Captain's Log, Stardate 18019.8
"The USS Enterprise has just received word from Star Fleet Command of a... dangerous alliance... between the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the Tholian Republic; an alliance that appears to be centered on our destruction. I am certain that my able crew and I can fend off... any... combined attack. We'd better, because they've just... begun."
Cue theme music in your head.
Space: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five year mission— to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before...And apparently to survive an unending assault of anything the galaxy can throw at her.
Logo: STAR TREK Panic
Starring Chase as Captain James T. Kirk
And David as Commander Montgomery Scott
Also starring Michael as Dr. James "Bones" McCoy
With Yours Truly as Lieutenant Uhura (
End theme music.
The Frantic Frontier
You have to love a blog post with a good theme; so too for a game. My gaming group recently gathered to try a recent board game acquisition of mine: STAR TREK Panic By USAopoly & Fireside Games.
Based on the board game Castle Panic, Star Trek Panic is a cooperative "tower defense" game, with the tower in question being the beloved USS Enterprise, NCC1701, "no bloody A, B, C, D, or E." (This is strictly an Original Series game.) The players take on the roles of the bridge crew of the Enterprise, working together to complete their five year mission and survive the continual onslaught of the enemies of the Federation.
|The crew is ready...or are we?|
The Enterprise dominates the board as a very nicely done 3D cardboard model. The board is a starfield covered by three concentric circles divided into 6 equal sectors like slices of a pie. The model of the Enterprise is placed in the center of the circles, and remains there throughout the game. The circles represent ranges from the Enterprise (short, medium, long) which determine whether or not her weapons can hit approaching targets. The game begins with three "threat tokens" representing enemy vessels (Klingon, Romulan or Tholian), which gradually approach the Enterprise, firing weapons to remove her shields and destroy the ship's hull. The shields are represented by blue translucent plastic walls stuck around the model, one wall per sector. Hits to a shield either damage it (an electric explosion marker is placed on the shield), or, if the shield is already damaged, remove it. If the shield is gone in a sector, damage is done instead to the ship's hull in that sector. (More on this below).
Though the game is divided into player turns, the game is entirely cooperative: the players are working together as a team, and can freely discuss tactics, card usage, trades, etc. that will help them all achieve victory. So one player's turn still involves all the other players, and the game is won or lost by everybody, not any one person.
|It's Captain Kirk! Or maybe it's the Mirror Universe version of him, because we all know beards are EVIL!|
Red Alert! Battle Stations! Red Alert!
The game is divided into one turn per player. Each player will take actions to protect the Enterprise and advance the mission (see below), working and discussing what to do with the other members of the crew.
The players each have a hand of cards drawn from a shared Enterprise Deck. These cards represent what each player may do on his or her turn, and a player may use some or all of his cards on a single turn (if possible; depends on the card), or save these for later turns, or potentially trade one card with another player. The cards include phaser and torpedo attacks, but these attacks are typically restricted to specific ranges and/or sectors, meaning that the player may only shoot at targets within the card's depicted range and sector. Other cards grant special abilities or effects, ranging from drawing more cards, searching through the discard pile for specific cards to reuse, removing a specific threat, or other helpful actions, including repairing or rebuilding either shields or the hull.
"All hands! Brace for impact!"
Once a player has played all the cards he can or will play, the threats (enemies) remaining on the board advance towards the Enterprise and shoot her, automatically damaging her shield or hull in each threat's specific sector. Worse, if the shield and hull in a given sector are both destroyed, any hit removes a card from the undrawn Enterprise Deck, meaning that card will not be available to the crew for the rest of the game! When all the enemies have moved an attacked, the player draws two new threat tokens and rolls a die to see which sector each token is placed in (all tokens begin at long range). The result is that there are constantly new enemies arriving to attack the Enterprise, with very rare moments of any respite.
