Space Cadets: Away Missions – Rocketeering the Casbah

Space Cadets: Away Missions – Rocketeering the Casbah Hot

SuperflyTNT     
 
5.0
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TL:DR: Feck Yeh

 

I hate pre-ordering things, if for no other reason than I know that I'm taking a $100.00 bet on something based solely on the setting, look, theme, and perhaps a rough draft of the rules. Well, it just so happens that the husband of a principal at Fortress: AT is the co-designer of Space Cadets: Away Missions (SCAM). Because I love the site, it really kind of had to happen, since the aforementioned principal does a shitload  of development work on the site, recently updated the look and features, and does it all for love of the hobby and the users.

To not back the game would be the ultimate dick move as far as I'm concerned, since I'm such an active member and huge fan of the site. Luckily, it looked like it might be really cool, and I love that retro ray-gun vibe, so I felt a little better about it anyhow. Well, I'm here to tell you that they did an exceptional job at Stronghold Games, because this game is way better than I was hoping it to be, and to be fair, I had pretty high hopes.

The basic premise of the game is that you're part of a old-timey Lost In Space type "Rocketeer" squad, and you're faced with defeating seven types of alien forces in a huge array of published scenarios, or an unlimited number of your own.  There's a bunch of player characters with unique abilities and even some unique gear, and there's about two dozen items and weapons you can equip them with in order to create the best team for any given job. The best part is that the game is fully co-operative, with a very smart and slick AI which controls the actions of your green nemeses.

In addition to all that, the game comes with a shitload of hexagonal room tiles that you use to build each scenario. In short, there's a tremendous amount of variety in the game, and it will take you a good, long time to play every scenario, and if you got it on Kickstarter, it comes with a bad ass, hard bound scenario guide with a ton more scenarios. There has to be at least 50 scenarios in total, although I haven't counted.

The production quality is excellent, with great but sometimes uneven art, about a million counters and chits, great little translucent cubes to track health, oxygen, and energy, and finally, over 100 really great looking, well sculpted models. Yes, it was $100.00 purchase, but honestly, I think I might have underpaid because there is a metric fuck-ton of stuff in the box. When you consider the aforementioned "stretch goal" book on top of it, this is one  of the few Kickstarter campaigns that I'm aware of that really are a good value for what you get.

All that said, game play is where the rubber meets the road.  Nice shiny bits are fine, but if the game sucks, then it's not a value, is it? Well, there's two things that I'm slightly disappointed by, but beyond those very minor things, the game is stellar. I mean, it is truly remarkable in scope and in the amount of fun you can squeeze from it. I've played it with eleven people now, and I have yet to have a single person not kind of gasp about how well-designed it is,  and more importantly, how much fun they had playing it. This may be the best game released in 2015, in my rather valueless and likely biased opinion.

Let's start with what I don't  like, because I'd really like to end this game on  a  good note, because it deserves it. First, and probably most important, there are a ton of scenarios with a ton of variety between most of them, but in the end, the game can feel very "samey" after you've played it a while. It amounts to either finding items and escaping, killing things and escaping, or deactivating tiles and escaping. The scenarios tend to mix up several of those things, and there's even variance between scenarios which are similar, but in the  end, playing through the campaign, I can't help but feel like I already did a mission before, albeit with slight changes. Surprisingly,  the game play is so tense and fun that it doesn't bother me, but it is something that, in fairness,  I should tell our readers about.

The second thing I'm not keen on is kind of weird to describe, because I love it and hate it all at the same time. When attacking or "science-ing" anything, you roll an amount of d10 dice commensurate with the weapon you're using, or your skill level. Each one,  two, or three rolled is a success, but only the first one is counted, with the remaining successes used to activate "Overkill" powers, which are either the weapon's power, the character's special power, or the power that the attacked alien provides. It's bad ass, and completely unlike anything that I've ever played, providing a sea of tactical options that are wholly situational and unpredictable. That's what I love about it. What I hate about it is that some enemies have more than one hit point, and even if you roll six successes, which in any other game would be a fatal blow, only the first hit is normally counted, and the rest are relegated to Overkill effects.

