Taken from Board Game Geek
In a dystopian future, our planet has been stripped of all natural resources, becoming virtually uninhabitable. It’s time to seek an alternative planet, before it is too late… Black Angel is a game about giving humanity a chance to exist beyond a destroyed planet Earth. It is the search for a possible future home for the human race! What a cheerful theme…
The name Black Angel refers to the intergalactic frigate which carries the “generic heritage” of the human race to its new home, the planet Spes. The journey will last over a thousand years, which is, thankfully, not the duration of the game.
Black Angel is considered a rethemed version of the classic dice game Troyes, but does it hold up as a new game in its own right?
Black Angel is a dice placement game. Dice have numbers from 0 to 3, with the face value of the die indicating either the strength of the action to be taken, or dictating the number of times it can be taken. Each player is a different nation’s AI, controlling robots and ships on board the Black Angel, using dice rolls to select actions.
Each player starts with the same number of dice, one of each of the three colours. More dice can be earned throughout the game, but this is not the only way to get additional dice…
The colour of the die selected for an action dictates which actions it can be used for. For instance, if a die is used to send out a ship, its colour determines on which hexes on the space map it can be used. Yellow dice are used to develop new technologies (tiles which can provide a player with bonuses at the start of their turn). Grey dice are used to repair the ship, which is really important, as damage can reduce the efficacy of any dice used. Repairing damage removes damage cubes from the board, and they become debris cubes, which have several uses in the game. Green dice can be used to fend off Ravagers – aliens which make it very difficult to perform actions around the Black Angel.
Sending ships out, or moving ships on the map, can potentially be carried out with any coloured die, but the colour determines the space on which the movement finishes. If there is a card on the final space, players can take the action on the card – this may provide them with robots, ships to explore the map, or resources. If there is no card, a player can play a card from their hand onto the space, and must then indicate ownership (this provides instant rewards, usually victory points).
Robots perform a number of functions in the game. Firstly, they pilot the ships a player sends out. If they have no robots in the communal area of the Black Angel, a player cannot send out a new ship. Secondly, when a ship is sent out and places a card, a robot is used to mark ownership of the card on the map. Thirdly, a player may choose to move their robots into a dedicated area of the board – this then allows them to roll more dice (more on this later).
Resources in Black Angel are generic – they are only ever considered “resources” (and not wood, stone, ore…). There are a number of uses for resources. Firstly, they can be “spent” to “buy” a die from another player. That player has no choice in the matter – but they do get a resource as consolation. Secondly, they can, when dice are initially rolled, be used to reserve or protect a die from being purchased by other players. Some of the cards which can be placed on the space map also give victory points in return for resources.
If a player does not like the dice they have available, or has none available, and does not or cannot buy a die from another player, they can reroll their dice according to the robots they have in the dedicated areas). But those dice rolls are not final. If, when a die is selected, the value is unsatisfying, the player may spend a debris cube to flip the die to the opposing face.
The act of choosing to roll the dice is a step which draws the game closer towards its end – depending on player count, the Black Angel will arrive at its destination after a fixed number of rerolls. Potentially, a sharp player could use this to control the timing of the end of the game.
Ravagers are attacking aliens. These are represented by cards which occupy the slots on which players place their dice. In order to take the action on the placement spot, players must first satisfy the demands of the ravager card – this may be to lose a card from their hand, or to lose a robot, or to place a damage cube. Ravager cards can result in actions becoming severely limited, if not kept in check.
Player Boards and Technologies
As well as the dice placement action, players also have a player board which can be activated at the beginning of their turn. Technologies (which are acquired using yellow die) are stored on the player boards, and some can be activated at the beginning of the turn. These provide additional bonuses, such as robots, resources, or even ships. In this way, all players have the opportunity to gain access to resources, regardless of what they have rolled on their dice.
By all accounts, Black Angel should be a luck fest… it sounds like it should be entirely determined by the luck of dice rolls. And to some extent it is, but the mechanisms that are in place to mitigate against this mean that it doesn’t feel like luck is a key part of the game – in fact it doesn’t seem to enter discussions.
That said, I can imagine that situations would arise in which a player who has not planned correctly could end up with no cards to play, no resources or debris cubes, no ships to send out, and with a couple of low rolls. While it is possible to recover from this, it could be an experience which would deter an inexperienced player.
And so to the inevitable comparisons with Troyes. Apart from looking prettier, Black Angel seems like it has far more interesting decisions. The basic mechanisms are similar – the dice rolling, the ability to buy opponents’ dice. However, the dice values are less fundamental in Black Angel (since they have a lower range), and it feels like there is a lot more variability in the cards because more appear during gameplay. The core concept of the game, exploring space around the Black Angel, chilmes very differently to Troyes. Yes, the two games feel vaguely similar, but they are sufficiently different that owning one does not mean the other is worthless, and in fact you may find that you like one, and not the other. I much prefer Black Angel…