Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gettalife - Stacking The Deck, Turning Steamy Sex To Lukewarm, And Giving Death A Pass

So, out of the blue I get this email from a nice gent from New Zealand, asking me to review a new card game called "Gettalife", where you and several of your closest friends attempt to build a tableau of cards in four aspects of life in order to have the most fulfilling life. It's as if the designer wanted to help us all realize how utterly tepid our lives are by showing us what might have been. Luckily, I had so much fun playing the game that I was able to overlook the fact that I am not a legend, nobody has ever knighted me, and I do not own an island, all of which would be pretty brilliant. I can't get the guy at the grocery store to call me "Sir", so that knighting thing would be awesome!

To be honest, I'm not sure what to classify the game as. I guess a "tableau building game" is a good description, as the whole object is to build a four by four grid of cards in front of you. But there's a lot more going on. While the basis of the game boils down to "draw up to limit, play a card, or maybe a couple", you can play cards against other people, trade cards at will, and there's even four spoiler cards in the deck, one of which depicts the Grim Reaper, that acts as the "old maid" in the deck, which you're trying to get rid of before game's end. While initially a bit daunting because it was so different than anything else I've ever played, we watched the video and it was all made very clear. After that, it was smooth sailing. In fact, I wish that all games came with a DVD, since reading rules isn't a part of the hobby I appreciate. I literally just bought Star Fleet Battles again, and after 20 minutes of reading, I remembered why I gave it away the last two times.

While the art is not super impressive, it's not bad, a little Pythony, and ties in with the irreverant theme. While the game comes in a rather nondescript box, the production of the game is actually really well done, especially for a small-press outfit. The cards are thick, and oversized, which might be bad if you're an obsessive card sleever, but is good for gameplay purposes as it's important to be able to see what other players have in their tableau. Additionally, there's a nifty grid guide to remind everyone how to build their grid, a rulebook that is clear and easy to read, and plenty of examples to help you get the drift.

The real key is the included DVD, which is region-locked and has to be used on a PC or can be watched online at their website. My wife complained that she wanted to choke the narrator to death, which is odd because women generally find that accent hot, unless they're from the country of origin, in which case it's not as special. Me, I kind of imagined Paul Hogan narrating (who is an Aussie, not a Kiwi), which reminded me of the Paul Hogan show, which reminded me of "Donger". So, the entire game I was talking about my computerized beer gut and would randomly spew "Saw'gent Dongeh, Plainclothes Division, and Oi'm 'ere to rough ye up" when I played a card against an opponent.

The game has maybe 80 cards or so, but it seems like there's more than there are because you never seem to get what you want in the draw. So, there's a lot of horse trading, which really makes the game more interesting, because it's a matter of deciding whether to accept a trade for a card you want while helping someone else, or just sucking it up and hoping to catch a card on the draw. The distribution of cards is also such that at the top level, there is only one of each card and at the bottom, four, so you're really trying to focus on one or two of the columns as the top row has the most points. So, it's a continual flow into and out of your hand, with you hopefully drawing good cards while watching others' grids.

The hand limit of five cards ensures that you can't hoard the top row gold cards until the end, and it's a bottom-up affair where you must build vertically before being able to build horizontally, so it's not uncommon to trash a high-value card that's not playable for a while. When you're setting up, you hold 12 random cards back in a kitty, add the really nasty end-game cards to that kitty, and once the draw deck has been run through, the discards are also shuffled into that kitty deck to form the final draw deck. This means that if you discard a high-value card early, you can potentially get it back, but it's a risk you have to take. The scariest scenario is having 2 levels built and having the fourth level in that suit, but not the third. That's when you really have to make tough decisions on whether or not to hold the card until the end, locking up one of your precious hand limit for what amounts to half the game.

But beyond the tableau building, there's screwage cards as well called "Hardknocks", and they essentially lock an opponent's suit, prohibiting further construction of that suit until one of the two matching Silverspoon cards can take it out of play. Luckily, on your turn you can look through the discard pile to try to find one, but if one hasn't been discarded, well, you lose your turn and you're still locked out next turn. This is just one example of ways to screw with opponents, because there's cards that force players to pass a card to the left, there's cards that cause you to lose points if they're in your hand at the end of the game, and there's cards that can be played against opponents' cards in the 3rd row that wholly negate them. There's even wild cards that can be used to fill in any spot, which can be taken by others if they can replace it with the card that the wild card is standing in for. All in all, it's a really wild, and actually surprisingly fun game.

