Your team has just landed on an unfamiliar planet, and things are in critical condition. You must explore the planet and research new technologies so that you can fulfill a few tasks necessary for survival. Remember: you’re not settlers here; you’re Unsettled.
Note: Today’s Kickstarter alert is a little different than my usual fare—it’s more of an overview rather than an in-depth look because prototypes were in short supply so I only had access to one for an evening, but I think the game may be worth your attention!
What Is Unsettled?
Unsettled is a cooperative sci-fi game for 2 to 4 players that takes about 60 to 90 minutes to play. (The campaign doesn’t list an age recommendation, but I’d guess it will probably be marked 14 and up; since it is a cooperative game, you could probably play with kids as young as 10 or so, but I haven’t seen all of the content and don’t know if there are thematic elements that would be inappropriate.) It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $89 for a copy of the game.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. I do not have a final component list, but can give you an overview of what’s in the game.
Unsettled will include a box called the “framework” that includes base components used in every game (like player boards and resource tokens), and then each planet box will have its own set of components. My play was for the first planet, Wenora.
The Framework includes:
- 3 Science boards (Formal, Natural, Applied)
- Moment board
- 2 Opportunity markers
- 4 Player boards
- 4 Player miniatures
- 12 Focus dice (3 per player)
- LUNA Robot miniature
- Resource tokens (data, materials, power)
- Expertise tokens (Formal, Natural, Applied)
- Concoction tokens
- Structure tokens
- Peculiarity tiles
- Investigated tokens
- Endurance markers
- Time marker
- Trust marker
- Complication Trigger token
A Planet box includes:
- Environment Node cards
- Anomaly cards
- Condition cards
- Opportunity cards
- Breakthrough cards
- Discovery tokens
The campaign tier will include 4 planets: three have already been designed, and the fourth will be designed over the course of the Kickstarter campaign (but more on that later).
Although the prototype was not final, I was able to get a sense of the aesthetic, which is pretty nicely done. Even though we were playing with an incomplete rulebook (even less than the draft I’ll link to below), a lot of the icons were made in such a way that we were able to piece together how things probably worked. The illustrations that we saw so far are excellent, too.
There’s a lot of flavor text included in the planet components, because those are the things that help play out the story. The nodes—the location cards—don’t necessarily have a lot of text other than a name and an illustration, but the opportunity cards are little scenarios that often present choices to make or tasks to accomplish. The conditions, anomalies, and scientific breakthroughs are also tied to the planet, so that everything is thematically consistent while you’re playing.
The player boards will be dual-layered so that things like your focus dice and endurance marker won’t slide around—always a nice touch. Based on Orange Nebula’s first game, Vindication, I expect the component quality to be high—they’re all about an impressive table presence and premium materials, and I think Unsettled will carry on that tradition. They’re also working with GameTrayz for the storage system.
How to Play Unsettled
The goal of the game is to complete all of the survival tasks and get back to your ship before all explorers run out of endurance.
The science boards and moment board are placed nearby, seeded with the relevant breakthrough cards (though some are face-down and must be researched). The moment board holds the opportunity cards, as well as the trust track (which starts at the 3rd space) and the time track. Resource tokens are placed nearby; power tokens are placed in the “spent” side of the Applied Science board.
Each player gets a player board and the three focus dice, representing Awareness, Wonder, and Energy, starting with 3 of each. Each player gets two peculiarity tiles and chooses one to place on their board (discarding the other). Players and LUNA the robot start on the ship tile in the center of the play area, with the environment node cards shuffled and placed nearby.
On your turn, you use your focus to take actions, and you may also move yourself and LUNA. The focus dice are not actually rolled—they’re just trackers that you rotate forward and back to indicate how much of each focus type you have, with a maximum of 3 each. At the low end, there’s an hourglass icon.
There are various actions that can be taken on the science boards, on the player boards, and on the planet locations, marked by the square spaces. Some require a specific type of focus, and some can use any focus. For instance, Awareness is used for actions related to Formal Science, and can also be used to support other characters to remove negative conditions. Wonder can be used to investigate your current node for new opportunities. Energy can be used for extra movement.
Each time you place a die, you also decrease (or, occasionally, increase) focus according to the arrows on the space. If you would decrease past the hourglass icon, then instead of focus, you spend time, advancing the time track, which can trigger various things like new opportunities, new survival tasks, or loss of endurance.
Movement is orthogonal, and you reveal new nodes as you step into unexplored spaces. Some of the nodes have hourglass spaces on the edges—if you cross hourglasses, you spend time. Some spaces also have effects as soon as you enter them, and they also have resources (data and materials) that can be gathered using the right actions.
Some also have discovery tokens on them, linked to an action. If you take the action, you take the token and then draw a random anomaly card, placing them together on your dashboard. These represent the various strange effects that your discoveries can have—like fungus that give you extra speed but force you to move each turn.
