Saturday, 7 September 2013

An honest look at Gunship: First Strike

Gunship: First Strike was originally a suscessful Kickstarter that finished early in 2012, absolutely destroying it's goal. I remember at the time being tempted to back it as I really dig games where you customize your own ships. I didn't do it though. So how did I get a kickstarter copy of this? The BoardGameGeek marketplace. Someone had an auction and I got this for a very low price. When the game showed up it ended up it was never even opened. I have to assume the original backer read the rules and found it wasn't for them. I can see why this could be possible as this game isn't for everyone.

The core game is about two space fleets facing off against each other. Each fleet has a capital ship (the carrier), four squads of fighters and one gunship. The goal is to destroy the opponents capital ship. Now the kickstarter added to this, now the game has four different fleets, well four identical fleets in different colours and includes rules for playing 3 or 4 players. What's annoying though is that the game box and insert is still designed for two players. That doesn't really impact gameplay though. I personally have only played two player.

Everything that came with the kickstarter
You start Gunship: First Strike by customizing your gunship. There are four cannon spots on your ship board and for each you pick between ion or regular cannons. On the wings you can also mount a cannon of your choice or you can forgo the guns and put on bombs for hitting the enemies capital ship. You then decide on three areas to reinforce with armour. All of this is done using the flimsiest cards I've ever held. Seriously these cards are thin! Each player has a board for their ship (these are mounted due to a stretch goal hit during the kickstarter) and they place cards either on or next to the board. The art on the board is the same digital 3d art you see on the game box and for some reason the card art doesn't actually overlay the board art.

Each round you roll initiative (on a D8) and then the capital ships fire their turbolasers (they aren't called that but we are Star Wars fans so fell into that habit of calling them that). This causes 0-2 damage to the other ship (you flip a card from the damage deck and check for a symbol in the top corner, most cards do 1 hit, a few do 0 and even less do 2). Each capital ship has shields and hull, the shields are represented by squares on the carrier board and the hull is represented by a D12 that starts on the 12 spot. As you take hits you move the D12 down through the boxes and when they hit the last spot you start counting down on the die.

This carrier firing mechanic mechanic is neat in two ways. For one it gives a nice background feel of the cap ships firing big guns at each other while the smaller ships dart around and dogfight. Two: it puts a timer on the game, pretty much every round both ships are going to take a hit and eventually, even if you do nothing else with your other ships, one side will win.

Next the player who won initiative draws cards and activates their fighter squadron. If a fighter squad is alone with a gunship it can strafe it potentially doing significant damage. It can't do this if there are enemy fighters there, in that case a dogfight starts and fighters fight fighters. While enemy fighters are tied up with yours your gunship is free to move around unharnessed. There's some interesting strategies here with what exactly you use your fighters for. Fighters do damage by rolling dice based on how many ships are left in the squadron. These dire are the nicest component of Gunship. They are custom colour D6s that actually look great. In the case of fighter attacks you are trying to roll fighter symbols that are on 2 of 6 sides.

Fighters and gunships in the neutral zone between carriers
After the fighters go, the active player then gets a Gunship turn. They get three actions. These can be: move, fire guns at the enemy gunship, fire guns on enemy fighters, dock with your carrier ship or try for a bombing run on the enemy carrier.

For shooting at gunships or fighters you have to play a card that matches the weapon being used. A "hit" card when firing a cannon, an "ionization" card when firing an ion gun, a torpedo when doing a bombing run etc. The opponent then gets to play evade cards if they have them. The unique D6 are used when firing at fighters (you want a fighter symbol and roll one die per Hit card) or at long range (you want a target reticle and roll one die per hit card) otherwise the right card with the right gun means an auto hit. You can play one card per action per gun you have on a ship. So if you have three cannons and three hit cards in your hand you can play all of them with one action.

Damage is one of the cooler parts of Gunship. Each gunship has 3 shields, those go first. Then you start taking hits to specific parts of your ship. A D8 is rolled to determine where, and that's where you place the hit or ion card that was played by the attacking character. Get a second hit in a location and the location becomes heavily damaged and the hit card is flipped over (the back sides show two hits). Damaged locations can't be used and have a variety of effects (damaged shield generators = no repairing shields, damaged engines = less movement etc). Ion is a little more interesting as it just disables the spot temporarily and then at the end of your turn you roll a D8 and the ion moves to another area of your ship. If Ion ever gets to your power generator your gunship is crippled for one turn.

