Oh boy, this game is a doooooozy! While waiting for the kickstarter to arrive, which could take until Summer due to the distribution company going out of business (Funagain), I set all my search triggers to see if anyone was selling a copy and was able to pick one up and get it shipped a few weeks back.
I can’t say yet if Stationfall is good, I can’t say if it will stand up to a bunch of drunken oafs for the 2+ hour play time, but I can give a take on what I think this is about and why I think this will be HATED by some, and really up other people’s alley: this game is a CHAOS GENERATOR.
The Ecklunds, designers of Pax Porfiriana, Bios Megafauna, Greenland, ET AL., have this concept of the achterbahn in many of their games, which means ‘roller coaster’ in German. It signifies that when you start play, you’re not just building an engine or fighting other players, you are doing those things while the game itself is taking you on a wild ass ride. Sometimes you have an easy time, like in Greenland when you don’t have many cards move to the cold side during the game, or an absolutely brutal time, when in Pax Porfiriana you get two Bear events in the first turn and everyone sits in Recession for the whole game trying to claw their way enough funds just to buy a ranch, let alone other political machinations! You’ll notice that the Pax Porfiriana clones and similar games from other designers (namely Cole Wherle, Jon Manker) completely avoid having the achterbahn in the game, keeping the randomness down to the order that the cards come out or are played by players rather than the game itself causing massive shifts that people have to deal with. Tableau and Ops games like Pax Viking, Reign of Witches, Oath and Pax Pamir appeal to gamers that want more control over what they are doing themselves and directly to each other, and less or no interference from the game, pushing them much closer to engine builders such as Viticulture or Euphoria.
Stationfall represents, in the body of work so far from both Ecklunds, the purest expression of achterbahn yet as it begins as a literal ride on a space station station down from orbit to break up into pieces in Earth’s atmosphere, and it does this with NO event cards. The entire game state, that changes with every player’s turn, can work for or against the player based on their goals, and the moment the players start interacting with the Station’s systems and items, everything goes completely insane. That said, the rollercoaster aspects are generated FROM the players themselves and not an event deck, but the butterfly effect from a single turn on the board state can throw plans and even the station itself into complete chaos. On the first turn it’s possible that the Project X experiment is released, power is shut down and the antimatter decays (meaning the station explodes in 4 minutes instead of 13). All of these things have to be mitigated in order to be successful and that’s something a lot of players are going to hate, and many, like me, are going to love.
I’ve had one play with humans and two solo practice plays. As this isn’t a review (people should play games shorter than 2 hours at least 5-10 times before reviewing them), I’m not going to go into how the game works all that much, nor whether I think this game is good for more than a play or two for lols, but more about what the hell you actually do.
First, players must realize that they are a conspiracy and not (at first) a single character. What this really means is that at the start of the game, before your conspiracy starts to run dry on influence, you can control the actions of any other character in the game– including those of other players (until they reveal themselves). The game is NOT like Battlestar Galactica / Unfathomable or any other type of deduction game where deduction of who is who matters a ton to gameplay. It’s important, but not core to the game. The core gameplay is using the characters on the board to get the shit done you need to fulfill your conspiracy’s objectives as quickly as possible.
Each character has a set of victory conditions that allows them to score points at the end of the game. You choose one of these characters to be your main conspirator in the beginning of the game, and one other character to be your enemy/friend depending on if they are naughty or nice. if you fulfill the vp conditions on your character as much as possible, you will likely win. The game is all about who can pull the most points out when Stationfall happens. The victory conditions are wildly different, some hoping to save characters, some hoping to kill them all and blow the station up, and some trying to infect everyone with whatever disease is on the ship, etc. There are robots, people, data and objects that can be characters, so it’s pretty wild. Experienced players can likely deduce who is who after the very first turn, but early days of the game, there’s just no way to tell (except maybe the Engineer or the Daredevil).
Stationfall won’t have a ton of table talk trying to convince people to do things (which is something I thought it might have) until such point as which people have revealed themselves as a certain character– then negotiations can actually work. There is a bribe mechanic, which can score a player some points of they do another players bidding with their main character, but there’s also no reason that other people may want to talk over what might be the ‘best’ course of action for a character for them.
Teaching / game length
This likely should be the first part of this post– teaching this game will take some time and you need to prepare your gamers for it. If they are Viticulture style people, this is going to be a very, very difficult game for them to grasp at first, and you will need to go through not only everything on the ship, but all of the character special powers as well. I don’t have too much advice on this one as I’ve only taught it once, except go through EVERYTHING. Talk about the pieces of the ship, the non grav areas, the dark areas, the loading claw, the powers of the bridge, the anti matter, outside the ship, the mesosphere and all the characters in the game. Once you finish teaching, the game will go surprisingly fast as player’s turns actually do not take very long to complete (unless you are on Table Top Simulator that is)
On the Winning
Victory for a character cannot be determined until Stationfall (however that comes about) but some players will ‘make their points’ early with their main character and use the rest of the turns to mess with other players’ designs. In the one game we played we had a daredevil who did NOT use the project X Death Ray to destroy the escape pods that had made it to the mesosphere, ruining the other player’s chances of winning, but it was certainly a possibility. I think there can be some downtime for players who have made it off the Station and can no longer score points,, but I’ll have to see how that plays out with more plays of the game.
Overall, I think this is a very exciting and completely nuts game that goes against the grain of what’s popular in almost every single way. Since I hate the current trend in boardgames (place workers, point salad) this is very refreshing.