Friday, September 26, 2014

To boldly clix, part 1

After years of using their patented clix dial system almost exclusively for tactical combat games, Wizkids Games finally decided to try it out on some board games. For their first, they paired what should have been a winning combination: the venerable Star Trek license, and renowned game designer Reiner Knizia.

Star Trek: Expeditions is theoretically based on the 2009 film that rebooted the franchise, but it clearly has its roots in the structure and tropes of the original series, to such an extent that one wonders if Dr. Knizia has even seen any Star Trek material made after 1969. It's fine if he hasn't, because it allowed him to get down to the essence of a classic Star Trek story, without getting distracted by the world building and technobabble of the later television shows, or the empty Hollywood action of the more recent films.

It's a cooperative game in which each player takes on the role of one of the Enterprise crew, represented by a nicely detailed miniature with a patented clix base. The majority of the board is split up into areas, each containing a face-down plot card, and the idea is for the characters to beam down to the planet and uncover the cards that will move the plot forward and gain the group the most points in the process. Along the way, players will face tests using the standard clix system of rolling dice and adding whatever ability is appropriate (in this case: command, science or support) in an attempt to beat a target number. Failed tests can cause the character to click down their dial, reducing their abilities and making future tests more difficult.

There is also a track along the top of the board where miniatures of the Enterprise and a Klingon ship do battle, with each failure pushing the Enterprise backwards along the track and losing the players points from their final score.

The clix dials seem a bit shoehorned in, but that's probably to be expected, especially with a designer like Reiner Knizia who is perfectly capable of creating a game without a weird plastic gimmick. In spite of that, it's a pretty neat game. I really like the way it gets all the classic Star Trek elements in: characters get involved with the unfolding plot on the planet, with their choices leading to greater or lesser degrees of success, while at the same time there are things to do on the ship in orbit, fighting the Klingons to a standstill but also performing various support tasks such as repairing the ship and scanning the surface. It's very difficult to win, but that's to be expected for a cooperative game.

Where the game fails is in the repetitiveness of the plot cards. They are semi-random: the same basic cards that move the game forward are combined with a selection of random "side-missions" that can give the players advantages upon success, but have no real bearing on the main story. It's a problem that could be solved with expansions introducing  new storylines, but that's really just a band-aid for a structural flaw in an otherwise terrific Star Trek game.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) The Star Trek theme is spot-on, but unnecessary clix dials and somewhat repetitive game play stop this from being a truly great game.

Date played: August 17, 2014

UPDATE May 12, 2015: Another look at Star Trek: Expeditions

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