Bombing runs are the only way to damage your enemies carrier directly. The cap ship first it's defense turrets with the defending player rolling four of those unique D6. They are looking for orange hits, 2 sides of the dice have one hit and one has two, so it's possible for an incoming ship to take 8 hits before it drops it's bombs or torpedoes. If the attaching ship survives this the player can drop their bombs or play torpedo cards. Bombs may or may not hit depending on dice rolls, torps always hit. Get the enemy cap ship to 0 hull and you win.

Shot of a two player game, mid way through
At the end of your turn you can play repair cards to do in flight repairs to your gunship, get shields back or removing ionization. Heavily repaired areas require you to dock with your carrier to repair. Docking takes an action and then on the next turn, your three gunship actions a turn become repair actions. Most repairs take one action but heavily damaged areas take two. Slagged areas can never be repaired.

That ends one players turn and now the player who lost initiative draws cards, does the fighter, gunship and repair phases. Initiative is re-rolled and you rinse repeat until only one capital ship is standing.

Added to all this are a small amount of modifier cards. Ones that cause critical hits, let you choose the target location on the enemy gunship, slag a target area so it can't be repaired and more.

Along with the core game the kickstarter version of the game I received also has a bunch of expansion modules. I've got optional ship upgrades and crew. When using these you draw six cards of each type and pick three to use. The upgrades really help you to personalize your ship and even have some improvements for the carrier. The crew give you once a game abilities that let you break the rules in some way. I've also got asteroid decks and the Gunship Mark II. I've yet to try either of these to really comment on them.

Gunship: First Strike is a fun game. Every round I've played of it has been much closer than you would expect. The last one being a nail biter right until the final round. I dig the ability to customize the gunship and even cooler is having to dock with your carrier mid game for repair and re-equipping. This ads a neat push your luck aspect to the game. I reminds me of car racing, do you pit now or try to go one more lap? The problem with the core game though is that there just aren't enough customization options. You are only really picking between two weapons six times, and then getting the option of swapping two of those for bombs. Picking three spots for armour isn't really all that interesting either as almost everyone is going to put them in similar spots (the torpedo launcher is needed to damage the enemy carrier and who wouldn't protect their shield generator)? Now I will admit this is improved with the upgrade cards from the expansion, but it's still not as much customization as I would like.

Trying to show the thinness of the cards and
warping that has already occurred.
My biggest beef with this game though are the components. As noted above the cards in this game are thin. Really thin. These cards represent everything from the damage deck, your ship upgrades and the ships out in space. Your gunship and the fighter fleet are also represented by these thin cards. Now the kickstarter version came with some cardboard tokens made to replace these. They are cool but aren't that functional. I like the fact that the card gunship can be flipped to show that a ship is in the hanger on the carrier, the cardboard one doesn't have this (instead the other side is used if the ship ends up ionized). There are cardboard fighters too but they are grouped oddly and you have to move four of them all to the same spot each turn, it's just easier to move the card. These upgrades are nice looking but just not all that functional. 

Added to thin thin cards are the thin ship boards for the Gunship Mk II. You can tell this was the initial plan with all of the ship boards but there was a kickstarter stretch goal to make them mounted boards. Seems that didn't extend to the Mk II. The boards for the two Mk II ships aren't any thicker than the cards. I can't see them living up to play very well, especially at public play events that I like to bring my games to. Lastly, the box insert is the worst. There's no way of fitting everything in there, not even close. There don't even seem to be enough spots to fit everything from the core game.

To me Gunship: First Strike fells exactly like that, a first strike. A first attempt at a game. There's some really cool stuff here but then there's some really annoying stuff as well. It feels like a great first step to something better. It's fun enough but just not quite great. I have a feeling if there's ever a V2.0 it will be a much more impressive and better game. As it stands now this one could be worth picking up, if you dig the theme and if the game play above sounds cool to you, but I will admit I'm glad I got this off the bgg marketplace pretty cheap and didn't back the kickstarter.

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