Monday, 19 May 2014

A look at Damage Report, a refreshingly different co-op disaster aversion game

A while back I was approached by Alex Barbieri of Break From Reality Games about reviewing his new game: Damage Report

Damage Report was funded through Kickstarter where it made $48,642 of it's initial $10,000 goal. Quite the success. As part of that success a huge number of cool game upgrades were added to the final product.

Alex sent me a pre-production copy of the game and I've managed to get it to the table with a few different groups of local gamers. We've now tried out a few of the different missions and I feel confident in my ability to accurately review the game.

The main thing we have all found is that this game is very different from other games like it. While you can't help but compare Damage Report to games like Space Alert and Space Cadets, it has a very different feel, though it has a similar theme. While it's a co-op game where you are trying to stop your ship from being destroyed, the unique timing system really changes both the pace and the feel of the game.

What you get in the box

Look at all that stuff, and that's after the rules were removed.
When I first received Damage Report the first thing I noticed was how damn heavy the thing is. I think it's probably the heaviest game in my collection. The reason for this is how much stuff they managed to cram into the box.

There's a nice glossy 31 page rulebook, 12 large ship module boards, 9 small ship module boards, 4 supply module boards, 1 ship hull board, 2 crisis tracker boards, 24 module cards, 100 repair cards, 40 damage report cards, 12 event cards, 110 tokens (which are a mix of glass beads, plastic crystals and cardboard chits), 8 plastic 3D printed tools, 6 standees, 6 player boards, 8 damage indicator tokens, 30 injury/fire tokens, 15 cargo/passenger tokens, 4 runabouts, 6 sand timers, 4 "no teleport" symbols, 1 timer and a cardboard coin (I guess this is a real metal coin in the Kickstarter version).

There is so much stuff it almost doesn't all fit in the box. 

Every thing is well produced. The boards are all nice and thick. Everything that had to be punched out came out easily and without tearing. The art work for the boards and tiles all looks rather good to me and every tile has a nice rule summary on it to reduce having to look things up during the game. I will admit I'm personally not a huge fan of the character artwork, but that's very subjective. What I did think was brilliant is that the character boards are two sided so they work for right and left hand players.

Game set up

Damage Report does take a bit to get set up. Which I can see being a bit of a drawback as the actual gameplay is very fast. To offset this though, every time we played we tried each mission at least twice, so that gets more use out of one set up period.

Step one in setting up a game of Damage Report is picking a mission to play through. There are five missions to choose from in the core rulebook. There are also rules for adjusting the difficulty level of these missions to add some replayability of the game. 

Mission One: First Contact all set up.
Each mission gives you a bit of fluff to set up the scenario. The ship just came out of hyperspace in a star's corona or you are being fired on by aliens. This sets the mood for the mission. There is a recommended crew given which sets the number of players for each mission. The objective is listed. These range quite a bit from scenario to scenario. You can find things like "fully repair the hyperdrive" or "fire the ships lasers three times." The game end conditions are listed as are any special set up instructions and then special rules. Lastly there's a map showing how to lay out the tiles and build the ship. 

How does the game play?

The basic premise of Damage Report is that the ship is in danger, badly damaged, and the players need to work together to both contain the damage and make repairs. They do this by moving to different key systems in the ship, investigating what needs to be done to make a repair and then gathering the items needed to make that repair. All of this is done real time as the situation continues to deteriorate and more damage hits your ship every three minutes. In addition to win and loss conditions each mission also has a set time limit with a full game never taking more than about 45 minutes.

One of the player boards.
Each player has a player board to represent their character. On it is a really quick rule summary, a picture of the character, an inventory grid and the timer area. The timers are what really sets this game apart from other disaster games like it.

The way the timer works is this: you can only act when the timer is on the green spot. If the timer is any where else you have to just sit and wait. Once the timer runs out you then move it, where you move it is dependent on how damaged the ship's life support module is. At the start of the game life support starts in the yellow. This means that you have to wait 30 seconds between actions (it's a 15 second timer). If life support is in the red, it's going to be 45 seconds between actions. If you are skilled enough to get life support into the green you can act every 15 seconds.

What this mechanic means is that you have more downtime than most other co-op real time games. It's not people frantically rolling, or moving things, or getting in each other's way. It's a lot of discussion on what you should do while waiting for your timer to re-set, then doing that and discussing what to do next. There's a lot more downtime. What's interesting though is that this downtime isn't relaxing. Actually sitting there, knowing that you are running out of time and having to just sit and wait on your timer to run out is all kinds of stressful.

