Prototypes of up and come Kickstarter projects
the warp (2020) first impression
The Galaxy is never big enough for the two of us. As vast as it is, we will always be fighting over the same thing, just to achieve the same thing… ”Victory.” Exploring. Expanding. Exterminating. Expanding… Exfoliating… Exploding… Or whatever it is that a 4X game contains.
The 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) style is the premise of many games that you may have already played, like Twilight Imperium or Eclipse. Here, I will be talking about a new game which is coming to Kickstarter from Jumping Turtle Games, who would normally make small, rapid playing games and nothing as large as this. This is their first big box game called The Warp. A game about Conquest, development, resources and negotiation, all set to the backdrop of a sci-fi universe that looks familiar but feels different and not so aggressive as other titles. For up to 1 to 6 players can explore a strange world, build an Empire, fight Exiled Aliens and possibly gain control of the aforementioned Warp that is controlled by a cunning big boss alien.
The Kickstarter link
A quick overview of the game is, players will find themselves equidistant from each other on a planet. With the same number of troops and buildings and BANG, they’re off, doing what they wish. Terraforming the planet, building an army, working on trades, mining, collecting energy, battling the aliens or each other. You will have free rein of the type of strategy you wish to pursue because this is a race for points. Points are earned from completing your own personal objectives or the common objectives, plus if you have control of The Warp you'll possibly score bigger points. Every player will take a 3 phased turn of :
When a player arrives at the prescribed score of victory points, this triggers the end game leaving the players a few more rounds to scoop up as many points as they can. After that, whoever has the highest score is deemed the winner. Simple as that.
So what makes this game stand out from the crowd? Number one, the aliens. There are lots of aliens to choose from. And you won't be selecting just one race to play, but in fact two races, each with a regular power and a power that can be activated by spending rewards from combat. This is done in a kind of card drafting mechanism, where two decks of selected aliens will go around the table. Each alien's power is really quite powerful, and if you know the game The Voyages of Marco Polo, I'm talking about overpowering powerful powers! This makes them all unique and interesting to play and interesting to see in action as the rounds go by. Maybe you’ll want to have two buildings built on your turn instead of one, then you become the Ralan Engineers. Maybe you’ll want your weakest soldier to have an attack boost, plus if you lose a troop you are compensated for your loss, then you pick the Luron Droids. But why not be both? In this game you can be. You’ll have control of two races instead of normal games' usual one race choice. That’s two constant powers plus two activated super powers. You’ll want to play again after seeing the other players powers, wishing you had combined one you have with one of theirs.
These cards also double for the Exiled Aliens, which are spawned over the planet in which you inhabit (or trying to conquer). Again, 2 of these aliens would be chosen but this time at random and be allocated one of two colours. Each Exiled Alien’s will have a similar power to the ones players could have used, but they are watered down a little. Because everyone can use these powers as long as they are on the board. Either while fighting against them or not. On top of that, that is another deck of aliens which is used for the controller of the warp. They all have different numbers of troops and terrain modifiers, as well as rewards for being defeated. How do you make a game more interesting and replayable, create lots of different aliens and abilities. All these uniquely different aliens add to quite a lot of replayability and variety and how you approached the game.
The game is kept simple by not having a wide variety of resources for you to keep count of. There are goldmines that will give you gold and power generators will give you power. That is primarily it. Baring of course your troops, which could be considered a resource and there are the Reward cards that can either be spent immediately to collect the benefit marks on it or saved up to be used on one of your special powers. Everything can be built and upgraded with just these two resources, again keeping it very simple. And what could possibly make construction simpler? Having cards tell you what you can build or upgrade and how much it costs. Archive cards will be flowing through your hand throughout the game, either being used for their construction effect or discarded for resources indicated on the bottom. Not all of the Archive cards are used for construction. About half the deck contains cards that can be used for battle, either to reinforce your Troop or to be used to support the Exiled Aliens scattered on those ready to be conquered zones.
To keep things interesting and to feed those players who are waiting their turns, the action phase provides interaction for all the players at the table. You'll have to choose from one of three actions to perform. Using an Archive card to build or upgrade something with your resources allows each other player to build from a card in their hand if they have the resources. This benefits them but also yourself, as for each player that does so permits you to take a resource of your choice. Terraforming (which seems like a pointless action), allows you to raise the elevation of one location and diminish the location of another, again also open to each player after you perform it. Although they can only adjust 1 area, you will benefit from an additional Archive card as a bonus for each player who does so. And then the attack. Either against another player or one of the Exiled Aliens. Any player can help support these Exiled Aliens by playing one of them Archive cards as a modifier. And of course roll the dice for them.