What really captured my interest was the interaction of the various elements, and how each turn really delivers you an array of things to do. It's not a simple card game, and if you try to just build by "draw and play" methods, you'll end up screwed. Knighting someone, which can only be done if they have an entire vertical row in a suit, gives them a bunch of points, but if you do so, you get a token worth even more. In the last game we played, this little shithead who we thought was being murdered the whole game, and who seemed to be acting as a "kingmaker" and just dropping bombs on everyone all the time, ended up barely under the winner, and I mean barely, because she had knighted every player, giving herself big bonuses. While her tableau looked unimpressive, her strategy paid off. I mean, she didn't even ascend to the second row until after the deck was reshuffled, not to mention the fact that she ended up sticking the leader with the Death card, which effectively nukes a huge chunk of points from the bearer at the end of the game.

Now I have to lay out a gimmick alert here: and I need to extrapolate on it. The name of the game is "Gettalife", and I'm assuming that the rest of the world is maybe 25 years behind America when it comes to valley girl catchphrases. I'm sure in 2035 Kiwis are going to be calling everything "Epic" and canihazcheezburger lolcats will be all the craze. So, they're serious in  the rules when they specifically instruct you to tell someone to "Gettalife" if they screw you over, or have to dig through the discards to kill a Hardknock. Furthermore, there are several "Gottalife" cards in the box which are irrevokably granted to a player who has won the game thrice. We're sitting around playing board games when we could be chasing skirts or getting pissed. I'm not sure a card given for winning a card game three times is going to convince anyone that one has, in fact, "Gottalife". Maybe if it was a Las Vegas call girl card that the Mexicans purvey upon passers by, scrawled with lipstick noting "I never knew it could feel that good!", with little hearts over the I's, maybe then you could convince someone that you, indeed, "Gottalife". That said, thanks to the inclusion of these cards, I could use that bit and the crap photoshopped pic of the Satan's Sinners card in the Mexican dude's hand, so I got my fun out of it, and that's the point of the game, having fun, so I guess it works in the end. At least for me.

This is one of the few games that I'm antsy to play, and I'm going to be bringing it with me over to my buddy's house later tonight. Everyone but one person loved it, thought it was fun, a bit silly, but a really good time. The one person who didn't like it just didn't seem to "get it", and did very poorly. But, part of our review process is that sometimes, one player is going to get pissed at something and go sour grapes on it. I think if she played again, we'd have had a different result, but who's to say. Either way, I recommend it, personally, very highly as a hell of a way to spend an hour or so with four players, playing a game with huge interaction, a heavy dose of skullduggery, and a Kiwi narrator who will make you reminisce about old Down Under comedy. To quote two of my favorite cartoon characters, "Brilliant!"

Why The Valley Girls Were Right - You Need To Gettalife:
- Clever game for backstabbity, clever people
- The art is cartoony, but sort of in a Monty Python, endearing way
- The pace of the game is brisk, and negotiations are done off-turn
- Video rules? Hell yeah! All games should include this
- It's a really, truly fun game

Why The Designer Should Gettalife:
- The 1980's called, and they want their catchphrase back
- If you don't like interaction and screwage, this is not your game

I'm not going to lie; I didn't expect to love this game. I expected it to be mildly interesting, and based solely on a gimmick of using a catchphrase from the 80s. But I was very pleasantly surprised that not only did I enjoy it, I wanted to play it not twice in a row, but thrice. And then we played some more the next day. Unfortunately, I still don't have my Gottalife card, but I hope someday to carry it around with me so when I finally get to achieve my personal life goal of watching the All Blacks play, at Eden Park, I can proudly proclaim that I finally "Gottalife". Check out how to play in the video, see if it's up your alley, and if it sounds like a winner, pick it up. We had one naysaying whiner out of 6 of us that didn't like it, so I can't say it's for everyone. But, I sure did!

4.25/5 Stars

Check out the Gettalife website here:

Check out the tutorial video here:

And, now that I mentioned it, check out Donger, which I can't believe I found:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Star Trek Heroclix: Tactics - Set Phasers To Lame? Make It So, Ensign Wizkid

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie. I like the franchise well enough, but the one thing I think that Star Trek does better than Star Wars or, really, any other space franchise, is space battles. Star Wars simply doesn't compare to the sheer scale of what Star Trek has, from really any standpoint. Star Wars has the Force, Lightsabers, and that's about it. I mean, I own the entire Action Fleet set from them and there's not that many unique ships. But Star Trek, I mean they have like several hundred races, each with unique ships, styles, weapons, and technologies. They just do scale so much better. And that's why I had an erection that Viagra couldn't have held a candle to when WizKids announced that they were releasing Star Trek Tactics, because I really do love space battle games.