When your timer is on green there are only four actions you can choose from:

Relay: Pick up or drop stuff where you are, move one board, then pick up or drop stuff where you ended up. Inventory is done is a rather cool way. You have a little green grid on your player board, that represents your inventory slots. The stuff you pick up takes up either one or two slots each. You can carry as much as you can fit on that grid. It reminds me of the original X-Com quite a bit.

Trying to repair the hyperdrive.
Inspect: Figure out what's wrong with a system and what you need to repair it. Each module on the ship gets a deck of cards (which deck is determined by the mission). At the start of the game these are all face down. You use an inspect action to flip the top card. This card shows you what you need to make repairs in that area and what the effect will be once the repairs are complete.

Repair: This action lets you take one token or tool from your inventory and put it on a repair card. Each card needs different tokens and many also require the use of one of the special tools (cutting laser, duct tape, blowtorch or wrench). Once each spot on the card is filled then the repair is completed. The current damage level of each area is tracked on the board itself.

Special: Every character has a special ability that breaks the rules in some way. There's a doctor that can heal, an engineer that can do two repairs with each repair action, etc. For some characters using this ability is an action and that's why the Special action exists.

While the players are running around doing all these actions, there's a timer ticking away. My copy of the game included a digital timer set with a three minute alarm. I've read there's also an app out there you can use instead. Every three minutes, when this timer goes off the players have to draw a card from the Damage Report deck. These cards do horrible things.

Shields about to be repaired.
Each damage report card lists a shield level. The first thing you have to do is check what level the ships shields are at now. If the shields are high enough the ship suffers the damage on the right side of the card. If the shields aren't high enough the ship suffers the damage on the left side. In almost every case the damage on the left is much worse. This generally has the effect of undoing a bunch of the repairs your team just managed to complete as well as causing damage to players or the ship. You can even have things like hull breaches in the corridors. There are also some optional event cards that can be tossed into the deck to make things even more interesting. 

At the bottom of the Damage Report deck is the "Game Over" card. If this card comes up the players loose, no matter how well they were doing up until that point. The number of damage report cards is determined by the mission and this is what sets the overall time limit on the game.

My thoughts on Damage Report

When I first saw Damage Report on Kickstarter I was tempted to back it. It looked really neat. I really liked the various lay outs they showed off and I liked the look of the way the repair cards worked. The thing is, it looked like more of the same. I had just gotten Space Cadets and I've owned Space Alert for a few years now. They are both great games but pretty similar. Both have you rushing around, real time, trying to get stuff done before your ship blows up. This looked to be more of the same. So I didn't back it. I did jump at the chance to review it though when Alex put forth the offer and I'm so glad I did.

This game, while similar in theme to other co-op disaster games does something different. It's just as stressful and fun but in a very different way. The biggest stress comes from having to wait while watching the counter count down. I don't know how many times I've watched other players or found myself yelling "Come On! Come On! Come On!" at my counter as I try to get that last token down on a repair card before the damage alert timer goes off.

The problem with the token storage tiles.
I do have some minor complaints about the game. The biggest one has to do with the token holders you use while you play. I guess these were a stretch goal as part of the kickstarter. They are great in theory but don't actually work that well. They are 3D cardboard holders you build before play that are meant to hold each of the different tokens. The thing is that they don't stay together during gameplay. I've been very tempted to just glue them, but if I do that, they won't fit back into the box.

In addition to this some of the components in my copy of the game showed up in very rough shape. To give Break From Reality Credit, they have been awesome about this. I was assured that this was due to my copy being a pre-production copy and that the production copies don't have the same problem. They are also replacing everything. I was still disappointed to find chipped timers and dented boards.

The difficulty on this one can be pretty high, especially if you don't have the maximum number of players for each scenario. Alex assures me that the first mission can be beaten with only two players, but I've yet to figure out how. Now this is pretty typical for a co-op game. What would Pandemic be if you didn't loose most of the time? This is more of a heads up that this isn't the easiest game out there,which could turn some people off.

Mid game mission two.
Overall though I really dig this game. I was very skeptical at first, as have been most players I show the game to. They all kind of look at the game with that "oh another one of these" looks. Once playing through the first scenario though everyone seems to change their tune. Every single time I've broken this game out, after we finished the first round everyone has said "Let's try that again." That to me is a sign of a good game.

For some reason the theme and the missions in Damage Report makes me think of it as FTL the board game. This is a very good thing as I love FTL. I think Damage Report has a lot to like. If you don't like co-op disaster games you probably won't like this one but if you do like them, this one does things differently and in this case different is good.

Damage Report is due in stores soon. Right now you can pre-order a copy direct from Break From Reality here:

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