Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cans of Gas Stave off Alien Infection + I Have the Stupid (Panic Station x 2, High Society x 2)

Last week (November 17th) we played Panic Station, twice, plus one other game. Evidently that other game stands out so well in my mind that I've completely forgotten what it was . I'm sure Agent Easy will be along shortly to correct the record. [edit: Agent Easy recalled that it was High Society]

[edit - added "High Society"]

High Society

This is always a fun, quick game. The first game, Agent Easy and I came very close in terms of points but he had slightly more money remaining.

The second game was tight - Agent Easy and Pablo were tied for points and for most money remaining, so it came down to highest purchased item value.

Such a clever little game.

Panic Station

What to say about panic station? Traitor mechanic, exploration, high-tech weapons and equipment, explosives, sci-fi setting... what's not to like?

Execution, it seems.

I wanted to like this one, I really did, but the weird "why is this done this way?" moments started to pile up about half-way through the game and never really went away.

First up, why can't humans use guns? The "in-game" explanation is that they're carrying the flamethrower, so they don't have the "room". OK, fine. They have the flamethrower to purge the alien nest. Sure, I can buy that. But... why do they have to find or trade for the fuel to actually use it INSIDE the facility they're supposed to be purging?

OK, only androids can use guns. I can also accept that, if you assume that the androids have built-in weapons that cannot be detached. But the upgrades are detachable - indeed, they START detached... once again, INSIDE the facility they've been sent to clear out.

Also, equipment teleports back and forth between team members of the same colour, but not between team members of other colours. In addition, if the human gets infected, the same-colour android gets infected as well, and vice versa. Say what?

If a human/android goes down, all their equipment disappears. Huhn? It's possible to lose the game because you can't possibly get enough fuel cans because your team mates got eaten by a parasite and apparently their equipment evaporates when your vital signs disappear?

Too many shaky "plot-points" that might have been 'hand-waved' with better background story writing, or better yet, avoided altogether with better rules writing.

Also, once again, the future is white ... except for one human who may or may not be Asian (Raven). They couldn't fit in a single visible minority? [edit: judging by surname "Ramirez" would seem to be Hispanic, so not entirely WASP] To top it off, all the androids look identical and are the stereotypical bald female hottie with silvery no-iris eyes.

The art is lazy. Actually, I take that back, the equipment art and the station location art is fine. The humans, androids and parasites are lazy. Compare:

Picture of "Alien Parasite":

with picture of "Japanese beetle Larvae":

You're using barely modified images of insect larvae as your evil swarming Alien/Body-Snatcher-esque take-over creature? Did someone on the production team have a bad phobia-generating incident on their lawn?

Okay. Deep breath.

I'm giving this one at least more try before I pass final judgment because people seem so crazy about it on BGG and usually the chattering masses aren't completely wrong, at least at BGG.

So far, though, not very impressed.

Now, to be fair, I screwed up the first game because I (and no one else) forgot the vitally important (but thematically none-too-intuitive) rule that people can avoid being infected by trading a gas can (... wait, what?) so I thought everyone was infected when in fact only three people were infected. I tried to make the case for ending the game early when in fact there was at least one viable human left.

In the end, the infected still won, but the experience was somewhat tainted.

Not to be outdone by my stupid mistake in the first game, I then nearly made the exact same mistake in the second game, fortunately it was spotted and corrected before it did too much damage.

UNfortunately, a strange (though probably not entirely unusual) combination of card trading around mid-game utterly confused both Shemp and Agent Easy making it look like I thought I was uninfected when I was, or was infected when I wasn't (I was actually infected), so a long period passed where Shemp and Agent Easy thought I was playing very stupidly, when in actuality I was really doing the only logical thing, which was to stay away and keep my infected guys out of danger (and being forced to trade back the stolen gas cans) because I had no infection cards left.

Not so! (This time.)

What had happened is that I had tried repeatedly to infect Pablo, only to be given a gas can each time, with the net effect that I had taken all of his gas cans. By reasoning out loud, Agent East figured out what had happened, but this clued Shemp in at the same time. Fortunately for humanity, some canny play by Pablo and Shemp allowed the humans enough time to search for more gas cans and win the game by burning the nest. Cleanse it with FIRE!

Humans 1, Aliens 1.

Now if I could just remember what the other game we played was, I could close down this blog entry in peace. [yeah, it was High Society]


  1. Aww, Chris, I think you are being a little harsh.

    Art lazy? Yeah. Agreed. I'm not a fan of the photoshop filter style human pictures either. It's not ugly in any way, and it's appropriate to the theme, but it feels generic.

    Gameplay logically inconsistent? Yeah (again). No attempt is made to explain some of the rules oddness, and some thematic choices are flat out poor ones (gas cans in Particular).

    Still. It was fun, it does what it sets out to do, and I'll favour thematic incongruities over broken gameplay any day. Also, if the rules had stated that we were prisoners escaping from our cells, without our equipment except the (empty) gun built in to our android, I think the setting would be fine. Also, a shared consciousness between the human and android explains the dual infection well enough. The equipment thing is harder, but that is obviously meant to streamline gameplay.

    For example, dropping equipment when dead. Without a dwindling supply of gas cans, humans might have it too easy (one dead infective and that human would become impossible to infect after picking up his gas cans). As it is, you found yourself unable to infect Pablo.

    Now, I'm not claiming the rules are great as-is either. There are definitely holes, particularly as the endgame approaches, regarding what happens if neither can actually end it.

    Anyway, I liked it. As an experience game I thought it was pretty good. The whole mixup and confusion creared by what Shemp and i prrceved as "odd" behaviour and yours and Pabl's part brought home to me that the whole paranoia thing was working! I'm looking forward to seeing whether it holds up to repeat play or not. I also think it would be better with a full complement of 6 players.

    Oh, and the game we played earlier was High Society. This was apparently Pablo's night since he won two games of that, was on the winning side of our first game of Panic station and was the human that destroyed the hive in the second.

  2. I've been thinking further on this game; the reason stuff has to disappear w/ eliminated players, mechanically, is that the items left behind could potentially reveal which team the eliminated player is/was on. One possibility: a player has given out all of their infection cards, it would be obvious when they surrender their entire hand that they were infected. Probably many other scenarios revealing info, also.

    Thinking about mechanics, it's interesting that early in the game, human players should never want to trade -- nothing good can come of it -- and should always want to get more cards, and that these two tendencies are brought into tension by the team search card + rule.

    Upon reflection, I think that Panic Station is cleverer than I had initially given it credit for. Tho the thematic issues K. notes still do bother me, since the game depends on theme and tension. And to AE, I would say that sure, I prefer a thematically weak game to a mechanically broken game, but those are not really the only two options, are they? As you point out, with a little more thought, things could have been much improved, thematically.

    TL;DR : Somewhat clever, fun, look fwd to playing again.