Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quick Review - Wanted Earth - Kickstarter Preview

Wanted Earth
Designers: Phil Vestal,
Eddie Zakoor, Anneke Zakoor
Publisher: Shadow Squirrel Games
1-7p | 60-120m | 12+
Quick Review - Wanted Earth - Kickstarter Preview

Aliens have invaded the Earth.  It has resources and territory that they want.  Now it's up to a ragtag group of heroes to save the planet they call home.  But these aren't just soldiers and warriors.  Heck, they're not even all human.  But they must work together, combining their skills, to prevent the Goigons from taking over.

Wanted Earth is a miniatures skirmish game for two to four players (up to seven with optional PvP rules, and possibly even solo rules) that plays in about 120 minutes.  It's available on Kickstarter right now for only $89 plus shipping and includes 36 awesome miniatures (7 heroes, 22 aliens, a portal, and six pyramid shaped Enigmas), a huge game board, a bunch of custom dice, tokens, cards, and more!  Stretch goals may unlock even more miniatures and even an expansion add-on that includes another faction of aliens.

NOTE: I posted a People Behind the Meeples interview with designer Phil Vestal in November 2016, and an interview with designer Eddie Zakoor is scheduled to go live on Tuesday, May 16.

The goal of Wanted Earth is to present a rich, robust miniatures skirmish game in a package with simple, accessible rules, and relatively fast setup and play time.  It features some cool innovations, like damage tracking right on some of the miniatures, plastic frames with sliders for tracking hero stats, and neat random grid placement system that uses two d24 dice.  There are also a whole bunch of custom d6 dice used to resolve combat, and some really cool miniatures sculpts.

In Wanted Earth one player will play the faction (the invading aliens).  In the prototype I played there was just one alien faction, the Goigons, but there should be at least one additional faction to choose by the time of the Kickstarter (the Vizotoths).  The Goigons are an amphibious race that resembles a cross between salamanders, frogs, and Predator.  There are four basic units, two underlords, and one overlord.
Here come the Goigons and there goes the neighborhood!
One to three players control three heroes.  There are seven different heroes to choose from (plus four more in a potential expansion, and even more as possible stretch goals), each with varying strengths and weaknesses, and each with one or more special abilities.  Each hero has a unique back story, from Frass the military muscle, to Pinck the teen that was experimented on, Sass, the, uh, sassy military officer, to Liefie, the mysterious alien prince.  Each character's backstory is rich, and interesting, and drives the heroes' abilities.  There will even be comic books for some of the characters' origin stories if some stretch goals are hit.
Pnick was abducted for an alien race to conduct experiments, but he got a cool arm out of the deal.
The goal of the heroes is to survive six rounds against the faction, and then destroy the faction's overlord within an additional six rounds.  The faction's goal is to eliminate all three heroes from play before the heroes can kill the overlord.

Each character, whether hero or faction, has a number of stats.  Health determines how much damage the unit can take before being killed.  Movement determines how far units can move each turn.  Actions determine how many actions each unit can take per round.  For the heroes each of these stats is managed with sliders on a plastic frame that the character mat slides into.  This is useful because all heroes share a single turn each round, meaning each one can resolve a portion of the allotted actions or move, then another hero can do something, and then back to the first hero.  The sliders help you keep track of how much movement and actions have been used for each hero.  Faction units generally have lower stats to keep track of, and since each faction unit is fully resolved before moving on to the next unit, health is the only stat that needs easy tracking.  So each faction unit that has more than one health will have a health dial built into the base.  This will work similar to a Heroclix base, but has been designed custom for Wanted Earth.
The bases on faction units that have more than one health, like Sallee, will have a dial to track damage.
Other stats for each unit, hero or faction, include default attack strength, defense, striking range, and special abilities.  Heroes also have a number of credits (currency) they start with, and some have a starting weapon, too.  Faction units have a credit value that both determines their cost to deploy as well as the credits a hero earns for killing the alien.

