Something Has Gone Wrong on Space Station Theseus

Polish game company Portal is well represented in my game pile. The New Era is one of my all-time favorites, I love Neuroshima Hex, and I’m also a big fan of Prêt-à-Porter. I recently got hold of one of their latest games, Theseus: The Dark Orbit, after hearing a lot of good things about it. Many of my recent purchases have been less than stellar, and I hoped this one would redeem some of my other decisions.

Theseus is by Michal Oracz, the designer of Neuroshima Hex, and it shows. Like NH, Theseus is a game that looks like a frenzied, brutal action game but is more complex and thinky.

The board is a space station made up of a number of “rooms” arranged in a circle. On a player’s turn, he moves one of his dudes clockwise around the station a number of times equal to the number of folks in the room with him when he starts. So if three tokens are in a room, one of them can move three spaces around the station, sort of mancala-like. When he stops, first he checks to see if the enemy has placed traps there, and if so, they go off. Then, if he fills the room, everyone there shoots at their opponents. If the room was already full, he can boot someone out into space. If the room has action cards for his faction he does them, if the room has an ability he does that, and then he can add actions to the board or mess with an opponent’s plan to do so. With the starting factions, the goal is easy: do 20 points of damage to your enemy.

It’s tricky and your moves are not always obvious. Matt and I played twice last night and a couple of times I stumbled into a setup where Matt could throw one of my guys into space and then shoot the hell out of another. “You’re going to throw me into space, you bastard!” I said too many times.

There are four factions included in the game, and this is where it gets even more interesting. The two factions they suggest you start with are your standard space marines and some goopy aliens. There you are just looking to harass and blast each other to death. The other two factions, however, are more subtle. They are Scientists and Grays and they are looking to learn about each other. They have an additional stat, Data, and if they collect 20 points of data, they win. (They can also just plain do damage in a bind, but they’re not that good at it. If you’re me, the scientists aren’t that good at science either.) This change in factions gives a different feel to the same game. (There’s a fifth faction, Pandora, but I don’t know much about it as it’s really intended for folks who have a number of games under their belt.)

The game seats 2-4, but the rules suggest that you stick with two at first and then add in others, as more players makes things more chaotic. This is also similar to Neuroshima Hex. I’m cool with staying with two for the moment, but I’m curious to try three.

This base game provides a ton of play value. There are the different factions to try out. There’s the fact that you only use 15 of your 25 faction cards in each game. You can lay the rooms out randomly. You can choose which 15 faction cards you use, if you want, so you can build a strategy. And there’s the mysterious Pandora.

There’s a lot of game packed into Theseus, and I’m looking forward to discovering it.

I’m finna get probed

As long as I’m here talking about Portal Games, today we found out that Imperial Settlers will be making its debut at GenCon. This is the new game from Ignacy Trzewiczek, and it sounds like a civilization-ish game that is based on the game engine of 51st State. I’m definitely down with this and, as luck would have it, I’m going to be at GenCon!

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