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Project: ELITE» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Proj-El Slicing Up Your Jibbly Bits rss

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Charlie Theel
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The First Person Shooter is a genre of electronic gaming that is characterized by twitch reaction time and elevated heart rate. Rapid eye movement and carpal tunnel wrapped around massive explosions and blood splatter. These were my bread and butter back in the golden days before I grew old and curmudgeonly. The opportunity to merge my favorite pre-pubescent pastime with my current expensive hobby of cardboard and plastic toys sounded too good to be true. As Duke Nukem (or was it Master Chief?) said, “Boomshakalaka!”


The fan is covered in caca.


Regardless, Project E.L.I.T.E (you ruined me TIME Stories) not only attempts the difficult task but actually finds success. While the idea of ditching the traditional turn based structure of analog gaming and going all in on real-time sounds good in theory, it’s a tough nut to crack. The trick this design pulls off is mimicking the loose structure of the excellent Escape: Curse of the Temple but flipping play to dealing with waves of encroaching enemies.

The game is broken up into eight two minute rounds where players cooperate to furiously roll custom dice and perform actions. You can move to an adjacent space, search crates, and shoot aliens. All of this occurs simultaneously with that evil clock dancing like a voodoo priest in the background and laughing at your struggles.

A huge challenge in a design such as this is maintaining a dynamic and reactive feel when it comes to the enemy. If the waves of aliens stood still while you danced around blowing them to pieces, it wouldn’t exactly achieve that DOOM or Unreal Tournament feel. Project ELITE handles this by throwing that grinning alien mug on one side of the die. Whenever you roll that red blotch you need to move an alien, any little scum sucker, one space forward on the board. Each spot has a flow of arrows showing which way an alien moves, always towards your base. This is an important element to juggle from a tactical perspective as you outright lose if even a single baddie is in your starting position at round’s end.

What’s surprising is how effective this system is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a little bit of incongruous abstraction going on as players can simply move the same alien over and over again, but every single bug will push forward in between each round. The fun bleeds through in the small slices of tactical decisions you need to make as you roll those symbols. When you hit two move symbols you need to quickly scan the board and assess which alien(s) to move. If you hesitate you’re wasting precious time. If you move the wrong one it could put your entire team in a jam.

These glorious little decision points that occur while a slobbering clown with a time bomb strapped to his chest holds a gun against your head-take a breath and stay with me -these are the best moments in the game. Every choice is relatively simple but the circumstances you’re dealing with exacerbate mistakes and highlight your fumbles. It absolutely helps that the game is difficult, as a coop bloody well should be.


Shooter, Biter, and Runner. Not the most cheery of extroverts.


Proj-EL, the game’s proper name according to gangstaname.com, is a really fun and enjoyable design that at times is frustrating. I don’t mean this in a good way, like a Crawler and a Biter tearing you apart like two kids pulling at Stretch Armstrong’s limbs. No, I mean that this game has moments that are unmistakably good but it can’t quite make it past that last hurdle. It clipped the thing with its rear foot and just keeps dragging it along like no one will notice.

I’m not even talking about the miniature quality, which ranges from “I guess that’s ok” for the smaller dudes to “Is this some kind of new microwave injection mold technique?” for the largest blobby dimwits. What’s frustrating is that the experience loses its edge over multiple plays. The difficulty props it up somewhat, but it loses that sense of mystery and discovery that’s vital to gameplay. It doesn’t fight that creeping sense of repetition strongly enough and the experience sort of flattens out and loses its luster just a tad. Not enough to become bland or boring, but enough to avoid pulling you. I want a game to grab me by the pony-tail and yank my face to the table. I don’t actually have a pony-tail (you’ve seriously misjudged me if you thought that was the case), but you get the idea.

In a design that features extreme repetition with shallow decisions, I need variety and surprises. Escape captures this by offering a large amount of room choices and a nice selection of devilish curses to mix up your physical play space. Hitting unexpected twists is important to keeping the participants on their toes and craving more.