To start the game, the faction player first chooses the location on the board of the portal.  This is an immoveable piece that is definitely not a Stargate, although it looks and functions pretty much the same way.  This is the circular portal through which the aliens are invading.   The portal can be placed anywhere on the 24x24 map grid, except in a few locations that are buildings or water.  Next, the faction player will add a number of units around the portal, within two spaces (orthogonally or diagonally).  How many units get placed depends on the cost of the units.  The faction player will have four credits worth of units to place (the amount of credits may vary depending on the difficulty and final balancing in the game).  This could be four of the cheap Wudwuds, or two more expensive Riltongs, or any combination of basic units.
Totally not a Stargate...
Next the faction player chooses one of the two underlords to add to the board near the portal.  Each faction will have two underlords, each with different strengths and abilities that will help drive both the faction's and heroes' strategies.  The Goigons' underlords are Wata and Baskk.  Wata starts the game with a fair amount of strength and has an ability that lets him strike a random row and column (determined with the d24 dice) twice per turn, damaging any hero in the row or column and outright killing any hero at the intersection. Baskk starts out with no attack or defense strength, but every round he gets stronger.  So the longer the heroes let him live the more powerful he'll become.
Pick Wata, or you'll have this to answer to.
Then the heroes get to place their units.  These must be at least ten spaces (orthogonally or diagonally) away from the faction units and portal, and all three heroes must be adjacent to each other.  Once the heroes have been placed the first Enigma is placed by rolling the tso d24 dice and placing the Enigma at the location the dice designate on the playing grid.  The Enigmas are small pyramids that give special abilities when they're 'solved'.  To solve an Enigma a hero must spend three actions.  I'll talk a little more about Enigmas later.
Sass can call an airstrike, potentially killing or damaging a number of faction units.
Finally, the faction player gets to deploy more units randomly around the board.  Four credits worth of units are deployed using the d24 dice.  Any time a unit or Enigma is set to come out in a building or area that it cannot occupy (e.g. in water for the Ugs or Enigmas), it'll move to the nearest space that it can occupy.  Final bits of setup include placing the round marker on the space for the first round, giving each hero any starting equipment and credits, and setting up the market.  The market is five cards that represent weapons, armor, or abilities that the heroes can purchase throughout the game.

Once the game is set up it plays out in up to twelve rounds.  The first six rounds have three phases; heroes turn, faction turn, and faction deployment.  Heroes try to kill aliens to earn credits that allow them to improve their weapons and defenses.  Aliens try to weaken the heroes and, if possible, take them all out to win the game.  The last six rounds the alien overlord comes out and must survive against the heroes until the end, or kill or the heroes to win.  The heroes must kill the overlord to win.
The mighty Moba Bo Bataar has fallen!
First the heroes take their turn.  Most heroes have three actions Liefie has only two, unless he's the only hero in play), and nine movement (Liefie has more movement).  Together, all three heroes use their movement and actions in any sequence.  One hero can take one action, then move part of his movement, then another hero can take an action, then the first hero can take another action, the third hero can move, then the first hero take his third action, then the third hero take her first action, etc.  Any combination of movement and actions for the three heroes is fine.  Movement can be orthogonally or diagonally.  Actions can be an attack, trading credits or equipment with adjacent heroes, solving an Enigma (for three actions), purchasing an item from the market, healing damage, or a hero's special ability that takes one or more actions.  Most of these actions are pretty straight forward, but upgrading equipment, solving Enigmas and attacks are the core of the game, so I'll talk more about them in a bit.

