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 is not only not atrophy your testicles from boredom, it 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 crap with an informed opinion, I popped off and talked crap after only playing that one game with haters. Like they say, haters gon’ hate. And I jumped on the bandwagon, like an plonker.
So, to all those people I might have called wonderfully obscene and colorful names, I sincerely apologize. I’m a moron sometimes. Heck, 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 crappy 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 crap 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 know…how 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 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 rubbish whining about math that those folks said (who are reading this and know exactly who you are) is just that: rubbish.
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 kid you not, it’s worth double. It has six Clix figures, a metric load 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 crap 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 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 (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 stuff 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. It’s 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 freaking 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 stuff 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 (FortressAT.com) 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.
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