In a grim timeline for the human race, aliens called the Loctae have invaded Earth, nearly wiping out the species, and imprisoning the rest in space stations scattered across the galaxy. To prevent escape, humans are kept in small groups with limited communications. In the case that any group managed to escape their cells, the space prisons are built with rotating rings that shift in random increments, making it nearly impossible to find the escape pods without getting captured.
But human ingenuity never seems to fail, and just when all hope seems lost, one brilliant scientist has managed to scratch together a computer virus that has weeded into one alien space station known as the Hive. The THESEUS program enables the humans to predict the rotations of the station, and even better can decode the locks that lead from one ring to the next.
When a freak asteroid crashes into the Hive, damaging its systems and temporarily unlocking the prison cells, the remaining humans have once chance to break out of the space prison, ring by ring, and make it to the escape pod without getting caught. Otherwise they and the rest of humanity will have no hope but to live out the rest of their meager lives as slaves, waiting to be experimented on by aliens, under The Daedalus Sentence.
How It Plays
The goal of the Daedalus Sentence is for all players together to find and unlock the escape pod. To do so, they must make their way from the center of the board to the outermost ring, avoiding Minotaur and Loctae patrols, while collecting the cards needed to unlock the codes for each gate.
There are three phases to the game:
- Update the THESEUS board
- Players resolve their actions
- The Hive prison resolves its actions based on the THESEUS board.
The Action phase is the meat of the game. Each player has a certain number of actions (based on the number of players) to perform each round. These actions including exploring new rooms, moving, attacking guards, and using a room’s special function. The board features a variety of rooms: control rooms and communications relays to manipulate the station rotation and guard movement, hive rooms to hide, research labs to draw more cards, vents to sneak from one ring to the next, and gates to unlock the next ring.
Cards feature numbers, colors, and spin directions. Some cards depict one of the two enemy types. On the THESEUS board, these let players know which rings will spin, how far, and in which direction, as well as guard movement and spawning. Minotaurs stay in the same ring, while Loctae scientists gradually move outward.
A matching enemy card can be played to kill an enemy in an adjacent room; alternatively, three Minotaur cards can kill one Loctae, and one Loctae card can kill up to 3 minotaurs.
Each gate discovered can be scanned to reveal a code – another set of cards. In order to unlock the gate, players must play matching cards (in color, number, or monster).
However, each time a gate unlocks, the Alert level increases, which affects the Status phase.
In the status phase, a certain number of columns are resolved – first Ring rotation, then Guard movement. The higher the alert level, the more columns are resolved.
If a player is ever in the same room as an Enemy, they are immediately returned to their prison cell, and must remain there until another player returns to free them. However, if the same player is captured twice – or all players have been re-captured – the game ends in a loss.
“Difficulty modifiers” are included variants to increase the challenge once you’ve gotten the basic rules. These include timers (a 1-hr game timer and a randomized or 25-second action phase timer), decreasing the visible information on the THESEUS board, adding random bad events, and limited communication. Modifiers can be mixed in as preferred, and a smartphone app (not required) is available to assist in keeping track of many of the options.
Let’s Go To Prison
The Daedalus Sentence is a great concept. The mere mention of escaping an alien prison conjurs up dozens of thrilling images: stealthily sneaking past guards, hacking into computer systems, dodging advanced defenses, frantically running from a triggered alarm. The rotating rings add a unique gimmick to an already uncommon theme.
Oh, those gimmicks. Those filthy charlatans. Low-down dirty deceivers.
Here’s the thing about gimmicks: alone, they don’t have lasting entertainment value. Any gimmick, whether it involves flicking, dropping, bouncing, dancing, or stacking, carries with it an expectation that it will provide some new way of interacting with the game. Maybe it’s a clever way of randomizing effects, or a style of action resolution, or a way to add dexterity skills into the mix. Whatever it is, it should add something meaningful to a game, otherwise it’s just a toy, and not a great one at that.
So Daedalus Sentence gives us this incredibly fancy board with a plastic base that lets us spin the different sections around, which is cool. It’s a cool gimmick. But how does it actually affect gameplay?
Well. It doesn’t, really.
The spinning rings only come into play during the Hive action phase, when they spin randomly a few times based on the THESEUS board and the alert level and all that. But rarely does the spinning actually, you know, change anything about the board. In fact there are only two situations in which it does matter.
