Those big black monoliths are at it again.
In the famed 2001: A Space Odyssey, ominous black monoliths are responsible for pushing humans to the next level of evolution. How? I don’t know, the movie explained nothing.
But apparently humans have gone too far, because the monoliths are back and this time it’s not about progression; it’s all about Regression. Time to wipe out the universe and start over, I guess.
Strangely enough, humans aren’t ready to just sit at the sidelines. An organization called HOPE is sending ships from galaxy to galaxy to terraform planets and save them from Regression. Enough planets saved will stop Regression in its tracks. So get to it, agent of HOPE! See if you can save the universe.
How It Plays
HOPE is a semi-cooperative game in which players are tasked with terraforming enough planets before Regression eats up too much of the universe. Whoever saves the most planets is the ultimate winner, but if Regression reaches the end of the track before players fill it with pioneers, everyone loses.
Each player controls a single starship, and the board is made up of hexagonal tiles divided into 3 dimensions. The trick is, you can only move through and effect one dimension at a time.
On your turn you can choose either to move or polarize. Polarizing shifts your ship into a different dimension and resets all your ships movement levers. If you move, you activate one of the three movement levers allowing you to move forward, reverse, or sideways (A 4th lever lets you do any of those 3 options). Sideways lets you travel along adjacent sections of your dimension, while forward and reverse allow you travel almost as if moving up or down stairs to reach other sections of your dimension. It’s a little tricky, but hopefully the photos help.
Also on your turn, you can Terraform planets. Your ship has to be on a galaxy tile and can only affect planets in the same dimension (but you can terraform planets in tiles you move through). Spend a card with a symbol matching the galaxy tile, or two matching cards, or a Joker, to terraform one planet. You can terraform as much as you can pay for, and you place a pioneer on each planet you terraform.
If you don’t terraform any planets on your turn, you can refill your hand.
Once every planet on a galaxy tile has been terraformed, that tile becomes “Stabilized.” It flips over, becomes immune to Regression, and all pioneers on that tile move to the scoring track.
After you finish your movement and terraforming, you discard cards you played and draw one new one from the technology board. Then, Regression advances along the mission track based on the number of visible Regression symbols on the technology board. If Regression passes a regression symbol on the mission track, Regression on the board destroys the galaxy tile it’s on (unless that tile is Stabilized) and moves around the universe to threaten a new tile.
Bonus tokens appear when tiles are stabilized that grant additional one-time-use abilities, such as drawing cards or extra movement. In addition, players can earn medals by cooperating with others (adding pioneers to a tile that has other players pioneers) or terraforming planets at the edge of the universe. Medals can be used to boost your hand size or gain a one-time extra move along with an endgame point.
A variant deck of cards is included called “Bug cards.” This is a deck of random events that affect everyone, and a card is drawn every time a galaxy tile is stabilized. These may be powerful boons, like extra cards, powerful banes, such as limiting which technology cards you can play, and everywhere in between.
The game ends when either Regression or the Pioneers on the scoring track reaches the final space. If Regression gets there first, everyone loses; otherwise, whoever has the most number of pioneers, plus their character level, wins the game.
Finally, one more variant is included in which one player is secretly evil, trying to aid Regression in wiping out the universe. This player works against everyone else and wins if Regression reaches the end of the track – as long as they have more pioneers on the scoring track than anyone else.
How Other Players Engage
Often the key to a good epic sci-fi tale of universal calamity is a good villain; one whose ominous march toward destruction seems nigh impossible to halt. For a brief moment I thought HOPE had such a villain; the soulless monolith, a mostly black miniature carved from some dark rock, marked with a red line. Caring only for destruction and not for life, its steady line around the universe to unmake everything marked the potential end of everything.
My first game, something interesting happened; Regression, as it’s called in the game, proved a worthy foe, and by the time the game ended in our loss, near half the galaxy had been wiped out. A last-minute surge by the players close to the end was all for naught.
In the second game, things went much better for the good guys; we got a few planets terraformed early, which got us ahead of the Regression and suffered much less for it. We won handily.
By the third game I began to realize something important: Regression doesn’t actually matter. The “destruction” it wreaks on the board doesn’t hamper your potential to win in any significant way. Whether or not any particular tile falls, your progress isn’t deterred. You could allow half the board to get wiped out and win just the same as if you lost only one or two tiles. In the end, what I perceived as a “threat” turned out to be little more than a game timer.
Because of this, HOPE falters. The best cooperative games (at least the ones that fall into a similar category of gameplay as HOPE) force you to balance the need to accomplish long-term goals to win with dangerous short-term goals that could end the game prematurely. Because Regression’s activity doesn’t end the game prematurely, you have only one thing to do: terraform planets. Nothing distracts from that goal. You never have to make a tough choice whether or not to sidetrack your plans or not. The most difficult challenge is simply trying to figure out where you can legally move thanks to the mind-bending board design, and after a few turns that feels like a gimmick.
Even if you want to try and level up your game by earning more medals and bonus tokens, you still don’t exactly have to detour your turns. You earn medals and bonuses simply by continuing to terraform. Maybe you’ll choose to move in one direction rather than another, to terraform on one specific galaxy tile versus another, but it’s a pretty meaningless distinction.
Unfortunately what this does is emphasize the luck aspect of the game. Did you draw cards that line up with the best galaxy tiles within your reach? You’ll do great, and get lots of pioneers and medals!
If you can get ahead of Regression early, the game gets even easier – Regression doesn’t move or destroy tiles unless its marker on the scoreboard passes an open Regression icon. Get a tile stabilized early and you can block Regression activation for the entire game. A single completely galaxy tile can block 2 or 3 Regression activations, which can last a whole lot of turns, allowing you to complete more tiles, thus furthering your protection. It completely sucks any tension out of the game when Regression isn’t moving and you can see it’s not going to move. It’s an odd rule, and I guess the purpose is so that you feel like you have some interaction with Regression throughout the game.
Now, this is technically not a fully cooperative game. Though you have to cooperate to avoid losing, only one player – the one who has the highest number of pioneers – actually wins. Thematically this makes no sense – you’re supposed to be all part of the same organization trying to save the universe, so why does one person “win” out? That thematic breakdown removes motivation to actually compete, but even worse, you have so little control over whether or not you as an individual can win it doesn’t feel fun.
And if you are playing competitively, there’s not much motivation to help others, especially if you’re behind. If you’re going to lose anyway, why care if everyone loses?
A traitor mode is also optional, but this just feels like an artificial way to boost difficulty. A traitor in and of itself isn’t interesting if the puzzle you’re out to solve isn’t that good in the first place.
H.O.P.E. has no shortage of variants. “Bug cards” are one more thing you can add to spice up the game, adding random events that occur every time you stabilize a galaxy tile. Theoretically this deck makes the game harder – but maybe “unpredictable” is a better word. The cards range from devastatingly hurtful to sweepingly helpful, with everything in between. So if you draw a bunch of helpful cards, it makes the game way easier. Draw the hurtful cards, you can lose a hefty amount of progress. This is entirely unpredictable.
Overall, I wouldn’t say H.O.P.E. is a horrible game, but it has to compete with the other games out there. The puzzle is too simple and there aren’t many redeeming qualities to draw you in. The rulebook could use some work, and there are a few situations that aren’t covered, especially in regard to Regression movement. The rules as written are at least functional, but the game is just bland. It doesn’t engage you, doesn’t create a challenge or force you to make tough decisions. It feels extremely underdeveloped, like the mechanics were worked into place but no interesting game was formed on top of them.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Lion Rampart Imports for providing a review copy of HOPE.