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Game Preview: Black Angel, or Technicolor Trials in a Not-Too-Distant Future

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Pearl Games
In my coverage of Origins Game Fair 2019, I previewed Ishtar and Caravan, both of which will be available for purchase at Gen Con 2019, and I wrote up Copenhagen: Roll and Write, which will be available for demo at Gen Con 2019 ahead of a SPIEL '19 release. (I initially thought C:RAW would be a Gen Con 2019 release, but a game being "available" at a show means different things for different people. Lesson re-learned.)

With BGG's Gen Con 2019 Preview now live, it's time to kick off the previews for that show in a larger way — and you're not likely to find a larger game debuting at Gen Con 2019 than Pearl Games' Black Angel from the design team of Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban. This game has been in the works for more than six years and was on many "most anticipated" lists for 2017 and 2018 when the game seemed to be nearing completion, so when Dujardin offered me a preview copy at Spielwarenmesse in February 2019, I couldn't pass up the chance to try it out.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Even with only two players, you need a lot of room (non-final components)

I've now played Black Angel six times and had my head broken more than that many times when I discovered that my plans had gone awry, whether due to an opponent taking the die or space that I needed, or the Black Angel traveling through space on the game board, or my poorly calculated efforts as to what I needed to do to make something happen.

You take lots of microturns in Black Angel, but they're not microturns in the sense of Splendor because those microturns compound on one another in complex ways. You often have immediate goals — getting robots, removing debris, taking a certain colored action so that you acquire a mission card of that color so that you can use that card to activate specific technology on the subsequent turn — but layered on top of those are more long-term goals, with you establishing a mission on one turn that you likely won't use for at least ten more turns, at least not if you want to maximize your points from activating that mission.

You're somewhat at the mercy of the die rolls, yet not really given the vast number of rolls you and other players take in the game. You can purchase — well, conduct a forced sale of — an opponent's die to get the thing you need, but they can do the same to you, of course, possibly leaving you to scramble for a back-up plan, then another, then another. You can adjust the value of your own dice, but only if you have the material on hand to do so. You need to be flexible in your plans, but you do need plans in the first place in order to keep yourself from merely jumping from one rock to another only to find themselves disappearing beneath you.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Ravagers overwhelm every sector of the ship, with damage everywhere (non-final components)

Black Angel isn't hard to learn. Each individual action is easy to understand, but the ramifications of those actions — why you'd want to do them in this order at these times in those locations — isn't. Each action often has long-term consequences that you don't realize until later, or rather until it's too late. Even after six games, I feel like I'm just getting a handle on how to play well as opposed to just doing stuff on my turns.

This overview video is far longer than anything else I've done, but that's because the game itself is quite involved and because I've played the game enough to feel that I have some grip on it and can talk about it in a meaningful way. I trimmed many bits of my presentation to remove duplication and keep it of somewhat reasonable length, including a brief aside about Troyes, the first publication from Pearl Games from this same trio of designers. The dice-selection and action-choosing mechanism at the heart of Black Angel is reminiscent of Troyes, according to folks with whom I've played, but I've never played Troyes, so I can't compare the games. I had a toddler when Troyes debuted at SPIEL '10, and that's the only SPIEL I've missed since 2006. I missed out on a lot of games over the first few years of my son's life, and given the number of games being released each year, I never caught up on all of them. C'est la vie!

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