Ed. note: I totally butchered the rules for the Kobayashi Maru test, but I still got a good idea of gameplay.
I go back and forth on whether or not I even enjoy solo gaming. For me, the draw of board games is getting a group together and interacting with each other. Solo board gaming is so tedious that it offsets the rewarding challenge of the game itself. I’ve played Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations, Gears of War: The Board Game and Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game solo and they were all fun, but it was tiring for me checking and re-checking that I wasn’t breaking any rules. That’s not to say I’ll never play another solo game, because I have Thunderbolt Apache Leader standing by and one of these days I’m going to play Gears of War again.
BUT that’s unimportant. This is a quest for THE Star Trek game, and it doesn’t matter if it plays solo or not. Star Trek III comes with three solo games, and while there’s really only one in here that anyone cares about I did feel it was important to try them all.
The Sherwood Syndrome
First up is The Sherwood Syndrome. Oh they try and set up the premise by writing a page or two of backstory, but let’s be honest. This game has NOTHING to do with Star Trek. I did find the chits of the crew with hats on to be amusing, but without those faces this game could be shipped and sold as something totally unrelated to Star Trek.
Kirk and company beam down to a primitive world. Not wanting to expose themselves they construct complex disguises that will keep their true identities secret for the duration of the mission; hats. Pointy, felt hats. Now the Prime Directive states that we shouldn’t interfere in the progress of an alien world, but this is Captain Kirk! He does what he wants! The surroundings feel eerily familiar. Dr. McCoy notes that his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather grew up in the middle-ages, so that gives him keen insight on the economic status of this world. Spock ignores him completely and refuses to wear his hat.
The crew must invoke a regime-change in order to bring stability to the planet. You’re timed in this endeavor, as the Noble Party is doing rounds and committing each town to the King’s cause, while it’s the Enterprise crew’s job to rescue captured crew members (who were from another Federation ship) and stir up a rebellion among the commonfolk.
This premise would feel out of place using any other Star Trek characters, but because TOS did this kind of inexpensive genre-mashing quite frequently on the show it doesn’t bother me at all.
Reading through the rules didn’t take long, and they actually seemed like the game could be fun. There are several tables, so almost every action you do involves you adding up modifiers from the crew in your party, rolling a die, then checking the modified number against a table pertaining to the action you’re doing. The table usually tells you to go read a specific paragraph which tells you if something good or bad happens.
As my first paragraph-driven game, I was pretty interested to give it a shot.
For the first turn I beamed down most of the Enterprise crew to the fields near my first target. I could see that there were a couple captured Federation crew in this area, so the first order of business should be storming the castle and freeing one of them.
SUCCESS! I used a phaser to modify the roll and successfully stormed the castle.
The King’s men are all around the area however, and on their roll they end up moving closer to me. Not good. The rest of the game is a blur, a 3 turn blur. I try to flee the castle, but am cornered by King’s men. I’m unable to escape them and end up getting captured in the castle that I just stormed. I beam down the rest of the crew that I have, and in a poor tactical decision, I attempt to recruit some commonfolk nearby. That fails miserably, which attracts the attention of the King’s men. They catch up to me and imprison my remaining officers.
Game over on Turn 5.
I’m being generous to myself here. It may not have been Turn 5, it was probably turn 4 or 3.
I wanted to like this one, but the tables are actually far more brutal than I anticipated. I know I made a bad move in there, but I didn’t think one bad move would end the game for me that quickly.
Eh, old but probably functional. These table results are just too brutal. I read through the paragraphs, and there are some cool things that can happen, but you have to roll an 18+. Using a D10. Yeah forget this game.
The second solo game in the box is Free Enterprise, which at first looks exactly like Merchant of Venus with less chits. After the shellacking I took in Sherwood, I wasn’t really looking forward to playing a rehash of a game that I already didn’t really like. I read through the rules, and while it does still feel like Merchant of Venus, it feels like a lighter version more suited for solo play, and there are at least Klingon shuttles and a Klingon battlecruiser that move around the board inhibiting your buying/selling of goods, so maybe this one won’t be so bad?