After all the heroes have gone, then any aliens remaining for the faction can move and take their actions.  Just like the heroes, aliens have a certain amount of movement as well as one or more actions, which generally are used for various types of attacks or activating special abilities.  Each type of alien unit has different stats and abilities, which are described on the faction boards.
The boys played the Goigons and had fun planning all the gruesome ways Moba Bo Bataar was going to destroy our heroes.
As heroes kill aliens they'll earn credits.  Credits can be used to purchase equipment from the market.  There are two main types of equipment: weapons and armor.  Weapons can be ranged (like guns) or not (like knives) and can be one-handed (pistols) or two-handed (longsword).  Heroes can only carry one two-handed weapon or two one-handed weapons.  Weapons add static hits or combat dice (see below) for attacking.  Armor comes in three different classes: light, medium, or heavy.  Each class gives different types of protection against attacks.  Light armor only gives combat dice for protection.  Medium armor gives one or two static defense along with some combat dice.  Heavy armor gives straight up static defense.  The more expensive the armor the better it is in its class.  There are also a few other item that can increase movement, base health, or actions, and there is one Fusion Core that increases all three stats.
Some of the weapon upgrades are pretty badass.
Solving an Enigma takes three actions.  Each round a different Enigma is placed, either a light or dark Enigma.  One type lets you bring a new hero into the game, if there are less than three heroes on the board.  This ensures that even if one hero is killed, no player is permanently out of the game.  The other Enigma will extend the current round, giving both the heroes and the faction a second turn, but without letting the faction deploy more units.  There's nothing really to 'solve', it's just a mechanic that requires a hero to be adjacent to an Enigma piece and spend all the actions for the turn in order to get the benefit of the Enigma.  Unused Enigmas will still be available in future rounds if needed.
Colored Enigmas extend the round.  White Enigmas bring in a new hero if one has perished.
Attacking is the main point of the game.  Killing aliens earns the heroes credits, which are used to purchase equipment, which strengthens the heroes for the battle against the overlord.  Each weapon has a range.  Heroes have a default range of one, meaning they can attack anything in an adjacent space, but some weapons (like guns) can increase this range.  Weapons also have varying attack strengths (as do the actual heroes as well as the aliens).  There are two stats to look at for weapons (and some characters with default attack abilities).  Static damage, and combat dice.  Static damage means that hero, weapon, or alien will always inflict one (or more) hits in combat.  Combat dice can be colored orange, green, or purple.  Each side of a die will have anywhere from zero to four hits.  Orange dice are the weakest, with zero, one, or two hits (and three sides are zeroes).  Purple dice are the strongest with up to four hits.  Green are middle strength.

Combat dice are also used for defense.  Just like attacks, heroes, armor, and aliens all have defense stats, either static defense or combat dice.  Each defense blocks one hit from an attack.
Tons of cool dice!
Resolving  combat is pretty easy.  Each side rolls any dice they are allocated from the character stats and weapons (if attacking) or armor (if defending), counts the number of symbols on the dice plus static damage or static defense, and the higher number inflicts one damage.  Each combat can result in the defender taking one point of damage (if the attacker's hits are greater than blocks) or no damage (if the defender's blocks are equal or greater than hits).  Damage to alien units that have more than one health are tracked on the dials on the unit pbases.  Damage to heroes is tracked on the sliders on the player board frame.  Additional damage can be inflicted in future attacks, but each additional attack costs another action.
Goigons flood across the board.
If an alien's health reaches zero the alien I removed from the board and the hero earns credits equal to the alien unit's cost to deploy.  If a hero's health ever reaches zero the hero I removed from the board.  Ther heroes are then at a disadvantage until one spends three actions to solve an appropriate enigma.  Once that happens, a new hero appears on the board in the place of the solved enigma with all that hero's starting stats.  Items carried by the killed hero are lost.  The heroes will only have three chances to gain a new hero, though, so getting replacement heroes isn't endless.  If the aliens have eliminated all heroes from the board the faction player wins immediately.

After both the hero team and the faction have taken their turns, if an enigma that extends the round has been solved both the hero team and the faction get another turn.  If no round extending enigmas were solved then the game moves on to the faction's deploy phase.  This works basically the same as the original setup, with the faction player deploying a certain number of credits worth of units around the portal (unless the heroes have managed to block the portal), placing a certain number of credits worth of units randomly on the board with the d24 dice, and then placing the next round's enigma randomly on the board.  This is where the difficulty of the game can be tweaked and adjusted according to your play style.  The more credits the faction can place the more difficult it'll be for the heroes.  When we first played the faction was deploying six and six credits worth and the heroes quickly became overrun.  Another game of four and four was much more balanced.  The last game I played we did four and five and that worked very well, too.

