(2015 – Stronghold Games)
Publisher Stronghold Games has built its reputation on providing quality components and bringing previously unpublished titles to the U.S. (Among the Stars, The Golden Ages, La Granja, Kanban). At the same time, they are the home to the Engelstein-designed Space Cadets franchise, which thus far has included Space Cadets, Space Cadets: Dice Duel, and an corresponding expansion for each. Both team-oriented cooperative games, the original Space Cadets focused on a timing and module-based format, while Dice Duel streamlined each of these station modules with dice rolling gameplay. For their 3rd Space Cadets release (and first by designers Dan Raspler and Al Rose) entitled Space Cadets: Away Missions, Stronghold has turned to a tabletop miniatures format, full of scenario-driven gameplay while keeping the theme and cooperative team-based play in tact.
In Space Cadets: Away Missions each player will take the role of an officer of Rocket Patrol, protectors of Earth from its galactic enemies. Each scenario provides an objective that the team will need to work to complete before one of them has died. Various tiles are used to set up each scenario and tons of variety can be found in the different alien types, items, weapons, special abilities, and scenario conditions. With over 100+ miniatures and 20 different scenarios, Space Cadets: Away Missions eases players through each scenario to complete an over-arching story of Rocket Patrol’s grand interstellar adventure.
– Basic & Scenario Map tiles
– Character minis
– Character mats
– Character Item cards
– Alien minis
– Alien summary cards
– Alien Discovery cards
– Brain-In-A-Jar Dominated cards
– Thrall Rescue cards
– Scenario tokens
– Character tokens
– Alien tokens
– Wire/Alien Blood tokens
– Alert tokens
– Discovery tokens
– Action Point tokens
– Order/Scan tokens
– Hatch markers
– Overkill reference sheet
– Alien/Character reference sheets
– Action dice
– Colored markers (red for health, blue for oxygen, & green for charge)
Since Space Cadets: Away Missions is a scenario driven game, setup for each scenario will be a little bit different. My goal with this review however is to show the basics of how the game plays and the mechanics within. So I’ll be taking a look at the initial introductory scenario, Alien Probe. Note that since this is the introductory scenario, all of the scenarios following this one will include additional complexity.
When setting up a scenario, the first thing we’ll need to do is to set up to map tiles. Some map tiles are basic tiles that can be used in any game, while others are tiles used for specific scenarios. These specific tiles will include the name of the tile of them. In the case of setting up the Alien Probe scenario, we will use 8 random basic tiles, and the Airlock tile, arranged in the pattern seen above. All basic tiles are placed face down and the Airlock tile (which will be the tile our player’s start on) will be face up.
In this particular scenario, 8 Alien tokens will be placed on the map. When revealed, these will show which types of aliens are on a map tile. Players will need to grab a Sentinel token, three “Leader, 2 Saucerman” tokens, and four “2 Saucerman, Bug” tokens. The Sentinel token will be mixed with two of the other tokens randomly and these three tokens will be placed face-down on the top three map tiles seen below. This means that the Sentinel (who killing will be the player’s main objective) is in one of these three areas.
The remaining alien tokens are then mixed and randomly placed face-down on the rest of the empty map tiles, except for the starting Airlock tile.
A set of 8 Discovery tokens that include a Force Field Belt, a Gravitational Wave Generator, a Heat Ray, a Mentality Helmet, a Proton Blade, a Telepathy Band, a Time Warp, and X-Ray Goggles are mixed together and one is placed face-down on each tile next to the alien token (seen below). When a map tile is placed face-up, so will both the alien and discovery tokens. Players can take an action to pick up these items when on the map tile to use throughout the game.
Each player will receive a Character mini and a Character mat corresponding to the character. The Character mat will house much of the character’s upkeep throughout the scenario. To begin the scenario, the players will determine which order they will go in during the initial turn, and places the numbered Order/Scan marker on their Character mat that matches their number in turn order.
Next, the player will place 3 Action Points tokens on his Character mat. The type of Action Point tokens the player receives depends on which character he has. For example, as seen above, Professor Russell Pelham will receive two standard Action Point tokens, and a non-combat Action Point token. I’ll explain more on the differences between these tokens a bit later.
