Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Game Review - Gunship: First Strike!

Designer: Steve A. Wood
Publisher: Escape Pod Games
Players: 2-4
Ages: 13+ (though my 12 year old does just fine with it)
Playing Time: 30 minutes

Played 5 times (with a review copy provided by Escape Pod Games) - a version of this review appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website

Yes, the ship & fighter boards have a bit of a warping problem. Yes, the card quality is less than I’d like. Yes, the rulebook is a little clunky & laid out in a less-than-optimal fashion.

And with all those problems, I’m still really looking forward to my next game of Gunship: First Strike… because beneath those cosmetic issues is a robust & quick-playing space combat game with some nice bits of theme & a well-designed system for customization that doesn’t overwhelm the game itself.


Two assault carriers square off in a battle to the death for this corner of space. As commanders, players send out fighter wings & a heavily armed gunship. While the smaller ships harass the larger gunships, the gunships prepare to make very Star Wars-ian “trench runs” on the carrier as victory is determined by destroying your opponents’ carrier.

The game begins with each player customizing their gunship with a variety of weapons and armor. The gunship boards are the biggest use of table space in the game – and have places for the various weapons. There are also fighter squadron boards to track damage to the fighters.
Gunships can be outfitted with blaster cannons (think: Star Wars) and ion cannons (think: energy weapons) as well as thruster bombs for the inevitable attacks on the opposing carrier. They also can have armor to protect specific areas of the ship and shields to block hits
“Space” is represented by the two assault carrier boards and the “center zone” space between them. As the battle begins, both gunships & fighter squadrons are in the center zone, opening fire on each other. The assault carrier are blasting away, trying to knock down shields to make the opponent vulnerable to attack runs.
Combat is determined by a combination of card play (to fire the gunship weapons) and dice (to resolve fighter combat & some types of gunship combat). Players may also use cards to evade incoming fire as well as increase the damage of the attack.
Attack runs necessitate surviving a series of attacks from the carrier defenses before swooping down and firing off a torpedo or a set of thruster bombs. Once the carrier shields are destroyed, you can afflict actual damage – game-winning damage!


  • the gunship customization system – Using a small deck of cards and a well-designed playing board, players can choose which type of weaponry to load onto to their gunship and how best utilize the limited armor to protect vital functions. It’s quick (no more than five minutes) but still allows for a variety of strategies. Mid-battle repairs & reloading aboard the carrier are also a vital part of the game that once again show off the sweet design of this system.
  • the straightforward combat system – this will be familiar territory for fans of the Command & Colors games. It’s a combination of card play & dice rolling that zips right along once you get the hang of it. Combined with the variety of weaponry & defensive cards, it is more than just “flip a card & roll a ton of dice”.
  • the fun factor – as I said at the beginning of this review, I’m having a lot of fun playing Gunship: First Strike. It’s one of those games that creates memorable stories: “remember the time I was losing & so sent my gunship on an ill-advised trench run and you literally shot the wings off of it?”


  • component quality – Yes, I know not every game gets production by top-of-the line shops. In this case, there are definite issues with quality of the main card deck (the stock is pretty thin) and the warping of the boards. It isn’t unplayable by any means, but it does make it a little more difficult to love.
  • the organization of the rulebook – As far as I can tell, there aren’t any rules missing… it’s thorough & complete. It’s just organized in a fashion that makes it tougher to learn than necessary. Four games in, we’re still having to dive in to remind ourselves of the details of a particular kind of attack. (To their credit, Escape Pod Games has web-published an excellent player aid for attacks… but it should have been included in the box.)
  • the custom dice – Wow, they look cool… but the choice of two different “to hit” icons (a targeting icon & a fighter icon) that have the same 2 out of 6 chance of hitting makes the aforementioned need for a player aid even greater. I’m hoping they have plans to use these more as the game system expands.


And speaking of expansions…

Gunship: First Strike is the core game of a game system using the customizable gunship in a variety of ways. Escape Pod Games has already published some of those expansions as a part of the initial Kickstarter project last year:
  • the Mark II Gunships
  • the X-Perimental Weapons Upgrade decks
  • the Crew Members deck
  • the Asteroids deck
  • a set of extra Assault Carrier boards
  • Magna Armor cards (available as a promo through BGG)
Of those, we here at the Jackson house have found that we really enjoy the way that the Upgrade decks offer some nifty variety to how you set up your gunship/carrier without making those decisions incredibly time-consuming during game set-up.

Currently, there is a Kickstarter for the first expansion in progress… and it’s already funded with 23 days to go. Afterburners takes the customized gunship system into the world of “gunship racing” – which sounds crazy until you think how many of us longed to make the Kesel Run as fast as Han Solo. (The Kickstarter only has 3 days to go... and is funded. Jump on in!)
And there is more to come – including new larger ship types & a campaign mode.


My best guess is that your reaction to the Command & Colors game system (not the theme) is going to be the best predictor of whether you’ll enjoy Gunship: First Strike. While this is not a rip-off of Richard Borg’s design in any way, shape or form, they have similar limits on actions (due to card draw) as well as the ever-present luck of the dice that permeate games like Memoir ’44 or Battle Cry.

As I’m a huge fan of the Command & Colors games, I found Gunship: First Strike to be a blast to play, once we managed to get the rules straight and get under way. A typical game takes about 45 minutes (including set-up & putting it away), which makes it a lovely game for lunchtime work gaming.

I personally am looking forward to trying the team (2 on 2) mode as well as the Afterburners racing/fighting expansion… and much more to come!


Sam Markley said...

Yikes! Not sure I would compare this game to Battle Cry or Memoir. I found GunShip to be devoid of any real decisions and simply just a dice rolling fest. If you like dice chucking this is a good game for you. If you like Strategy... Not so much. I kickstarted this as I thought my 8yr old would love it. Even he was bored as asked mid-game if we could stop.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Sam: I don't think GunShip is the same as a C&C game - just that the qualities that draw people into those games might indicate that you'd enjoy GunShip.

The game is not "devoid of any real decisions"... though there are some obvious ones. I take it as an enjoyable experience game rater than looking for it to be a "strategy" game.