That just pisses me  off. As I said in a forum, if I shoot a bad guy and score five successes, that represents me blowing a foot-wide, bleedy fucking hole in its chest cavity. That bad guy is dead as Elvis, KIA, not and coming back, even in a re-run. It's imminently irritating to roll a shitload of hits on a bad guy and then the bad guy, who should be a green smear on a wall, come back and kick your ass. That just rustles the fuck out of my jimmies. Worse, sometimes you're in a situation where you roll well  and you just don't really have anything truly useful to do with the extra successes. That can be very frustrating, although it doesn't happen often. The best way I can explain it is if you're playing Heroscape and you roll six skulls, you are jumping up and down, hollering, and high-fiving the sky. In this game, if you roll 6 successes against  a monster with four hit points, not only  did you basically just nick him on the neck, you may end up with not a lot to do with those Overkills. It's  anti-climactic as hell sometimes. Most times, however,  you're praising Jesus himself for your good fortune, because the player abilities, weapon abilities, and alien effects you gain from Overkill make for massive doses of excitement.

Now, those two small whines should not be taken as a wholesale crucifixion of an otherwise exceptionally well designed, tantalizingly fun game. It's just that we all agreed that sometimes, it  sucks  to roll really well and not  be able to take advantage of it. It is certainly not the norm, but when it happens, expect a collective sigh. On balance, though, SCAM is  just straight up fun. It's right up there with Space Hulk in a lot of ways, and that, my friends, is saying some shit. I would drive a half an hour in a snowstorm to play this game, and I am not fond of the snow.

One of the best things about the game is the manner in which exploration is done; on each player's turn, you flip over one of the closest tiles to their miniature, and then  load it with the monsters which are described on a random chit laid upon  it during setup. There is almost never a time when you don't feel the forces of Mars (or wherever) bearing down upon you, and it goes a long way to giving players the feeling of dread and hopelessness that a great dungeon crawl should provide. In addition, before each round, the players choose which order the players will act in, so  you have some level of control regarding the distance from players that baddies will spawn. When you run out of tiles to explore, there's an additional phase where enemies will spawn and events will occur, and worst of all, they generally spawn from your escape route. In short, the whole game is incredibly tense from the beginning to the end, and it is one of the reasons the game is so bad ass.

At the end of the day, I really love this game, and the lowest recorded score it was given by the Circus freaks was an 4 stars. That's saying a lot, because this was played with everyone from 38 year old soccer moms and 11 year old country girls to 14 year old honors students and 40 year old salesmen. Across the board, everyone loved it, and the the only complaint that reared its head, ever, was that they wished Overkill was optional. We just don't see that often at the Circus, so take it from me: this is a über-solid dungeon crawl where the dungeon happens to be set in various sci-fi locales. Great game, and we wholeheartedly recommend playing the living shit out of it.

Why They Call Me The Space Cowboy:
- Terrific components and art make this awesome on the table
- The Overkill mechanic may fail you sometimes, but it's usually epic
- There's so many scenarios that you'll almost never run out
- The AI is a high point because it really does keep things hard but not unfair

Why This Reminds Me Of The Steve Miller Band:
- Overkill may be really slick, but sometimes, it can be the suck
- Many of the scenarios feel similar in scope
- Setup can be overlong the first couple plays

Overall:
I absolutely adore this game, and I'm not alone. Part of me thought it would be like Ravenloft, where after five plays it would be stale, but SCAM is the game that keeps on giving, despite its unfortunate acronym. I'm just glad it wasn't called "Space Cadets: Away Team". Definitely go try this game out, because I really doubt that you'll be disappointed. Yes, you can get screwed by Overkill sometimes, but it's not often enough to really matter, other than psychologically.

