When did I play my first game of Project Elite? I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was the second day of the game convention in Essen last year. The smell of cardboard filled the air. Everyone scurrying from one game to the next trying to play all the new games. Me and my buddy Will among the hustle and bustle. It was our first game convention and we were like kids on Christmas. We were on our way from one game on our list to another when we passed by a booth with a display of boxes with giant ravenous aliens all over. We glanced down at the demo tables to see mountains of miniatures everywhere. We didn't have time to demo this and still hit all the games on our list so I kept my distance as I tried to get an idea what was going on. As we got a little closer to the booth for a better look, one of the demo team walked up and greeted us and invited us to play. Knowing we had to keep moving, Will asked for a brief overview first.
The first thing we were told is that it was a cooperative miniatures based tower defense style game. That's where he lost me. I let him know that I wasn't interested. I absolutely detest cooperative games. I don't like the fact that in any cooperative game I have ever played there has been someone who "quarterbacks" the whole game. Then he told us that this game had no "quarterback factor." Due to the nature of the mechanics of the game, that aspect had been eliminated. NOT POSSIBLE. He assured us that it was possible. Challenge accepted!
We sat down to play and after a brief overview of the rules I was completely confused. It wasn't that the rules were confusing. I just couldn't wrap my head around the simultaneous play and the seemingly limitless amount of actions that could be taken. It wasn't adding up. Then he pulled out the game timer. Ohhh, now I get it. Now I'm intrigued.
Now, I have five kids. I have been an Airborne Army Medic for 6 years. I have been involved in multiple car accidents. I'm a However, the next two minutes were some of the most intense moments of my life. I can't begin to describe the feelings of frenzy, panic, anxiety, fear and ecstasy that was coursing through my veins. Wow! What a rush! At the end of two minutes I felt as if I had just endured a 30 minute fire fight. I was sold.
We continued to play for two more rounds when we were completely overrun by the aliens. Aliens 1, Will and Levi 0. We both purchased the game and continued on with our quest for new games. When we arrived at the hotel that night, that was the only game on both of our minds. After three more games we had finally secured our first victory. During the course of the convention we played five more times without a single win.
When I returned home with my spoils, my first priority was to convince my wife to play with me. She is more of a medium gamer and wasn't really interested. She wanted to play the newest Ticket To Ride that I had gotten for her. So, I finally made a deal with her. After one game of Project Elite, we could play anything she wanted.
Our first, due to some luckily low level alien spawns and great dice rolls, ended with us winning in round three. She was impressed. She enjoyed it. Her one complaint was that it seemed too easy. She wanted to try again in order to feel out the depth of the game. We lost in the second round. "Let's play again." Seven games later we realized it was past midnight and needed to get to sleep. Oh, we forgot all about Ticket To Ride. I hate to say it, but, I told you so.
We started spreading the love to all of our gaming buddies. We were having somebody over for games twice a week for a couple of months. Nobody could get enough. We were still playing on the lowest difficulty level! In our first 30 games we only achieved victory four times which only made us want to play more. Since then I have played upwards of 300 games and find it hard to get people to play any of my other games anymore.
The core mechanic involves using dice to move your characters around a map and kill aliens as well as carry out other tasks. The game is broken up into two minute action rounds that allow you to take as many actions as you have time to roll dice for. At the end of each action phase there are some programmed actions that you take on behalf of the aliens and some setup tasks for the next action round.
Prior to beginning the next action round you take a moment to survey the board, make plans and prep yourself mentally and physically. We generally try to build a pretty extensive battle plan before start the next round. We plan who will handle what aliens, who will go after objectives and contingencies in case someone gets held up with poor dice rolls.
There are a few different types of aliens with varying abilities that are spawned by turning over a designated number of "Alien Spawn" cards. These aliens are spawned by placing the corresponding miniatures on one of the three designated spawn points on the board. The cards give you the information on important statistics of the aliens, such as attack, movement, how many and where to spawn and special abilities. Along with the standard aliens, every few rounds you will also spawn a "boss" alien that can really wreak some havoc.