I played Star Fleet Battles, Federation Commander, and all sorts of space games when I Was a kid. I was fascinated by the idea of giant, monolithic hulks bristling with particle weapons, probes, missiles, and whatnot blasting the shit out of one another in space, with crewmen taking their last non-breath of space dust as a hull breach and subsequent equalization of pressure sucks them into the abyss and to their ultimate doom. I mean, I love skirmish games of all kinds, but really, space skirmishes have always been my first love. And so, I looked past the blind booster setup that I so despise, and I bought some boosters and a starter set. It was at that point that I realized I would not be fully satisfied until I had the whole set, and so I started asking around if anyone had any. Turns out one of my best buds actually had doubles of almost all the common and uncommon ships, and so he sent them off to me. I then "ebayed" the remaining rares, so $130 later, I have them all.

Now, I have played Clix games before, and I'm just not a tremendous fan. Mage Knight was especially terrible, but Heroclix is tolerable. I mean, if you like licensed superheroes, there's not much of an alternative. In fact, the only thing in the Clix world that I found to be awesome was Mage Knight Dungeons, which I still say is one of the best dungeon crawls ever. But, alas, I had to know if this game was going to be good, and I was sure hoping it wasn't going to be another unremarkable, crappy game like Star Wars Miniatures: Starfleet Battles, but with Star Trek branding and the dial gimmick.

Turns out, the game not only is exactly like vanilla Heroclix, they didn't even bother to package the game with its own special powers and abilities card. So, the ships literally have super senses, super strength, and can leap. Yes, leap, in space. Oh, and what about the Klingon vessel with Blades/Claws/Fangs...because I'm sure you remember that ship as a Star Trek fan, the one that de-cloaks next to the Reliant and takes a huge toothy chomp out of the side, bypassing shields? Yeah, they didn't even bother to Star Trek it up. I mean, they did put some flavor text crap on the individual ship cards, which nobody will ever even look at, but otherwise, nada. The upside, I suppose, is that you can do what I did and have the Green Lantern Corps fight it out with a couple of Constitution-class flagships, right? Or Batman versus a Bird of Prey, since Batman is, you know, 360 feet long like a Bird of Prey, and can breathe in space. FAIL.

Because of them not changing anything, Superman can fight alongside the Enterprise, and everything is totally compatible. What's sad is that they could have printed out their own card for Star Trek with different power names, but still had the ships be compatible. They were just being lazy, I think, or maybe they figured that they had to keep it consistent so Heroclix lovers wouldn't get confused over the color banding system and have to re-learn what the colors mean. I guess I can understand it, but they had to kind of understand that the market for Star Trek is different than the Marvel market. At a minimum, no fangs or claws on a great big Federation spaceship might have been a good start.

But let's talk about the products, physically, for a moment. The ships themselves are quite nice. I'd argue they're not as detailed as those that come with the other blind-booster space miniatures game, Star Wars Miniatures: Starship Battles. That said, they're pretty well painted and durable. They come in one-ship boosters for like $4.99 a pop, and you can get one of 28 ships in three rarity levels. There's also the starter set, which is just barely a starter because it contains the rules, two dice, a powers card, two maps, and four ships. Marquis ships, but still, only four, which limits your tactical options pretty significantly.

What is pretty cool, though, is that while they have commons, uncommons, and rares, pretty much all of the ships are viable, and generally very different. They're all unique enough so that the ships feel, to me, like they play differently, and different fleets drafted together can be pretty interesting. There's a total of 28 ships, I believe that are available in boosters, plus the four starter ships, and there's a "Limited Edition" Warship Voyager that is like forty bucks on Ebay, which I will likely never own. My only bitch about the ships themselves are that there are quite a few ships whose sculpts that are identical, with some even painted identically, and some the same with some variant to the paint. I'd guess that there's probably 20 unique sculpts, though, and that's enough for my kid, so it's enough for me. There's even ships from every point in the series, from the original TV show, to the movies, to the spin-off shows like Deep Space Nine and Voyager. For a Trekkie, they've got the bases covered.

What really bothers me about the production in its totality, though, is that even with the starter you really can't play the game. You need to add to the game in order to play. Part of the game is placing tokens near ships to indicate how many activations they've had, and the game doesn't come with them. So, you have to get pennies or glass beads or something. It always pisses me off when a publisher short changes you and doesn't include stuff required to play, because if I had bought the game at a game store with the intent of cracking it open and playing right then, I simply would not have been able to. I'd have had to buy tokens of some kind, or rip up bits off the rules as markers if I didn't have some change in my pocket.

Also, there are rules on some of the ships that have them placing terrain, objects, or destroying them, but there's not a single terrain marker or object anywhere in the starter, or in the box with the ships that have the ability to place them.  So, really, you not only buy something that requires you to get your own activation markers, which isn't a biggie, but then on top of that, you have to realize that you don't even have the markers/tokens and then go to the Wizkids website and download them. Luckily, I found them: Unfortunately, the object tokens that exist are manhole covers, ATM machines, and the like, none of which I find to be something I would expect to be either in space or useful in playing a space skirmish game. So, in the end, if you REALLY want to play this to the fullest, using all the powers and rules, you don't get to unless you blow through some printer ink, card stock, and have some tokens on hand. The word that comes immediately to mind is "boochy".

