Back in 2016, Artipia Games released Project: ELITE, a real-time, co-op, strategic shoot-em-up game that was funded via Kickstarter. The game received widespread acclaim, with the likes of Tom Vasel singing its praises. It certainly was quite a unique take on this genre of game but it certainly wasn't perfect and without problems. The miniatures for one were dreadful and certainly needed overhauling. Step in CMON! In 2018 they announced a brand new edition of Project: ELITE. Upgraded miniatures, streamlined gameplay and lots and lots of extras were promised! After a few delays, Project: ELITE has finally landed and I could not be happier! I hyped this game up massively, in part due to the fact it was my first ever Kickstarter. So, was it worth the hype? Let's dive in and see!
'Is that all?!'
Background around Project: ELITE
As mentioned, this certainly isn't a new game but rather a re-skin of an already strong game. In Project: ELITE, your missions is simple. Complete objectives, while holding back the alien hordes fighting their way through to attack your base. Complete the various objectives and return to base before the aliens breach it and you win! If you take your eye off the ball and end up letting the aliens infiltrate your base then you lose and risk the demise of the rest of humanity.
'Cant we all just get along?'
How to play
The unique element of this game is the real-time mechanic that really has you on the edge of your seat. On the players turn, you have two minutes to roll your dice and either use them or lock them into objectives and weapons to complete the challenges and push back the aliens. As long as the dice isn't in a locked slot, you can re-roll them over and over again, as long as it's done within those 2 minutes. Be warned however, as if you roll a red alien symbol, you must move an alien (according to the arrows on the board) one space before doing anything else. It is up to you which alien moves so you can attempt to make your lives easier but sometimes, you'll feel like you're doing nothing but moving the aliens!
During the game, bosses can also spawn on the map, having unique abilities that can make your life miserable and improve the alien strategies. Usually they have massive health points or larger movement scores so you must stay on top of them at all times.
This is the core of the game and while there is far more detail around the turns, I want to give you a brief overview of how the game works before going into my review. Since the game has been reproduced and improved various elements, I have split the review down to first look at the miniatures and components, then we'll dive into the artwork and finish off analysing the gameplay itself.
'With these poses we are invincible!'
As mentioned, the very first edition of Project: ELITE did not have the best of miniatures. They certainly weren't the worst ever but they could definitely do with some improvement. Of course, we know that CMON's bread and butter are mini-heavy games and their expertise has certainly paid off with this production. The miniatures are beautiful, highly detailed, and certainly a massive improvement. I would expect nothing less from CMON and they certainly haven't held back in terms of quantities as well.
There is a lot of plastic in this box so if you are a fan of minis, you won't be disappointed. There is also a strong potential for painting the minis since the sculpts are very painter-friendly by the looks of it. In terms of the rest of the components, the production level is what one would expect from a CMON production. The cards, the boards, and the dice are all high quality and will certainly stand the test of time, especially the dice since they will be chucked about A LOT! The player boards are innovative and work nicely with the item and weapon cards. You have slots for both of these types of cards and the player set-up, therefore, is neat and tidy. This is certainly necessary since you'll be dice-chucking throughout the game! Project: ELITE is of excellent production quality and certainly does the game justice!
In terms of the artwork, Project: ELITE has again been overhauled in this edition and updated. I for one am a fan and feel it is fitting of the theme. The body horror displayed on the bosses gets a thumbs up from me and sits nicely within the alien theme. Its dark style definitely plays well with the high stakes and heart-racing moments that will feature when you're hurriedly attempting to push the aliens back! Once again, in my opinion, this overhaul is welcome and makes for a very attractive looking game. The characters look great and the monsters and aliens even better!
'They went that way...'
So, it may be a good-looking, quality game, but does Project: ELITE play well? It certainly does! It's rare that a game makes me feel the way I did when I played this for the first time. The real-time element makes you sit on the edge of your seat, fighting to roll the dice as quickly as possible, while trying to hurriedly communicate with the rest of your team to get the most out of your turn. I was physically sweating at one point when we forgot about a path the aliens could take and they got far too close to the base. Trying to roll a movement was nail-biting and just cranked the intensity up to 11! A game that can build tension like this does deserves respect and it's won me over!
Strategies are vital in all games but Project: ELITE has you thinking on the fly and you will have to keep yourself adaptable throughout. It keeps it exciting and interesting and you certainly won't lose interest or find yourself at a loss. There is a variety of maps and objectives you can complete. Extermination has you attempting to clear alien nests by assigning your dice (gun symbols) to the 3 or 4 points around the map. In Exploration, you have to unlock objectives with the risk of them halting your progress or vaulting you forward if you're lucky.
There are 5 variations of gameplay available so you can certainly keep things relevant and interesting. I have tried all 5 of these variations and they offer a good variety and while they may not be massively different in some regards, I am more than happy to have the option to choose which objective to play during each game.
'My entire fate is down to these magic cubes!'
Equipment and weapons
Along with the variation of game modes comes the variation in equipment and weapons. The weapons work in such a way that you must allocate dice to the weapon itself in order to activate it. Once activated, you then ensure you are within range of the aliens you want to attack and then roll the hit dice. The card dictates how many dice you will roll. Once rolled, you can then allocate the dice to the aliens of your choice. Looking through the cards, you will find all sorts of weapons at your disposal so there is certainly no lack of firearms and equipment!
You can also adjust the difficulty level for each game. To do this, you simply add more aggressive event cards to the event deck and, when necessary, draw more alien spawn and boss cards than normal! It stays well balanced in my opinion as we have definitely found it harder when increasing the difficulty level but not impossible and not so hard that it puts you off playing.
One interesting addition however is the Solo mode. This, in my opinion, does get a little more difficult, and have found myself at a loss at times when playing solo. In the Solo mode, you will have control of two characters but instead of having the usual 8 dice (4 per player), you have just 5 dice to share between the two characters. This makes things incredibly difficult when attempting to complete the objectives, especially when you have to assign up to 4 dice per objective.
Admittedly, you have the advantage of being by yourself meaning communication is not necessary. This is a major advantage, especially against the clock. The lack of dice however does not balance as well as I would hope and makes it just a little too hard. I have found the exploration mode to be easier in solo since you aren't locking dice into the objectives but the other modes make it very taxing. With that in mind, I would say this is my only negative around the game, and in the grand scheme of things, I feel it to be a minor inconvenience. It is fairly subjective and may just be a reflection on my dreadful strategy and planning! Who knows?!
'Altogether now... Y M C A'
That aside, this game really gels with me. It excites me when playing and ticks all the right boxes. Great artwork; check! Engaging gameplay; check! Awesome minis; check! Replayability; check! This game has a bit of everything for everyone. The use of real-time still keeps it different and fresh as opposed to other releases. I really am quite impressed with how awesome Project: ELITE is and finally being able to play it helps me understand exactly why I was so hyped for the game itself. It is excellent!
I think I have really sung the praises of Project: ELITE and rightfully so. It deserves praise since it provides a fantastic gaming experience. Yes, it certainly doesn't have the story aspect that the likes of Gloomhaven might bring but this game isn't here to provide a story. It is here to give you the chance to load up and go gung-ho into a horde of aliens in a desperate bid to save humanity from their grasp. You can use the wide variety of weapons to blast your way to victory or cross your fingers and pray you make it through the horde by running your way to victory.
The real-time element provides the tension and immersion players crave from a game and all of this falls into a package of wonderful, sweet gameplay! This was my top Kickstarter release and it is certainly in the running for my own personal game of the year! It is a real triumph in my opinion and would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a challenge!