During the action round, you will be able to perform an array of useful actions ranging from finding and using items, firing weapons, completing objectives and moving across the board. This is all accomplished by rolling your four action dice and matching up the pictures on the dice with the action you are trying to perform. There are consequences to rolling dice however. One side of each of the dice is an alien movement action. When the alien movement is rolled you cannot take any action until after you choose an alien and move him one step closer to your home base. So as you are completing actions, the aliens are in a constant state of advancing on you and your base.
Now the aliens aren't actually the focus of the game. You are sent out to complete some objectives that are scattered around the board. However, if you don't stop the aliens, they can injure your characters, block your path or overrun your base. So, you have to work together as a team to keep the aliens at bay while completing the important objectives and get everyone home safely.
The game lends itself well to different player types. The characters have different abilities that allow you to tactically assign roles on the battlefield. The character "Bus" makes a great tank as he can stand up to aliens bumping into him without sustaining damage. On the other hand, "Momentum" is excellent at completing objectives while others kill aliens because he gets two spaces for every movement dice he rolls. The game plays very well with four players as the special abilities complement each other very well.
I suffer from ADHD, as do many of my friends, so when I learn about a new game, one of the first things I want to know is whether it will hold my attention. In a word, YES. This game sucks you deep into a SCI-FI abyss of wave after wave of aliens and terror as you fight just to stay alive. I have no problem with this game holding my attention. In fact, quite the opposite. The world around me seems to disappear when the action round starts. There has been more than one occasion that one of mine or one of my buddies children has been crying about some sibling injustice or other and nobody noticed it until the timer chimed the end of the round. This game is the closest I have come to feeling like I am playing a video game when in fact I am playing a board game. Its just a good thing the rounds only last two minutes. With the loss of reality coupled with the mental and emotional drain, I'm not sure I would be able to keep it up much longer than that.
Another aspect of a game that is not friendly to those of us who suffer from ADHD, the dreaded downtime. Well, I'm happy to say this game has almost none. There is a few minutes between action rounds when components need to be reset and alien actions have to take place. During this time no player actions are being taken, however, everyone is usually still trying to catch their breath at this point. This is also still done by the team together anyway. The alien actions are largely automatic, however, the choice of which alien moves first can make a difference from time to time. Then the action round of course is simultaneous so there is no downtime there.
I enjoy a deep, complex game. However, a lot of people that I play with don't. Well, this game has the depth of a far more complex game while being extremely simple. That doesn't make since your say? Well consider the fact that in a standard Euro game you have as much time to make each decision as it takes all other players in the game to take their respective actions. Even then, very few games set a time limit on how long you are allowed to consider your options before actually take your actions on your turn. This game couples simple decisions with a timed scenario that forces you to make those decisions in less than a second. Then it instantly moves to the next decision that is equally time sensitive. It stacks as many of the decisions as you care to take together into two minutes. This allows it to feel as if it has great depth while not overwhelming light to medium gamers with an extremely complex decision matrix.
I basically covered it above. This game is exciting. It is extremely easy to learn, although you will not be good at it until you have had a fair amount of practice. It keeps you engaged and interested. There is a lot of player interaction.
There are a few clarification points in the rules that I have found over the countless of hours of play. It's actually not terrible, it mostly has to do with interactions between different cards.
Another thing I found a little bit upsetting is that the female characters seem to be extremely under powered. It's not that their abilities are not useful, it's just that there just aren't that many instances in which you need them. One of the characters is a medic, but she has to be right next to you to heal you. The other character has a limited ability to slow down some of the alien movements. This just isn't helpful unless you are about to lose due to aliens overrunning your team or base. I would rather play a character that helps me get ahead of the problem than one that helps me save it at the last minute. So, I just think those two character abilities are under powered compared to the male characters.
The last negative I have for this game has to do with the special items that you receive for killing a boss or completing an objective. The special items are often weapons. However, you are only allotted two weapons on your character. This means that you have to discard the weapon you have been fighting the entire game with if you want to keep the new one. Now this would be fine if the new one was some kind of super weapon. However, not only are these weapons not more powerful then the standard weapons, I often find them less powerful. So, the reward is usually a big let down.