So, from a value perspective, the whole deal isn't all that shit hot. I mean, it's blind booster, as a "package" it's incomplete, and it's essentially a half-baked attempt to sucker die hard Trekkies that would buy a bag of chili labelled "Vulcan feces" into getting indoctrinated to the world of Heroclix. Fleet Captains is infinitely better of an implementation of using Heroclix "technology" with Star Trek. Star Trek: Expeditions is an even better of an implementation than Fleet Captains, I think, so WizKids has the ability to make great Trek games, and demonstrably so. But Star Trek Tactics just feels plain half-assed, really, in my opinion. I mean, even if you already like Heroclix which, as I said, I am sort of on the fence about, I would be offended as a Trek fan regarding the total bastardization of the license and lack of effort put into doing something so ridiculously simple, like making a power sheet that exchanged "character" and "ship" and renamed the powers, even if they did precisely the same thing.

Now, I'm going to assume that you've never played Heroclix here, for a second. To understand Clix, you simply have to know that it's a relatively simple light skirmish game. Each character has its own special powers that are available at given times based on how much damage they've received. These powers are indicated in a window, and change by rotating the base mechanism, which contains a dial, on which is printed a series of numbers in the foreground on a colored background. The colored backgrounds define what power is available at the time. Some are automatic powers, like modifying your defense against a type of attack, while others need to be activated on your turn to use.

In short, the system's real triumph, if there had to be one that stands out, is that the variable powers really create a lot more tactical strategy potential. A character's powers can change dramatically during the course of a battle, and knowing which powers are going to come up at which point is a critical aspect to playing the game well. Tie that in with the activation system, which consists of simply declaring an activation and placing a token on your activated ship to denote it, then resolving an action. The linchpin to all of that is that you are limited in what you activate because no ship can have more than two tokens, so you can't really just bum-rush with your big bad ship. It forces you to incrementally move your entire fleet and really choose activations wisely.

The real downfall of the system, though, is that while each ship comes with a card that references what the name of the power is, it requires amateurs and even reasonably well-versed guys like me who have quite a few games to their name, to continually refer back to a large tri-fold card in order to understand what, precisely, the power means, based on the color and location of the square. After five or six plays with different ships, you get the main idea and the "crutch" of having to go back to the card gets less prevalent over time. But, the first five games are going to be way longer than they should be, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it because the pacing is literally hobbled by the "do something, look up power, resolve something, opponent looks up power" dance.

Once you get past all of the continual drudgery of card-reading and decrypting the color coded powers, the game's still not actually all that fun, though. Again, it doesn't really have any "big space battle" feel to it, it's more of just 3D icons with shapes that aren't little caped heroes or elves or something shooting one another. So, if you're used to Heroclix, or games where positioning isn't that important, where there are no facing rules, no inertia, no simultaneous damage, or anything more complex than "activate, shoot, rinse, repeat", then you're pretty much going to like the game if you can palate the idea of spaceships with Super Senses and Fangs. But if you want something that feels like a space game, and has more depth than really just managing action tokens and making sure you know your ships' powers and how they can interact with one another, you're best to look elsewhere.

The ship design itself, as far as ship balance and power design, is really pretty good. All the ships make sense, too, thematically. Each ship has kind of a theme that it adheres to, so small ships are nimble and wiry where the bigger ships are fast, powerful, and durable. There are ships that cloak, although cloaking is really pretty weak compared to the films' depiction, since they don't actually cloak, they just are not targetable if they're behind some terrain. But if it's a one-on-one engagement in open space, cloaking is completely worthless, which is really pretty shitty, since the valuation of the ship is based upon its inherent abilities. On par, though, the balance is really pretty good, the ships do some neat stuff to keep the game moderately interesting, and if you can get past the first five or so games and get used to the color wheels, well, you may dig it pretty well. Just don't expect Starmada, Silent Death, or really anything beyond the same old Heroclix.

Now, my problem is that my daughter loves Star Trek, and she likes Heroscape, and she views this as Heroscape in space, so she's fully engaged. Which means that I have to play this game, especially since I spent way too much money collecting an entire set for her so she could re-enact giant space battles that she's seen in the films. I also played with some friends who've played some other space shoot-em-up games, like Battleship Galaxies, Star Wars Miniatures: Starship Battles and Epic Engagements, and they found it kind of "meh" like I did. I mean, if these were someone else's toys, there's very little chance I would ever go out of my way to ask to play this game. Part of that is that it failed, for me, to really emphasize the Star Trek universe in the game, and part of it is that I just find the continual look up of the powers to be so mind-draining that it's just not worth the effort. To underscore that, I have a pretty good memory, to say the least, and I just don't care to crack open my hippocampus and allow the information to be stored.

