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Where Video Games Meets Tabletop Part 2

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March 31, 2015 | Written By: Rob Plantikow

Tags: tabletop, video games, unplugged, space cadets, escape, pegheads,

Where Video Games Meets Tabletop Part 2

This is a continutation from an earlier article written by Rob Plantikow - see that article here

So you’re telling me that one of the things you like the best about video games is the intense adrenaline rush you get.  Maybe it’s the buildup and anticipation of knowing that big boss monster is right around the corner, or maybe it’s the excitement of executing that perfect combo that allows you to KO your opponent, or maybe it’s the collaboration of your team of warriors and wizards as you cut through hordes of goblins in your favorite online game.  There’s no doubt that you can work up a little sweat gaming, and lots of times there isn’t a whole lot of time to plan—those goblins are coming!

Well, yes, there are a lot of board games that can be very cerebral endeavors where there doesn’t appear to be a lot of action.  I remember a game of Five Tribes that I played with my buddies—the lasting impression of which was the number of times we were all staring at the board in perfect silence, while we tried to piece out the best move we could make when our turn came around.  You can see the Pegheads studying Five Tribes above (cue the crickets):

Five Tribes has been a big hit for the Pegheads, particularly amongst the more die-hard gamers that really like a complex and heavily strategic game.  But it’s most definitely not for everybody….

But if you think that board games are all boring slogs without any action then I’m here to tell you that there are some great games that you have missed.  There is so much variety in board gaming, and there most certainly are games that will get your blood pumping.  So here are a couple games that will most definitely give you that ADRENALINE RUSH!

Space Cadets

Space Cadets

Anyone who has watched any version of Star Trek knows that things can get pretty intense on the bridge of a starship.  So in the spirit of James T. Kirk, I bring you Space Cadets.  If you’ve ever dreamed of being the person that says “Course laid in, Captain” or “All ahead full”, or “Fire photon torpedoes!” then this game gives you that chance.  Players are new cadets who have just graduated from the Academy, and ready to take on their first starship exploration mission.  You are not experienced.  It shows.  Just flying the ship in a straight line might be quite difficult—even if no one else is shooting torpedoes at you….

Don’t let the whimsical artwork on the box fool you, this game is not for the faint of heart.  Inside you’ll find there are components and station display for each of the following starship officers:

  • Captain, who keeps the time and makes the critical decisions.
  • Engineer, who manages the power levels for all the other stations.
  • Shields Officer, who determines which sides of the ship to focus shield power and avoid damage.
  • Weapons Officer, who loads torpedo tubes and fires!
  • Helmsman, who tries to navigate the dangers of space, like rifts and asteroids.
  • Sensor Officer, who scans map sectors, and locks onto other ships.
  • Tractor Beam Officer, who helps tractor crystals or other ships.
  • Jump Officer, who readies the warp drive to escape the sector, hopefully after completing all your mission objectives….
  • Damage Control, who repairs damaged ship systems and manages core breaches.

Full Setup of Space Cadets in All Its Glory

Full Setup of Space Cadets in All Its Glory

In the above picture, you’ll see what the table looks like when it’s completely set up—that’s two full eight foot tables to hold it all.  Wow that’s a lot of stuff!  Then going around clockwise are some of the stations for Tractor Beam & Shields (upper right), Damage Control/Repair and Sensors (middle right), Jump Station (lower right), Weapons (middle bottom), and the Captain Station (lower left).

At the start of the game, players who take each of these roles will have their own unique components specific to their station.  The captain will set the mission objectives.  There are several different missions your team can take on.  In some you’ll be mining space crystals, in others you’ll be heavily engaged in combat.  All the missions have scalable difficulty, but trust me, even on the easiest level this can be a punishing game.  All of the players must work together to operate the ship efficiently, and complete your mission without getting annihilated.

