Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Game Review: Septikon - Uranium Mining

Designer: Konstantin Seleznev
Publisher: Hobby Games USA
Players: 2
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45 minutes

Review by Mark Jackson (5 plays w/a review copy provided by Hobby World USA)

“Thank you for calling Klondike Industries, the internationally recognized experts in asteroid mining stations. You have reached our 24/7 Help Desk… this is Viktor. How may I be of assistance to you?”
[transmission garbled]
“We here at Klondike Industries are pleased that you chose to purchase a Septikon class space station for uranium mining & processing… and we will work diligently to find a solution to any problems that you are having.”
[transmission garbled]
“Sir, I’m having trouble hearing you over the background noise of explosions & warehouse depressurization. Could you possibly move to a quieter part of your station so I can expedite a response to your call?”
[transmission garbled]
“No, sir, I do not recommend engaging the hostile BioDrones directly unless you have armed your Clones with Drills and/or Vibracannons. You might, of course, choose to use the Sensor Cabin to eliminate hostile BioDrones.”
[transmission garbled]
“Sir, there is no need for harsh language. We here at Klondike Industries share your frustration with the belligerent nature of the mining station on the nearby asteroid and hope that the various weapons & defensive systems we’ve installed will help you to repel his attack.”
[transmission garbled]
“Sir, yelling at me is not going to magically make the inbound Nuclear Warhead-tipped Rockets disappear. You had the option of launching Satellites or placing Energy Shields. You could have also moved your Gunner Clones into place and used Laser fire in order stop the attack.”
[transmission garbled]
“No, sir, I am not reading from a script. [sound of pages ruffling] Since you insist on continuing in rude behavior, I will be ending our conversation now. Klondike Industries would like to wish you success & good luck and hopes you have many victories on the hard & noble path of a uranium miner.”

“War is a series of catastrophes that end in victory.”

Septikon – Uranium Wars is a two-player war game. (Yes, I realize that “war game” can be a dirty word for some of you – hang with me just a minute.) This isn’t your standard “buckets’o'dice” war game… or the newest variation of “dudes on a map.” In fact, one of the reasons this review is going to be incredibly positive is that I have a hard time slotting this game into a particular game mechanic “box”.
I will, however, disagree with the good folks at Hobby World USA (the publishers of Septikon – Uranium Wars) who have advertised the game as belonging to the tower defense genre. While I can see why they’d make the comparison, I don’t think that covers the variety of mechanics & tactics that appear in the game. (I also really disliked Dragon Valley, a game that tried to use tower defense as a primary game mechanic & would hate for Septikon to tarred with the same brush.)
All right, some of you are barely hanging on now – your “but I don’t like wargames!” reflex alarm is blaring. Maybe it would help you to think of Septikon – Uranium Wars as a resource & opportunity management game… albeit with a whole lot of damage & destruction. Or maybe you could think of it as a worker placement game – if your workers were loyal & mindlessly obedient clones whose entire mission was to pummel the opposing space station into submission.
OK, it’s a war game.

"Mining is like a search-and-destroy mission."

The basics of game play are pretty simple. You roll a single die (termed the Random Number Generator), then move one of your Clones exactly that number of spaces. Clones can be sent to the surface to act as Gunners… or more commonly used to activate various production & battle modules. There are also several Locks which can be used to thaw out additional Clones… as well as a way to access more of the station.
There are seven types of resources stored in the warehouse levels:
  • Oxygen
  • Biomass
  • Rockets
  • BioDrones
  • Metal
  • Uranium
  • Energy
You use those various resources to make more resources, repair damage, fire weapons or build defensive capabilities. For example, you can use the Chemical Reactor to consume Biomass in order to produce Oxygen… or, for those of you who want to grow up & be Dr. Strangelove, you can spend an Energy, an Uranium & an Oxygen at the Nuclear Armory to put a nuke in your rocket supply.
Firing weapons or building defense requires Gunners on the surface… and the requisite resources. If you have multiple Gunners (aka Clones w/spacesuits) topside, each Gunner may use the effect of the battle module… if they have the appropriate items in the warehouse. Another example: with two Gunners, it will cost you two energy (one each) for you to fire both Lasers at the enemy station.
Some attack items have an immediate effect (Lasers & Thermite Mines) while other (Rockets & BioDrone Landing Capsules) must travel across space to reach the opposing asteroid. Rockets & Landing Capsules move at the same speed as your Clone did earlier in the turn. This gives your opponent time to place Satellites (which defend a starburst area around themselves) and Energy Shields in order to stop the attack.
Once BioDrones managed to land in an opposing station, they can move each turn (at – you guessed it – the same speed as the Clone) to destroy resources. If armed by Clones occupying your Armory spaces, they can also kill enemy Clones & blow up station modules.
I’ve only skimmed across the surface of player options – there’s Espionage & Counter-Espionage, as well as taking over your enemy’s Satellites or renewing your Energy Shields.
The objective is to force the enemy to concede by degrading his ability to continue the battle. You can do that by:
  • killing all of his Clones (or trapping them where they can not move)
  • running him out of resources and/or the ability to produce them
  • cutting off access to battle modules

"One may know how to conquer without being able to do it."