Players will also need to monitor their character’s health and oxygen levels during the game. Health levels correspond to the red markers and Oxygen levels to the blue markers. The Character mat will reference the starting health level, while the and starting oxygen level is determined by the number of players in the game. In Professor Russell Pelham’s case, he will begin with a health level of 4 and in a 4-player game, would begin with an oxygen level of 3.
Normally, players will be allowed to choose up to four items to equip their characters with at the beginning of a scenario, with a maximum of only two large items. These are represented by the various Character Items cards. However, in the case of the Alien Probe scenario, each character is only equipped with the Atomic Rifle card. After setup is complete, all characters are placed on the Airlock map tile and the game is ready to begin.
Each scenario has a different objective tied to it that players must successfully meet in order to win the game. Many of the scenarios include a Red Alert stage which triggers when all map tiles have been placed face up. The type of effects that occur during the Red Alert stage is subject to the description in the scenario. The initial Alien Probe scenario does not contain a Red Alert stage, and the winning objective is to kill the Sentinel alien. With all scenarios, if any player runs out of either health or oxygen during the game, the team loses immediately. Each Round of the game will have the players collectively take their turns first, then the aliens will take their turn (which are programmed according to the alien type). Each player’s turn is comprised of three phases; the Order Phase, the Scanning Phase, and the Action Phase. Let’s take a look at how these work:
Player Turn Phase I: Orders
During the Order Phase, player’s will choose amongst themselves who will perform their turn. That player will then take the lowest numbered Order/Scan token available and place it on his Character mat. This now shows that he is performing his turn, and will therefore not be able to perform another turn until the next Round. This Phase is completed at the beginning of every turn, with the final player taking the last remaining Order/Scan token available.
Player Turn Phase II: Scanning
During the Scanning Phase, the current player is required to flip the closest face-down map tile to his character’s location. If multiple map tiles are the same distance away, he can choose which to flip. When flipping the new map tile, he will also flip any face-down tokens on that tile. In the case of the Alien Probe map tiles, these will include an Alien token and a Discovery token.
Alien tokens represent the type of aliens that will appear on the tile when scanned and some also include an event that will immediately occur when revealed. Discovery tokens on the other hand, represent different items that can be collected on that tile. Each starting tile has an arrow on it. When a new map tile is placed face-up, the player will orient it so that it points in the same direction as the start tile’s arrow.
For instance, Dr. Hugo Garcia is selected to take his turn first. He has the option of scanning the tile to the northwest or the tile to the northeast. Since the tile to the northeast would already be blocked by a hatch, he chooses to scan the tile to the northwest. By scanning this tile, he flips it along with revealing the Alien and Discovery tokens on it (seen below).
The revealed Alien token is a “2 Saucerman, Bug” token meaning two Saucerman minis are placed on the tile. Normally this would also result in Bug minis being placed as well, however the notes in the Alien Probe scenario state that revealed Bugs are ignored in this game. They are not used in this scenario. The Alien token also contains an event called “Cosmic Radiation”. This event causes every character to immediately decrease their Health level by 1.
In addition to the placed Saucermen, the Discovery token reveals a Time Warp. Time Warps can be used twice (but can only be used once per turn) before they need to be recharged and will allow the user to reroll any number of dice once after a regular die roll.
Player Turn Phase III: Actions
After the player has scanned a tile and resolved the revealed tokens, he can now perform a number of actions equal to his Action Point tokens. There are two different types of actions; Combat actions and Non-Combat actions. Standard Action Points can be used for either type of actions, while Combat Action Points can only be used for combat actions, and Non-Combat Action Points can only be used for non-combat actions. The player can choose any order to perform his actions in, though he’ll complete all his actions before play moves to the next character. Each time he performs an action, he will move the corresponding Action Point used to the space to its right on the character mat to show that it has been spent.
Before I get into the various Combat and Non-Combat actions, there are a few actions which players can perform that cost them no Action Points whatsoever, and can be performed during the player’s Action Phase at any time. As a free action the player can:
– Collect a Discovery token that is located on the same map tile as his character. The player will then replace the token with the corresponding Discovery item card. This essentially equips the item to the character. Green markers are placed on the item if it contains charges to show how many charges are available.
– Use a non-weapon Discovery item once per turn. For instance, the Time Warp item picture earlier. The player can use as many different non-weapon items as he wants on a turn as long as they have charges available. A charge (green marker) is removed after each use. If this is the last charge removed, the item will need to be recharged before it can be used again.
