Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Review

Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview

Congratulations!  You escaped the computer that was stuck in “Kill All Humans” mode.  You managed to build an escape shuttle and now you’re headed back to Earth.  Time to put your feet up (especially easy in zero-gravity, you don’t need a footstool or anything), sure there’s an asteroid field between you and home but the autopilot can deal wi...I beg your pardon, did you just say “malfunctioning sensors”.

Ah crap!

Sensor Ghosts is the sequel to Assembly from Wren Games (you know, Assembly, the one that was shortlisted for the MENSA award), however, if you’ve not played Assembly, don’t worry, the story is simple and is pretty much entirely covered in my intro.

Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview - Spacescape

Your mission (read: goal of the game) is to navigate the asteroid field and return to earth having also picked up some of the virus samples along your way.  However, not only does the landscape (spacescape?) of your journey keep changing, but what you think is in front of you may not actually be what is in front of you.  It’s a game of hedged-bets, of cautious exploration, subtle communication and taking chances in order to win.

Your “map” is made up of cards arranged in columns and rows that depict the types of space: Empty, Boost, Asteroid and Obstructed.  There’ll also be some holes in your map too which count as un-passable areas.  Boost propels you into the next column or row (depending on your orientation), asteroids will damage your ship unless you’ve charged your shields and obstructed sectors are exactly that, areas of no-go.

Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview - In the Beginning

Each player will select a card to play from their very limited hand of cards and then all players will agree in what order to execute those cards.  There are only a few types of card, and each can be used in two different ways to move through or examine the space around you correctly or charge up your shields.   

A big chunk of the co-operative play comes in as players can’t discuss their tactics - this ‘table rule’ is one that can be applied as strictly as your gaming group wants, from playing in silence with sign language or more vague discussions about how to do X.  Much like in Assembly, players are acting autonomously with a collective goal.  Executing the right series of commands in the correct order at the right time will see you fly easily across sectors, if you’re very lucky and have correctly and silently communicated your plan.

Good luck with that.

Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview - Command Cards

There is essentially two phases to this game, which makes it a little more complex and involved than its predecessor.  One is the action selection and programming of the players and the other is the adjustments to the spacescape by the game itself.  Each sector card has to be explored, peeked at and probed in order to work out what it really is.  That patch of open space could turn out to be a cluster of asteroids.  Further to this though, after the players have finished their turn you re-scan space by which we mean the row directly above the shuttles currently location shifts along in a wrap-around conyevorbelt fashion.

It’s like navigating a labyrinth where the walls keep moving and sometimes the walls are not  walls at all.  This can cause some frustration as it can (and probably will) happen that you’ll find yourself stuck between an asteroid and an obstructed place without the cards you need to really affect anything until the next turn when the row shifts along.  Or you’ll be in the right place at the right time but without the right card to take the action you need to.  You can always dump your entire hand to as a Wildcard action, but the command cards are a very limited, and very precious resource, in fact, once they’re gone its game over.

Sensor Ghosts Kickstarter Preview - Virus Collected

To paraphrase Chuchill, "Sensor Ghosts is a puzzle, wrapped in a maze, inside a game; but perhaps there is a key."  The player actions have a sense of lock picking to them.  Of turning tumblers, aligning the spaces just right to allow you to thread your ship/key into just the right spot.  It’s is not without its frustrations, especially when your co-pilot is bent on a different course of action (the smeghead), and you will occasionally find yourself the victim of poor timing and poor decisions and poor luck, but not every lock can be picked, which makes victory all the sweeter when you do manage to get back home.

I have a sense that there is still more of this story to come and I'll be very interested to see what happens next and how Wren games continue this story both in terms of narrative and game mechanics.

Sensor Ghosts is on Kickstarter now if this sounds like your cup of tea.

This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.
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