Lead the first human galactic exploration effort.
A new Awaken Realms game is always an event, and their latest production ISS Vanguard is no excepion: it’s a huge, extravagant, beautifully produced creation that reproduces all that I love (and a few of the the things that frustrate me) about their storytelling games.
Such big crowdfunding events are beyond my reach these days, living as I do in New Zealand and shipping costs being what they are. But Awaken Realms kindly sent me the first wave of this new storytelling dice management space opera to cover on the EOG. It’s impressive right from the first unboxing, though extras like dice towers, a huge box of card sleeves, player mats and the like are completely unnecessary. So too are the miniatures really, though they are lovely, as in most Awaken storytelling games, miniatures really just act as encounter markers rather than as playing pieces. The game itself consists of two alternating parts: in the first, your team explores mysterious planets (represented by spreads in a spiral-bound illustrated book), where players, as expedition department heads (science, recon etc), roll and manage dice to complete tests and achieve goals. In the second part, you are back on the eponymous spaceship (represented by a ring-bound folder filled with card pockets), where you manage and upgrade the capabilities of the ship and its crew.
After playing the excellent tutorial however – and I must point out that Awaken have finally employed an outside professional (Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules) to write one of their rulebooks, which makes an astonishing difference to the ease of learning the game – I was left both intrigued and slightly concerned. While the dice systems seem to work well, is this a game or is it a story experience? I have yet to spend enough time with ISS Vanguard to decide yet, but it does seem to to be the latter, and even one geared more to solo play. Deciding on upgrades and shuffling cards around in the pockets of a folder may provide an interesting set of choices for a single player, but I can’t see it as an engaging group activity, for example. Following the story, listening to the very good narrated app, and defeating cooperative dice-based challenges on different planets might be fun, but is it really a game, or is it really just a beautifully enhanced choose-your-own-adventure?
I look forward to discovering the answer to this question myself – and indeed, to decide whether it even matters – and letting you know in a full review when I have. In the meantime, here’s my rules and reference – just for the planetary exploration part of the game as the other part is is so efficiently summarised in the ring-bound folder. Good luck on your expeditions!