This is not to say that it's a bad game, but it's just not a good one. It revels in its mediocrity, and it certainly did itself no favors by not embracing the license. I think the end-use of these neat ships will be that I re-base them onto A Call To Arms: Star Fleet bases, saving me some painting time, and playing a far superior game that really embraces the license. I'll be reviewing that at some point in the near future since Mongoose was kind enough to send this soon-to-be indoctrinated Trekkie the core rules to put it through its paces. I may also write up some cards to use with the Epic Engagements system.

One thing I should add, too, is that I found some really bad ass little Micro Machines star bases on Ebay for a couple bucks a pop, which I am still awaiting the dickhead seller to ship, 2 weeks later, as he is apparently on vacation. They are the same scale as these ships, more or less, and so I think they would be great to play with as scenario objectives or something. I'm the guy who plays Candyland with my 4 year old using Halo Interactive Board Game figures, so pimping a game is not, shall we say, out of my realm of experience.


Why Admiral Kirk Made This Game Mandatory At Starfleet Academy:
- Lots of Federation and Klingon ships, and none require painting to look spiffy
- Lots of availability on Ebay, and the commons and uncommons are pretty cheap, really
- It's easy to learn basic rules and simple game play is good for family gaming

What Makes Star Trek: Tactics Boldly Fail Like None Before It:
- If you want to find the worst bastardization of a licensed product, this tops the suspect list
- Calling something a starter set and then not including required parts is a bait and switch
- The lapse between first play and memorizing the powers make initial games slow
- Blind boosters? Really? The 1990's called and they want their sales gimmick back

It's not a terrible game, and if you are a fan of Heroclix, it's probably as good as you're used to, maybe even better since there's not several levels of each ship unlike the other Clix lines. But if you're new to the game, despite the easy to learn rules, the continual need to refer to a power card can slow the pace exponentially, which takes away from the experience. If you are determined, though, what you get is a moderately simple shoot-em-up that lacks most of what makes space battle games interesting. On top of that, there's virtually no Star Trek "feel" throughout the game other than the fact that the ships are recognizable from the fiction. So, from the game play standpoint, it's as "meh" as it gets. Unless you can re-purpose the ships, you're a Heroclix fan, or you're just a crazy Trekkie who wants the neat looking toys, I see absolutely no reason to invest in this game.

2.5/5 Stars

Check out the WizKids page for this line, which has had an almost identical level of disinterest put into it:

The best place for info on the ships is at the HCRealms site, here:

I've created some really nice looking maps, since the maps are fine, but not really beautiful, and you can download them at the following link if you want to take them down and get them printed to 24"x36". Just remember it's the 2" square maps you want, not the hexes, which are also there if you want them:

And lastly, since I am now forced to play this with my kid since she likes it so much, I had to make it bearable, since she is NOT going to remember the color coded powers, ever. To do so, I took all the powers that are on the "not-so-quick powers and abilities reference, and I put them directly onto some new cards I made. I'm almost done with all 33 of the ships, and I'll post them to my blog as soon as they're done, likely tomorrow. I've not edited or amended the powers and what they do other than to change "character" with "ship", and make things no longer refer to the named powers, so there should be a lot less of a learning curve. I'll put them in the above link, but like I said, I'll also write a blog post so there's a record on the site.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Star Trek Heroclix: Tactics Player Aid And Starmap

Well, I've been playing a bit of the Star Trek Heroclix: Tactics game that came out a while back, and so far, it's exactly like Heroclix. And by exactly, I mean that big space ships like the Enterprise and Defiant have abilities like Mind Control, Super Strength, and the like.  The downside is it totally skullfucks the theme from that perspective. The upside is that you can literally have the Avengers (who apparently took some HGH in massive doses) battle it out with giant spaceships, and the mechanics work perfectly.

Just last night, on a lark, Hal Jordan kicked the shit out of a D7 Klingon Battlecruiser. And I didn't even charge up his lantern.

Anyhow, because it is so incredibly lame that they would be so lazy that they didn't even bother to change the power names and print up a few thousand Trek-Only cards, well, I had to make a player guide. Sure, I left the power names on because there are some references to them on the ship cards, but at least I changed the names around.  I also redid my 24x36 map for Epic Engagements (which is a bad ass miniatures game, IMO, since I created it) to work with this. I may even go so far as to create Epic Engagements ship cards. Unlikely, like VERY unlikely, but hell, who knows. I may end up in the hospital for a month, and then I'll have time.

So, here are the links to the folder that contains the player aid, which is awesome if I do say so myself, and that big ass map if you desire to spend 30$ at Kinko's and have one made like I did.