In Proj-El we have static maps unfortunately. The double-sided board does alter the feel of play somewhat depending on which side you use, but the map itself has a miniscule effect on varying decisions and overarching process. The notion of multiple mission types seeks to alleviate this, but in reality they all feel relatively similar. You’re heading from one point to another and trying to roll symbols. They all feel a little bland and lack narrative punch or a story arc.


"You go for the three-hand space and I'll go for the four-hand space. Wait, why do these tiles want high-fives?"
Image courtesy of Mark Chaplin/BGG


There definitely is an arc to this game but its effectiveness is debatable. You’re fighting an ever increasing horde as you power up by gaining new weaponry and alien technology. A tipping point is eventually reached and either you cross the finish successfully or you’re overwhelmed as your soft jibbly bits are shredded.

The real core interaction element here isn’t the board or the missions-it’s the aliens. The game does offer a solid amount of enemy variety and is substantially boosted by expansion content, yet I can’t help but feel much of the variation is again, a peeling façade. Aliens may move an extra space or two, maybe they attack you from a couple spaces away, but they don’t feel quite as varied or dynamic as you want.

In a similar vein the notion of hulking bosses tearing up the environment is amazing. However, the execution is a thorough shrug of the shoulders. While many can offer formidable challenges, you can simply ignore them for the most part and go about your day like Mr. Rogers skipping through Compton. You don’t actually need to deal with them unless they get close to entering your base but the journey is far enough that it usually doesn’t matter a great deal. I’ve found most games are actually won or lost based on the massive spam of rank and file aliens as opposed to any of the special variety.

Sadly, the repetition in structure and lack of any defining flashes of extraordinary drama or narrative really keep this game from generating special moments. Project ELITE doesn’t have those spectacular slices of action that are distinctly yours. You can’t recall specific times where Ben pulled off the unthinkable or Stephanie stood tall in ridiculous circumstances. Everything blends together and instead of creating memories that are specifically your group’s, the Proj creates memories that are just its own.

I don’t want to be too hard on this solid release, but it’s always excruciating when you come across a fun design that is so close to being truly great. And this game absolutely is fun. There is an epic sense of mowing down valleys of shrieking lawn gnomes you won’t find elsewhere. But after a half dozen trips you’re content with the game coming out just slightly more often than a Harper Lee penned sequel. In a land blessed with amazing games hitting your doorstep every week, banging out a double just may not be good enough.


Charlie Theel writes for Geek & Sundry, Miniature Market's The Review Corner, and Ding & Dent. Most of his reviews don't appear on BGG but can be found in this Geeklist.

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Sebastian Beck
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I remember the First time we played this. We all Fell in love with it and played it the whole Day over and over again.

I think it is the Best real time game out there. The reason why I Do not play it that much is simply because the stress Level. After a full week of work it is just too much for me.

But nonetheless I find this game amazing.
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Joe Crane
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One day when I get my KS I would like to play it to see if it's fun, but I think you should use the actual minis from the game and not those pictures. The minis don't look anywhere that good, furthering a lie.
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Charlie Theel
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VaeVictis666 wrote:
One day when I get my KS I would like to play it to see if it's fun, but I think you should use the actual minis from the game and not those pictures. The minis don't look anywhere that good, furthering a lie.


Good point. I'll try and replace that pic later if possible when I have some time to take pictures.
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Dustin Rhoades
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Lawton
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Proj-El? eh....no thanks.
 
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Frank Franco
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Great review!
Sounds like I enjoy this one slightly more than you Charlie, it plays very differently to everything else i own. Good point on the lack of narrative, but the game plays so frantic and fast it doesn't bother me.
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Charlie Theel
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TinyMonster wrote:
Proj-El? eh....no thanks.


I try to entertain in all of my writing. I think that's important. Sorry it didn't work for you.

Skeletor wrote:
Great review!
Sounds like I enjoy this one slightly more than you Charlie, it plays very differently to everything else i own. Good point on the lack of narrative, but the game plays so frantic and fast it doesn't bother me.


Thanks!

I know I spend a lot of time being negative, but I do like this game. It's also staying in my collection, which is a feat to some degree.


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