Sunday, 11 December 2011

A Cosmic Encounter causes Panic at the Station

Sunday, December 11, 2011

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It's been a while, but we actually managed to get some non-digital gaming done this past Friday. There were five of us and there were going to be board games. Since I had recently got Panic Station and it's a quick game that was a given, however what more to play had not been decided. Some suggestions were Mansions of Madness, Cyclades, Fury of Dracula, Battlestar Galactica and Cosmic Encounter. I voted for Mansions of Madness or Cosmic Encounter but would have been happy to play any of the suggestions (although I feel a little burnt out on BSG).

Either way, we started with Panic Station. It's a new game designed by David Asloos (check out his upcoming game Dark, Darker, Darkest!) and published by White Goblin and Stronghold Games. In a nutshell it's The Thing - The Board Game. Your team of soldiers are dispatched to a research base to discover why it has stopped communicating. As you arrive you come across parasitic alien creatures that are resistant to normal weapons, and you realize that one of you has most likely been infected by an alien virus... but who?!

So you need to explore the base to find a new type of ammunition that is effective against the parasites while you try to avoid getting infected. The final objective in the game is to find the Hive and destroy it with your flamethrower (which requires three gas cans). So it starts out as a cooperative survival horror game but with a hidden traitor, aka the Host. The main difference from games like Battlestar Galactica or Shadows Over Camelot, that also have a traitor mechanic, is that in Panic Station the Host can infect other players and they can in turn infect others. This is built into a trading mechanism in the game. Every time you enter a room where there's another player you have to trade; you give each other one card face down so the others can't see. If you recieve an infection card (all players start with three of these) you are now an alien pawn, unless you traded one of your gas cans in which case you're still human.

Exploring the base...

It doesn't make perfect thematic sense (like a few other things in the game) but if you're prepared to overlook a few "logical holes" there's a great game of paranoia and betrayel in Panic Station! Another really neat mechanic is the Heat Scan. If one of the players manage to get to the computer room one of the actions he can perform is use it to scan the entire base and find out how many humans and how many infected there are in it. It doesn't tell you who, just how many.

Anyway, during our first play I got infected by Mats who was the host in the first turn, and I managed to infect Anna on my next turn. So the humans went from four to two very rapidly! However both Micke and Anders heavily suspected this and when Micke made a heat scan it simply confirmed their fears. They tried resisting the alien virus but me and Mats ganged up and killed Micke's two characters (yes you can attack each other) after we had tried to infect him, unsuccessfully, several times. Anders held out for a bit longer but was finally infected by Anna.

We had fun although we played a few things wrong, how parasites are placed on the board for example. Oh, and I made the classical mistake that's so easy and stupid that you think you'll never do it: I said "Oh, so you just need one more gas can" insantly revealing myself. Silly silly silly. Haha! This first game, with a lot of rules checking lasted about 45-60 minutes.

Our next game was decided by a roll of a die. Some other games were added into the mix and the candidates were Elders Sign, Cosmic Encounter, The Name of the Rose and... something more... Fury of Dracula perhaps. Anders rolled a two so Cosmic Encounter it was. Which made me very happy!

I owned the old Swedish translation of Cosmic Encounter called Universums Härskare (Ruler of the Universe) but as kids we never "got it" when playing. The rules weren't difficult, but we simply missed out on the whole human interaction element, which basically is Cosmic Encounter. Hey, we were used to Monopoly. So I was very happy to A: get to try the game again as an adult, and B: do it with FFG's lovely looking reprint!

We drew some random aliens. I drew the Warrior (grows stronger throughout the game), Micke drew Morksomething (each ship is worth four), Anders drew Something (something, something), Anna drew Loser (can switch the result of a battle around so the loser wins) and Mats drew The Mutant (always holds eight cards in hand).

After a couple of turns. I'm green.

Micke and Anna soon took the lead with Mats right behind them. Anders had only got one colony while I had none. I think I tried relying a bit too much on my ability while the others feared it too much. In the beginning of the game I joined the loosing side only to get more experience points, and later in the game the others were afraid that I'd get too strong and simply didn't invite me either on the attacking or defending side. This meant that I only got a chance to get colonies in my own turn and then I often faced a large alliance, or I faced the Loser against whom I simply couldn't win.