Rating:
4.5/5 Stars

Read more about Space Cadets: Away Missions at Stronghold Games' page: https://strongholdgames.com/store/space-cadets-line/space-cadets-away-missions/

Space Cadets: Away Missions – Rocketeering the Casbah There Will Be Games

Editor rating

(Updated: July 26, 2018)
SuperflyTNT
Rating 
 
5.0

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Game Name
Space Cadets: Away Missions
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Posted: 23 Oct 2015 11:29 by SuperflyTNT #213214
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Such a great review. One of my best in a lot of ways, I think.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 11:57 by JonJacob #213220
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Nice job Pete! I haven't had a chance to play this yet but I've heard a lot of positive comments on it from both you and the Doc. I'm pretty excited to give it a whirl... hopefully within the next couple of weeks (busy working on a kids app right now). I have to say though the package was very impressive, especially on the number of campaigns front. I love the hardcover book. My kid and I have set it up and played a half assed version of it a couple of times. He absolutely loves the brain in a jar and I've had to make up a couple of bedtime stories about them for him. I have some buddies near my new home that want to give it a whirl so hopefully I'll get to try the real game soon.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 12:28 by Michael Barnes #213226
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Yeah, I'm enjoying this. Well, I've just had it since yesterday afternoon and I've only soloed it, but I've played the first three missions and so far it's good. At first I thought the mandatory scan was a bit much, but I like how it creates a sense of urgency and escalation without having a formal timer. The third mission was really good, we got the blood samples and got out right as the horde was becoming unmanageable.

Overkill is BRILLIANT, but I'm kind of scratching my head as to what it actually represents in terms of narrative. I don't think there's quite a connection between the action, resolution and follow-up. But I love it when it happens, and I love that you have a choice of effects to apply. It's kind of like the good ol' exploding sixes thing that everyone loves. I'm OK with one damage per hit roll- considering that this game doesn't feature an armor stat or a comparative roll, I think that works out OK. Especially since most enemies only have one HP anyway.

There are a lot of components, but it still feels pretty controlled compared to some of the other games in its class out there. I love that there are no stun tokens. Just tip the damn figure over, I don't need a punchboard full of markers to show that.

Haven't gotten to the crafting (schematics) yet, but that is also a really awesome- and very on trend- concept.

I am kind of concerned that all of those scenarios are superfluous or redundant, but we'll see.

Very excited to play it again tonight...not sure my regular gang will go for it, but it is working really well alone with four characters.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 12:38 by mads b. #213227
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SuperflyTNT wrote:
Such a great review. One of my best in a lot of ways, I think.

I absolutely love - and I don't mean this in a sarcastic way - that the very first comment for your review is yourself praising your own work. That is very SuperflyPete.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 12:43 by Michael Barnes #213228
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Nah, it would only be classic Pete if he compared himself to a wheelbarrow full of crusty tampons or something like that.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 13:34 by Egg Shen #213231
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Nice review Pete.

Thank goodness this game is starting to get some reviews. I was just toying with making SC:AM my next review, but it seems the heavy hitters are going to have it covered. So I'll continue with my regularly scheduled programming of weird, obscure, shit. Though I still have an idea for a SC:AM review that I might pop off before the end of the year....

One thing I'm gonna disagree about is your complaint of not being able to do more than 1 damage. Like Barnes said, most aliens are 1 HP and they turn to space dust. So it mostly only comes into play with the Sentinels. So when they show up it really means something. It gives the Sentinel battles a cinematic flair of figuring out how to best injure them before you can finally figure out how to kill em. If you could just have Desoto light em up with his rifle and one shot them...we'll fuck it would be boring. I played with Al and Uba once and we had to use the doctor (me) as bait so a Sentinel would run into a mine. That was awesome and we had to come up with that scheme which felt totally in line with the theme of the game. I dunno...I just don't see the 1 damage thing to be a even a minor negative with the game.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 14:23 by ubarose #213232
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Michael Barnes wrote:
Overkill is BRILLIANT, but I'm kind of scratching my head as to what it actually represents in terms of narrative.

