Reviews

Stationfall review — Despite all my rage, I’m a telepathic rat in a cage

Many board games are designed from the floor up to ape other media and end up being mediocre at best. Nemesis is the Alien franchise in a box, but couldn’t decide which of the movies it was, tried to do them all and wound up feeling incoherent and being hit or miss from session to session. Don’t get me started on video game board games, which often feel as if they were made by video game enthusiasts trying to punish you for playing analog games. So it’s funny when, seemingly by accident, Matt Eklund made Stationfall feel like Snatch or Bullet Train in space, on cardboard.

Every game of Stationfall begins by seeding the station with that particular game’s characters and dealing some of those characters’ cards to the players until they have two each, from which they’ll choose one to be their secret identity. With the characters introduced and only the vaguest idea of which are going to be of any import, this iteration of the story commences. Player turns are easy enough: dump influence cubes onto a character until you’re at least tied for the lead, then move your actions disc onto it, performing a free pick up or drop of an item alongside two actions with that character. Of course, that is only if their card didn’t already have an action disc on it, otherwise they were exhausted and you only get one action. Compound that with the number of rounds only barely breaking into double digits, and you’ll have to diversify your conspirators while trying to figure out where your goals intersect with other players’ in order to get anything done, cause if you need to get one of that game’s two officers down to the bridge and somebody’s hightailing one in the opposite direction, you know you’re gonna have to work something out with the other.

 

Chances are, you’re not going to have any clue who’s trying to get what done in the first couple rounds, since players are going to be busy picking up the blackmail littered around the station for invaluable extra actions. Then again, maybe someone’s character objectives don’t play nice with blackmail, and they decide to go ham for their stuff right out the gates. Usually though, it isn’t until you’re almost halfway through the game that you start to get a picture of who the real players are. Somebody’s going to go on a killing spree, somebody’s going to throw a firebomb into the airlock, making sure nobody’s getting on an escape pod anytime soon, and in the meantime, that jackass you’re pretty sure is the Billionaire is on the way to grabbing himself a helmet after stealing the Daredevil’s rocket wings so he can skip the whole escape pod situation. Question is, do you care enough to do anything about any of it? That’s going to depend a lot on who you are, how well you’re set up to score, and how many points you think everyone else is looking at.

The end result is, every game of Stationfall is wildly different, depending on the group playing it and the characters that are in that game. In the games I’ve played, I’ve seen silent tables, ones with people trying to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal or plead for their character’s life, ones with multiple psychopaths where nobody survived. Ones where the engineer, station chief, and troubleshooter take charge from the opening bell and the game’s just an orderly evacuation simulator. Thing is, it’s always interesting to watch the story unfold. Frequently, it’s quite funny, like when the person playing Medical realizes they aren’t reviving enough people and get other characters to start downing people left and right so they can prove how useful they are, like a head of orthopedics that hears their budget’s getting slashed and hires a bunch of goons to start breaking people’s legs. I legitimately love the stories this game tells.

 

And now’s when you remember the score you saw on the lead-in and wonder what’s wrong. Honestly, a whole helluva lot. First off, this game is a graphic design nightmare. The slots for characters to carry items are slightly darker black on the cards’ slightly lighter black background. The main board has opted for the ugly flat colors of an 18XX, but is still barely readable. The absolute worst but, though, is that the game comes with three different rulebooks, none of which do a halfway decent job of actually teaching the game. Not that any of the rulebooks tells you this, but I’d recommend your group’s learning game being the team variant, but then you’ve got to have an even number of players to even do that. The game is also chaotic enough that if you’re not the negotiating type, someone can do something on little more than a whim that completely annihilates your score.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.

75

Good

Stationfall

Review Guidelines

I personally love Stationfall, but it's got so many issues that I don't begrudge anyone that refuses to play it. There's a very specific set of boxes you have to check to want this game in your life, but it's for me. Maybe it's for you, too?

Nick Dubs

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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