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Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview


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Designers: Janice & Stu Turner
Publisher: Wren Games
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 1-2
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 10-25 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Sensor Ghosts. I was provided a copy of the game for my review. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

You escaped.

Somehow, against all odds, you escaped. You built the spaceship, broke the computer's clutches, and escaped. Now all that's left is to make it home to Earth. All that stands between you is a meteor storm, the self-preservation of Earth's scientists, and this weird glitch in the navigation system that you're sure wasn't there when you left the station...

In Sensor Ghosts, you and your companion must navigate a deadly asteroid field to return to Earth. Along the way, you must retrieve a sample of a deadly virus that overtook the space station you fled, while also avoiding interruptions by the computer. This game is an interesting case in that, while it functions as a standalone game, it is in fact a sequel to the board game Assembly, continuing the story where it left off (see my review of that game here). However, while certain elements are the same, Sensor Ghosts is an entirely new game, with different mechanics, goals, and variants that make it stand on its own with ease.

I'm digging the small-box, three-word-tagline theme. Let's keep it going!

Review:


Rules and Setup:

The basic order of play goes as follows: players take turns simultaneously, choosing to play one card (or three at once, for a "wild" card) face down at the same time. Then, players reveal their cards, choose whether to use up an already-gathered sample to gain a little extra shield, decide the order of how they want their cards to be played, then execute each action, draw cards, and re-scan the environment. Let's attempt to break these down a bit:

Each player has a hand of Navigation cards that are used to help them reach the other end of the meteor storm. These cards come in three types: "Fly/Peek," which allows you to traverse the storm OR to loom ahead at potential dangers; "Deep Scan," which grants you the ability to flip over one Sector card of your choice OR rotate a row to the left; and "Shields Charge," which... well, I feel like that one speaks for itself. Once both players have played their card of choice (or thee cards at once, as a "wild"), they reveal them and decide together how best to use their cards. One important note is the "Fly/Peek" cards must take the ship's orientation into effect, meaning that unless you pause in between movement, you cannot turn your ship quickly (unless both players use a "Fly/Peek" card to do so). One both players' actions have been used, they draw cards and "re-scan" their environment. This is done by moving the row directly ahead to the left, wrapping the furthest-left Sector card over to the right. Then, each player chooses one Sector card in the row that is to spaces ahead of your shift and turns it over, revealing a different sector.

While the ultimate goal is to reach the exit, players must also collect samples of the virus that they can eventually hope to use to develop a vaccine. Players can collect these Sample tokens by passing over the Sector cards they're placed on, but there are also small meteorites that are mixed in with the viruses, bringing an extra layer of strategy and risk to the game. And, if you're in a bind, a virus can be sacrificed for a charge of shield (though this means you'll have to find another virus to make up for the one you lost).

A great many components. But how do they all fit together, I wonder?

Sector cards make up the game board. These are the sections you'll be traveling through on your way to Earth. "Empty Sector" cards (green) are safe zones that you can navigate without worry. "Meteoroid" cards (yellow) are potentially deadly, and will immediately remove two shied charges from your ship, meaning if your ship isn't fully charged when you enter it, you're dead. "Boost" cards (purple) are sectors where the computer's abilities get a bit stronger. Your ship continues through a "Boost" into the next section (so beware if it's the last card in the line...), and a Disruption card is immediately drawn and resolved. Disruption cards act similarly to the Malfunction cards in Assembly, creating single-use challenges that can royally muck up your plans. Finally, "Obstructed Sectors" (red) are the worst of the bunch. Avoid these at all costs; if you enter one, you're dead. No amount of shields and luck will save you.

There's a few extra things to be aware of, along with these core parts. Each player will get a Role card, which grants them a single-use ability to get them out of a jam. Players will also have access to memory tokens, which they can use to keep Sector cards from getting flipped over. Finally, as with Assembly, there are rules to what players can say and how they can say it, as the computer is actively listening to the players and will interfere with their plans if it knows their intent. However, these rules are voluntary, and can be tweaked or removed entirely, depending on player preference.

A sampling of tokens.

Players begin by placing the "Starting Sector" cards (blue) in the bottom right, then shuffling and placing the remaining Sector cards, white side down, to build a 5 x 7 grid. The "Finish" Sector card (blue with Earth in the distance) goes next to the card in the top right. The ship is placed next to the "Starting Sector" cards facing them (as is the escape pod, if you choose to play with that variant). The shield tracker, shield tokens, and memory tokens are placed within reach. The Sample tokens are shuffled and placed face down on the board in rows 3 - 7. Then, players remove three Sector cards that are adjacent to any Sample tokens. After each person chooses a Role card and the Navigation deck is prepped and shuffled, deal three cards to each person, and let the stress begin!

Space... the final coffee table...

