I don't want to say anything negative about Janice from Wren Games, I'm the last person to cast aspersions. She seems lovely - kind, warm, smiley. But I get the distinct impression she is trying to kill me.
Every time I triumph in Assembly - meticulously locking bays in to place, resolving glitches, fixing malfunctions, outwitting the computer then sailing away to victory in my luxury space ship - she adds new challenges. As if I didn't have enough to contend with creeping about hoping the computer won't notice me, first there were glitches and now she has added robots. If you thought Assembly was infinitely replayable before (as I did) it's even more so now. Which makes it.... I don't know? What's bigger than infinite? Really bloody addictive, that's what.
When I reviewed Assembly I had, had only limited success in terms of winning the game but I knew that I loved it. I played Re-Sequence and Override at Airecon and actually won. My elation was soon quashed by seemingly sweet natured Janice who proclaimed 'It must be too easy - I'll adjust it'. Any delusions about my own genius have been swiftly disassembled. I keep losing now.
That's the key word though isn't it - 'keep'. I keep playing. Throughout Assembly, its expansions and the new game Sensor Ghosts you feel that success is just at your fingertips. If only you'd turned left, or played that card first or ignored your idiot co-pilot... things could have been so different. And it's the knowledge that you can eventually succeed that keeps you locked into these brilliant puzzle games. I love the amount of layers that there are. You finish one iteration of the game and there's another waiting for you, slightly tricksier than the last.
There are elements of the expansion which make it appear easier - I can choose which token to deploy (from the two visible stacks). I can play one or more platform hold cards to skip over those bays as though they are locked. And yet... it still has me beaten. It's like I've been lured in with the modifications that give the illusion of choice and control only to remember the power of that dratted computer.
The idea of being able to play Assembly with 3 or 4 players is incredibly exciting too. I'm equally happy playing solo or with another player - both versions of the game are well balanced, challenging and fun. I'll definitely be trying out the higher player count versions at UK Games Expo and I'll let you know how I get on.
Good news - you do not need to have played Assembly to enjoy dying in a meteor storm. Even though in terms of the story it follows on, the game is unique and definitely a puzzle worth tackling independent of Assembly. Having said that if you like Sensor Ghosts you'll certainly enjoy Assembly (and vice versa).
Sensor Ghosts picks up the story where Assembly left off (assuming you escaped). You settle back to enjoy the luxurious journey back to earth, regretting only not fitting the bum warmers and massage attachments to the seats. But what's this? A message from Earth - probably a news clip of them celebrating your heroism and letting you know they've put the kettle on and ironed the bunting. In fact Earth are refusing to let you land unless you collect a sample of the virus from the middle of a meteor storm so they can work on a vaccine. Ungrateful sods. You pause your immersion in the game - flip over the box - there it is - that logo - that beautiful diminutive song bird the wren - hell bent on your destruction.
The board in Sensor Ghosts is ever changing and has a randomised layout. You need to balance keeping your shields charged with peeking ahead to see what's coming as well as planning how you will navigate. There are so many unseen threats in the meteor storm and of course your sensors are playing up, you start to become convinced that your computer might actually be Hal when all along you had prayed it was Holly - inept but not murderous! I like the fact that you can play three cards and choose an action to complete which simultaneously frees you up and sees the card deck dwindle.
Changing direction offers a neat challenge where if you play cards in a sensible sequence you should be able to change course smoothly but if not you have to spend extra navigation cards to enable you to turn. When you are out of Navigation Cards you are out of luck.
Memory cubes are included so that you can choose to mark cards in the field - maybe the best ones or ones to avoid. Either way you must use them wisely as there are only three. Brilliant - enough to give you the illusion that you have help but not enough to let you rely on them. Another example of the perfect balance in this game.
Once you have safely navigated the meteor storm, collected a sample (not just one of the bits of rock that are floating out there and look a lot like the samples!) you can try again, adding in the Escape Pod variant and using the disruption deck. I'll be honest with you - I've played many times and not won yet. Once, I got tantalisingly close to earth - I could just make out the outline of the coast of dear old Blighty when bam! A meteroid hit me. And the Escape Pod? In a move that reminded me of the many times I have sacrificed whole countries in Pandemic, I left them to fend for themselves from turn two. Then forgot they had ever existed. Don't ever let me be in charge in an apocalypse survival situation.
Although this is only a preview copy so there may be some adjustments in the final copy ,I really like the colours and the space age art work on the counters, cards and box. Even the font is suitably sci fi! The game features the same chunky counters that you find in Assembly which are pleasingly tactile.
I had waited with baited breath for Sensor Ghosts to arrive. You probably know how much love I have for Assembly so I was concerned I might be underwhelmed. I was not. This is another brilliant game and the fact that it comes with Assembly add ons is a real bonus. It is already a regular on my table both solo and two player.
I got some feedback on the game at my most recent event. It was a very positive response but my favourite interaction by far was this:
Me: What impression do you get just by looking at the box?
Him: It looks like you'd die
Me: It's by Wren Games - they did Assembly.
Him: Oh right we'll definitely die then. We definitely want to try it!
And because no blog would be complete without at least one photo on the chintzy table cloth - here it is....
I'll be working with Wren Games (providing she hasn't actually killed me) next weekend at UK Games Expo. Come and see what all the fuss is about at Stand 2-624.
As always you can try any of the games in my blog at my events. Subscribe to the newsletter so that you don't miss a thing.