A giant kraken, originally bio-engineered to clean the polluted seas, developed the ability to create wormholes and left Earth entirely—and human survivors followed it into the unknown.
Space Kraken is a sci-fi dungeon crawl game for 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of €39 (about $48USD) for a copy of the game, with other tiers available for a PDF version or deluxe editions. While the Kickstarter page lists 45 minutes as the game length, it’s not entirely clear if that’s meant to be one session, or an entire campaign—certainly my first solo campaign took significantly longer than that to complete.
Space Kraken was designed by Markus Geiger and published by 3DARTLAB, with illustrations by Paul F.
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Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. The prototype has not had a professional translation from German or proofreading, so it was a little harder to navigate, but Geiger told me he would be hiring professionals for all the various language editions.
The main component of Space Kraken is the book you see at the top of this post—it’s a spiral-bound book, with several flaps that fold out. In some cases, I had to cut some of the flaps to form tabs that could fold out individually; I’m not sure if these will be pre-cut in the finished edition or not.
You’ll need a couple of 6-sided dice, a 20-sided die, and a pencil and eraser to play the game. The deluxe edition will have sections that you can write on with a dry-erase marker rather than using a pencil and erasing, which I think would be preferable, particularly for marking things like health where you may be crossing things out and erasing them frequently.
Hopefully there will be a good index or table of contents so you can easily find all of the pages you need. This book had a lot of pages in it, but supposedly the finished version will have even more, and it was easy for me to get lost looking for a particular section.
While a lot of the book is text and diagrams, there are some nice illustrations, either serving as backgrounds to the text, portraits of characters and enemies, or as splash pages (particularly on the backs of flaps that fold out).
The goal is to survive the storyline(s), which may include space combat, encounters with enemies, and other situations.
You choose a “flight,” which gives you different starting options. For instance, I tried “The Nerds,” which gave each of my crew members a +1 in their Tech attribute, but required a higher tech level before earning a bonus.
You choose three crew members (there were 8 in the prototype) and outfit them with their starting attributes, skills, and items. The main page of the book has a story about each character and suggested setup, but you can modify these if you want.
You also start with a number of credits that you can spend on your ship, a large fold-out at the end of the book—you can buy weapons and tech modules.
For each game, you’ll pick 4 “lines” to follow. These are plotlines that are managed by the game’s “Crypted Game Master,” triggering events and sometimes offering you various choices. In the prototype, there were 4 options to choose from for each line. These are penciled into the line tracker, another page at the front of the book that generally stays folded out during play.
On each turn, you activate each line, upgrade your ship, and choose an action. You may also quick visit a place you’ve been to (like a shop or a quest master), and then you resolve the quest timer if you’re on a quest.
The CGM is what tracks the story and offers you choices. On each turn, you will check each of your four lines and look up the grid coordinates: “1BR” means you look at the first grid (there are 4 in the prototype), go across to the B column, and then down to the R row. That cell will have a command of some sort. If it’s another coordinate, you just write it down in the line tracker—time passed, but nothing eventful happened this turn.
Some commands will have you change a variable: each line has variables A–H, and then underneath those there’s a section called “Interlink Memory” that tracks variables I–Z. You just write in the value for the relevant variable, adding or subtracting as necessary. Again, nothing immediate happened, but that variable may be referenced later on.
Sometimes, though, you’ll get an event, marked with “!” You look up that event in the following pages, which will have a short description of the situation—maybe you meet an ammo dealer, maybe some Kraken enemies have tracked you down for selling their secrets, maybe somebody makes you an offer. Some will just have various instructions about how to proceed, but in some cases you’ll get to make a choice between two options: in that case, you look at the two cells to the right of your current location on the CGM grid: the first cell is choice A, and the second cell is choice B, which will then tell you where to go next.
Eventually, you’ll hit the end of the line (represented by “/”) and that particular plotline ends.
After checking each of your lines, you get to pick an action. Most of the time, this will involve space flight. There’s a fold-out page for the space flight, and you get to pick various options, like what region you’re visiting, whether you want just an easy flight or if you want to take an extended flight to have more options on where you end up. You can also decide if you’d like to pay a smuggler to make your flight easier, or smuggle goods yourself to earn some cash. All of these options, combined with some die rolls, will set the difficulty of your flight and determine whether you have an encounter.
