Review – Panic Station from White Goblin Games
Designer and Artist – David Ausloos
4-6 players ages 10+
Over the last few years we have seen quite a few cooperative style games and I am certainly a fan. I really like the sense of tension and spirit of teamwork that comes with cooperative games. Kind of an “us against the world” thing. As with anything, you certainly can get too much of a good thing and we are certainly in danger of too much of the “same old” in cooperative games. So we probably need some new takes and ideas to freshen things up and you could certainly do worse than with Panic Station from White Goblin Games which starts as a team effort, only to turn this on its head as the team suddenly finds itself threatened by a lurking danger within. And the danger is a killer in the guise of a parasitic infestation.
The quality of the components is typically good as White Goblin Games puts good effort in to produce games that are visually pleasing and sturdy. Panic Station comes in a nicely produced tin box which comes with good quality cards, wooden discs which are used as the characters and the “bugs”, and stickers to put on the discs. The artwork is very nicely done and very evocative of a dark, eerie, and frightening environment in the station where the danger lies. Well done. Those who have moaned about the darkness just don’t get it.
The players are members of the Extermination Corps and they are each represented by a Trooper and a companion Android. They have been sent to the station which has been infested by alien bugs and their job is to go in and use a flame thrower to burn out the Hive. Trouble is, they don’t have a map to plan where they need to go so they have to discover each room of the station in their search for the Hive. On top of that, the alien bugs are popping up and they aren’t the friendly type. All pretty straightforward right? Well, the twist is, one of the players is actually the Host for the infestation and is quite keen on sharing the love. Hoo boy, talk about paranoia! So they worry and accusations begin as some of the once friendly and united team turn on their colleagues and the humans race to find and destroy the Hive before its too late!
Now I will say up front that I was really looking forward to playing Panic Station as the theme and paranoia sounded like a lot of fun. I will also say that there have been a number of questions about the rules on Boardgamegeek and there have been mixed comments and experiences. The rules, which I read a few times before playing, aren’t the clearest but I didn’t find them too much of a problem. But even as we played, we had to clear up a couple of things, but not many. I think that perhaps the rules need to be clearer. The good news is that they are being revised even now and the designer has taken a lot of comments on board. The update should be ready soon. Those who claimed that the rules are broken are clearly off track as our experience was a very good one.
I would say that you need to play the game with the right group. This is not a game for analytical types for instance. In fact, Panic Station is probably best suited for those with RPG-type game leanings and those who like dungeon bashes as its helpful to get into the theme and it is also, as someone said on Boardgamegeek, more of a open game system, than an absolutely defined game. I’m not so sure about that. I wonder aloud whether the play testers and designer were a little too close to the game to objectively spot the gaps. What I do know is that Panic Station is a great game for those who prefer the social experience and rate theme and experience highly. Like me!
Each turn has 2 phases – the Parasite phase and the Team phase
The Parasite phase – simple – Check to see whether parasites move and attack characters in the same room.
Team phase – Each player uses their Action Points to do the following –
1- Explore – players lay down Exploration (Room) cards and search rooms
Icons identify different types of rooms –
Run – players gain an extra movement
Parasite Alert – triggered by entering certain rooms – Here come the Bugs which get placed according to a die roll!
Storage – You can find useful items – weapons, defensive items, etc.
Team search – Players can search rooms together
3- Fire Gun – Your Android (only) can fire a gun assuming they have found Ammo cards. Troopers need to survive by cunning until they get the chance to toast the Hive with their flamethrower.
4 – Search Location – find useful items, trigger Parasite Alerts
5- Activate computer terminals to –
Perform a Heat scan to identify infected team members – using the Heat Check cards, players will learn the number of infected players, but not necessarily who they are! Nice mechanic here which gives you some information but not enough.
Open all security doors if you can access a computer terminal
Reveal Location – Hidden locations can be discovered
6- Heal in Sick Bay – players can heal wounds
7- Use Item – you will want/need to use items to help you survive
Trading – an interesting rule is that a player MUST trade an item with another player when in the same room – a good way to infect others… or gain something useful… who knows?
Yes, there are some vague areas in the rules that need more clarity, but we didn’t have much trouble with it and we worked through the few areas that caused us a bit of confusion without much difficulty. It worked pretty well and made sense. It was easy enough to play and moved along each turn at a good pace with very little down time.
The way you can play the game outside of the core rule structure is pretty open subject to the following from the rules –
Players are free to play their roles as they see fit. They must carefully watch for suspicious behavior that might indicate that a player is infected. Infected players must be subtle, gaining the trust of others and making an infection attempt at the right time.
Players are free to accuse others during the game, even if these accusations are ill-founded or outright ploys to draw attention away from the infected player, but the infected players and the Host must never actually reveal themselves, even if accused correctly.
I think that this is the crux of the game, the spirit of the game. Some may balk at it but for me, the mechanics work but its the atmosphere, the theme, the openness to bring it all to life that makes Panic Station a very cool game.
NOTE – Here are the v 2.0 rules- http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/72271/panic-station-rules-v2-0
Did it work for me?
As a gaming experience, I would say Panic Station is terrific fun. Yes, we had to work through to clarify some of the rules which definitely could have been more clear. So, yes, the rules need tightening up and I look forward to the revised version. There is also potential for the team to “game” things by not searching too many rooms and hope to survive with minimum defensive items to get to the Hive but that is really against the spirit of the game and playing by the spirit of the game is important to enjoy it. Having said that, I’m hoping the rules revision will make “gaming” things more obviously counterproductive. Also, I would certainly recommend including the suggested rule change of including the Host card in the initial distribution of cards so that you are guaranteed a Host is in play early enough but also not allowing the Host to start spreading the infestation until at least 2 rounds have passed. Simple.
I definitely had the right crowd playing with me and we had a great time laughing, accusing, threatening, all in a great social spirit and we had a LOT of fun. The system worked well for the most part, played fast despite a few rules niggles, which common sense agreement soon sorted out, the threats from the bugs and from other players was tense and as the remaining humans realized they didn’t know who to trust, it was all quite both tense and hilarious. Lots of shouting and laughs. The tension level is brilliant and really adds to the game as you worry whether this card swap will be the one that does you in. Again, not a game for everyone, but well suited for those who enjoy the social side and won’t take it all too seriously.
As a game design, I think it will evolve a bit and tighten up which it needs to. The earliest version of the rules, from what I have read were not broken, in my view, but surely needed clarification. The version 1.3 that I have worked pretty well. I suspect that this will be a “marmite” game with many who love it and some who just don’t like it at all. Those who claim it’s broken, certainly in the current version, make me think that they may be more fond of Euro/analysis games and maybe just aren’t comfortable with a bit of ambiguity and that’s fine. They just shouldn’t waste their time with more social games looking for something that isn’t there.
Overall, I rate Panic Station as a very good game. I do wonder if it was a bit rushed and hence the rules weren’t tight and clear enough or whether the play testing let the designer down a little. Regardless though, the updated rules are coming which I am very pleased about but as it stands, this is still a very good game and I really like the theme, tension, mechanics, art, etc. It all worked very well for me.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10
Could work with older children. Not so sure that younger 10 year olds will really get it.
For more information go to – http://www.whitegoblingames.com/