Here are five of our favourite games based on established science fiction. I hope you’ll find it an interesting and eclectic mix. Some are better known than others, but all provide a rich theme for some top-class games to spend an evening with friends.
This was great way before the seminal Villeneuve release; Herbert’s book is a classic and Lynch’s ’84 film may have been hated by Lynch himself but holds a special place in my heart. And I could happily be writing about the ‘79/’19 release Dune board game which is itself a fantastic game - a different kind of sprawling, epic and pitiless board game to fill an afternoon with betrayal and brutality.
But for me Dune: Imperium pips it, and Englestein’s The Expanse, to the post as my favourite Sci-Fi game. I think it is elegant, sufficiently complex without being oblique, and well-themed (so glad to drawing so heavily on the film release for design that they went for illustration rather than movie stills).
I like the well-designed blend of deck building and worker placement at its core – the two mechanics are well-integrated, and I continue to enjoy exploring different routes to victory as a deck comes together through play. Also, I think that the rather abstracted fight for Arrakis through the round combat scratches my itch for player interaction, which is often missing from worker placement games or pasted on through crude gotcha plays.
While deck creation plans need to be fluid, as the random selection of the market makes firm strategic decisions difficult to pull off, I don’t find this detracts from the joy of deciding what to buy (and potentially what to trash).
And I have added the Rise to Ix expansion, which has impressed me by adding further wrinkles which expand options and make the game far more nuanced. Add to this that the automata for solo or two-player games provides a real challenge and you have a thoroughly satisfying experience. The spice really must flow.
I have been a fan of the Xcom games ever since Microprose released Enemy Unknown on the PC so when I heard it was getting a semi-analogue edition, well... Vigilo Confido!
I was expecting a board-based interpretation of the turn-based combat though, so when the game came out as a cooperative real-time resource management game, I was a little disappointed. However, the difference between a good franchise-based game and a great franchise-based game is that it knows the difference between what you want and what you need. This is what I needed.
I don't think there is a game out there like Xcom - a cooperative game that is completely asymmetrical - one player manages the cash and interceptors, another the research, another the satellites and another the boots on the ground. It plays part real-time, part pushes your luck, and believe me, your luck will be pushed.
The real-time element is app-based and throws various events like alien incursions, base invasions, research allocations and just general global mayhem that have to be dealt with on the spot. Forces need to be deployed, funds need to be allocated and both are limited and necessary if you are to develop the technology or repel the invaders. It is hectic and merciless, even in trainer mode!
Once this is over, players take it in turn to roll special dice to complete tasks, and an alien dice that relates to an insta-fail tracker - each time the task is attempted, the number on the tracker rises; roll under and it's game over, man. You will often get rounds when nothing goes right. Then you get your funding slashed and the US falls to alien occupation. Just another day in the corps...
Yes, it's hard, yes, it's heartbreaking, but is it Xcom? You bet you're Sectoid Mindprobe it is!
Jamey Stegmaier, the founder of Stonemaier Games, is a huge fan of the eponymous young adult book series penned by Pierce Brown. After devouring the first instalments back in 2014/2015, his dream of creating something within the fictional dystopian Mars setting 700 years into the future was born. And, when the Intellectual Property, financial, and creative planets aligned 6 years later, the official Red Rising board game became a reality.
Red Rising is a hand management, deck building, card drafting game. Based upon a strict caste system, 6 power-hungry Houses are clawing, fighting, and thinking their way to supremacy. But for you to rise up over all others, you must accumulate the most points. And you do this by amassing the greatest group of followers there ever was.
Luckily, your own House has asymmetric abilities which you can trigger throughout the game. Not only that but each character (all 112 of them!) has its particular power. However, the real special sauce in Red Rising comes when you exploit the synergies between certain characters. When that happens, the potential for combination actions and mega points at end game scoring ramps up exponentially.
The gameplay is super simple. It is essentially a race to gain enough bonuses aka helium tokens, Institute cubes and/or spaces along the Fleet Track (“bonuses”) to trigger end game scoring. Each turn you can lay a card from your hand onto one of four locations on the board and trigger that character’s immediate “benefit”.
You’ll also gain a location bonus and be able to select a new card. Alternatively, you can keep all your existing cards and add a new card from the deck to any of the four locations. You won’t trigger a benefit, you won’t get another card, but you will get the location bonus.
There is nothing complicated about Red Rising. But the decisions you’ll face each turn are deliciously dilemma inducing. The production quality is also top-notch. And, as you would expect from Stonemaier, the Automa Factory solo mode is out of this world.
When we were asking around for a sci-fi IP game I realised I don’t own many IP games at all, but the one I do own is a good one: Tales from the Loop from Free League Publishing.
Tales from the Loop started life as an art book by Simon Stålenhag. Weirdly it’s not the only art book that has become a board game in the last few years, looking at you Scythe. Tales from the Loop then became an RPG, a TV series and most recently a rather cracking board game.
The world of the Loop takes place in Sweden in an alternative timeline 80s. The Loop is a massive particle accelerator that has become the centre of scientific progress and attracted all sorts of boffins to live and work in the surrounding area. There are giant robots roaming free and huge high-tech buildings dot the landscape.
In the game, you play as children who are doing normal childlike things like doing homework and chores. You’re also curious and trying to explore the mysteries of the Loop. Each game has you playing through a different branching story trying to get to the bottom of what is going on.
You also need to make sure you don’t neglect your schoolwork or stay out too late as you may end up getting grounded which can lead to your parents refusing to give you lifts around the map.
It's a great game that has you making tricky decisions about managing your actions and making sure that all the important tasks get handled promptly. The artwork is vivid, and the production is nice. There are some genuinely intriguing and sometimes odd stories to experience in this game which fit the theme well. It’s not big and bombastic with explosions everywhere, it’s a lot more low-key and thought out and it is very much my kind of jam.
Sci-Fi isn’t really my genre. I’ve always been more of a fantasy guy. At the risk of losing nerd points, I’ve not seen a Star Wars or Star Trek movie. So, picking a game which covers a Sci-Fi IP was a difficult challenge for me. One stood out, from more recent plays in the last month: The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, based on the classic 1982 alien horror movie, The Thing – starring Kurt Russell and directed by John Carpenter
The Thing is a cooperative game with a hidden traitor, where you are collectively trying to find items in the various rooms to aid your escape. Each round, the active player (or mission commander) will draw a mission and choose their team. Each person will then choose a card from their hand to either aid or sabotage the mission. By adding to the mission, you can provide additional dice to support the challenge, making it easier.
Sabotage will cause the mission to fail unless some action is taken, like discarding specific cards. Failure of the mission can result in rooms being restricted due to fire or blackouts, and each failure reduces the chance for players to check on the role of each other. Once the items have been gathered and you’re planning your escape, you must collectively decide whom to oust from the helicopter. If even one infected person escapes, you lose.
It’s an interesting social deduction game made more so by the fact that the number of traitors can grow as the game progresses. It’s tense, evocative and draws heavily on the IP, and while I had a bit of a mixed experience in my first game that was based on me rather than the game itself. Definitely one to try if you like the source material or hidden traitor games.