Saturday, 18 October 2014

Level 7: Omega Protocol

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Level 7: Omega Protocol is part of a series of games by Privateer Press which share a same backstory. The individual games have different mechanisms and are about different parts of the story. An alien race fleeing an enemy race has sought refuge on earth. They made a secret pact with the American government, sharing their alien technology in exchange for human test subjects for their experiments. In Omega Protocol, something has gone wrong at the alien lab, and the government now wants to destroy it and all evidence of its existence along with it. So a team of elite soldiers is sent in to get the job done.

This is a dungeon crawl type game, similar to Space Hulk, Claustrophobia, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Earth Reborn and Castle Ravenloft. One player plays the dungeon master (called the overseer here), and the rest are part of the same team trying to fulfill the objective of the scenario, killing monsters and exploring the map along the way. The game is scenario based, and the map, the mission, the types and number of monsters, and the events differ by scenario.

The monsters in the game, mostly the results of experiments on human subjects performed by the alien scientists.

Every round the soldiers decide their turn order and then take actions, e.g. moving, shooting, melee-attacking, opening doors, healing. Each action has an adrenaline cost - you take adrenaline tokens - and depending on the Stance card you've picked for your character that round, there is a limit to the number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The Stance card you pick (out of three) determines your walking speed, defense values and special abilities for the round. All the adrenaline tokens you collect when executing actions are eventually handed over to the overseer, and the overseer later spends them to take actions, e.g. activating monsters to attack the soldiers, and triggering his special abilities allowed by the scenario. This is very much like Stronghold - the more actions you take as the soldiers, the more actions the overseer gets to do too.

This is a character board. The two sections on the left are the basic ranged and melee weapons, the cubes indicating what type of dice you roll when attacking. The three icons at the top right indicate your max health level, intelligence and strength. The right section is actually a Stance card placed onto the character board. The Stance card determines movement speed, ranged defense and melee defense. It also determines your special ability for the round, and the maximum number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The four blue cards at the top right are skills that I have picked for the game. The two orange cards on the right are items I picked up during the game.

This grid is the overseer's special actions, and the types of actions is determined by the scenario. When the overseer executes an action, he places the required number of adrenaline tokens into the appropriate square. At the end of every round, some tokens are removed. After all are removed, the action can be executed again.

A scenario is set up with each room having some event cards. The event cards are predetermined, but the overseer gets to decide which ones to be placed in which rooms. The doors which the soldiers need to open may contain events too, e.g. being unusually hard to open or having traps. The soldiers have some options too as part of setup. They get to pick which special abilities and weapons to use. Some are unique for their characters, some are generic.

Trying to explain all the rules details will be a long and boring exercise. Let's talk story.

The Play

Ivan had read the rules, and taught Jeff, Dith, Sinbad and I the game. Naturally, Ivan played the overseer, and the rest of us played the soldiers. Jeff very innocently and conveniently slipped the team leader role to me, while he claimed the support role. Wait, what...?! Little did he know that the team leader was not necessary the one to do all the hard work, and the support guy was not necessarily the one to leisurely stay behind at a safe distance from the monsters...

The character I played.

This was the scenario we played. The soldiers (dark grey) started at the entrance on the left (the larger middle room). Our mission was to find the ventilation control room, turn on the ventilation for a few rounds to purge the toxic air in the lab, and then turn it off. We did not know the exact location of the control room yet. It was either at the top right corner of the map, or the bottom right corner. We had to make a guess. The red cards in the unexplored rooms are the event cards.

At the start of the game, we decided to head towards the right. The first door had just been opened, and now we were waiting to see what events Ivan had placed there. Monsters, of course!

We were quickly surrounded by monsters. Jeff (the guy in the middle in heavy armour) had strong firepower, and Ivan decided he was the biggest threat. Ivan focused his attacks on Jeff, ignoring Dith who was in front.

As the game progressed, we found that we were quite bogged down by the wave after wave of monsters. We spent too much effort swatting these pesky flies, and we were not moving swiftly enough. The more effort (i.e. adrenaline tokens) we spent on killing monsters, the more resources Ivan would have in sending more monsters at us and doing bad things to us. We decided we had better start running and ignore some of the monsters. These were small ones anyway and did not always attack successfully. An opening had just been created at the top left, right next to us, and four fresh monsters popped out. We had opened the door to this corner room on the right, but the control room we needed to find was not here. We now had to head to the other corner room.

Now Dith had sprinted ahead and taken up a defensive position in the control room, at the lower left. The rest of us were on the way. As dictated by the scenario rules, both of Ivan's big monsters were on the board now. One came in through the opening at the upper right. The other came in through the main entrance. Both were heading towards us. Imagine the Jaws theme music. We needed to turn on the ventilation as soon as possible. One annoying thing for Ivan was he had a bunch of small monsters at the top left blocking the way of his big monster. He had to spend adrenaline tokens to get them to step aside to let the boss through.

Now imagine the music of the Star Wars Imperial March. The little monsters had stepped aside to let the big one through. The green tokens are poisonous gas. They were triggered by Ivan's big monster, so we the soldiers were not affected. We didn't come through this way. The poisonous gas did not affect monsters, so no harm to Ivan's minions.

Jeff the slow and heavy had to spend effort healing himself and had not caught up with the rest of us. He was feeling the pressure now, especially when the group of monsters on the right started dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Now I had reached Dith's side, and the few monsters near the control room had been shot to pieces. Dith had deployed his sentry - an automatic machine gun that shot at any enemy that moved.

Our formation was almost complete. We just needed Jeff to take his place. The ventilation was now on. We needed to hold on for a few rounds, and then turn it off, and then we would win. Turning the ventilation on or off required a die roll, and it was not exactly easy. My character only had an intelligence of 2 (don't ask my why the team leader is dumber than his team members), which meant I could only roll two dice if I were to attemp turning the ventilation on or off. We needed someone with intelligence 3 to do this to have a better chance.

Our formation was now complete. I stood at the corner at the top, touching four monsters. I had a Stance card which prevented monsters from attacking me as long as I was adjacent to another soldier. They must attack him instead. This effectively made me an unbreakable shield. It's legal, but it's rather gamey. In this particular situation it was very handy. The two large monsters were almost upon us. Ivan could afford to let a row of small monsters surround us. The big monsters could stand behind the small ones and still attack, because they had a melee attack range of two. Normally the melee attack range is one.

Dith's character was replaced with a token now, because he was heavily injured and had passed out. One more hit and he'd be dead. Ivan was very close to killing him. Ivan focused his attacks on Dith, using not only the big monster, but also the gunner at the far right. In this game soldiers and monsters do no block line of sight for ranged attacks. Dith could not do anything now. One of us would need to revive him first, and only then he could start healing himself. We were surrounded and trapped, but the toxic air was almost fully vented. Eventually we managed to hang on until the air was clear, and we succeeded in making the roll to shut down the ventilation. It was a difficult roll, and all of us (well, except Ivan I guess) stood up and cheered when we made the roll.

It was a very enjoyable game. It's partly because I didn't have to read or remember the rules, so I could fully immerse into the story. It was also fun to be able to discuss the tactics openly while playing, since I was on the soldier team. It was fun to work on a problem together. We watched one another's backs, we reminded each other about dangers. I hope I don't make this sound like some silly corporate team-building activity. It's much much better than that.

The Thoughts

If you ask me what's different about Level 7: Omega Protocol compared to other similar games, I would say not much. It does have some interesting mechanisms, e.g. more actions by the soldiers translates to more actions by the overseer too, the overseer's grid of special actions, and the soldiers' Stance cards, but I think the overall feel when playing is not significantly different from other games of this type. I can say it is well crafted and it works. I certainly had a lot of fun.

The scenario setup allows variations. The overseer has some flexibility in how to place the doors and the event cards. The soldiers can also customise their abilities before the scenario starts. They can try to come up with a strategy specific for the scenario, and pick skills and weapons appropriate for that strategy.

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