A Salvo of Space Expansions

Actually, I like this ultra-cool shades-peek more than the original cover.

The real-time Space Cadets: Dice Duel is possibly the loudest game I own. Accompanied by a crescendo of curses, commands, and the oft-repeated call of “Roll two roll two roll two!“, it rarely lacks for energy. It’s fast, hard-hitting, and always ends with one team screaming as their final torpedo obliterates the enemy ship and the other team screaming right along with them, though only for a moment before the vacuum of space tears the breath from their lungs.

I’ve been looking forward to an expansion for a long time, though Die Fighter’s main change was totally unexpected:

Silence.

While everyone else at the table is still working aboard one of the game’s two main ships, shouting at engineering to supply one of the other stations with energy or for the tractor beam officer to push the enemy ship into a space-bomb, now there are pilots seated nearby. Only, these guys aren’t screaming. Nor are they gesticulating wildly, or swearing at the idiot who dropped his dice under the couch (“No pausing!” cackles the opposing team, “Get down in that Jefferies Tube!”).

But no, the pilots aren’t speaking at all. Instead, they’re hunched over their flight panel. The only sound coming from their end of the table is the clatter of dice and the occasional clunk as a successful roll is slammed into place. Then they look up, that narrow hungry-wolf look in their eyes. “Fire,” they whisper, and the table goes silent.

Oh no, the USS Defiant is under attack by that Mark II Viper! /fanfic

Fighter to the starboard or port or I dunno which!

Die Fighter’s fighters are a natural addition to Dice Duel, and not only because they add a whole bunch of flexibility to your player counts — though that is nice, since you can have one experienced player hop into a fighter and face off against a fully-crewed capital ship, or allow your capital ships the option of launching a fighter mid-battle, or any combination or mode that tickles your fancy.

But the real appeal of Die Fighter is the way those sleek little fighter-craft are so terrifyingly streamlined, like some sort of space-barracuda. Not that they look it right at first. Rather than shields, they can only take a couple direct hits before they crumble. They don’t have tractor beams or mines, and can’t take advantage of the crystals you find drifting around the battlespace. Their missiles aren’t as powerful as a capital ship’s torpedoes, represented by a capital ship always getting an extra shield whenever a fighter’s missile hits their hull. And although fighters can assemble pepped-up pulse bombs for a bit more punch, they’ve got to get right up close to use them. And when I say “up close,” I mean you’ve got to fire the thing up your opponent’s tailpipe.

Especially if you're a Mark II Viper, because all those Mark VII Vipers got wiped ouuuuut.

A fighter in space is worth, like, hundreds in the bush.

Even so, the fighters are the predators of the stars. Since they don’t have any energy to manage, and since they only have to roll two helm dice, it’s never been easier to park your torpedo-tube right atop that enemy tailpipe. Or, er, to get up close to deploy a pulse bomb.

The tradeoff, I suppose, is that Dice Duel has always been so frenetic that having one more moving piece to coordinate could become a bit much. In our games this has never been a problem, though mostly because we just trust the fighter pilot to hound the opposition without much input from the main crew. Which seems fine to me, because while the main crew is managing their energy, laying mines, tractoring crystals, and presenting their best-shielded side to the enemy, the fighter is just whipping all over the place and doing its best to end up with its nose-cannon pointed at the enemy’s weakest point. And if they ever seem too powerful, well, it’s an easy thing to just say they only have two hull points, or one. Or four, if your fighter pilots dance through the stars with all the grace of a hippopotamus.

I don't know what it should be, but I'd really really like another Battlestar Galactica reference in here somewhere.

Experimental Technologies.

While the fighters never struck my group as “one cog too many,” Die Fighter’s second module, a set of experimental equipment cards, probably won’t get much play with us for that very same reason.

Basically, experimental equipment gives each ship a couple new spots to place dice and crystals in order to enable special new actions. For example, if you start the game with “Blink,” you can place a helm die and up to three tractor dice on it to zip off in a direction that your ship isn’t necessarily facing, while the NeuroNav Interface gives you a new way to use crystals by letting you place them on the card to ignore nebulae and asteroid fields.

This is a cool idea in theory, and the cards themselves are littered with interesting powers; unfortunately, none of them seem to fit with the leaner and more frantic style of play that Dice Duel embraces. Dice Duel fills role of party game for us, something light that gets pulled out when we have lots of people milling around. It’s great for getting everyone fired up, and while the fighters provide a great way to add more players, these cards just clutter up an otherwise low-overhead game. Where before we could have a game up and running in less than five minutes, now there’s a start-of-game draft of powers, which of course means that everyone will want to hear all the card options and debate what to take, followed by the added chaos of trying to take care of your new equipment. It can be a bit much for such a simple game.

I’m sure some people will love it, but when it comes to my group, we’ve decided unanimously to employ the excellent starfighters and leave the experimental equipment in the box from now on.

Posted on December 4, 2014, in Board Game and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Three reviews in one — what a deal! And interesting thoughts too. I think it’s especially interesting that you regard the increase in complexity in Core Worlds (which was already somewhat complicated) and Dice Duel (which embraces simplicity) as negative, whereas the additional complexity in Among the Stars is a good thing. And I think I agree that different games have different strengths and ought to play to them. For instance, I think The Ambassadors fleshes out Among the Stars, but I can’t imagine wanting anything added to Dice Duel, not that I’ve played it with Die Fighter.

  1. Pingback: Best Week 2014, Staff Mutiny! | SPACE-BIFF!

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