A friend of a friend happens to be really into backing boardgame-Kickstarter projects, and so he had this game lying around. I am a big fan of scifi and of cooperative boardgames, so this game seemed right up my alley. Battlestations isn't completely cooperative however, because it still requires one player to run the baddies (basically he takes the role of GM).
The concept of Battlestations is that the players are the crew onboard a spaceship (think Star Trek), and they try to complete various missions. These missions often take place both onboard the ship and in space (which is why there are maps for both). Complete a mission, and all the players earn experience, which allows them to improve their characters.
Often the players will be walking around on either their own ship, an enemy ship, or a space station (with their character pawns), while also moving their ship pawn across a space map. So the action takes place on two maps simultaneously. Much of the action involves making skill checks. You roll two dice against a difficulty number, and then substract the skill number that your character has for that action.
For people looking for more than just rolling dice, the game can be run as a role playing game. as well. For this review however, I am relying mostly on my experience with the basic game.
I have a lot to say about this game, and not all of it is going to be positive. For one, the rules are way more complicated than they need to be. A lot of time is wasted by players trying to figure out what they need to roll. Either because the rules are inconsistent, or because it just feels unintuitive. It also doesn't help that there are many special rule conditions, which need to be looked up in the massive rulebook. So every single turn, the players are confused what target number they need to roll next.
I also find it silly that long distant ship operations don't have a consistent rule to determine the target number. Why is the rule for scanning a ship from a distance, different from trying to teleport onboard an enemy ship from a distance, or trying to hit an enemy ship from a distance? Why not just one rule that is easy to remember? Because now we have to look it up every-single-time.
Some of the rules are real head scratchers. For example, if you pump energy into your ship's shields, this means the enemy rolls an extra die for attack, but they must discard the highest number. I suppose the math checks out, but it seems very odd that our shields allow the enemy to roll more attack dice. Why not only discard the highest die? Why the extra die?
But I think my biggest complaint is that for all its obtuse and overcomplicated rules, the combat really doesn't have a whole lot of depth to it. There's not much you can do in regular combat, other than attack, go into overwatch, or walk. Which means most combat encounters result in punching against bags of hitpoints until they fall over. And no cover rules? What the hell?
In ship-to-ship combat, there's also not much more to do than shoot, move or fire a missile. It would be interesting if targeting specific sub-systems of an enemy ship was more of a thing, if they hadn't included a rule that basically randomizes which section you hit.
And because every ship action requires you to have energy first, this means the ship's mechanic is mostly confined to the engine bay for most of the game. In fact, I noticed all of the players tended to stay in one spot in the ship, and just do that... over and over again. Why do we need to manually operate the engines in order to have energy to fire the ship's cannon anyway?
Then there are stupid rules, such as that beam sabre weapons deal damage to the player wielding it if he rolls the same number twice on 3d6 (unless you have a special ability to negate it). Yes, you hit yourself with the weapon. Or that a beam sabre deals 3d6-3 damage. Why the -3? What for? Why this extra layer of complexity?
Then lets talk about medkits. First you have to make a heal check to heal someone, and if you succeed you roll 1d6 to determine how much you heal. This means that you could spend your whole turn trying to heal someone, and maybe have to spend a luck token in order to succeed, only to roll a 1 on the actual health amount. That is stupid! It should obviously just heal a fixed amount, and I think the healing check is unnecessary.
Tracking statistics is done with a small character sheet, which is really old fashioned and clunky. I'm not a fan of having tons of tokens for everything (and this game already comes with tons of tokens), but should't you at least have tokens to track important stats such as health and luck? For the record, I think both ways to track board game statistics are clunky. But a character sheet is clearly a lot more clunky than having just some health tokens.
The game's biggest problem though, is that it is repetitive and static.
I think I would like this game more, if there was actually a reason to move around more on the ship, and do lots of stuff. But because several characters have limited movement, and the distance between one console and the next can easily take 12 steps, this means that you can easily waste a turn trying to get from one room to the next. And so lots of players tend to stay where they are, in their room of expertise. All in all, there's not a whole lot of interesting decisions to take in the ship. Not in space-combat or regular combat. And a single mission tends to drag a lot too.
I also don't like that one player has to be the GM. It would be a much more enjoyable game if everyone at the table got to participate as the ship's crew, and they played against the game itself.
So, what does the game get right?
Well, not a whole lot. I like the ship tiles, although I feel the game has some serious issues in regards to the simplicity of ship lay outs, and the overall distances between consoles. It comes with a few nice miniatures, and there are some creative alien-designs I suppose. It also has a handy way to track the energy that you put into the various parts of your ship, although I hate this game mechanic as a whole. It just means one player is constantly doing nothing but pumping energy into the subsystems, so that the other players can at least operate the ship. Plus I feel that the various bonuses and penalties that are applied due to the energy levels of your ship, could have been listed on this tracker. So rather than having to remember that you get a -3 penalty to hit an enemy ship, because you are moving at speed 3. It should just say -3 to hit on the tracker (or leave out this mechanic entirely).
All in all the presentation is nice, and having a separate board to track ship movement is cool. But that's about it.