Link to PDF:

And my starmap:
Link To JPEG:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Star Trek: Expeditions - Unlike Walter Koenig's Accent, This Game Isn't Imitation Adventure

I don't hate to be wrong, but I really hate to be wrong like this. I broke my own rules, which was stupid in and of itself, and I deserve the outrage that I will be receiving from people who I told were wrong. So, here goes: Reiner Knizia can make an Ameritrashy adventure game. There. I said it. I'm even prepared to say that as highly improbable as it is, the game he made will not atrophy your testicles from boredom as expected, and in fact is brilliant fun. I still can't believe it myself, but it's true. Star Trek: Expeditions (ST:E) is a really, truly fun, thematic co-op adventure game that not only adheres to its theme, but does so well.

Here's how the story goes: I was playing ST:E with some people that were not digging it, not at all. They bitched about the math involved, they bitched about the fact that Knizia is a Euro guy and has no business making an adventure game, and they bitched about the fact that they weren't having a good time. Well, if you know me, you know that if there's a negative vibe, I not only will jump in, I'll jump in with a set of jumper cables attached to Three Mile Island. "SuperflyTNT" is more a description than an Internet handle, dig? So, I began to hate the game, but really, had I any hindsight at that point, I'd have realized that I hated the experience, not the game. And unlike what I usually do, which is pop off and talk shit with an informed opinion, I popped off and talked shit after only playing that one game with haters. Like they say, haters gon' hate. And I jumped on the bandwagon, like an asshat.

So, to all those people I might have called wonderfully obscene and colorful names, I sincerely apologize. I'm a moron sometimes. Shit, a lot of the time. But when it comes to games, I have a pretty good idea of what sucks and what doesn't, sort of like an intuitive Spider Sense that won't save me from walking into a convenience store robbery but, rather, will save me forty bucks on a shitty game. But this time, I was way off the mark, and theme wasn't an issue. To be honest, I like Star Trek a fair bit, and I'll watch it when it comes on, but really, I'm much more of a lightsaber guy.

If Star Trek had lightsabers, maybe I'd like it more. I think it has something to do with the idea of a weapon that you swing like a baseball bat, will cut through steel or bone like they were soft butter, and cauterizes wounds instantly. "Setting to stun" is for pussies and cops, and up until fifteen years ago, a cop's stun setting was accomplished via repeated blows to the head with a baton. A Red Shirt might taze you, or Spock might read your mind and find out you like Furries porn or something, but if you muck around with a dude with a lightsaber, that's your ass. They'll cut you in half and, while you might die of shock, you won't bleed to death. Hell, a good Jedi will make you believe it was your idea to be cut in half. And that's awesome, so Trek gets second place because if Kirk tried that dumb ass WWF axe-handle shit on Obi Wan, his recently cauterized wrist stumps would only be useful on the green size queens he might find on Rigel VIII, if you catch my meaning.

So anyhow, back to ST:E. My kid is a total nerd-girl, and she's got a crush on young Leonard Nimoy. I messed up is that. Thanks, Netflix, my future son in law will have a Moe haircut. Anyhow, as far as I'm concerned the twofold job of a dad is to provide awesomeness galore, and shoot any punk ass in the face that might do them harm. So, I got her ST:E for her birthday, thinking I would teach it to her and she would break it out with her one friend who is into nerdy shit like she is. And then I could wash my hands of the whole affair, satisfied in my Awesome Dadness, and never have to look at that game again. But then I played it with people who don't suck and who aren't total downers. Holy crapcakes, what a difference. I really liked it, and all of the bullshit whining about math that those folks said (who are reading this and know exactly who you are) is just that: bullshit.

Now, let's talk about Wizkids for a second. I am not a huge fan of the old Clix wheels, specifically the Mage Knight ones, because they were hard as hell to turn. I can't tell you how many expletives escaped my lips from snapping a figure off its base, or worse, mutilating its legs, from trying to turn the wheel. I even had this secret decoder ring thingie that was supposed to help, and it didn't. Luckily, they seem to have redesigned this aspect, because none of the Clix I now own have this problem. And I do have to say that beyond the original Mage Knight skirmish game, they make some seriously bad ass games. I've not played Mage Knight, and likely never will because it's expensive as hell, but everyone tells me it's bad ass. Mage Knight Dungeons is one of the all time best dungeon crawling games, in my opinion.

Heroclix is a really well liked game, too, although I don't like it all that much even though it should be really right up my alley. Even their Star Trek space battles game, which could've been AMAZING, but will have to settle for mediocrity, is at least worth owning if you are a fan of Star Trek or Heroclix, simply because the ships are cool. The only really, truly terrible game I've ever played from those guys is Quarriors, which I almost think was designed to entertain the mentally handicapped, except for the fact that the dice are major choking hazards. And, as I should've known, they did an exceptional job with this one from the "goodies" standpoint.