With this game, while it was being produced on Kickstarter, there was a lot of negativity about the miniatures in the game. I have one of the original games with the first batch miniatures. I also have one of the new games with the improved miniatures. First, I will say this. The quality of the miniatures in no way affects the game play. However, the new miniatures are leaps and bounds above the originals. The differences are astounding. The miniatures still do not have a lot of detail overall. By that I mean there is a lack of appendages protruding from the miniatures that would help to give a more life-like look to them. This is actually a good thing in my opinion. When you get into the zone while playing the game, you tend to pay little attention to where that dead alien you just killed ends up after you have removed him from the board. This leads to a lot of rough treatment of the miniatures. They tend to be thrown, dropped, stepped on and even dropped into somebody's plate of Frito-chili pie. I'm just saying that the lack of detail, in a way, protects them from damage in such a haphazard game play experience.
So back to my original complaint with this game. I hate cooperative games. I hate the quarterback effect. However, this one breaks the rule. Everyone is so busy with their own crises that they have no time to try to play someone else's character for them. It's incredible. I never could have imagined that I would find a fully cooperative game that I would enjoy. Especially one I enjoy this much.
I suspect many of you will be getting your copies of the game soon. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. This is still the favorite around here. Plus, we just got the first expansion and plan on getting the alien pack in a couple months. So, I'm sure our momentum won't slow down.
I have just a few final wishes. A six player variant would be awesome. I have actually started working on a board that would support such a game. Also, a campaign mode would be heavenly. If a small amount of storytelling were to be weaved into this game through a campaign book, that would make it unparalleled in relation to other games.
This game gets my recommendation 100%.
maybe on the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one....
Great review! It really conveys your enthusiasm for this game!
As for a six player variant: I have already tried one, where I just gave every player 3 action dice instead of 4. I know that leaves you 2 dice short, but I solved this by using normal dice and printed the symbols on an adhesive printable sheet and applying these.
I then just used the 4 player scenario setups and it worked like a charm.
It was a little busy on the board and it naturally was a bit harder to roll what you need (especially for weapons that need three dice), but having more people being all over the board compensates a little for this.
thanks for the review, very well written.
I especially liked the passages where you describe how the game won you over despite you not being a coop-lover.
I am a KS backer still waiting for my physical copy of the game. All the positives you said were kind of clear from the videos posted out there. The miniature issue was also troubling me and I am glad to hear that it does not really matter that much during the actual gameplay.
The new stuff for me was your experience regarding the weaker female character powers and the questionable benefit of using alien weapons.
PS: the character abilities are just printed on a single card, so I am curious if somebody will ever come up with new and decently tested alternative versions of single characters with different abilities in the future.
I hadn't thought of that possibility. Sounds intense.
I'm not sure how I feel about that though. My favorite character is Robcart. I generally play the scavenger and usually start the game with no weapons whatsoever and instead leave them in the hands of the players whose characters are more suited for battle. I then pick up extra items and weapons each round to help supplement the team and distribute them across the board as I move to and from different actions.
Being a dice short would really change up my strategy. As it is I usually try to stay away from items and weapons with red spaces for fear of losing access to more dice.
But now I'm interested to try. However, I now have two copies of the game so I could just compile my dice and have enough for up to eight players. Oh, what a game that would be!!
Side note. On Artipia's website, they sell single sets of action dice as add on's to the game.
Hmm... Changing player abilities... This could work.
To the Bat Cave!!
Great review, which I largely agree with. However, I think there is an additional positive to mention here:
My favorite character is Robcart.
I played with him and found him slightly dreadful to my liking. You also mentioned you really think Lilla's ability to ignore a limited number of alien movement rolls is underpowered, but I prefer to play with her over any other character because I find this a huge thing: by ignoring dice, I do not have to break my focus to move aliens in difficult situations, in stead letting me flip a token and roll on to get what I need.
Of course I am not saying this to tell you you are wrong, but to point out that the character one player feels is great, can be another player's least favorite. If you can get people to be so attached to one particular character and be so divided about them, with the game being so straight-forward, I think that is a tremendous achievement by the creators!