After six rounds of slogging back and forth there is one final deployment phase, however instead of deploying smaller units, the overlord unit comes out.  For the Goigons this is Moba Bo Bataar, the insanely obese, fire breathing frog-like beast with a gigantic tongue.  He's super powerful (15 health, two purple and one green combat dice for attack, and two static and one purple die for defense), and his attack covers a huge area (eight by eight total since his flaming tongue reaches four spaces).  He can also grab and reposition any units that are too close to him.  This makes him pretty nasty to fight, especially if you haven't gotten any powerful long range weapons.  Hopefully when the heroes are fighting Moba Bo Bataar there aren't any other Goigons around to pester them.  If the heroes can destroy the overlord before six additional rounds are up (no deploy phase in these last six rounds, so no faction reinforcements and no new enigmas) they'll win.  If the overlord survives six rounds, or all heroes are eliminated, then the faction player wins.
Moba Bo Bataar is one bad Mo Bo...
What Sets Wanted Earth Apart:

The game overview was pretty long, but realistically the game's mechanics are pretty simple and straightforward. Teams take turns maneuvering around the board and attacking each other.  Combat is determined by dice rolls with different dice having various strengths.  Each combat success does one point of damage, and units are killed if their health goes to zero.  Overall, the game is a pretty typical miniatures skirmish game, however there are a few things that Wanted Earth does that are pretty interesting and a bit different from other games.