Either way I did very poorly while Micke or Anna would clearly win the game, it was just a matter of who could do it quickest. In the end Micke conquered the final fifth planet and won the game, he even allowed me to get two pity colonies in his system as a reward for aiding him. Haha! Again a game that is quick to play, features tonns of human interaction and that I feel will be much better the next time when everyone knows what to expect of it. Looking forward to it!

Did I mention I was green?

We still had an hour or so left of our alloted game time so we decided to try Panic Station again. We almost played Elder Sign (that I'm eager to try as well) but since only Anders and Anna had played it we opted for Panic Station instead so we wouldn't have to do another rules explanation.

This game was very different from the first. Since we played with the correct rules there were a lot more parasites on the board and we were all much more paranoid from the start. We also split up early on and when I and Anders both found magnetic key cards and security doors to hide behind we did just that. I ended up alone in a corner of the base with a computer terminal. But only two gas cans. I tried searching for more while holding the parasites at bay. Finally the Hive ended up in my section and I just needed one more gas can to torch it.

The others had real trouble with the horde of parasites and all of them were wounded and Mats was even killed by them! In the end Anna used another computer terminal to open the security doors to my isolated section. She rushed in and tried to infect me, meaning I had tro trade away the third gas can that I had finally found. I was really lucky though and found another on my next turn meaning I could run in and burn the Hive.

As I said, a very different game this time. Anna was frustrated as she felt that she couldn't infect any of us as we all carried gas cans and both me and Anders were behind security doors. However, since Panic Station is so short it's not the whole world if you sometimes get a game that feels a bit off. I think it's much worse when it happens in Battlestar Galactica and you have invested four or five hours into a game that doesn't feel as fun as you know it has the potential to be. When you only play for 30-45 minutes you can just shrug it off and give it another go.

All in all I really enjoyd both Panic Station, which I feel could easily become a staple filler game, and Cosmic Encounter which I think really appeals to our socially minded group! Looking forward to playing them both again soon. Naturally their quick play time is another point in their favour.

With Panic Station still in my mind I just had to check out the new prequal to John Carpenters The Thing, also called The Thing. I watched it today and was surprisingly satisfied with what they've come up with! Basically it tells the story of what happened at the Norwegian polar station that McReady explores in the original 1082 film. Overall it's done very well and it slots pretty smoothly into the original film. There's a lot of Norwegian actors in it and the language barrier creates another dimension of paranoia. There is (of course) CGI in this film which you won't see in the original but it's generally well done and captures the feel of the well. It's not perfect and they show too much of it in places but it could have been so much worse.

The big difference is that the Thing is a lot more aggressive in the prequal. It's more of a monster movie with some paranoia sprinkled about than the other way around. I didn't like this at first, but you could argue that this shows the Thing trying out different approaches and in the end realizing that it's better to try and stay hidden than simply aggressively trying to assimilate each and everyone fairly openly.

There are some continuity errors, or rather continuity confusion, here and there where you go "oh, I thought that guy went away on the snowcat?". But bottom line I think this is a worthy companion piece to Carpenter's original. Go give it a watch!

And I almost forgot! I played the original Drakborgen, aka Dungeonquest, with my wife and seven year old niece the other day. You know you're in for a grim ride when you die in the first room you enter as you get bitten by a poisonous centipede! That happend to me so I started over with another character. My wife made it half way to the treasure chamber as Yuubara Tori-Jima before a stalking shadow throttled her. Both me and my niece made it into the chamber, scooped up loads of treasure and made it out without the dragon waking up. I made it about half way back when I ran across a mountain troll, I tried to hypnotize him with my psychic powers but got my head caved in instead. Damn. My niece was in the final room before the exit but the path was blocked by a portcullis and her character, Iril, only has a strength of four... and the sun was about to set! She tried lifting it four times but failed and then the sun set.

Totally unforgiving game. Love it!

2 kommentarer :

  1. Glad to see you got some gaming in Martin. I'm still unsure of going to see the Thing prequel. I love the original so much I'm reluctant to go watch it!

  2. Yeah, it's been a while so it felt good with some analog gaming. We're still tryin to get a game of Twilight Imperium organized, and I have the second edition of A Game of Thrones in the mail.

    I know what you mean, and honestly I felt the same way. But overall I think it does manage to deliver. It's not perfect but still surprisingly good!


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