Damage Report Review

You’ve just made the jump out of hyperspace but your navcomp has made a grievous miscalculation and you’ve jumped out too close to a star. The solar radiation has fried your hyper drive and the intense heat has severely hit your shields. Any moment the shields are going to give way and you’ll be toast. Oh, I forgot to mention, life support is also failing fast and if someone doesn’t repair it soon you’re all going to suffocate long before you’re fried to a crisp. This is a typical day in Damage Report, a space faring real time board game from Break from Reality Games, where the proverbial has quite literally hit the fan and you have 45 minutes before you’re entire crew is sucking the cold hard vacuum of space.

Damage Report is a scenario based game where something bad, really bad, has just happened aboard a space ship or space station and you have 45 minutes to save the day. This could involve repairing the hyper drive to get the hell out of dodge, powering up lasers to blast alien scum into space dust, or trying to save the crew of a space station from a deadly virus. No matter the scenario, the games works the same way; you and your ship mates need to repair critical systems on the ship. To do this they’ll need the correct raw materials; such as metal, energy crystals and circuit boards, as well as the tools to enact the repair. The problem is Damage Repot runs in real time, and providing life support is running smoothly, you only get to make one action every 30 seconds. This could be investigating what tools and resources are required, moving tools and materials or actually making the repair. As life support starts to fail the time in-between turns starts to increase, and can be up to 2 minutes between actions if you’ve neglected to repair the ship’s life support system.

If this wasn’t bad enough, every three minutes an ear piercing bleeping hits you as the ship’s computer informs you of yet another damage report, which basically means all your hard earned repairing is reduced to nothing as random systems on the ship take more damage. By the end of just one game of Damage Report I can guarantee that the noise of an alarm clock beeping at you becomes one of the most hated and dreaded sounds you can possibly hear. Chances are a system you’ve just spent the last 3 minutes gathering resources and tools for will suddenly take a hit, mere seconds after you’ve repaired it.

Damage Report is probably one of the most stressful games I have ever played. It’s not just the impeding bad news of the dreaded beeper that is keeping you constantly on the edge; it’s that in most circumstances you know you just don’t have enough time to complete a repair before the next damage report comes in. Even worse is when you think you may just be able to make the repair in time only to find a vital element of the repair job is missing. What makes things unexpectedly more stressful is the down time caused by low life support. You think that with more time to discuss your options it will give you more of a chance to work out a game plan, which it does, but there’s nothing more stressful in the game than getting that plan together and then impatiently waiting for your sand timer to flip so you can lumber on to the next room.

There’s also an issue with multiple system needing repair at the same time; in most games you’re looking at balancing at least three core systems, one of which will always be the important life support. You can concentrate on the main objective of the scenario but if you neglect to keep the status of the secondary systems topped up then you’re going to suffer in one way or another. The tutorial mission, the Icarus Problem, only needs to have the hyper drive working to complete, but you also have to make sure shields and life support don’t get too low. It leads to difficult decisions at every step and the odd gamble as you attempt to bet on the damage report coming out in your favour.

Teamwork is key in Damage Report. No one person can accomplish all the minor tasks required to complete a repair, it requires a synchronisation of components, tools, inspection and timing to get a system repaired. If just one player hasn’t got the correct part, tool or individual into the right place you often find the terrifying onset of the damage report means the system you’re planning to repair ends up even further into the red. Even worse is when players are running around like headless chickens and you’ll find that hull strength dropping like a starship into a gravity well.

Damage Report also cunningly rids us of the most annoying aspect of co-operative games. You may call it the alpha gamer, you may name them the quarter backer, or, as I do, you may just accuse them of being a bossy boots, but in most cooperative games there’s usually a single player who takes it upon themselves to run the game and tell all the other players how to play. Since turns are time based, rather than some form of sequential turn order, it means that players are often taking turns simultaneously. So even if  one player tries to order other players around it means that they can’t keep an eye on everything that’s happening and will be pre-occupied with their own actions.

If you took away the timer and turned Damage Report into a more conventional turn based game it just wouldn’t work. Remove the time limit and you’re actually left with a very simplistic game of moving parts from place to place. It’s the times element that makes the game so stressful, creating the tension to keep you on edge. It’s also a game that at first seems punishingly difficult. The first game my group played we believed that the tutorial mission was impossible and that there was no way to get the hyper drive online before the hull took a beating or the time ran out completely. Now two things happened here that are important; we immediately started the game again, but this time worked much more smoothly as a team realising that this vast moving jigsaw would only come together if we worked together. The main point is that every time we have failed a mission, the players immediately want to play that mission again.

Players act as if Damage Report has somehow slurred their honour and that it is essential to show the game who is boss.  And that my friend is exactly why Damage Report is a great game, it’s a challenge. It’s a stressful challenge, a challenge that will literally have you yelling at your ship mates asking them why the hell they’ve taken the duct tape to the shields when it’s needed to repair the hyper drive. It will have you defiantly stating that you’re picking up energy crystals because you’re sure it’s going to be useful when the next damage report comes up. But best of all is when you finally beat the bleeping son of a bitch you feel elated and safe in the knowledge that you can hyperspace away into the cosmos knowing that you’ve learned more about teamwork than any stupid corporate away day can ever impart.

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