That covers the outline of how Septikon – Uranium Wars works. But it’s also important to try & describe how the game feels.
  • there are more opportunities for clever moves than you realize at first – Figuring out how to use the Locks properly (by refreezing a Clone and thawing another out on a different Lock) was a first step for us. The judicious use of Thermite Mines was another important lesson. With five (or possibly more) Clones in play, you can begin to think ahead by clearing off of modules you will need to activate later and setting yourself up to be close to important modules.
  • the tower defense “feel” is a part of the game… it’s just not the whole game – The movement of Rockets & BioDrone Landing Capsules have a tower defense vibe, as does the defensive use of Satellites & Energy Shields. But the resource management feels more like a typical Euro… and with Lasers & Thermite Mines doing immediate damage, the “I see them coming!” part of a tower defense game is not the majority of the game play.
  • all of the strategic pathways seem to be viable – The reference sheet included in the game lists five strategic “hints”: Burning, Suppression, Landing, Exhaustion, & Massacre. As far as we can tell at five plays in, all of them are have or could work… and they don’t exhaust the possible other plans of attack.
  • the box is actually correct about the average length of a game – 45 minutes is just about right… we’ve had games as short as 30 minutes and as long as an hour… but in general our Russian friends seem to be more adept at predicting playing time than, say, the old Avalon Hill.
  • the longer the battle rages, the more constrained your options become – While I realize that this could frustrate some players, I see it as a feature rather than a bug. Septikon – Uranium Wars speeds up as you move to a close, which is a quality I really like in a game.
  • you will take a pounding… even if you win – The game is a slugfest. In all five games that we’ve played, the eventual winner had a station that was nearly depleted in resources and had enough damage to look like a block of Swiss cheese.

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender."

The only problem I have with the game is the ending conditions – and it’s not a big enough problem to keep me from playing it and recommending it to others.
Septikon – Uranium Wars is one of those games that you can fight to the bitter end. At least, some gamers are wired that way. (This reminds me of my good friend, Tim, who decided that he would not concede my victory in Conquest of the Empire until I had chased the remains of his army to merry olde England and defeated them.)
While I know that some gamers will fight to the last BioDrone (“Never give up! Never surrender!”), I am concerned that other players may give up the ship (ahem, station) too early. In my last game, I was pretty sure I was ten minutes away from annihilation (thanks to an Explosives-wielding BioDrone ravaging my production modules)… and I ended up fighting my way back to a win.
So, one of the “skills” players will need to learn is when to push the eject button & leave the smoking ruins of your space station to your opponent… and when to tell them “Nuts.” My guess is that being able to “read” the game state well enough to determine that point will take most folks 2-3 games.
The rules do contain a “play to 15 damage the first time you play” rule… which might help with that learning curve, but we (being know-it-all gamer types) ignored it.

"Gamers of the world, unite!"

Septikon – Uranium Wars was originally demoed at Essen 2012 and was published in Russia. (The review copy I have is a Russian copy with English rules included.) That has made it very difficult to find a copy here in the United States.
For your gaming pleasure, however, Hobby World USA is in the middle of a Kickstarter project to bring the international edition to market. The new version of the game will replace the meeples and some of the wooden cubes & cardboard tokens (Clones, BioDrones, Rockets, Energy Shields & Satellites) with nifty plastic molded figures. And, because it’s Kickstarter, there are stretch goals for extra variant cards & pieces.
As of September 16th, the game is fully funded & will be published in May 2014. Hobby World USA (the publisher) is a major player in the Russian market with a variety of Rio Grande, Fantasy Flight & Steve Jackson titles in their catalog, so you don’t have to worry about this being some kind of fly-by-night con job. The Kickstarter ends on Wednesday, September 25th.
UPDATE: The folks at Hobby World USA have posted a 4 player variant for the game (requiring two sets) as an update to their Kickstarter page. It sounds to me like it would work pretty well - though make for a longer game... but I haven't played it.

"Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Septikon – Uranium Wars is an original & intriguing 2 player game that’s a nice hybrid between a war game & a resource management game. Five plays have whetted my appetite for more… and it’s one of those games where I find myself thinking about even when I’m not playing it. (I’m still trying to make the “add more Gunners, drop BioDrones in like paratroopers” strategy work.)
It isn’t for everyone – the objective is to pound your opponent into submission and that level of conflict isn’t enjoyable for some players. But for those who like head-to-head battle, this is an excellent choice.
For the curious who want to know the source of the quotes:
  • “War is a series of catastrophes that end in victory.” (Albert Pike)
  • “Mining is like a search-and-destroy mission.” (Stewart Udall)
  • “One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.” (Sun Tzu)
  • “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” (Vince Lombardi)
  • “Never give up! Never surrender!” (from the film GALAXY QUEST)
  • “Workers of the world, unite!” (Karl Marx)
  • “Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” (from the film THE PRINCESS BRIDE)

1 comment:

Raygun1966 said...

Nicely done review...I enjoyed the reading.