Theme and Mechanics:

As with its predecessor, Sensor Ghosts does a wonderful job of integrating its fleshed-out story with the game mechanics and objectives. Each task has a real reason behind it, and each nail-biting decision feels right at home in the sci-fi/horror genre, almost like a darker reboot of 2001: A Space Odyssey where Bowman escapes the ship with HAL in pursuit. As with its predecessor, Wren Games has meticulously detailed how, and why, each and every rule works within the world. I doubt this game's theme could easily be swapped out for another without some major overhauls to the core design.

Disruption cards act similarly to Malfunction and Glitch cards from Assembly. In a word, rudely.

Mechanics wise, this game has done a really good job of being a unique creation while still retaining elements of the game that came before it. There are definitely some core elements that have carried over from Assembly - the cooperative, tight gameplay, the modular board, playing your hand in tandem with your teammate - but it uses these in new and interesting ways. Instead of simply rotating rooms, the board is literally changing in front of you as Sensor cards are flipped, revealing certain danger or a glimmer of hope just ahead. Instead of pressing your luck with dice rolls, you're gambling on which Sample token to chase down, and whether it's worth risking the Sample you DO have for a shield, in case a meteoroid shows up next round. Instead of the constant dread that running out of cards means your death, you're now risking it all if you find yourself face-to-face with an Obstructed Sector. How this game manages to be a wholly unique challenge, while also connecting so well to Assembly, I can't quite explain. You'll have to try it for yourself.

Navigation cards get you from point A to point B. Though probably not as straightforward as you'd like.

Game Play:

In a word? Challenging. In two? Surprisingly challenging. I thought I was adequately prepared the first time we sat down to play, but I had to relearn everything I thought I knew from Assembly. Keeping your shields charged is such a necessity in this game, to the point that we sometimes had to risk getting too close to a Boost card just to keep ourselves away from Meteoroids and Obstructed Sectors. If Assembly is like a Rubik's Cube, then Sensor Ghosts is Russian Roulette. Each move is made to keep you alive, but each move could also kill you if you're not very smart about it.

As with Assembly, this game comes with a variety of suggestions to make the challenges easier or more difficult. The high difficulty of the base game can be a turnoff for some, but I would personally recommend trying out different rules to see what works best for your table, and possibly building up to more challenging rules over time. It really is fun, even though it's a beast of a game at times.

In case you want an added challenge, there's also an Escape Pod variant which tasks you with getting the escape pod token to the exit alongside your ship. The escape pod moves each turn, based on which Navigation cards you play, and will be destroyed if it enters an Obstructed Sector.

As in Assembly, each Role card has one side with its description, and one side with a handy infographic.

Artwork and Components:

As with most prototype games I receive, I don't focus too heavily on artwork and component quality, as they may change over time. However, I would say that I like the direction this game seems to be taking. While the tokens, Role cards, and Disruption cards are streamlined similarly to the designs in Assembly, the Sector cards are something else. Each one is vibrantly designed with a strong color and visual, making it immediately obvious where you're going and what lies ahead. The subtle color changes on either side of the cards, the lines of binary, the symbols to further remind players of each card's function - if this game had a stand-out piece, it would be the Sector cards.

Seriously, LOOK at these things!

All told, the game comes with 30 Navigation and Sector cards, seven Role cards, ten Disruption cards, a Shield Tracker card, two Player Reference cards, and several tokens to denote the player ship, escape pod, samples, shields, and memory cubes. A rulebook is also included, and while this may not have much bearing on the gameplay itself, I do like how they added a scoring system to the back of the book, as a way for players to try and improve over time. It's a fun little addition that shows they want people to come back again and again.

Notice the white coloring around the image, detailing the back of a Sector card.

Strengths:

Continuing the story of Assembly, Sensor Ghosts provides a new style of gameplay while still retaining elements that will be very recognizable to fans of Assembly, like Roles and Command (now called Navigation) cards. The constant threat of death looms over each attempt, and its tight gameplay means that every win feels well earned. And, as with Assembly, there are extra variants that allow for even more ways to play once you've mastered the basics. Altogether, Sensor Ghosts feels like a well-developed sequel that can stand on its own, as any good sequel should.

Weaknesses:

As with Assembly before it, this is not an easy game by any means. It's a sharp learning curve at times, which may discourage some from picking it up at all.

Final Thoughts:

This is the most intense version of Asteroids I've ever played!

Players Who Like:

Assembly and its expansions, puzzle games, and co-op games.

Ahhh, my favorite... player reference cards...


Check out Sensor Ghosts on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/276669/sensor-ghosts   http://wrengames.co.uk/main/   https://www.facebook.com/wrengames   https://twitter.com/wrengames   https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wrengames/sensor-ghosts-and-assembly-2-unique-sci-fi-coop-puzzle-games   https://www.instagram.com/wrengames/




David Jensen - Editor and Reviewer

David has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he's trying his hand at writing creatively and working as an editor for a start-up literary magazine. When he's not busy procrastinating, he's running tabletop game sessions for friends and family.

See David's reviews HERE.
Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by David J. on July 16, 2019 Rating: 5

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