the different alien types. Overkills can be spent in any combination, giving a lot of potential for fun combos; Failed to kill that ominous Brain-in-a-Jar? Get the Professor to open the door, so the Chief can Strafe and blast it. Missing that vital teleporter component? The First Officer can tell the Captain to Move Out and bring it to you! Concerned about that hidden Leader herding endless Saucer Men at you next turn? Shoot his friend and stun him with their dying Psychic Scream! I have had some truly memorable skin-of-my-teeth victories where we’ve seen the exact order of operations which will save everyone’s velour-clad butts and they have involved everything from a Soft-Focus Lens to manipulating gravity itself. However, if but one of your brave crew runs out of oxygen or ‘being alive’ then the whole mission fails; our on your own out there, Rocketeers, make a wrong move and you’ll be lost in space!
For what was a hefty price tag of around £60 (a sum now dwarfed by other Kickstarters and recent Brexit-inflicted hikes up into the £80+ range) SC:AM gives you a lot of competent, if not altogether exciting cards, chits, and tiles. The artwork is clean and functional, if rather bland on the board tiles, while the character art hits a pleasantly pulpy note while remaining on the right side of silliness. The inevitable miniatures shade toward the ‘playing piece’ end of the scale, but are sturdy, well-defined, and serve the gameplay well. Each model is easy to identify by colour, shape, and size, from tiny Bugs to the ‘rubber-chicken-meets-Predator’ Sentinel, with perhaps the exception of the Thralls’ colouring which needed really to be distinct from the similarly-sized Saucermen. A special mention has to be made of the Brain-in-a-Jar, which is indeed a three-part model of a tiny think-bulb in a clear containment tube. Gross, but cool!
The scenarios offer a slightly vague narrative arc, and with no campaign system in place to carry things through the missions the plot could have used a little more fleshing out in the flavour text. The 16 scenarios offer plenty of variety, from a solo suicide run, to expunging all alien life from an infested rocket, and minor rules tweaks are used to switch up the formula and keep players on their toes. This isn’t to say that Away Missions relies upon cheap B-picture tricks to surprise you; I was more than happy with its sparing use of random events, which are limited to one instance each and can be accounted for in your plan, though they may or may not turn up in the tile draw.
It seems that GRIMDARK sci-fi still rules the space-waves and the more gaudy, bright space adventures of the Rocket Patrol haven’t caught the gaming world’s imaginations quite so easily. Space Cadets: Away Missions may not have been the biggest blip on anyone’s view screen, but I’ve returned to it time and again, clocking up over 30 hours of play, mostly as a solo game. The game scales well, though I feel that it plays best with four characters, which can easily be handled by one, or two players. It’s easy enough to learn and play, but with a surprisingly food-pill meatiness to the tactical decisions each turn, and yes, there are dice, but I’ve rarely felt that they’ve been the deciding factor in my wins and losses.
If you fancy an adventure beyond the stars, meeting and blasting new and exciting creatures and nicking their stuff, then this future dungeoncrawl-o-rama may well be enough to get you strapping on your Robbie’s Rocket Pants and jetting off into the black. If you’re looking for a solitaire game and have a few extra credits to splash around, then Danger! Away Missions might siren-sing you behind an asteroid and have it’s way with your wallet. If, like me, you’re tired of the FUTUREOFWAR style seriousness of science-fiction board games and want an adventure with your buddies where the ability to open a door is actually really important then sign yourselves up for a tour in the Rocket Patrol!