The production value of ST:E is simply astounding for what I paid. I got it off the BGG Marketplace, new, for twenty bucks plus twelve bucks shipping, and I shit you not, it's worth double. It has six Clix figures, a metric assload of cards, a huge board, a little scorecard thing, some wooden bits, and some dice. But everything is just so damned pretty. The cards are awesome. The figures are awesome. The art is, without question, ridiculously, unrepentantly superb. The only faux pas in the whole box is the fact that on some cards there are some important little numbers written in too dark a purple on a black background, and even a youngster like my eleven year old couldn't read it unless under direct, bright light. But it's a small price to pay.

But you could look at some photos and see that crap to know it looks awesome, and you don't read my writing to hear me gush about how pretty something is. You want to know what it plays like. And, my friends, it plays as smooth as glass. The rulebook is really easy to understand, with ample examples and descriptions as one might expect from a Euro designer. Very tight, very concise. There's even some nice photos that explain some of the hairiest points, which aren't really all that hairy, more like fuzzy, and even then, peach fuzz. It's all very straightforward, and the graphic designer should win a prize or something because the whole game runs on a color coding system that is completely monkey proof. Red, blue, or yellow. Just like the shirts from the TV show and movies, except for the first movie which has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, aside from curing insomnia.

The game play is very brisk, and while I can see some "Big Boss" crap happening where one person tells everyone what to do, that's just the name of the game when it comes to co-op games, so either tell that guy to shut his suckhole or deal with it. There's also the potential for the dreaded Analysis Paralysis Syndrome to kick in because there are a lot different things you can do on a turn. But it's actually not bad. What I think I really like about it the most is that it reminds me just a little bit of Queen's Gambit (SACRILEGE! BLASPHEMY!) to the extent that there's two battles being waged at once, one on the ground and one in the skies above. You can transport your little dude-skis up to the Enterprise and try to bust some Klingon shit loose or you can start muckraking down on the planet and trying to solve an energy crisis, a rebel uprising, and a political plot. Hell, the planet could've been OUR planet, by that standard. The whole while, you'll be drawing random cards, tossing dice, and making references to Star Trek episodes, maybe.

You see, there is a lot of math to do when you try to accomplish some of the missions on the ground. You have to roll a die, and add a big number from a Clix wheel. Then you have to add one or two points (which is shown numerically on a card) for each matching colored crew member you have. Then you have to add two points for each time any crew member (including you) has a keyword that matches the keyword on the card you're trying to get rid of. And then if you have items or special cards that you can optionally play to add to that, you can add those too.

So yes, there is a lot of very simple addition. But here's how I realized my folly in dismissing the game, because the pesky math that was derided, and that I was so quick to deride, is just as vicious in an infinitely more nuanced and complex game that I love more than virtually all others: Heroscape. So, again I say, the "Knizia = Math = Suckage" people can kiss the crack of my ass in relation to this game, because you're full of shit, and you might be in need a refill if that's your final conclusion. I know this because I said the same thing, but just to prove that we were both wrong, allow me to explain.

Let's say you're playing a Knights of Weston Heroscape army. And you have 3 Human Champions in a pod. Well, you have your base attack, then you add one attack die for each adjacent dude that provides the bonus, which you have to calculate for each of your four knights, depending on adjacency. Then you have to add a die if they're on a higher level. Then you have to add a die if they're in range of Taelord. And if one of your figures on the entire other side of the map is on a glyph that provides +1 attack, you add that too. But wait, because if you're attacked, it's completely different. You don't get that +1 for some adjacent heroes, but you do for others. And you don't get a +1 if Taelord's around, you get a +1 or +2 if Raelin's around, depending on which Raelin card you played. God forbid you played Blastatrons and Gladiatrons, because there's some more math.

Starting to see what I mean? There's a lot of simple math in ALL of these games. Tomb, Runebound, Prophecy, Talisman, even, all of these games with lots of variables have lots of math. And they're awesome. So, I have concluded that I jumped on the bandwagon and was acting like a Knizia-ist (like a racist, but instead of hating ethnicities, I just hated one guy, Knizia). So sorry, Reiner. Some of your games do suck asshole (read: Atlanteon) but this ain't one of them. And I was wrong to say that this sucked. 

There are some weaknesses, though, and some of them will give you pause. The first is that there is a branching "choose your own adventure" story path for the political, energy, and rebel crises that are the core of the game, but really the only branches are "did you suck, really suck, or TOTALLY SUCK when you tried the last mission" and therefore if you're pretty decent at hand and resource management, and fairly lucky with the bones (meaning dice, not McCoy, because DeForrest Kelley is really skeevy looking), you're going to find that you will see the same branches repeatedly.

