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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gunship: First Strike! Review

Many moons ago, I bought into a promising looking kickstarter called Gunship: First Strike!  by Escape Pod Games.  Here's a description of the game from their website:

Gunship: First Strike! is Escape Pod Games’ core release in a planned series of tactical space combat games. Players fight to win battles in a futuristic civil war with a variety of ship types. From the agile and speedy Fighters, to versatile Gunships and powerful Assault Carriers, every battle is a well-balanced slugfest that comes right down to the wire!

Gunship First Strike! is

  • a Card Game that utilizes Dice and Boards in a new and exciting way
  • a Space Battle between 2, 3 or 4 players that lasts between 30 and 60+ minutes
  • Customizable, Innovative and Highly Expandable
  • Well-Balanced.  Most games are won by less than a handful of Hit Points
  • Flexible.  A great game to start the night or to have fun playing all day in Campaign Mode
  • perfect for players who like to blow things up with a variety of ship-mounted Heavy Weapons!
What sold me the most were the early images of the gunship boards.  The gunships have 8 areas on them (torpedo launcher, hull, shield and power generators, left and right weapon pods, and left and right wings).  each of the areas has space for cards allowing the gunships to be fitted in a variety of ways.  I'm a huge fan of spaceship gaming (see also Eclipse, EVE Online, X-Wing), but none of the board games I've played really feature that "1 on 1" ship duel feel like you might see in Star Trek or something.  So I was sold!  I bought into the game, and made sure I got a few of the neat add-ons like crew/ship upgrades, asteroids, and enough gunships for 4 players.

So when I received Gunship, I was ecstatic to break it open and give it a shot!  I sat down across from Sean, my usual boardgaming partner in crime, and we got to setting up and reading the rulebook.  I have to be honest- my initial reaction was a bit negative- but hang in there!  For some reason I can't put my finger on, we were having a bit of a hard time following the rules.  We're no stranger to complexity- Eclipse is second nature to us now, but something about these rules left us scratching our heads.

We starting limping through the game but something wasn't quite clicking... until we played a few rounds.  Suddenly, as if the lens at just come into focus, the game became clear to us.  I think at times the rules get a bit too complicated when explaining a simple concept and so we were overthinking things.  At its core the game is fairly simple and once we boiled it down we found it to play quickly and be quite entertaining!  Let's have a brief look at how the game plays out.  Described below is a typical turn.  Turns play out until one of the two Assault carriers is destroyed.  Losing your carrier loses you the game.

Initiative Phase
Simple- roll a die to see who has initiative.

Carrier Phase
This is actually a really neat concept that I did not like at first.  This only occurs once per turn and is resolved immediately.  Each player draws one card with a chance of the enemy carrier being damaged.  There is a high degree of luck here, and a few good draws can dramatically change the game.  This may turn some people off- but we found the mechanic had a really cool way of putting pressure on you.  Haven't been focusing on making attack runs on the enemy carrier?  Better start now, cause he just scored some hits on yours!

After the Carrier phase one player completes all of the rest of the steps, and then the 2nd does the same to end the turn.
Draw Phase
Here you may draw cards until you have 5 in your hand.  The cards are broken down into damage dealing, and modification cards.  Damage dealing will essentially allow one weapon to do damage.  If you have blaster cannons and you draw a blaster cannon hit card- your cannon can now shoot.  Ditto Torpedoes and Ion cannons.  Then there are also cards for things like evasive maneuvers, enhanced targeting, etc which modify your or your enemy's attacks.

Fighter Phase
In this phase you can move your fighter squadron about.  There's basically 3 "areas" in the game- your carrier's zone, your opponent's carrier zone, and the middle ground.  Your fighters can move between these two zones and either defend (escort) a zone or gunship, dogfight with the enemy's fighters, or make an attack run on the enemy's gunship.  Dogfights and strafing runs are resolved using dice- the fighters are a bit high on the luck factor, but the mechanics are easy enough.

Gunship Phase
This is where the meat of the game comes from.  One key element we had to wrap our head around was the concept that YOU the player are the captain of the Gunship.  The carrier and fighters largely exist outside of your influence (you do get to make decisions for the fighters, but the outcomes are so random it's hard to plan ahead much).  I like this concept a lot, but it may not be for everyone.  

Anyhow, your Gunship is yours to do with what you will.  You can kit it out with different weaponry- maybe you want all blaster cannons and go on the offensive looking to destroy the enemy's gunship.  Maybe you want all thrusterbombs and torpedoes and make a B-line for the enemy's carrier.  Maybe you want a mix of ion cannons, blaster cannons, bombs, and torpedoes and be a jack of all trades.

Each turn a gunship can perform 3 actions.  Actions it can perform include moving one area, making an attack on enemy fighters or Gunships, making an attack run on the enemy carrier, or docking on a friendly carrier.

Attacks that hit score a hit on a random location (determined by a d8) which can damage or destroy key components.  Ion cannons that strike a location temporarily knock it out, and then jump from one spot to the next at the end of the turn (which was very cool!)

Repair Phase
At this time Gunships that are in space can use a Damage Control card to repair light damage or restore one shield if the shield generator is still operational.  Alternatively, docked carriers get several repair actions with which they can repair heavy damage, swap weapons, reload bombs, restore shields, etc.

Once we had the rules down, we were able to get through 3 games fairly quickly.  All 3 games were fairly close affairs, with both of our carriers in dire straits.  The gunships get absolutely battered, and dealing with individual systems being destroyed left and right is an awesome challenge.  Most of all, it does capture that feeling of being in control of a single ship while a larger battle rages around you.  

Components: 6/10
The included game pieces have great graphic design.  There is absolutely something about the dice that I love- it's hard to describe.  The dice just feel great!  The rulebook is okay, and actually mine arrived in a bad way- the bottom hadn't been fully cut, so I had to go at it with some scissors to be able to open it.  The cardboard punchouts are nice, but the cards are really not very good.  They're very flimsy making them difficult to shuffle.  They just feel cheap.  I'll go easy here because this is Escape Pod Games' first publication, and for a Freshman outing- I'm quite impressed! 

Game Play & Rules: 8/10
I don't think the rulebook is laid out particularly well, but once you stop approaching this game like it's Eclipse and take a few second to think about the rules, you find that they're that nice blend of easy to learn, without stifling you on tactical decisions.  The rules work quite well, and aside from the randomness mentioned above (which some of you may hate if you prefer low luck games, but which doesn't really bother me) make for a fast paced game that usually comes down to the wire!

Theme: 10/10
The theme is great!  All space all the time.  The artwork and the way the mechanics knock out individual subsystems really make me feel like I'm commanding my gunship while the battle rages around me.

Summary: 8/10
Awesome theme, and fast, exciting game play.  Marred slightly by some highly random/lucky events that can change the outcome of the game and some low production value on the cards.  Gunship is set to provide hours of entertainment as you customize your ships and bring them into battle.  I dare you to play this game without quoting the Wrath of Khan at least once!


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