Alien Spawning - The 24x24 play grid with the d24 dice that let the alien faction player place units randomly during the spawn phase actually works pretty well in this game.  It means that no area of the board is truly safe, driving the players to combat.  No turtling allowed in Wanted Earth!  With most units having a movement of at least eight (only Moba Bo Bataar has a lower movement), the large playing area is actually pretty small.  So there's nowhere to hide,  even without the random spawning.  I'm torn on if this is a good thing or not.  On one hand, it ensures that there's a lot of action every round.  You won't really have a round where you can just run away.  On the other hand, it means there's less strategic planning.  This is definitely a tactical game where you need to react and make decisions each turn because everything changes each round.
Aliens may appear anywhere on the board, so no place is safe.
The Enigmas - I really like how the Enigmas give you options to bring new heroes into play when one is killed.  This means that killing a hero will hurt the heroes, but just temporarily (although if the killed hero had some good equipment it can be a pretty big setback).  I also like the concept of extending a round with the other Enigmas, however that can extend the game and the game is plenty long enough without that.  However, I didn't find the Enigmas to be very enigmatic.  Maybe it's my Euro tastes coming through, but simply spending three actions to solve an Enigma felt unsatisfying.  I wanted to actually be solving some sort of puzzle.  I'm not sure how a mechanic like that could work in the game, and it might just bog the game down in unrelated mechanics (this is a combat game, not a puzzle game after all), but calling the action 'solving' the Enigma didn't work for me thematically.  Maybe just 'unlocking' would be better, but that's a minor concern.
The colored Enigmas will be different colors for each alien faction, so they'll probably be orange for the Goigons.
I'm not sure if they'll have different effects when playing against other factions or not.
Heroes - You really do get a sense of teamwork in Wanted Earth when playing the heroes.  I think ideally Wanted Earth would work best with just two players (one playing all three heroes), but even when the heroes are split between players it works well, although it's a bit slower.  Because each hero has very different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, you really have to work together and pool abilities.  Some heroes start with no ability to attack or defend, but have another strong ability.  Like Gavin, who has no attack, but can trade between adjacent players or buy stuff from the market without spending actions.  Since killing aliens is the only way to earn credits to buy stuff, using the other heroes to kill things, then get the credits back to Gavin so he can buy stuff is critical.  Each hero feels very different, so how the game plays out will vary quite a lot depending on the combinations of heroes selected.
Seven heroes will come with the base game, with a few more to be unlocked in stretch goals and expansions.
Aliens - For the Goigons there are four different basic units, and each one has different abilities that make them each appropriate in different situations.  Sallee is a powerhouse short range attacker, but she's expensive and there can only be one in play at a time.  Ugs are tanks with OK ranged attacks.  Riltongs are pretty weak, but can do a lot of damage with a successful attack since they hit all heroes within range, not just a single target.  Wudwuds are the cheapest units and make pretty good cannon fodder, but have what I think is the coolest ability.  Individually, Wudwuds are very weak attackers, although their range is infinite in a straight line.  However, if you line them up their attack strength stacks.  So if you have four of them in a row instead of each rolling a single green die, they'll attack together and you'll get to roll four green dice.  This can make them pretty powerful if you're able to maneuver them to target a vulnerable hero.
Those Wudwuds will combine their attacks to roll four green dice!
The two underlords also have very different abilities that will result in very different strategies being used.  Wata is weaker, with only three health, but has a pretty powerful attack right out of the door.  Every round he gets to call in two solar strikes.  You'll roll the d24 dice twice and each time, any heroes in the row or column indicated by the dice lose one health, and if a hero happens to be unfortunate enough to be in the intersection the hero is immediately killed.  This is rare (about a 1:92 chance of happening, assuming all three heroes are on the board), but it did happen once in the first game I played back in February.  Baskk has a lot more health (seven), but starts the game with absolutely no attack or defense.  Each round though, Baskk will gain a green die for both attack and defense.  So in the early game the heroes will have to try to take out Baskk before he gets too strong, and the faction player will be trying to protect Baskk.  However the underlords don't give any credits when they're killed, so if the heroes focus too much on taking out Baskk they won't be earning credits to purchase better weapons and armor.  Which underlord is selected at the beginning of the game will really determine the strategies for both the heroes and faction.
Baskk, Moba Bo Bataar, and Wata.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly... OK, they're all just bad and ugly...
Components - There will be a few cool innovations with the Wanted Earth components that I haven't really seen before.  The prototype components I had were all 3D printed, but the final components will all be injection molded minis and plastic components.  The minis all look great, even as printed ones, so I can only imagine that they'll look awesome as final production models.  What's really cool about the minis though, is the hit point dials in the bases.  The dials on the 3D printed minis didn't turn very easily, but once they're turning smoothly it'll be a nice way to track damage on the alien units.  The frames that will hold the hero cards are super nice, too.  Again, the sliders on the 3D printed frames weren't the smoothest, but the production components should be excellent.  And tracking health on the frame will be much nicer than using damage tokens, or a clip on the edge of the mat.  Tracking movement and actions is also critical since all heroes take their actions and movement in any order.  These component innovations really go a long way to streamline the game and keep it pretty accessible.
The cases with the sliders to track hero stats are super useful.
PvP and Solo - I didn't get a chance to play Wanted Earth in anything other than the standard faction vs heroes mode, but it's worth noting that the game comes with two additional modes of play.  PvP mode supports up to seven players, with two teams of heroes that have to fight not only the aliens, but each other as well.  There will also be a solo mode, however I haven't seen the rules for that yet.

More - A few other features of Wanted Earth that stand out include the game board.  I already mentioned the 24x24 grid and how that works so well with the d24 dice for spawning randomization, but what I haven't mentioned is the actual layout of the board.  Most of the board is open, however there are a few geographic features on the board that add interest.  There are several buildings that can provide a bit of cover as well as movement obstacles.  There is also a river crossing the board diagonally, which the heroes cannot cross.  There is a bridge to provide access to that section of the board, however most of the Goigon units can cross the water (they are amphibious after all).  Only the Ugs and Wata, with their heavy armor, and Moba Bo Bataar, with his flaming tongue, cannot cross water.  However, you won't be stuck playing the game on the same board every time.  Even though the combinations of heroes, portal placement, underlord chosen, and equipment in the market will make every game play out differently, Wanted Earth is going to come with a double sided board.  The other side should be more open and there will be modular cutouts so that you can create your own landscape for nearly infinite battle ground variety.
If the main board doesn't cut it for you, the flip side will feature a blank grid so you can
make your own map with modular building tiles.
The Kickstarter campaign will also include stretch goals that will include new equipment, additional characters, and even an expansion add-on option that will include a whole new faction of aliens to fight.  There will even be full length comic book backstories for several of the characters.  There will be a lot in this game that will make it pretty epic.

