Overview: Earth is DOOMED! The good news: several corporations have developed FTL space flight and have the means to pick up Earth’s population and deliver them to distant planets. The bad news: it may be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean the corporations aren’t still trying to make a profit. As CEOs of these corporations, you’re trying to build the biggest customer base (er, I mean, rescue the most survivors), develop technologies, and explore the universe, all while Disaster Looms!
Eric Salyers, president of Break From Reality Games, was able to bring a couple prototypes while he was in town, so I had a chance to play the game and chat a little bit about it. (Since he wasn’t able to leave the prototype with me, my write-up is based on memory and photographs, which I hope is pretty close.)
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 10 and up
Playing Time: 90 minutes
Rating: The most fun you can have while Earth is about to be destroyed by an impending cataclysm.
Who Will Like It? Euro-game fans who like space themes. It has pick-up-and-deliver, resource management, tile-laying and exploration, but not as much head-to-head conflict (i.e., you can’t shoot lasers at each other). There’s luck of the draw, but no dice-based luck.
Disaster Looms! is a tongue-in-cheek tale of doom and corporate greed. Most of the humor is in the premise and not necessarily in the in-game text: for instance, if you take over somebody’s colony, it’s called “franchising,” with the idea that your ship shows up at this planet and disgorges an army of marketers, converting everyone there to your brand. The “Brand Loyalty” technology makes it more expensive for other people to franchise your colonies.
But overall it’s a space game — you’re flying around in big space ships, looking for nice planets and avoiding asteroid fields, and hoping to rack up the most profit before Earth explodes and you lose all those potential customers. I mean, your fellow people.
The version I played (pictured here) was a prototype only, so these are not final components and, in many cases, not final artwork. You can check out the Kickstarter page for more samples of artwork and ship designs, but there was enough done that I can tell it will be a nice looking game.
Here’s what you get:
- 57 Exploration Tiles
- 55 Technology Cards
- 90 Customer Tokens
- 100 Resource Tokens (sixty 1s, twenty 5s, twenty 10s)
- 48 Corporation tokens (12 of each color- Red, Yellow, Blue, Black)
- 16 Space Ships (4 colors, 4 unique sculpts)
- 6 Warp Gate Tokens
- 6 Warp Gate Token Stands
- 4 Orbital Platform Tokens
- 1 Earth Starting Tile
- 1 First Player Token
- 4 Player Dashboards
Salyers mentioned that most of the game will be produced and distributed in the US, which tends to be less common particularly with Kickstarter board games. The plastic ship sculpts will be made overseas because of the cost of the molds, but everything else will be printed here. Salyers’ day job involves supply chains and manufacturing, so he put his expertise to work: the game’s physical design was tailored to fit the manufacturing process, meaning that it’s done with less waste (and therefore lower costs). Also, not having to rely on overseas shipping for the games reduces the amount they need to raise and (one can hope) avoids a lot of the delays that many Kickstarter board game projects face when dealing with the unpredictability of ships coming from China.
The exploration tiles are shuffled into three stacks (marked on the backs): Deck A, Deck B, and Deck C. (The number of tiles depends on the number of players). Earth is placed in the center of the board. The Technology cards are also shuffled into Deck A, Deck B, and Deck C, and then stacked together (with Deck A on top). As the game progresses, more advanced technologies will come into play and more valuable planets will turn up — but there’s also the chance of the Cataclysm, which signals the end of the game. (No Earth = no more customers.)
There are a number of starting technologies, which are laid out where everyone can see them. These are technologies that are public knowledge, and everyone has access to them. These include the ability to carry people in a ship, a trade route for earning income, and the Fleet actions for moving around, discovering new areas in space, and colonizing planets. Each player starts with their first ship on Earth and some resources, as well as their corporation tokens (used for marking planets they have colonized).
A starting player is chosen at random and they get the starting player token. Each round consists of a number of phases: all of the players participate in a phase (in turn order) before proceeding to the next phase.
Research: You have the option of spending resources to gain new technology. The amount that it costs depends on how many technologies you currently possess — you can hold up to three at a time. When you’ve spent the designated amount, you draw the top technology card and either choose to keep it (placing it in front of you) or sell it to make it public, for the amount shown on the card. If at any time a technology that a player owns is also in the public knowledge, then it is automatically sold for face value. (There are multiple copies of many of the technologies.)
Technologies can include Fleet actions which help you move and/or colonize planets, economic advantages for colonizing certain planets, protection from asteroid fields (or hostile takeovers), and so on. There are also some event cards mixed in, which can have various effects.
You can also license a technology from another player if they have something you want to use. You pay the player half of the face value of their tech (rounded up), and place a corporation token on the card. You may then use the tech for this round — if you want to use it again later, you’ll have to license it again.