– Player’s can decrease their oxygen level by 1 to gain an additional Action Point. Thus allowing them to take an additional Combat/Non-Combat action on their turn. This can only be done once per turn.
– Player’s can trade item cards and oxygen markers with other players who are also on the same map tile as them.
Combat Action: Attack
Each weapon in the game has a set of ranges that it can be used for, represented on the weapon’s card. In the case of the Atomic Rifle (which players are equipped with in the Alien Probe scenario), the maximum range is 3 spaces away. When taking an Attack action, the player will choose an alien within line of sight and range of the character’s weapon, and roll a number of attack dice based on its distance from the alien. With the Atomic Rifle:
– If the alien is in the same space as the player, only 2 attack dice are rolled. The enemy is too close to fire at, so he’ll have to use it as a melee weapon.
– If the alien is 1-2 spaces away, the player will roll 5 attack dice.
– If the alien is 3 spaces away, the player will roll 3 attack dice.
Each attack dice is a 10-sided die, and a successful hit is a roll of 1-3. A roll of 4-10 would be a miss. Each alien has a number of health points (usually only 1 hp) as listed on their Alien reference card. If a player has rolled enough successful hits to equal the alien’s hp total, the alien is destroyed. However, any additional successful hits past the alien’s hp total is considered an Overkill hit. Each Alien has an Overkill option that the player can perform if he has enough successful hits to resolve an Overkill hit. Each weapon and character also have Overkill options, which the player can choose to perform. If players have achieved multiple overkills in one roll, they can choose to perform different Overkill options (the alien’s, the weapon’s, or the character’s), or they can choose to perform the same one multiple times. Or any combination of the three. Basically, each Overkill hit awards the player an Overkill point. He can then immediately spend these Overkill points how he sees fit.
For instance, Professor Russell Pelham decides to take a combat action by attacking the Saucerman that is two spaces away, and within his line of sight. In this Alien Probe scenario, all characters have received the Atomic Rifle, therefore when he rolls to attack the Saucerman from two spaces away, he will roll a total of 5 dice.
He rolls a 1, 3, 3, 7, and 9. Therefore he has successfully hit the Saucerman with his Atomic Rifle three times. The Saucerman however only has 1 hp. That means that he is destroyed after the first hit and Professor Russell Pelham now how two Overkill points to spend, if he wishes.
The Saucerman’s overkill option states the attacking character may inflict a Psychic Scream combat effect. This means that he can stun any one Leader or Saucerman on the map, ignoring line of sight. The Atomic Rifle’s overkill option is called Dislodge (seen on the previous Atomic Rifle card) and allows the character to move an alien within range and line of sight one space in any legal direction. Professor Russell Pelham’s overkill option (seen below) is called Override and allows him to open or lock any hatch, ignoring line of sight (we’ll discuss hatches in a bit).
Professor Russell Pelham decides to use his 1st overkill point to stun the nearby Leader. He’ll also then use his 2nd overkill point to stun the Saucerman in the adjacent space.
Movement – The player can spend an action to move his character 1 space into an adjacent scanned map tile, unless it has a hatch that has not been opened.
Opening Hatches – When taking a look at the map tiles, you’ll see that some sides are open for characters to move through and some sides have metal coverings preventing access. These are considered hatches. Hatches are always considered closed and break line of sight for the characters unless they have been opened during the game (important to note however that some of the aliens can move and attack through a closed hatch).
As an action, a player can open a hatch adjacent to his current location so that it is available for everyone to move through. “Locked” or “sealed” hatches can not be opened with this action and must be opened alternative ways. After opening the hatch, a “Hatch Open” marker is placed on the space to remind everyone that it is open (as seen below).
Enacting an Overkill – Once per turn, the player can choose to use an action point to perform his individual Overkill option without having to roll dice.
Using IQ – Each character has a certain level of IQ points. When taking action that uses their IQ, characters will roll a number of dice equal to their IQ points. Successes with the die rolls work exactly the same as with combat; facings of 1, 2, and 3 are considered successful rolls. There are three different actions that players can perform by using their IQ:
1.) Heal – As long as the player has rolled one success, they can heal one point of health to himself of another player’s character on the same tile. All additional successes are considered overkills and can only be spent on the character’s individual overkill option (no his weapon’s or an alien’s).