Why is Space Cadets an adrenaline rush?  Well each of those stations has their own mini game that must be done all at the same time and in just 30 seconds!  So while the Engineer is arranging tiles, the Sensor Officer is fishing tetris pieces out of a bag, the Helmsman is plotting the course with maneuver cards (much like RoboRally), and so on.  No pressure, but if you blow it, it can have a devastating effect on the success of your whole team.  If your Helmsman and your Shields Officer don’t work together, you could expose an unshielded flank to an enemy ship and take heavy damage from attacks.  If your Weapons Officer does poorly, there will be no torpedoes to fire, and if he doesn’t flick that disk on target your torpedoes will miss.  If your Sensors Officer fails to lock onto other ships, it becomes very difficult deal much damage when your torpedoes do find the target.  And if you fly in circles, it will take too long for you to complete your mission objectives, the deadly Nemesis will enter the sector and start hunting you down.  And the Nemesis is absolutely nasty

So once everyone has done their jobs, and resolved the effects, your team gets just three minutes to plan strategy.  What stations need the most energy?  Are you likely to be in combat, where you’ll need weapons and shields?  Are you just trying to rush to the next area as quickly as you can?  Are you trying to get ready to tractor a crystal?  Figure it out quick, and then it’s go-time!

Ok, so maybe after a few rounds you’re starting to get the hang of your station, and dare even say “Ok, I know what I’m doing.”  Then your ship gets hit.  You will get hit.  You will take damage.  A lot.  And when you do, there’s a good chance the damage card “Shift Change” will come up, which requires 2 of your officers to switch their station duties.  Just when you were getting comfortable flicking that photon torpedo, now you get to play “memory” on the tractor beam.  Good Luck!

Ok, so maybe the shift change didn’t scare you.  Then your ship gets hit again.  I promised you it would.  This shot penetrates both your shields and your hull, and now you have a potential core breach to deal with.  The first core breach you take on means three of your team members will be dealt a green core breach card with a unique energy pattern on it, just like you see below.  When the time starts for 30 seconds, the first player grabs the core breach deck of white cards and finds the white core repair card that matches the pattern on the core breach card they were dealt--pull that card out and pass to the next person who searches through for theirs, and then pass to the last player.  If your team doesn’t find all the core repair cards, the ship explodes.  Game over, baby.  And, oh-by-the-way, all this is done during the 30 second window when you’re doing all your regular station duties!  Still think it’s easy now?  Are you feeling the pressure yet?  Believe me--that 30 seconds goes really fast.  Any subsequent core breaches will require you to do this again, but with more core breach pairs required.  Like everything, it could always be worse….the Nemesis is approaching….

All The Cards Belong to Us

All The Cards Belong to Us

So if you and your starship team have what it takes, and can take the pressure, then Space Cadets is a great challenge.  To win the game, you’ve got to work together, and everyone needs to pull their weight.  But if you do, and you can complete your mission, it sure is very satisfying.

This game can be a bit of a bear to teach and learn, because really everyone needs to know how all the stations work, so you can better make decisions and be prepared for potential shift changes.  Stronghold Games has some great teaching videos on their web site done by designer Geoff Engelstein that really help people learn everything.  Even then, it’s going to take you a good half hour to 45 minutes to really get it all figured out before you can really start flying your ship better than a bunch of drunks.  Any anyone with a tablet device can download a very user-friendly captain interface that helps keep time and manage game flow—I highly recommend it.  I won’t play without it.

We don’t even attempt to try playing this game at our regular meetups, where there is a lot of other noise going on.  It’s too intense—and takes up too much tables pace.

Space Cadets is a board game for 3-6 players, but I highly suggest you have at least 5 people—with less players you will have to double up stations more (the 30 seconds gets split up into separate phases).  Games will take 90-120 minutes even after you know what you’re doing.  It’s sold by Stronghold Games in the US and retails for about $60.

Hastyhobbit definitely recommends Space Cadets.


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Co-Founder of Pegheads, a board game group in Janesville, WI, Rob is a fan of all sorts of games with a large focus on board games and community play.



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