Final Thoughts:
I had fun playing Wanted Earth.  Overall it played very smoothly.  I've not had the fortune to play a lot of heavy miniatures based games, but of what I have played, this definitely holds its own.  I've heard stories of games having awesome miniatures and horrible gameplay and I'm happy to say that Wanted Earth is not one of those.  Wanted Earth has very cool looking minis and very solid gameplay.  So if you're looking for a good tactical skirmish game with cool minis and accessible gameplay, Wanted Earth should hit the mark for you.
Trying to figure out how to take out Baskk.
That said, I don't feel that Wanted Earth does anything really groundbreaking.  There are some cool innovations with the components.  The randomization of spawning points with the d24 dice is pretty cool.  And there are some interesting mechanics that arise due to the combinations of different units abilities (I really, really like how the Wudwuds can have their attacks stacked).  But when it comes right down to it, Wanted Earth is a dice chucking combat game.  Because movement is so great the game is a constant slugfest where combat is almost always decided by the roll of the dice.  Yes, it is possible to power up the heroes by giving them good armor and weapons, but each battle does usually come down to the roll of the dice.  I like how some dice are stronger than others, and that adds a sense of excitement to the game that's often lacking in standard d6 based combat.
Rich back stories for the characters add the potential for some awesome scenario play someday.
While there are a lot of different possible combinations that will make games play out differently, Wanted Earth does occasionally start to feel repetitive.  Each round is basically the same thing - move your units to where they can fight some enemies, conduct combat, move to where you think you'll be out of range for your opponent's next attack.  After potentially 15 rounds of that (if all three round extensions are used) things can start to drag a bit.  The game does speed up significantly once you're familiar with the various units and abilities, and two player games are faster than four.  However, after multiple games, it might start to feel a little stale.  Many other similar games have various scenarios that give different goals and conditions to mix things up and keep things feeling fresh.  Wanted Earth doesn't have that, but there is a lot of potential for more story variety with expansions.  The first expansion will hopefully be available with this Kickstarter and will add a whole new faction of aliens with all new abilities (the Vizotoths).  I can see Wanted Earth also expanding to include various scenarios that have certain elements added or removed from the game, e.g. the heroes must destroy the heavily protected alien portal, or the heroes must access a building to retrieve sensitive documents and return them to headquarters.  There are a lot of potential story lines that could be added to change things up.

The games felt generally balanced.  Yes, they could be swingy depending on certain combinations of heroes or equipment becoming available, and especially because of lucky dice rolls, but I found that each side seemed to have an equal chance of having a great game.  So I think the swingyness of the games is more due to circumstances and how players react to them than an unbalance of the game.  We found that after a game we were analyzing different decisions and saying "what if" a lot.  We felt that outcomes could have been different if different decisions had been made, and not everything was solely because of the dice.  There is definitely an underlying strategy and techniques to playing based on in game situations.  As you play and learn how heroes interact with each other, or which aliens are best at fighting which heroes, you'll find that the dice rolls are secondary to using your units effectively.  If you do feel that things are too easy for the heroes, simply allow the faction to spawn some more units.  Or if the faction is demolishing the heroes, cut deployment a bit.  It's a very easy element to adjust as you need.
This Ug wants you to back Wanted Earth or he's coming after you!
Overall, I found Wanted Earth to be a very solid playing game with a good theme, some innovative components, some interesting mechanics, accessible rules, and really cool miniatures.  Wanted Earth will be on Kickstarter starting May 11, 2017 and $89 (plus shipping) will get you a box stuffed with awesome components.  So be sure to check out Wanted Earth by Shadow Squirrel Games on Kickstarter right now!

Preliminary Rating: 7/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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