Fleet: Each ship you own can take one Fleet action. At the beginning of the game, the available actions are: Pass (do nothing), move up to two spaces, explore, or franchise. To explore, you flip over the next tile in the deck, place it adjacent to your current location, and move your ship to it. If it’s a habitable planet and you are carrying customers, you may deliver customers to the planet to colonize it (and then mark it with your corporation token). To franchise, you must start your turn on somebody else’s colonized planet: if they do not have any ships present, you may pay them one resource per existing customer on the planet, and then drop at least one new customer onto the planet — then that colony becomes yours.
Picking up and dropping off customers can be done either at the beginning or end of your move. (You can pick up at the beginning, move, and then drop off. You can’t pick up, move, drop off, and move some more.) Customers can be picked up from Earth or any of your own colonies, and each colony has a maximum of five customers. Once the maximum is reached, then it is safe from franchising (because the other players can’t add any more customers).
Some of the exploration tiles are events, in which case you do what it says, and then draw a new tile to place. Some events can destroy ships, shut down production on Earth for a round, and other nasty effects.
Management: You have the option of selling technology (and thus adding it to the public knowledge pool). You can also purchase ships: the cost of a ship depends on how many ships you currently have in play, and gets more and more expensive the more ships you have. New ships are placed on Earth.
Revenue: Everyone earns 3 resources from Earth (corporate HQ), but you also get resources for having colonies on some planets, for having trade routes (a clear path through Earth to one of your colonies), and for certain other things, depending on which technologies you currently have access to.
Turn Auction: Starting with the first player, you bid for the right to be first player. Bids must start with at least one resource, and must be increased by at least one, and bidding proceeds counterclockwise. You can pass, but once you’ve passed you’re out of the bidding. If nobody bids, then first player token passes to the left. High bidder pays the amount to the bank.
Then you start over at the first phase (Research) and continue.
The game ends when either all of the customers have been picked up from Earth, or when the cataclysm occurs and Earth blows up. Each player gets 3 points per colony, 1 point per customer, and 1 point for every 5 resources. They also get the sale value of any technologies they own as points. Highest score wins.
I really enjoyed the mix of game mechanics in Disaster Looms!, which include resource management, tile-laying and exploration, pick up and delivery, and worker placement. It does take a good deal of explaining to get started, but once you start playing it’s fairly straightforward and we didn’t need too many rules clarifications. The one bit that I felt was a little confusing and maybe not entirely necessary was the Trade Routes technology — it just seemed a bit overly complex for the reward you get from it.
The technology cards can make for some really interesting choices, too: in particular, the decision to sell the tech to the public or keep it for yourself. Proprietary tech can be worth a good bit at the end of the game (and can give you abilities that other players don’t have, or must pay you to use), but each tech card you have makes researching new ones that much more expensive. Once other players have discovered the same technology then it makes sense to just sell it and get the cash instead.
There is some amount of luck — in the game we played, I happened to draw a lot of low-value planets right away while the other two players drew uninhabitable gas giants and asteroid fields. While they did get some more valuable planets later on, mine were close to Earth and so it was a shorter trip for me to pick up customers and drop them off on my colonies. One exploration tile which turned up early in the game was a nebula which allowed you to buy tech cards more cheaply, and you got to draw two and choose one. All of us spent some time camped out on the nebula to buy cheaper technology, but that meant tying up one ship that was neither exploring nor delivering customers.
We had two games going at the same time, and both groups were having a good time — I heard a lot of laughter and groans coming from the other table. Although there isn’t a whole lot of direct conflict, there are ways to meddle with your opponents’ strategies.
Salyers mentioned that he and his friends wanted a game that played a little like a 4X game, or something like Twilight Imperium that didn’t take six hours to finish. The number of tiles (and the cataclysm) limit the length of the game. Our game did take slightly longer than the advertised 90 minutes, but we were still learning the game and I think after playing it once it would go more quickly. However, I should note that it is a game that can lend itself to Analysis Paralysis, so if you have some of those agonizingly slow decision-makers in your gaming group, you may want to break this out when they’re not around.
Overall: a fine game. The artwork and components weren’t finalized yet, and I hope the instructions are well-written so they’re easy to learn. The team has already hit their goal so the game is guaranteed to be printed, but they’ve also got some pretty cool stretch goals (including a real-time cooperative game that sounds like it could be a lot of fun). Check out their Kickstarter page for more info and to back the game. But be quick: in just four more days, the asteroid will slam into the Earth! Or the campaign ends — one or the other.
Wired: Sci-fi game with a corporate twist; nice blend of familiar mechanics; a 4X-style game you can play in less than 2 hours.
Tired: Trade Routes mechanic is a little clunky; may not be the most original mechanics.
All photos by Jonathan H. Liu