What this means is that every time you play, you're trying to one-up yourselves from a score perspective, and that's the only reason to keep playing. Really, this game doesn't even have a "ending" per se, or more accurately a climax. The game ends, sure, and you get a score, but it's not like Pandemic where it ends and you immediately totally lose or totally win. It's a score-based game, so you're just looking to get the best score you can. There's also a built in timer mechanism, so if time runs out, you lose, or if the Enterprise is blown into little blood soaked rippy bits, you are captured by the Klingons and have your giblets torn out. So, either you lose, which is climactic, or you win, which is more of an "ah, yes, we did well" or "man, we sucked ass" kind of thing.

There's three "levels" to the game, and each one becomes increasingly hard. Now, the skill checks are the same, but on each turn you have to grab a "bad shit happens" card and resolve it, and so on the easiest level, only one bad event happens, but on the Red Alert level, three bad things happen every turn. To give you an idea of what a difference it makes, our first play on easy resulted on a near-perfect win. Our first play on hard resulted in us essentially losing in every possible category with such an utter level of failure that we really should've gone to barber college instead of Starfleet. It's not like Pandemic where you throw extra Epidemic cards in and all hell breaks loose a little more often. Its more like every turn is a bitter struggle not to pull the "Francis Rage Fat Guy Table Flip" because the odds are so clearly against you. Yes, it's that hard.

Now that I've described as best I can what makes the game so wicked fun, let me tell you about the one thing that might dissuade you from considering buying it: replay value. I like the game a lot, in fact, more than I could've imagined I ever would, especially as hard as I was on it for so long. But because there is only one planet to play on, and only the one set of three plots to deal with, the fact is that you will, at some point, run through every permutation of the political, rebel, and energy crisis, and at that point, you will have seen all the game has to offer. Yes, there's randomness in the layout of the cards that pop up, and there's randomness in the layout of the board, and yes, there's randomness in the specific side missions that pop up. But none of these matter, because in the end, the only way to win the game is to complete the three main plot lines.

The good news is that they already came out with an expansion, which I bought, and the bad news is that I was disappointed to find that the expansion adds almost nothing to the game other than allowing you to make jokes about how George Takei likes sword fighting with Brad, or how Shaun of the Dead is now in Starfleet. The expansion only has three new characters, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov. "Big fucking deal" was precisely what entered my mind when I got the box open and read the cards. It is the equivalent of getting three of the "On The Brink" expansion character cards for Pandemic, and nothing else.

To be honest, I can see the effect being that the game will be easier on the hard level, primarily because Scotty and Sulu have keywords on their character cards that are rare in the base game, and it allows for five players to play the game instead of just the stock four, but in the end, what this game will need in short order is a substantial mission expansion. I can see a 30$ card expansion coming out that is a completely different mission, and if they really want to make it spiffy, add a Romulan ship in the box. That would extend the life of the game twofold at a minimum. And I would buy that shit the day it came out.

This game has legs, and I'll be playing it for a while, for sure. As a co-op, I like it as much as Pandemic and Flashpoint: Fire Rescue, but not as much as Red November, but perhaps it's nostalgia that's keeping me there. All I know is that it was a big hit at our tables, and I really hope that they don't just call it quits on this game with one character expansion. I really dig it, and I think it has a metric ton of potential.

Now, as an aside, I also have the HeroClix stuff because my friend Jim is the KING, and I just got Star Trek: Fleet Captains (which my daughter doesn't know about yet) from RepoMan over at Fortress: Ameritrash ( because he's just that awesome, so once I have them all played and whatnotted, I will give a full report on which of them is the mostest awesomest Star Trek game. Add to that the fact that I managed to convince Matt Sprague at Mongoose to send me A Call To Arms: Star Fleet, and I will really be able to tell you what the best Starfleet experience is.

Maybe the Jedi aren't as bad ass as I thought, because the Star Wars CMG really kind of sucked balls. How ironic would it be that my 11 year old turns me into a Star Trek nerd?

Why Star Trek Expeditions Goes Where No Knizia Has Gone Before:
- The art is superb, the models are superb, and the overall production is....superb
- Gameplay is brisk, easy to understand, and most importantly, fun
- The three difficulty levels and branching result system extend replay value
- The expansion allows five player games instead of the stock four
- This game can be played solo, if you're into "do it yourself" games

Why I Want to Scream Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan:
- There can be a lot of bonuses to remember
- Replay value may or may not be enough for you due to the limited mission branches
- Anti-climactic ending can be a bit of a downer
- The expansion expands the players and characters, but not the game

This game is easily worth the $32.00 I paid for it, and I can see us playing this game maybe 10-12 more times before we're sick of playing it. In fact, while I was writing this, I asked my kid if she wants to play tonight, but unfortunately she is having a sleep over with one of her friends, so I will either play with the wife or play alone. But either way, I'm jonesing to play this, and that's a rarity these days.

4.375/5 Stars

You can see more about this at the WizKids site: