Friday, 29 September 2017

Project: ELITE

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Here's the scenario. Earth has been invaded and overrun by aliens, and only small pockets of humans continue to resist the invaders. The human resistance forms an elite team, and sends them on critical missions in the fight against the aliens. You are part of this elite team.

Project: ELITE is a cooperative game and a real-time game. Each game is a mission. You have a fixed number of rounds, and you need to complete your mission before the final round ends. Sometimes you need to kill specific enemies, sometimes you need to retrieve some artifacts, sometimes you need to sabotage some facilities. The game is partially real-time, and this is what makes the game different. At the start of a round, new aliens appear on the game board. Then you, members of the elite team, get to perform actions. Finally the aliens perform actions. The human action phase is the part which is done in real-time. You only have two minutes. Everyone has a set of four dice. You roll your own dice, and use the icons you roll to perform actions. After you use an icon, you may reroll the die and use it again. If you don't like what you roll, you can simply pick up the die and reroll. It seems that the faster you roll, the more you will get to do, but there is a catch! If you roll the alien icon, you must move an alien. This can result in the alien attacking you or your teammate. So rolling dice comes with risks.

The white dice are the player's action dice. The red icon is the alien icon, which is bad news. The other icons let you do various different actions. The green dice are the attack dice. You roll them when you attack. Each weapon has an attack value - you need to roll a certain number on the attack dice for them to count as hits. The card on the right is a character card. Each character has a special ability. The three circles at the bottom are spaces for life tokens. You remove a token each time an alien hits you. When you lose all three, you lose one die and then refill the tokens. You start the game with four dice. If you lose your last die, your character dies and everyone loses the game.

Before the game starts, you draw two cards per player. This can be any combination of equipment cards and weapon cards. You lay them all out, and then as a group you decide who takes what. The icons on the cards specify what die icons are needed to activate the card. The two cards on the left have icons with red backgrounds. This means when you activate the card with a die, that die is locked. You only take the die back next round. This means the card can only be used once per round. Also once you use it, you will have one die less for the rest of the round. Normally a weapon has three properties - range, the number of attack dice you may roll, and the minimum die value required to score hits.

My special ability is if I kill an enemy in melee combat, I may move into its space for free. This is why I have chosen the duel blades as my weapon. They are melee weapons so they synergise with my ability.

This is the game board. It is two sided and the two sides are different. On this side, the players' base is at the bottom left. This is where you start out, and this is also where you must return to after completing your mission in order to win the game. At the three other corners, there are spawn points for the aliens. All over the board you can see small arrows. These indicate how aliens move. The arrows all flow from the spawn points to the player base. You must not let any alien enter your base. If this happens you lose. On the board there are structures which block movement and line of sight. At the top left there is a schedule, which needs to be set up based on the scenario you are playing. In specific rounds there will be events (usually bad), and in some others there will be alien bosses appearing (also bad news).

These grey aliens are the foot soldiers. Each soldier type has its own set of characteristics, e.g. how fast they move, how strong their attacks are.

Player characters are beige in colour. This kind of situation is very common - you are often swarmed by aliens. There is wave after wave of aliens. While trying to stay alive by mowing them down before they overwhelm you, you also need to remember to complete your mission objective.

In the game we played, our mission was to retrieve four artifacts - those large tiles with red backgrounds and yellow hand icons. They were scattered around the board and we had to go out to them and bring them back. To move an artifact by one step required committing a die with the hand icon for the rest of the round. The number of hand icons on an artifact is also the limit on how many moves it can make per round. At the time of this photo three artifacts had been retrieved, but the fourth one was still some ways away.

Green coloured aliens are the lieutenants. They are stronger than the foot soldiers. In the background you can see a blurry red patch. That's a boss-level alien. They are tough nuts to crack and often come with very annoying powers.

Standing in the path of an alien is dangerous. If the alien moves, it will push you back and also injure you. Alien movement is performed by the players. You decide the order in executing their movement, and sometimes you have options where they move to. Naturally you want to execute all these while minimising damage. However there are often too many aliens on the board and it is not easy to completely avoid damage.

The Play

Project: ELITE is a dungeon crawl style game, in a sci-fi setting. You have special abilities, you carry weapons, and you kill monsters while trying to complete a quest. What makes the game different is the real-time execution of player actions. The real-time segments come in short bursts, unlike in Escape: The Curse of the Temple where it is all in a single 10-minute take. Still, the game does deliver adrenaline-pumping excitement. It is certainly more complex than Escape. There is more admin work, like handling alien movement and attacks, so it may not be possible or desirable to make the whole thing real-time. I think the experience would be even better if it could be done.

The break time between the real-time segments is useful. You want to catch your breath, discuss tactics, assign responsibilities and decide what to do next round.

We won the game, but it was not easy. Early on we decided to split into two teams of two, each team going in a different direction to retrieve different artifacts. Ivan's team did their part quickly, but my team struggled. We were swamped by aliens and could barely keep them at bay. Our progress was slow. There were three spawn points for aliens, and we couldn't predict where and how many would enter the board. It depended on the cards we drew.

Sometimes we had to make personal sacrifices. In one situation we had options in moving the aliens, but both options would result in some of us to getting injured. It was not just a matter of seeing which option would result in less injury, or which option would prevent already injured players from getting further injured. We also had to consider who were in more useful locations and would be able to contribute more towards the objective. Ultimately, the objective was most important. Well, unless someone was going to get killed, because then everyone would lose.

The Thoughts

The real-time gameplay is exciting. I rarely see such being implemented in dungeon crawl type games. I can only think of Space Hulk. The dungeon crawl aspect of the game is common, nothing that strikes me as outstanding. It works well enough. It is the real-time mechanism and the dice mechanism which gives the game its novelty factor.

No comments: