Zwei Dinge sind unendlich Die Dummheit und das All
Well, in my infinite stupidity I bought a copy of ISS Vanguard. I hate narrative games. I hate reading storybooks. I hate apps. I hate games that are bigger than my table. I feel like I'm far in outer space, way out of my comfort zone.
Now I didn’t back this back when it was being crowdfunded, so my craziness has recently progressed. The thing is, I kept thinking about it. I love SF and space opera. My favourite computer game is Mass Effect, and I hope to find a board game equivalent one day. Even if it doesn’t have alien sideboobs. A board game in space, in which you slowly unravel a mystery, with lots of discoveries to be made and choices that have consequences later on in the story. I think ISS Vanguard may give me some of these things. Also: a large part of gameplay is about resolving dice rolls. Sounds perfect to me.
Hell is a tutorial
When ISS Vanguard became available in shops I decided to take a gamble. And because I knew there would be some obstacles to overcome, I put it on the table immediately. Unboxing was smooth: I don’t have extra boxes with minis, there are not many tokens to punch, all cards are already sorted and only needed to be put in the right trays - great. Time to read the rules.
There were no rules to read. What we had instead, was a tutorial. The first few phases of gameplay completely written out (with the outcome of dice rolls and all) – learn while you play along. But my mind doesn’t work that way! I don’t mind going through a learn-to-play book, it’s just that I want to read a good rulebook first, it gives me a better idea of the game's about. About what’s coming. But nope. So I began “playing” the tutorial. Imitating everything they’d written out, with my own components.
Next problem. The tutorial also introduced you to the storybook. So you’d reenact a paragraph in the “rulebook”, then you’d look up a paragraph in the “logbook”, which would refer you back to the page in the tutorial and so on. It was infuriating. Because, for those of you who have been kindly sheltered from storybooks: all paragraphs in the logbook are numbered and printed in a completely random order. After 1,5 hours I was close to crying. But wait, there’s an app.
Several people had recommended the companion app to me, because of the great voice acting and atmosphere and because it takes care of some of the bookkeeping for you. Well, I was struggling anyway, so why not. I listened to the app for the most part of the tutorial that I’d played so far. After a while I had to turn the music off as it was driving me crazy. Not that it’s bad music, it’s just that I always play my games in silence. Then I got frustrated that I had to type in all paragraph numbers for the logbook in the app by hand. Also, I kind of need to see my progression in front of me. I rather have notes of decisions I made and I really want these in physical form. Not invisibly registered in an app. Back to the paper tutorial. Oh well. I will make the crew voices in my head - a few more won't make a difference. And I can do pretty good sound effects.
I must be a train
I spent hours on rails. There are two distinct phases in gameplay, and the tutorial is split in two as well. Except that the second part of the tutorial basically has you playing the two game phases, so it would be more precise to say it has three parts. I took a break after every part as they each took 1,5 frustrating hours and I would be exhausted at the end. Here’s a picture taken at a point where I am close to the end of part two. Just ten more minutes to go, taking decks out of a tray and putting them down and figuring out how to make the most of my table space. And yeah, I had already piled up stuff instead of spreading it out.
The dice rolling mechanism is good – except perhaps a bit punishing, but I’ll know better once I’ve played more. The timers for your missions are good to keep the pressure on and ship management is fine as well. I think most of the time in this game you won’t be able to do everything you’d like to do and that’s a positive thing for me. There are like 500 crew members included so I am afraid I won’t grow too attached to any of them, though I did buy the Personnel Files expansion which may give them a bit of character.
I had an extremely rough start with this game. Way worse than I ever imagined. But, it can only get better now, right? Let’s keep an open mind. Anything is still possible.
Was ist ist Was nicht ist ist möglich Was ist ist Was nicht ist ist möglich
Einstürzende Neubauten - Was Ist Ist (live)
Nur was nicht ist ist möglich