Reviewed by Herb Levy
STAR TREK PANIC (USAopoly/Fireside Games, 1 -6 players,. ages 13 and up, 120 minutes; $39.95)
USAopoly, long noted for its licensed Monopoly releases, has been making moves towards non-Monopoly style games, witness the successful Telestrations (featured in the Spring 2011 issue of Gamers Alliance Report) as well as the family style games of Tapple and Crossways (both featured in the Winter 2014 GA Report). Now, with an eye to the Euro gaming market, they (along with Fireside Games) have released a cooperative game based on the play motif found in Castle Panic designed by Justin de Witt, except this launch goes into outer space when, in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the debut of this classic television series, they have released Star Trek Panic.
In Star Trek Panic, players choose to be one from seven of the original Star Trek Enterprise crew (Kirk, Spock, Uhura. Sulu, Chekov, Scott or McCoy) with the goal being to complete, by working together, five missions and defeat all threats.
The “Final Frontier” of space is created on a large, square board, with a hexagon in the center where a three-dimensional replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise is placed. (The cardboard pieces for this model can be punched out and assembled easily.) Surrounding the Enterprise are three concentric circles, divided into six sections (numbered 1 through 6) to simulate space at different “ranges”: long, medium and short. The Enterprise is placed so it is facing sectors 1 and 6. There are 31 “threat tokens” which represent the dangers and hostiles that the Enterprise may encounter. These are three-sided tokens and three of them (Tholian, Klingon Cruiser and Romulan Battle Cruiser) are randomly placed at long range in sectors 1, 3 and 5. The rest of the tokens are placed into the game’s “Threat Token” (draw) bag.
The deck of 62 Enterprise cards is shuffled and each player dealt a starting hand (from 4 to 6 cards depending on the number of players). These cards are primarily “hit” cards which will, when played, do damage to threats to the Enterprise. Others will aid in making repairs or in minimizing the threat of boarders when attacked and more. Icons that indicate “credits” (Federation “currency”) representing Command, Medical, Engineering and Science which may be necessary in successfully completing a mission may also appear on cards. The deck of Mission cards is shuffled and the first one drawn. Any additional threats triggered by the mission are immediately placed and players are alerted to the objectives of the mission that need to be met for it to be successful. A first player is randomly chosen and we blast off!
Turns follow a specific order. The active player will first draw cards so he has a full hand. If a mission has been completed, a new mission is now drawn. (Missions usually specify how many turns players have to complete it. Successfully completed missions grant rewards that are almost – but not always – all good, helping players repair ship damage and removing threats. Failing to complete a mission in the allotted time results in that mission being returned to the bottom of the mission deck, a new mission drawn and, of course, no reward received.) The active player MAY trade one card with any other player. (As this is a cooperative game, all cards are public knowledge and table talk is allowed.) Now, we come to the heart of the game: Play Cards and Maneuver.
The active player may play as many cards from his hand as desired. Cards may be used to fire upon enemy threats. Unless a card states differently, each hit inflicts 1 damage on a threat, reducing its defense value by 1. (The tile rotates to its next, lower, Defense value.) If a threat’s Defense is reduced to zero, it is removed from the board. Cards may also be used to repair any damage sustained by the ship and to satisfy mission objectives (such as spending specific types of credits). The active player may also maneuver the Enterprise either before, during or after card play.
Maneuvers may be done in one of two ways. The Enterprise may be shifted clockwise or counter-clockwise one facing. (Enemy threats do not change position with this maneuver.) Alternatively, the Enterprise may move “forward”. This is simulated by having threats in the two sectors in front of the ship move one range closer! (Threats on the side or back do not change positions.) There are situations where forward movement is not possible: when 3 or more sections of the hull are destroyed, when a mission, as stated, prohibits it or when a Tholian ship is in Short Range. In any case, if, at this point, the Mission has not been successfully completed, all the threats in space that remain will attack!
First, all threats move one sector IN towards the Enterprise and then, simultaneously, fire! The Enterprise has six sections, each of which has 1 Shield and 1 Hull. Each threat firing will score 1 damage to the side it is facing. Each Shield and Hull can take 2 hits so, with the first hit, the matching Damage Indicator is placed on the Shield; with the second hit, that Shield is destroyed and removed. Now, the Hull can take damage and, again, with the first hit, the matching Damage Indicator is placed and with the second, that Hull is destroyed. (If a destroyed hull, takes on additional damage, that damage is shown by REMOVING from the game 1 card per hit from the Enterprise draw deck.) But the danger only gets worse with the possibility of boarders!
Threats starting in Short Range will attempt to board the Enterprise if there is no intact Shield to stop them. When boarding, the current Defense of the attacker is immediately applied as damage to the Enterprise’s hull in that sector. Then, that token is removed. If the Hull is already destroyed, the Damage is done by removing card(s) from the Enterprise deck. Players may, however, play Security Cards from their hands (if they have them) to reduce or prevent damage. (For this purpose, security cards may be played by any and ALL players, whether or not it is their turn.) Assuming the Enterprise has survived, two new threats are drawn from the Threat bag and placed in Long Range sectors per die roll and the next turn begins. But not everything drawn may be a threat. There is one Starbase token in the bag. This is a very good thing and, if appearing and if the Enterprise can maneuver so that it is in Short Range, major repairs to the Enterprise can be done – and every player gets to draw a card too. This makes the threat draw a more “hopeful” sense of anticipation by holding out the chance of a receiving a benefit rather than a threat.
Once five missions have been successfully completed, play continues except that no new threats are drawn. To claim victory, the Enterprise must, in effect, warp to safety by destroying all threats remaining on the board. However, should all six hulls of the Enterprise be destroyed, the players lose!
From the three dimensional U.S.S. Enterprise to the role cards with their tie-ins to the original characters. (Kirk “leads” by being allowed to drawn 2 extra cards when committing to a mission, Sulu “pilots” by being able to do TWO maneuvers on this turn etc.) to the mission cards reflecting many of the original episodes, this game captures the flavor of the original Star Trek series extremely well. Many of the favorites of the original series appear with their unique abilities to vex the Enterprise. (The Tholians, for example, will use their Tholian Web to prevent the Enterprise from maneuvering if they can make it to Short Range, the Romulan Bird of Prey can do double damage, ships with cloaking devices can make surprise attacks etc.) There is even the possibility of a comet appearing which inflicts damage and destruction on everything in it wake! This game can definitely challenge your will to survive!
Graphics in the game are quite good, using photos from the series. A plus is that the built 3D Enterprise will actually fit in the box. (A snug fit but it fits!) This makes breaking down and setting up the game for the next play a lot easier. While the game is listed for up to six players, less is more. Since you only draw new cards (barring the play of a card that grants you another draw from the deck) when it is your turn, the ability to replenish is severely curtailed with more players making trades less attractive, increasing down time between turns and, generally, making completing missions successfully more difficult. To help you get a feel for the game mechanisms, the rules suggest playing two missions (and they specify which ones) and the suggestion is a good one. You could also increase the number of missions required for success (up to 10) but that should be reserved for experienced gamers who have reached the game equivalent of “Star Fleet Academy elite” status.
For those who had wondered if this game was worthy of its subject, there is no need to panic. Star Trek Panic boldly goes forward and deserves to live long and prosper. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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