The focus of this game is definitely pick up and deliver, with combat only happening when you have a shuttle and Klingon shuttle land on the same beacon space. This can be avoided by having your shuttles travel in pairs, so that’s my initial strategy. For whatever reason I want to avoid combat at all costs. Well the cost is certainly going to be the inability to make any sales. There are many similarities between this and Merchant of Venus, but the main difference is that the wanted goods that each planet is seeking change each turn. So you can spend your entire bankroll on a certain good, only to to find out later in that turn that there aren’t any more planets that want that good. The Klingon AI is such that anytime they end a turn landed on a planet, they get money no matter what* (pretty much).
I stick to my strategy for 4 turns, and I’ve made a few sales but due to the flucuating market I only get a 2:1 ROI. Not going to cut it here. I HAVE managed to avoid any combat, but because all the Klingon shuttle movement is randomized I haven’t even come across a situation where combat would’ve happened even if my shuttles weren’t travelling in pairs. I’m beginning to regret my choice of strategies. At the end of turn 4, the Klingons are ahead 30-12. The game automatically ends if either side reaches 100, otherwise it’s whoever has the most money at the end of two weeks (14 turns).
To be honest, I’m really struggling with AP at this point. The ONLY way to make any money is to get a perfect sale, where you sell the exact good a planet is looking for in the exact color they want. And because those wants change every turn it’s basically a crap shoot. You can try to mitigate the luck by TRYING to plan ahead, but it’s still all luck. I decide the only way to make a comeback is to split my ships up and start diversifying. You can “advertise” which essentially buys the ability to hold a planet’s want for a turn, but it costs money and still comes down to a die roll to see if it’s successful. I was very unlucky early on and had no money to spend on advertising.
Now, there aren’t a LOT of rules in this game, but with solo games I have a hard time coming up with strategies when I’m constantly checking the rules to make sure I’m not messing anything up. In the end though, it just doesn’t make for a fun experience for me. I really did not enjoy Merchant of Venus and I traded it away, but oddly enough I found it more enjoyable than this game simply because you can somewhat plan your deliveries in MoV. Here you really just have to spread out and hit the jackpot. Unfortunately if you don’t hit the jackpot early on, then you have no capital to keep buying goods and you waste turns carrying cargo that is worthless.
I quit the game after 6 turns, Klingons up 60-20.
I don’t know if I was really unlucky or just really bad at this game, but the Klingons were on pace to win the game after 10 turns anyway and I don’t really plan on ever playing this one again.
If it weren’t for the heavy reliance on luck (even with the options to mitigate that luck) I’d really like this as a solo game. There’s a lot going on, but maybe that’s the problem and not the positive. It’s not groundbreaking, and like I said I think it borrows heavily from other games.
Theme: Immersion into Star Trek
Well it does have shuttles and planets. However I don’t remember a lot of economic competition in the TV show, but what do I know, I’ve only watched all 5 series’ multiple times…
Ah yes, now the game in this box that everyone has been waiting for. This one is the real reason to buy STIII, and honestly if it had been the only one in the box I think sales would’ve been the same.
After setup I examine the situation on the navigation grid. I got pretty lucky with my draw and there are only 6 Klingons showing, the minimum allowable. I really have no reason not to win now. I must confess though, that I did set up the game differently from the rules. In the rules you are suppose to only seed Buoy 1, then once that one is located you place Buoy 2 on level 2, then when that’s found you seed 3 on 3, then the Kobayashi Maru on 4 (or something like this). I instead just through all the buoys into the cup from the beginning, which I actually wasn’t sure would make the game easier or harder but it definitely felt a little less scripted.
On turn 1 there’s only one Klingon ship on my level, so I scan my first reading and it happens to be Buoy 1. Wow. This is going well. I roll on the master chart and Defcon level increases, and my fore shields become damaged. Hmm. The Klingon ship moves into my sector and it shows itself to be a Destroyer. I had prepped my phasers ahead of time, and when I’m given the opportunity to line up my shot I’m able to place the Klingon ship right in the center of my sights.
