For reasons of up-to-dateness, we interrupt the current program for something that is sure to get me more clicks. I think. I don't know. It's worth a try, I guess.
So someone over at Taverna Ludica Games fucked up in a major way. Probably not just one person. I mean, someone must have... you know, taken a look at that cover at some point in time. I don't know if the writing was already on the wall or if German online shop Spiele-Offensive is just leaning super-hard into TL's fuckup, but they have plastered the... erm... "German name" of this game all over their homepage. What am I talking about? Well... this:
That's the cover of the German version of The Defence of Procyon III. In this country, the game is apparently called "Die Verteidung von Procyon III". "Verteidung" is not a word, in case you're wondering. "Verteidigung" is, though, and it's the translation of the word "defence". So... someone at TL seems to have lost two letters in the process and nobody noticed until it was too late if I understand correctly. I don't know, I have the English version, which also keeps me from having to fight "Hauben" and "Rasseln", which sounds absolutely terrible to German ears. Nevertheless... first "Tyrannen des Unterreuchs", now this. What a time to be alive?
Anyway, I've got The Defence of Procyon III and I played it yesterday and I want to talk about it. So it was a four-player-game (duh) between Imagine, P., T. and me. I played the Expedition and teamed up with Imagine's Armada against P.'s... I don't know, slimey crawly things and T.'s space-blobs. Look, I can't be bothered to remember everything, right? They were the enemy, so we shot them up real good.
In the beginning, at the very least. P. opened with an attack on the Eastern side of the board, trying to take out my Jammer as soon as possible. Which I actually didn't really care about. Sure, the Jammer could put those white cubes into his combat-bag for energy, but I was like "Hey, that Railgun can just destroy his annoying little buggers anywhere on the board, I want to fire that each turn". And so I mostly did that. Anyway, the Jammer sustained some damage but I decided to put some pressure on the Empress, sending Mac to take her down a notch. Which didn't seem to bother P. that much yet. He retaliated relatively quickly by sending the Empress to the attack and through cardplay bringing Mac very close to defeat and then having his spacebound buddy finish her off with a bombardment. Which was a shame but didn't impede me that much. There was a huge squabble at the Eastern Pylon where a couple of marines under the command of O'Hara stalled the enemy like you wouldn't believe, while Sergeant Keeler pretty much held the Western front all on his own without sustaining any injuries. It was fun is what I'm trying to say and the alien-threat didn't seem that pronounced to me.
That is until the wound-rounds kicked in. Soon enough, I was hardly able to do anything, because wound-cards left me without any momentum. But by that point, we did have a comfortable lead ahead of the aliens and I was confident that the Armada could seal the deal. And yeah, that's pretty much what happened. With a score of 34, Imagine jumped a scientist-vessel to safety (three points), bombarded the Western Pylon where Keeler was still trading happy-slaps with two small guys and a single big bugger with a mere HP left (another three points) and then I played a card that let me move my heroes around and then score a point for each habitated area with two or more military units in it (which turned out to be three after the movements for another three points). T. was unable to cost us more than one point with his next move and so we commandingly won the game on turn seven with 42 points against the aliens' ~25 (not too sure about that number but it was in that ballpark).
So... The Defence of Procyon III, eh? Hm... What to say, what to say? This is a tough one for me. Not because it's a bad game. Which it isn't. Not because it's a spectacularly fantastic game. Which it isn't either. But because I'm kind of unsure whether it's worth the effort.
Let's talk about good things first. The game fundamentally works. It's attractive. It shouldn't outstay its welcome once all of the players know what they are doing. I mean, our game took a bit over three hours and ended on turn seven of a maximum of ten, so the time-designation on the box (135 minutes) is very, VERY optimistic (and no, these time designations are not or at the very least should not be for people who know the game, because people who know the game don't need to be told how long it is, because they've played it and know how long it is for them... these things should be catering to first-time players, always, period, shut up, thank you), but despite a bit of downtime, it wasn't boring. The theme works and the bipartite gameplay with boundary points between the two theaters feels unique to me and is a fascinating thing, although none of us felt that the interplay between the two boards or the fundamental cooperation between the alliance partners was especially strong (it wasn't nothing, but it also happened in rather insular instances). And yeah, there's four different "games" to be found in here, so if you have a group of people with different tastes in gaming-mechanisms but want to unite them over an asymmetric war-game, this might be just the game for you.