If you build the various constructs, you can then use actions to research the three types of science, which gives you expertise. This can also unlock scientific breakthroughs that open up new technologies or actions, and
Finally, you can rest in order to recharge a die to full—but if you rest twice in the same turn, you’ll decrease team trust. (What are you, lazy? Come on!)
The peculiarities are affected by team trust—when trust is low, you use one side of the tile, and when trust is high, you use the other side. Some characters shine at low trust and are problematic at high, and others are the reverse. For instance, my character was “Unfulfilled” at high trust, and got upset when other players used the Support action. But at low trust, I became a “Caretaker” and gained extra focus.
If a player runs out of endurance, they’re unconscious and are basically out of the game, though you can still exchange inventory with them and haul them around—which you’ll need to do in order to win.
There are a couple ways the game can end:
If you complete all active survival tasks and get everyone back to the ship, you win the game!
If all players run out of endurance, you lose.
If you complete the tasks and get some of the team back to the ship … that’s the “almost win.” You survived, but your days are numbered.
Why You Should Play Unsettled
Orange Nebula burst onto the scene two years back with Vindication, and quickly went from being an unknown new publisher to a force to be reckoned with. Some of that is due to the game itself: it’s gorgeous, incorporates some new ideas in the gameplay, and has some impressive miniatures. But most of it, I think, is because of the way that the Orange Nebula team engaged the backers throughout the campaign and afterward, turning their customers into a community. During the campaign for the Leaders & Alliances expansion, they used polls to create a backer-designed promo pack, telling a lot of fun stories along the way.
For Unsettled, Orange Nebula is at it again. The first three planets are already decided: Wenora the fungal planet, Grakkis the desert planet (filled with enormous creatures), and Zehronn the crystalline planet. But the fourth planet is still being developed: backers are submitting contents, riffing off each other, and voting in polls for their favorite planet concepts. That opportunity to contribute to the finished game really gives backers a sense of ownership, and it pays off. When I went up to Vancouver for the Vindication launch party, there were backers who had driven several hours to be there so they could pick up their rewards in person rather than having them shipped! (It’s also notable that they were able to reach their funding goal almost immediately, when many other projects tend to have trouble funding during the holiday season.)
Unsettled has been in development for a few years now, and part of the driving force was wanting a game that had a bit more narrative to it. Vindication has a story, sure, but the story is more of a premise. While you’re playing the game, there’s not much in the way of flavor text to tell you what’s happening. There are only hints of a deeper story in the names of the various companions, relics, and locations you encounter. In Unsettled, the opportunities were a chance to bring those stories to the forefront. On Wenora, we encountered a five-limbed fungus creature, a cage of living vines, and more. Each of those presented different actions we could take, that then led to different outcomes.
The bulk of the game is still about exploration and making decisions about what actions to take, but I like the fact that there are story moments that occur throughout the game. The conditions and peculiarities sometimes have a little bit of flavor text on them, but even when they don’t, there’s a story that emerges as you play through the game. (You can get a sense of that from the very entertaining Kickstarter video, too.)
Each planet will have its own feel, so I’m excited to see what else crops up. It’s important to note that this isn’t a legacy or campaign game; you can play the same planet as many times as you want, and it will be slightly different each time you play based on the way the nodes are discovered, the opportunities that arise, and the particular mix of peculiarities on the team.
The gameplay itself allows for some good, tough decisions. You have a limited amount of focus, and you can only use each die once per turn. So if you use your Wonder to harvest some materials, you can’t use it for investigating on the same turn, even if you had some to spare. Choosing which actions to take from the many possibilities is one part of the challenge; the other is managing the amount of focus you have. I like that you can place the dice even when you’re “empty”—it just takes time instead. The time track will affect the whole team: each time you reach the end of it, everyone loses some endurance. So choosing when to push ahead when you’re unfocused and when to rest to regain some focus can be a crucial decision.
The peculiarities and the trust track are a fun twist, too. I like how the effects make sense thematically, but also the way that they can drive some players to prefer low trust or high trust. There are, of course, different actions and circumstances that will drive trust up and down, so those also come into play as you choose what to do each turn.
As far as cooperative games go, Unsettled doesn’t have much that prevents the alpha player problem, where one person dominates the decision-making. (Some cooperative games use hidden information or time pressure to make it harder for a single player to control the conversation.) So it’s really up to the players themselves to ensure that people are ultimately making their own decisions. I think talking through possibilities is a key part of the collaboration, and I like the way that your team is working together to solve problems and complete the tasks. But if one player starts directing everyone else unilaterally, then it might as well be a solo game, so I think setting boundaries and expectations ahead of time can be useful. There are a few of the peculiarities that can affect the alpha player, but only in certain instances.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen of Unsettled so far even after just a single play, and I look forward to exploring more fascinating planets in the future. If you enjoy cooperative games and you like the sci-fi theme, take a closer look at this campaign!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Unsettled Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.