Let's delve into the attack as it is an interesting system. Attacks start by declaring a target, either an Exiled Alien or another player. Movement is normally just to an adjacent space unless you have an Assault ship. You’ll move all but one of your troops from that space to your combat zone before choosing whether to play an Archive card. If either party has chosen to play a card, the next step of the battle is to try and Bribe that player to discard that card by making them an offer they cannot refuse. Although they may refuse.This keeps the interaction going and can swing the game in different directions. Once the Brides are out of the way, if there are cards in play, they are revealed and one of the options must be chosen before dice are rolled. Each option has a resource cost and some give a benefit if you use to support an Exiled Alien. What's nice about this combat is the fact that you will get a simple choice each time. The number of dice you get to roll depends on the number of troops in the combat zone. Then the magic of terraforming comes into play. The defender will multiply their total die result by the level of their terraformed area whereas the attacker will multiply their die result by the terrain of the area that they just left. This multiplication may be just by 1,2,3,or 4, but can make a vast difference in the result of the endgame. This makes it an interesting battle to participate in as well as to watch.
Every combat becomes a well calculated puzzle for those playing. Added to that, the bluffing of playing a card against an opponent adds intrigue and pressure to each encounter. Then the relief of walking away with a success and a Reward card that you could save to activate a powers, or immediately to collect an item or two is satisfying. Even if you lose, it’s not drastic unless you have some building that then becomes the property of someone else.
Multiplication doesn't end there. Everyone has a player board which records the level of your building plus the amount of resources you can get the income phase. To know how many troops you can recruit or how much gold and energy you can produce, you’ll refer to this track. Let's say you had 3 Gold Mines on the board and you also upgraded these mines to level 2. You multiply the 3 by 2, giving you a result of 6 and this is where you place your cube on the track. These tracks are blocked out to give you a maximum of 3 of a resource at the higher levels plus a bonus power. On top of that, if you are the first to reach the top of a track, you’ll score the common goal card of 3 points, which is a third of your objective score. This applies to the mines, the trade buildings, the command centres and the energy plants. Not everything is free and easy to build, different builds have different costs and the mine and energy plants can only be built on selected terrain. This could possibly lead to territory fights amongst players. At the end of your turn, you can redeploy two troop members to another location under your control. Mid game, this becomes a high tension moment as one or another of your opponents will comment on how close a large group is to their own. Could there be a war…?
Now, you are free to do whatever you wish on your turn, but you will be compelled to follow your objectives, as these are the main reason you are playing. They score you points that hopefully win you the game. There are a lot of completely different missions to do from the three types available. Conquest deals with combat, Prosperity is about collecting resources and Progress is about buildings. You are restricted to one of each type as your personal quests but there will also be one of each which is public. So even if you feel a little stuck with the ones in your hand, as some can be impossible to achieve at some stage of the game, there is always something else to aim for. This can be daunting for some players as they watch other score points on easy objects every round. But there are ways to discard to get a better card into your hand.
I can't comment on the solo mode as I have not seen the rules, but I presume it may be a Race Against Time or playing against an artificial intelligence made from a deck of cards. After playing with two and three player count, I can tell you that this is not an aggressive or restrictive game. Yes, the threat of your very close neighbour attacking you is always there, but they probably will not do it unless a Conquest card tells them to or they see an opportunity to easily take a build of yours. You can quite happily stay in your corner and build your Empire to suit your objectives, winning points very rapidly. The board layout has a portal that keeps players within attacking reach of each other, even though visually it doesn’t look so. Games can be won without attacking one another or even the guardian of the Warp.
The game is relatively fast paced once you have had a few rounds. It’s very easy to pick up and play but will still consume a fair amount of time. Anything from an hour and a half to 3-4 hours for larger groups of players, but you will be constantly engaged. The artwork and components of this prototype are very high. Each alien is excellently represented in image, name and power, although everyone will have the buildings and troops on the board of the same shape. It would have been nice to see the multi-use Archive cards expanded. Many a time, during the game, the market of Archive cards had to be replaced once all the same types were revealed. Only to be replaced by four more cards that had to be replaced. Having build and combat actions on the same Archive card would be a great alternative to alleviate this minor niggle and benefit from the choices you make. And the font, thematic as it is, can be a little hard to read as it is.
A thoroughly enjoyable medium weight conquest game. Not too hard to learn. Lots to keep you entwined in this adventure, from all the objectives you can perform, combinating you powers of your abilities and power, to the overall interaction that was omnipresent. Maybe a gateway game for your friends before introducing them to TI4 or something bigger. Definitely worth “Exploring”, possibly “Expanding” to 6 players, “Exploiting” your bank account, “Exterminating” a dull moment at the table with friends.
The Kickstarter link
Me, of course!