Monday, 16 June 2014

Anyone remember Elite? Game Review - The Phantom League

I'll place odds there's people out there who remember the computer game Elite, the best space simulation of actually going out and being a space trader, all the way down the realism of having to wait nine hours to get into space dock when you overshot something and then getting all the way to the dock, only to crash into the side whilst trying to manage Coriolis rotation...

I'll place odds there's people out there who like tabletop games...

And if you fit into both these categories, I have something here that will get your interest...

This, is Phantom League, a game based unashamedly (even points it out on the back of the game box) on David Braben's Elite.  In this game you take the part of one of nine different captains, each with their own special abilities, and one of nine different ships, ranging from the massive Leviathan to the Cargo Cube, which looks suspiciously like the Tardis might if it was assimilated by the Borg....

Everyone starts with the same amount of currency, the same amount of resourced (you can choose which ones you'd rather start with, and you start in the known universe (which changes every time you play the game), and proceed to work your way around the universe, trading, battling, and undertaking missions to get a better reputation and enough money to retire to one of the worlds where problems don't occur.

As the players move to the outer circles, so new territories are explored and revealed. But, as with the original Elite, you never know what you're going to encounter until you flip the cards, so there are riches and treasure out there, but there are also pirate worlds, black holes, and dangers no person has ever seen before and lived to tell the tale.

Play sequence is simple and is noted on every single player dashboard, along with a section for every different part of the ship, the captains notoriety/reputation, the cargo they're presently carrying, and the amount of money that they have.  

The rules are simple, combat is done via a deck of cards that the players choose in advance, so each player can match their fighting style to themselves, the decks have to be shuffled of course, but the players will have a good idea what it will be that they draw, so if you're using a heavily armed ship, you don't want to be drawing escape cards all the time and equally, if you're travelling around in a massive trade ship, rapid mobility cards are going to be wasted on you.  It would be easy to consider that there's only certain cards for certain ships, but the truth is quite the reverse and quite a number of encounters can be changed around with a surprise move in the right place.

Everyone gets a single escape pod and insurance option, so if you have a really bad start, it's not the end of things before the game even gets going.  Everything is well balanced, and the more players you have in the game, the more fun things are, as deals and bargaining with other players is an integral part of the game, it's possibly to betray someone on a deal, but your reputation suffers as a result and makes it more difficult for you to manage certain missions or get help yourself.

The production values are phenomenal, everything is in high grade card and the constructed dashboards to play from all feature moving dials and excellent built quality, the worlds are all in full colour and it's a pleasure to fit the universe together when you're setting up, not knowing what's going to be out there.

It's not for those looking for thirty minutes of frenetic card bashing or games involving a million dice, and while it looks like it takes forever to set up, it really doesn't.  The game can be reasonably learned within half an hour and there's quick reference sheets for everything (the above image is in High Resolution so you can see the level of detail that's gone into things).  In all, it's apparent that the game is a labour of love from someone who really, really like the original Elite.

And the best thing?

You can play it in less time than it took to dock in the original game...

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