Now this first-person tactical screen is actually pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a board game with combat quite like this. While it’s not exactly thematic (you wouldn’t REALLY need to line up the Enterprise for a shot) I find it to be a unique take on movement during combat. Instead of moving the ship to get closer/further from the enemy, you’re rotating the ship to line up the enemy in your sights. And if there are multiple enemies in your area, then you can’t really line ALL of them up simultaneously. The more centered you get them lined up, the more damage your weapons will do. It’s a cool idea that is certainly more inspired by the naval feel of Star Trek even if it’d be better suited to an actual naval (on water) combat game.
After lining up the shot I’m allowed to spend some additional power on the phasers, and I do in order to destroy the ship before it gets a chance to fire back at me.
Now the drawback to my unintentional variant on the rules and butchering of setup, Buoy 2 would normally get randomly placed on Level 2 of the map, but because I mixed everything in together, I pretty much have to check EVERY reading on all levels to make sure I don’t miss anything. I spend power activating the radio and scanning from a distance, but every turn I waste looking is another turn that the Klingons are able to advance on me. And because I have 4 systems activated, I’m actually hurting my rolls on the Defcon chart, making things worse for me.
I kind of played this game less-smart than I wanted to on purpose, because I had already blown the setup of the game and I wanted to go ahead and see what kind of hectic situations you’d get into later in the game. In short, my advice is avoid the “cloud” sectors and always keep your sensors and phasers powered. I end up finding another Buoy before the Klingons really start to gang up on me. I mismanaged my systems as well, mainly because of my inexperience with what each system allowed me to do and in the end I was discovered before rescuing the Kobayashi Maru. I tried to find some funny situations while playing but I can’t really make any jokes about this one except for the “Security Man,” which even in name is funny. He’s explicitly there to be “redshirted” and discarded to save your other crew. I mean they could have at least given him a name, but it’s thematic enough and you’re so caught up in the action that you don’t have time to find it amusing that you’re killing off your redshirt.
Fairly straightforward in rules, though there are a few nitpicky details you have to remember or at least keep the rulebook handy for the first couple plays. The tables at least are all printed on the board (except for the master chart, of which I made a photocopy). The combat, while not exactly thematically accurate is pretty cool and offers choices in terms of do you want to target one ship directly, or do you try to target more ships indirectly, etc. Other than the combat, I don’t really think there’s anything revolutionary here, but I do like that powering certain systems gives you advantages and powering too many systems overall takes away from your chances of staying undetected.
Theme: Immersion into Star Trek
It’s the Kobayashi Maru test, so it’s pretty thematic. The Buoy system is like a timer or checkpoints but it works pretty well. You have to manage your ship while fighting off the enemies. If only it were adapted into a 2-player game then I think I’d really try to get it on the table more often. I really want to give this a higher theme rating, but for some reason Star Trek has always been mind-battles between people or even the co-op nature of having to solve a common problem. Although like the “real” KM test, you’re playing against yourself so I guess this game really couldn’t be anything but a solo game and still be true to the material.
Do I Care?
I definitely didn’t play this one correctly, and I knew it on turn 1 but that’s ok because this is a game that I’d actually bust out again. It’s challenging, and actually less taxing on my brain than Free Enterpri$e was. It’s a timed search and rescue op with some system management that’s pretty cool. I’m not even going to bother talking about the other 2 games in the box, because honestly I won’t play them again. Solo games aren’t really my thing, but if I’m going to play one, I may as well play a Star Trek solo game and this one could be it. Is it fun though? I always find myself asking that question when I finish a solo game. Fun for me is matching wits with someone. Matching wits with a d10 and some randomly drawn chits just doesn’t feel the same.
The leaderboard ratings will reflect my view of the Kobayashi Maru only, as factoring in my feelings of the other two crapheaps in the box would just tarnish the Maru unfairly.
Overall ranking of “strength” of each as a board game. This does not factor in my overall desire to play each game. That assessment will come at the end.
BGG=How I’d rate on BoardGameGeek’s rating scale.
ST=How it rates as a “Star Trek Game” relating to the strength mentioned above.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Interactive VCR Board Game – A Klingon Challenge
BGG: 3 | ST: 3.5 | blogpost