In Space, No One Can Hear You Roll
In Deep Space D-6, a solo dice game that wears its influences on its sleeve, my first victory came while helming the Halcyon. Time warps, space pirates, even the lure of cosmic existentialism and the dreaded Ouroboros station couldn’t stop me. Everything space had to throw at me, and I chewed it up and spat it right back in space’s pimply face. And it was only my first try.
I was dumbfounded. Was this it? Had I reached the edge of space so easily? Had I made some mistake? Was I even now trapped within the swaddled interior of cosmic existentialism itself, unwilling to see the boundaries of the dream?
The answer to all of these questions was no. I’d played correctly. I’d defeated space. But that was only aboard the Halcyon, the galactic equivalent of a bike with eight sets of training wheels trailing off its sides. The Athena Mk. II would not prove such a tender lover.
A round in Deep Space D-6 goes something like this. You pick up a chunky handful of dice, each side of each die representing a crewman you can put to work, and clatter them across the table while praying that they don’t come up as sensor pings. Sensor pings are bad, see. Very bad. Then you assign them to the stations of your ship. Maybe you fire your space-cannons, or charge your space-shields, or repair your space ship’s hull. Very occasionally, you need to make a tougher decision, like having a medical officer decide whether to let Poplawski out of the infirmary or let you reroll all those redundant science officers that reported for duty this turn.
Then the bad guys get their turn.
This isn’t too bad at first. You roll a d6, is all. And when you only have a couple enemy ships hounding you, that means they’ll maybe ping your shields, maybe get a lucky shot through and scratch your hull. It’s even possible that they won’t land a shot at all.
But that’s only at first, because every turn sees new threats added to your battle array. Worse, whenever you roll one of those blasted sensor pings, one of your crew dice is trapped staring at the big concave screen on the bridge until you’ve locked up enough dice to add an extra threat. Then, and only then, are you going to get all your dice back, though now with the benefit of more ships to blow up. And while a couple pirates aren’t a big deal, things start to get hot and heavy once you’ve got a strike bomber who sends your guys straight to the infirmary, a scout who increases your enemies’ damage output, an orbital cannon that you can’t even touch until you clear everything else out, and a cloaking engine that needs to be taken down before it doubles the incoming ships’ effectiveness.
Put simply: Deep Space D-6 goes from impulse to warp nine fast. Buckle up.
For a solo dice game, it’s a tense little experience, gleefully flinging insurmountable odds in your face and then giggling as you juggle laser pistols while walking barefoot across glowing coals. And yet there are ways to get ahead — or, scratch that, ways to keep treading water a little while longer. You can injure your crewmen to swap another die roll to the face of your choice, for one. Or… well, that’s the main one, depending on which ship you’re on. Much of the decision space revolves around threat prioritization: do you blow up the little stuff now, or chip away at the big stuff? And which big stuff? And how quickly? Should you send Jacobson to the infirmary, and if so should you recharge your shields or launch another missile? This portion of the game is all about answering tough questions.
Not with the Halcyon, though. The starter ship simply provides too many ways to manage your crew, letting you spring your guys locked up staring at the sensor array or disabling enemy ships altogether. The result is a game that flies on autopilot, rarely providing enough tension to power through to the conclusion. The other ships are much more interesting, requiring a bit of grey matter to solve each incoming battery of threats. The Mononoaware, for instance, is all about charging up your white-hot ultra-beam with dice, selecting both the best ammunition and the best time to fire. The AG-8 revolves around constructing a drone army to do your fighting and repairing for you, a finicky system that occasionally leaves your human crew understaffed. My personal favorite, the Athena Mk. II, not only resembles a two-pronged space-dong (hence the “Mk. II”), but also tries to play with time itself, launching powerful but inflexible missiles and then using its quantum cannon to shuffle untenable threats back into the deck.
With these ships, the usual dice game problems still occasionally rear their polyhedral heads. It’s entirely possible to draw the threats at too breezy a pace, or to roll nothing but science officers on a critical round, or to wind up with enough tactical officers — the red shooty guys — that nothing can stand in your way. On the one hand, it’s hardly surprising that a random game will occasionally spit up random outcomes; on the other, this isn’t going to change anybody’s mind about the dice-chucking genre. Most of the time, however, Deep Space D-6 presents a steady increase in danger, forcing each and every assignment to thrum with dizzying desperation.
It’s good stuff, in short, resulting in a compact package that offers an excellent way to pass the time. Only alone though. Because when you’re alone, no one can hear you scream in frustration when you roll yet another worthless engineer.