A Great Crew Knows Its Duty
Fortunately, the players do have other options to help them out. First, each player has selected a member of the crew to represent during the game. I drew the lovely and capable Lt. Uhura, who as Communications Officer has the special ability of drawing extra cards at the start of her turn. Scotty (played in our game by David) as Chief Engineer can repair damaged shields or hull sections— you do NOT want to go to space without Scotty! There are seven characters to choose from, all quite powerful in their advantages: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov. Since the game has a 6 player maximum, this allows for different interesting mixes of crew, especially for games with fewer players.
|You know it's Scotty because he's wearing plaid|
"Steady As She Goes, Mr. Sulu."
In addition to special abilities, each player may "maneuver" the Enterprise on his or her turn. This is an exceptionally clever mechanic, involving simply rotating the Enterprise model one sector, either clockwise or counter clockwise. As a result, an exposed hull space might be rotated away from an approaching attacker, interposing a protective shield instead. Or the ship might be rotated so that a player's phaser card now covers a threat's location, allowing that enemy to be damaged or destroyed. The Enterprise may also "move forward," which simply means that all objects in the two sectors facing the ship are advanced one space towards the ship (all other objects remain where they are).
|I'm a doctor, not a starship pilot!|
"Incoming Subspace Transmission from Starfleet Command, Captain."
Lastly, the game has a built in variable "game clock" in the form of Mission Cards. A Mission Card is a list of actions and/or cards that the crew must complete or play within a specified number of player turns. Each Mission may have specific restrictions on the players that make the mission more challenging, and almost always call for certain cards to be "committed" to the mission— a "committed" card cannot be played for its normal effect, but only serves to fulfill the requirements of the mission. Cards are categorized as Command, Science, Engineering, Medical, and Security cards (some cards have no designation). These categories are used to determine which cards a Mission may require, resulting in a trade-off of tactical thinking: Do you use that Dilithium card to repair a shield, or commit it to the current mission? "What's your answer, Mr. Chekov?"
If a mission is completed, the crew immediately gain rewards (such as much-needed ship repairs). If a mission is failed or not completed in the time allowed, no reward is earned and a new Mission Card is drawn. Once five missions are completed successfully, the crew simply has to eliminate the remaining threats in the Threat Bag and the game is over.
|The role I was born to play! "Hailing frequencies open, Captain."|
We opted for random drawing of the character cards, with the results already mentioned. We placed the starting threats on the board, and jumped right in. I've played the game solo a few times (this works well, though tracking multiple crew can be confusing), so I had some grasp of the mechanics. Though a few of us only had a general familiarity with the classic series, we were soon mimicking accents, throwing out show quotes, and attempting Vulcan salutes throughout. We quickly discovered that the game is aptly named. Those Klingons, Romulans and Tholians Just. Keep. Coming. After a few turns, and especially during crippling Missions like "Charlie X" and "The Deadly Years," even a Vulcan could be forgiven for freaking out over all the damage being done to the poor Enterprise. "Panic" indeed. But we rose to the occasion, trading cards and plotting maneuvers and attacks like the best graduates of Starfleet Academy. We blew a few missions (the nearly impossible "Charlie X" being one of them), but persevered. When we gained our hard fought victory, Scotty may have been a bit teary-eyed over the state of his beloved beauty, but it wasn't anything a wee stay in space dock wouldn't set right. And we all agreed the game was a blast to play.
|Star Trek gang sign!|
This game oozes theme like a Denobian Slime Devil. The Enterprise model is terrific, and the Panic mechanic is perfectly suited to the concept of a starship crew working together to defend a ship under attack. Although I've never played the original Castle Panic, from what I know of it I think the Star Trek theme may be more suited to the system than the original concept. The Mission Cards are a creative addition as well, and the ones we drew captured the feel of the episodes on which each is based. The question of whether to assign cards to the mission or use them against the threats really upped the ante, creating strategic and tactical decisions that were both challenging and fun. The rules are well written and quite clear, though at times we did have difficulty finding the right section to answer questions that came up in play. But for the most part, we only ever had to refer to the handy reference cards included in the Character Deck, or to the threat guides which are printed on the board itself. Familiarity with the game would probably remove any need to look up rules at all.
For theme, playability, presentation and fun, I'm giving STAR TREK Panic five Vulcan salutes:
\V/_ \V/_ \V/_ \V/_ \V/_
Play long, and prosper!