If you do have an encounter, you’ll roll against the space combat chart to find out who you’re up against, and then there are space combat rules (along with a sheet to track things). You and the enemy ship will take turns firing at each other, or trying to escape, or trying to board the other ship.
If you survive the flight—and combat—then you reach a location, which is also randomly generated based on some dice rolls. You may end up in a dungeon or on the surface of a planet, or somewhere in space. The dice rolls will determine whether there’s a breathable atmosphere outside or inside, how many levels deep the location is, and what types of enemies you’re likely to encounter there. The map pages have oodles of little map grids—you’ll have to break through bulkheads, avoid laser traps and mines, climb over obstacles and fight enemies. If your ship is equipped with a teleporter, you may be able to beam yourself out of a location, but if not then you’re stuck until you reach the exit. Keep an eye on your oxygen level! If you run out, your characters will start passing out.
If you encounter enemies, you’ll also randomize their type and level. There are Kraken, Greys, Insectoids, Lost, and Beasts, and you unfold the flaps to show which enemies you’re up against. Enemy actions are determined by a roll on the enemy’s action chart—as you’d expect, they can attack you, but depending on the enemy they may also regain health, run away, or use other devices against you. Defeating enemies gives you XP (for leveling up) and items.
The game ends when you complete all the lines—or if all of your crew members are dead.
Markus Geiger sent me a prototype copy of Space Kraken so I could give it a try, and it’s a curious one for sure. I don’t play a lot of RPGs, but this seemed like something that would make for an interesting solo game, and I liked the idea of a game that was contained in a single book—aside from the dice and pencil, you can just close it up and you don’t have to worry about anything falling out or being out of place.
Having played just one scenario so far, I’ll say that I like the concept, but a lot will depend on getting that professional translation, because in some cases the rules weren’t entirely clear to me, and there were little grammar errors or misspellings that hopefully will get ironed out later.
I also ran into some difficulty where there were enemies or space combat that I just wasn’t ready for: following the lines, I managed to get caught in a location where I couldn’t leave until I defeated the enemies (so fleeing wasn’t an option), but I encountered a Level 4 boss with two minions, one of which was a Level 6! My weapons weren’t strong enough to take down its shields and armor. This is a situation where a typical game master can tune encounters based on the players, but the randomized nature of Space Kraken means you could just have some really bad rolls and end up way out of your depth.
I like the way the book is laid out so that your line tracker is at the front and your ship and crew are at the back, so during the game you can have those folded out and continue to flip around and check rules, deal with combat and space flight, and so on. However, one limitation to this system is that only 4 “cards” are visible at a time. I picked one crew from each row just to make things simple, but presumably you could have two crew members both at the top row, so then one card will always cover up the other. The same goes for enemies on the left side.
Another tricky part for me was the mini maps: since these aren’t in fold-out sections, it’s hard to consult the rules and look at the map at the same time, not to mention tracking your location in the map at the same time. I suppose this will be easier once I’m more familiar with the rules (and the map legend that explains what all the letters stand for) but these explorations definitely required the most flipping back and forth for me, especially once I encountered an enemy. On top of that, then you have to remember which line’s event led to that particular encounter—maybe some sticky note flags would be helpful in this situation.
The multiplayer version wasn’t available in the prototypes, but also sounds very intriguing. It’s not a typical role-playing game where you just split up the crew members among the players. Instead, each player has a specific role. The first player is the leader and still plays the game as described. The second player is the mascot, and doesn’t always take instructions well and has their own ways of influencing the game. The third player is the broken AI, who can look ahead at the CGM lines but can’t always communicate. And the fourth player is the nemesis, and wants all humans dead… so that seems like a challenge for the first player.
Overall, I like the concept of Space Kraken and the over-the-top premise about a wormhole-creating space kraken that humans follow because it enables interstellar travel. The functionality of the single-book game was mostly good with a few nitpicks—but I think a dry-erase option would be a lot better for longevity and replayability than the pencil-and-eraser option of the prototype (and the planned regular edition). My concern would be about the editing, both in terms of making sure the rules and grammar are easily interpreted, but also in ensuring that the difficulty of the encounter levels match the player levels so that it’s not wildly random.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Space Kraken Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.