2.) Analyze – Some discovery items and schematics will require the player to analyze the item before being able to use it. This is referenced on the discovery item’s card with an “analyze” icon. While the player may pick up and hold the item, he can not use it until he has taking an IQ action and making a successful roll. Additional successes can be used to place additional charges on the new item, or spent on the character’s individual overkill option.
For instance, First Officer Annie Fletcher will need to use an analyze action on her Reality Inverter schematic in order to put it together, now that she has the necessary components needed. Schematic components (there are 3 types in total) can come from subduing Brain-in-the-Jars, Thralls, or sometimes as a Discovery item. Since her IQ rating is at 4, she rolls 4 dice that result in a 1, 2, 7, and 8.
She can now take the Reality Inverter in hand by using the 1st success, placing the required 3 charges on the card. Her additional success will allow her to either place a 4th charge on the Reality Inverter or use her overkill option which is called “Move Out”. Move Out allows her to immediately take another move action.
Now that she has an active Reality Inverter, she will be able to use it after her die rolls to invert the success from the normal 1, 2, and 3 facings to 8, 9, and 10.
3.) Subdue Thralls & Brain-in-the-Jars – Although not used in the initial scenario, Thralls and Brain-in-the-Jars can be subdued by using an IQ action. Thralls are basically humans that have been mind controlled by these Brain-in-a-Jars. Since they are considered innocent bystanders, the players can never attack Thralls.
By successfully subduing a Thrall (rolling one success), players can use an overkill to rescue the Thrall by drawing a Rescued Thrall card, revealing the human that was saved and granting the player a special ability. Conversely, after subduing a Brain-in-the-Jar, players can use an overkill to dominate the brain, removing it from play and gaining their character +1 IQ.
Alien Turn Phase:
After all players have taken their turn, the aliens will perform their movement and attacks. All alien movement and attacks are programmed in how they will perform their steps. Each alien will move and attack before the next alien moves and attacks. Aliens will resolve these steps according to how sentient they are, in the following order:
– 2.) Leaders
– 3.) Saucermen
– 4.) Sentinels
– 5.) Thralls
– 6.) Space Leeches
– 7.) Bugs
For the purposes of this review, since Leaders, Saucermen, and Sentinels are the only aliens used in the Alien Probe scenario, I’ll only be taking a look at how these aliens move and attack. But note that each alien moves and attacks differently from one another.
Alien Movement – When it is an alien’s turn to move, it will always move towards the nearest character by the shortest legal path, with the goal being to be able to attack at the end of its movement. Sometime this means the alien may not move at all. All aliens can move through unscanned map tiles. Leaders and Saucermen can also move through closed hatches (Sentinels can not). These hatches are still considered closed before and after they move through them. “Locked” and “Sealed” hatches however, will block all alien movement.
Alien Attacks – After the alien has moved, he can then perform an attack as long as he has line of sight and is within range of the character. The only thing that breaks line of sight for an alien is locked or sealed hatches. Let’s take a look at each of these aliens individually and how they attack:
Leaders can move up to two spaces on their turn. If they ever start on or move through a map tile with any Saucermen on it, the Saucermen will follow the Leader. These Saucermen will still attack separately from the Leader, but they will only move when the Leader moves.
Leaders can attack through closed hatches and only have a range of 1, meaning that they must be in an adjacent map tile to a character to attack. When attacking the Leader will roll 4 attack dice. The first success will damage the character for 1 health point. They will spend any overkill points to “Panic” the character, resulting in the character losing 1 point of oxygen. A character can never lose more than 1 point of oxygen due to Panic on a single game turn.
Saucermen can move one space on their turn (unless they are following a Leader). As with the Leaders, Saucermen can attack through closed hatches and have a range of 1. However when they attack, they will only roll 2 attack dice. The first success will damage the character for 1 health point. Additional successes are spent as an overkill to Mind Control the character.
Mind Control causes the affected character to lose 1 action point during the player’s next turn. To show this, he will go ahead and spend the action point by moving it to the right space on his character mat. A character can never lose more than 1 action point due to any effects on a single game turn.
Sentinels can move up to two spaces on their turn, but they can not move through closed hatches. When they move on the same map tile as a character, that character immediately suffers the “Panic” effect (loses 1 point of oxygen). Sentinels can only attack when they are in the same space as a character, meaning they have a range of zero. However, when attacking they will roll 6 dice.