It represents how skillfully, efficiently and quickly you were able to do whatever you were attempting to do. Each roll is a simulation of a very small unit of time.Think of each die as a fraction of that unit of time. So, for example, if you were firing upon an alien and say, rolling 5 dice and get two successes, that might represent you firing off 3 misses and then hitting on your fourth shot, you now have one fraction of that unit of time (the second success rolled) to close a door or move or whatever. If you use that success for an alien overkill option, consider that time the split second it takes you to process, react and report to your team the weirdness of a whole mess of aliens suddenly falling to the ground stunned, or whatever. Unused overkills just means that you were so good, you have time to make witty, well scripted remarks to your team mates.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 14:43 by SuperflyTNT #213234
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Consider this turn of events:

Sentinel is running at the team, and the Captain has a pistol, and holster (versus it sitting in his waistband). He whips it out, and fires! 5 hits!! WOOT!!

What really happened:
In 6 seconds (he rolled 6 dice, for giggles), he -
Fired and hit his target, who was stunned and is weaker now (-1 hit for the hit, -1 hit for the Overkill that stunned him)
Issued a cry of alert to his allies, giving them extra time to react (extra free command Overkill effect) (-3 hits)

Me, I ~STILL~ wish that Overkill was optional, because rolling 5 hits on 6 dice should've eviscerated the baddie. But, in THIS game, the guns are only so powerful and even a point-blank, direct hit to the sack only pisses a Sentinel off. BUT....because of the lucky turn of events, the Overkill in this case abstracts what happened in that very small time period, which results in the ability to issue orders, run a step, weaken the bad guy, etc.

It took me a while to not be pissed off. I'm still a little salty about it when this happens. But, I think the real fix here (not that there's a problem, just more a matter of taste) is to make bigger guns hit harder - an Atomic Rifle allows 2 total damage (like the proton blade, sort of), but a pissant ray gun is a relatively weak weapon, so it only can do a maximum of 1 damage.

ALL THAT SAID.......

It's still incredibly narrative in nature because of the Overkill, rather than in spite of it.

@ Egg Shen: HEAVY HITTERS LOL! I'm a fucking wanker, brother. Just spitting out my vapid and mostly-valueless opinion. I'm like a Congressman: I represent a larger group of players when I write these reviews, but that doesn't preclude that group of people from being biased zealots. I'm the Kim Davis of boardgaming, basically. LMAO Dude, review it. Every time someone reviews something and they happen to agree with our analysis, a demon gets its tongue cloven.

With regard to enemies, more than just Sentinels have 1 damage point, but I'm not going to disagree with you - part of me feels like you're absolutely right. Being able to kill with lucky rolls versus wound and do other stuff would probably make it much more dull, and less tactical.

@JJ: Play it. It's really so awesome.

@Mads: LMAO, yeah, I read it and then was so impressed with myself that I had to make a snide, self-congratulatory comment. Actually, I saw it on the front page and not in the forums, so I added a comment to get it in the forums. I know that my bookmark goes right to the forums, and figured I'm not alone.
Posted: 23 Oct 2015 14:50 by charlest #213236
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I think at it's simplest, it directly corresponds to narrative momentum.
Posted: 26 Oct 2015 18:56 by engineer Al #213421
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Thanks for the great write up Pete. I'm always happy to hear that people are enjoying the game. However, I am going to have to start calling you "Maurice", 'cause you speak of the pompitous of love.

As for overkill, I like Shellie's explanation. Personally, I've always conceptualized it based on Star Trek (big surprise). Specifically the episode A PRIVATE LITTLE WAR. When Kirk is ambushed by the mugato, he goes down. McCoy then manages to pull out his phaser and disintegrate the heck out of the beast so quickly and efficiently that he is instantly by Kirk's side applying medical aid. McCoy rolled an overkill.
Posted: 27 Oct 2015 07:09 by SuperflyTNT #213445
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So, essentially, rolling the bones for Bones to both disintegrate enemy bones and repair Kirk's bones.

Got it.