On the other hand, if you like the theme and the flavor and would like to play a straightforward wargame that covers the fundamental things that The Defence of Procyon III does, you're shit out of luck, I'm afraid. Because what some people might perceive as the game's biggest strength (the completely asymmetric factions with their fundamentally different playing-styles), I personally see as its biggest weakness. Not because any of them is flawed or broken or what have you. I absolutely can't judge that, I played the Expedition and most of the time had no idea what was actually going on on that other board and only had a very basic understanding of what my direct opponent was actually doing all game long. Those pointers about your direct opponent and your ally in the rulebook are all fine and dandy but they absolutely don't help with getting a feel for what that thing you're fighting against is actually capable of, what any given move means or could telegraph, what you should actually be doing or preventing your opponent from doing. Maybe that's part of the charm? Playing something where you only know what you can do and how you can do it might make for some intriguing tension, but that evaporates a couple of games down the line, when you've seen everything the game has to offer.
And that might be the biggest "flaw". For all of its asymmetry and different playstyles, "everything" (almost, I think there are some cards removed for the alien-spaceship-player) is present in every game. It's always these four factions on this map duking it out with the same units in the same positions and the same goals. And on a basic level, all four players are doing "the same". This game is big on... I don't know if that expression exists, "input asymmetry" instead of "output asymmetry". In a game like Cthulhu Wars, everybody is basically playing the same game (pay power for actions to try to conquer gates), but the things that one faction can do varies wildly from the ones that another can do. In The Defence of Procyon III, everybody is playing a wildly different game to in the end kind of do the same thing. Move units across a board and beat up the suckers that look at you funny. It's a bit more complicated and involved than that, but you get what I'm aiming it? And yeah, the way you play every faction does lend some flavor to them and probably shapes how you approach... anything in the game. But ultimately, the self-containedness of the whole thing (always the same four factions on always the same board, yadda yadda yadda) makes the whole "every faction plays their own game"-part feel - as Imagine put it right after the game - very, very gimmicky. Not like this game wouldn't have worked any other way. This could very well have been a game with two rulesets instead of four. One for ground combat, one for space combat. And those could have been even similar to each other with just slight adjustments to serve the thematic implications. Would it have made the game better? I don't know. It would have potentially made it less interesting. But maybe more playable?
Because that's also the problem with everybody playing their own game and learning it from their own rulebook: For the first couple of games, there's nobody at the table to double-check whether what you're actually doing is correct. I don't think we made any major mistakes but there was always this unease of "Are you actually playing your faction correctly? That does sound kind of wonky...", where we had to either trust the person who had read the specific rules or bring the game to a screeching halt while somebody else checked the specific rulebook to find out whether the other player misunderstood something or forgot something. And at the end of the day, it isn't that complex of a game. Convoluted? Yeah. Confusing? Certainly. But every faction's central mechanism is relatively straightforward. So as implied, I'm not sure whether the amount of depth to be found here is worth the amount of overhead that comes with it.
And finally, I'm a bit turned off by the way player turns are handled in this game, because they can lead to a lot of downtime. I don't know how else the whole thing could have been designed, given the asymmetric nature of the factions, but I feel like this game-structure where each round, every player takes a grand, sweeping turn with different actions and phases and stuff before the next one starts and you have to wait for three other guys or girls to finish all of that before you can go again is something that belongs to the gamedesign of yesteryears. As said, I don't know how that could be remedied, it wasn't super-excruciating, it might decrease with more plays and it's maybe just a personal pet-peeve of mine, but... I just thought that I'd throw it out there.
So after shitting all over The Defence of Procyon III for half an hour straight, what do I ultimately think? Well... it certainly is an ambitious game. Partially ambitious in ways that I think make it stand in the way of itself, but I've always been a proponent of designers approaching a game with a clear and unique vision instead of chasing trends or something, so I give Dávid Turczi a point for that, whatever that's supposed to mean. And yeah, I think I want to play it again, try out the other factions, maybe even play the Expedition again, because they were kind of fun. But yeah, since my gaming-group is regularly rotating and I don't want to have to introduce new people to it, I honestly don't know when and how I'm gonna even try to do that. So ultimately, The Defence of Procyon III is a good game, I think. But what is being a good game worth if it's too cumbersome to get it to the table? I let you decide that...
So anyway, here's my Bandcamp-page. Go check it out. My "Christmas song" was released in an exclusive capacity today, so I think I'm gonna wait another couple of days before I put it up on Bandcamp. Probably until December 6. But today is Bandcamp-Friday again, so... if you want to support me, today would be the day to do so. Thanks a lot.
Sure, that's one way of looking at it. And it isn't totally wrong. But it's also not helping much.
- [+] Dice rolls