The 1st success will damage the character for 1 health point. Additional successes are spent as an overkill to inflict “Terror” on the character. When causing Terror, the Sentinel will roll a number of dice equal to the amount of overkills, resolving each die roll in the following ways:
– If a 1-6 was rolled, the character will flee in one of the six possible directions away from the current map tile. The #1 direction is the direction of the arrow on the map tile. #2 is the direction to the right, clockwise. And so on. If the character can not flee in that direction because of an unopened hatch, unscanned map tile, or off the map, then the character remains on the tile and takes 1 health point of damage.
– If a 7 or 8 was rolled, the player will choose one of the six directions that his character can flee to.
– If a 9 or 10 was rolled, there is no effect from the Sentinel’s Terror.
After all alien creatures have resolved their turns, the Round has come to an end. If any aliens were stunned during the player’s turn, their stun status is removed at the end of the Round. Hatches that were opened during the turn will now close. Alternatively, hatches that were locked during the turn will now unlock. Therefore, at the end of a Round, all placed “Hatch Open” and “Hatch Locked” markers are removed from the board. If a hatch has been sealed however, the “Hatch Sealed” marker will remain in place for the rest of the game. Players will also reset their action points and Order/Scan markers on their character mats to be used in the next Round.
Each scenario has a different victory condition. In the case of the Alien Probe scenario, players are attempting to find the Sentinel alien amongst the enemies and kill it before allowing one of their characters to die. If you’ll remember, there is only one Sentinel in this scenario, and it was placed randomly on one of the three northernmost map tiles on the game board. If they can kill the Sentinel before losing a character, they win.
It’s always difficult to walkthrough a heavily scenario-driven game and discuss all there is to the game without spoiling the enjoyment of discovery laden within playing scenario by scenario. Although the Alien Probe scenario is but a introductory glimpse of what Space Cadets: Away Missions has to offer, make no mistake that this game is deep and full of mild, medium, and difficult scenarios that will challenge the strategy and teamwork abilities of players.
Another one of my favorite scenario-style dungeon crawler games is Mice & Mystics. And I feel Space Cadets: Away Missions shares this game’s ability to present a simple, easily understandable ruleset, while the variety in strategy and special rules are tied to the scenarios themselves. From scenario to scenario, you’ll always know how each alien moves and attacks, and what actions are available to players. These never change. But each scenario is so different from each other, whether it be by which discovery tokens are included, starting items, which aliens are present, events that happen during the red alert stage, victory conditions, etc.
The game does a nice job of introducing the various alien types, items, and overall complexity from scenario to scenario. For instance, the initial Alien Probe scenario uses only Sentinel, Leader, and Saucermen aliens, has no red alert stage, and all players begin with the Atomic Rifle. The mission is to simply kill the Sentinel. The 2nd scenario however introduces Thralls, Bugs, Space Leeches, and Brains-in-a-Jar, as well as a Red Alert stage and the Air Knife as a starting item. Instead of only have to kill a single enemy, players will need to subdue or rescue 6 Thralls, then find the correct elevator space to escape. What’s also neat about the scenarios is that they are all tied together within an over-arching story. The team will begin on a small alien ship near Mercury and each scenario then moves on through Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, etc until the last scenario at the Kuiper Belt.
Maybe as impressive as the gameplay however is the included minis. Over 100 quality minis come packed in with Space Cadets: Away Missions, which is a steal for its current MSRP. The minis are well made and most come packaged in a cardboard container where they are stood face up on a plastic stand. This keeps them from getting damaged during packaging, which is a nice plus. There are also colored bases that snap in to the bottom of the character minis to make it easier to differentiate between them, if you choose not to paint them. The ruleset and scenarios are what makes the game so much fun, but the components and attention to quality is what brings it all together.
There are plenty of more complex dungeon crawlers out there, and even some with a sci-fi theme (Space Hulk). But Space Cadets doesn’t try to be something that it’s not. Its simplistic, streamlined ruleset, merged with its cleverly, engaging scenarios provide a tabletop miniatures game that can be enjoyed by families and gaming groups alike. There’s enough in the box for the casual group and veterans amongst us, and Stronghold Games will no doubt be supporting this one with future expansions.