Situation #1: it can bring an enemy closer to you. There are two types of aliens, but only one of which can travel from ring to ring. Sometimes that alien will be near a gate, and sometimes that gate will spin in your direction. Okay.
Situation #2: Someone enters a new ring to begin exploring it, and then the gate (and other access points) spin away. But there’s rarely a reason to go back, so this really only matters if the player in the new ring hits a dead end on both sides. How exciting is that?
It’s not. It’s not exciting at all, and usually results in the trapped player losing out on a few turns while the others struggle to use a control room to get them back. Or, just hope the game does it accidentally, because you don’t really have enough actions to fully control the ring spinning anyway, not if you hope to continue to survive.
So what’s the point of all this, I wonder?
As soon as you realize how little the ring-spinning actually effects the game, the game loses a whole lot of luster. And, to be fair, it does start with a decent amount of that luster. In the box you get lots of cool miniatures, tiles illustrated with creepy, evocative art depicting the various rooms, and the excitement of the unknown. The ring rotation system is very clever as far as components go, and it’s pretty cool that the location tiles are able to be randomized within the rings.
Yet, the more I played, the more I realized how little there is to actually do in this game. There’s nothing here that makes you feel clever, like you used your actions in precisely the right way to sneak past a guard or set up the ring rotation just so. You can’t push your luck because all information is known, and you can calculate whether or not you’re actually in danger of getting caught.
The guards are stupid. You could be right next to them, but they’ll move in the opposite direction. Presumably you’re being sneaky, but this kind of sneakery doesn’t provide any excitement. You either know you’re screwed or you know you’re safe. Occassionally a surprise will pop out at you out of the blue, but… well, that’s not very fun either.
Admittedly a few of the difficulty modifiers aim to add uncertainty. A 1-hr game timer pushes you to hurry. The Faulty Algorithm turns some of the THESEUS cards upside, forcing you to spend your own cards or risk not knowing what the guards are going to do. A few options add timers to the action phase itself so you don’t have time to sit around adding up guard movements.
But still. Even with Faulty Algorithm, half the game the necessary cards are exposed, and it’s pretty clear when you’re in danger.
At least you don’t instantly lose the game when a player is captured. You can go back and rescue them, although you’ll have to weave past all those Minotaurs you left behind. Also, when a player is captured they have sort of an anti-power that makes everything harder for you until you’re rescued. Once again, this is a clever idea, but it’s not implemented well. Most of the time you can avoid capture until later in the game, so when someone does end up getting captured it’s nearly impossible to rescue them. You’ve got to slog backwards with those penalties, spending a ton of extra actions to retrace your steps while the board keeps churning out new threats at you. The 1-hr game timer is a huge blessing here; you’ve pretty much lost the game when someone gets captured, but it can take another 40 minutes to actually lose. The timer mercifully ends the game for you.
Even without someone getting captured, the final third or so of the game sucks. For the most part Daedalus Sentence is merely mediocre, but here it starts to flirt with pure tedium. The Hive action phase becomes uncomfortably long and clunky.
Oh, it starts out okay – you only resolve one column per open ring, so it’s one ring rotation and one guard movement. There aren’t too many guards, so it goes quick. As soon as you open the gate to the third ring though, things just bog down. Enemies start to stack up, and suddenly it feels like you’re spinning rings and moving bad guys every few seconds. The player action phase goes by so fast, you’re spending more than half the time just updating the board. Rings spin, enemies move and spawn, rings spin some more.
Remember when I said the spinning rings barely affect the game? Yeah. It gets pretty tiring to keep spinning them after the first few turns. It’s also dull to move the 8 Minotaurs left back in the blue ring that you just don’t care about because there’s no reason to go back there. So you’re just building up more and more stuff to maintain on the board in between your limited actions. Not very fun.
At the very least, they could’ve made each column correspond to a ring, so you could do it all quickly and in an organized fashion. Since it’s based on the cards, enemy groups can move multiple times or not at all, but it doesn’t add tension because it doesn’t add much uncertainty.
It’s too bad, because I see a lot of potential in this game. I like the idea of being able to hack into the Hive computer to control ring movement or redirect guard patrols. I like the idea of sneaking through vents and breaking gate codes. It just doesn’t come together well. Enemies are too dumb to be interesting – I’d rather have a few smarter programmed enemies than a ton of little guys to move around meaninglessly.
And why, why, why isn’t the ring rotation, you know, actually involved in the gameplay? Seriously. Why not make players line up certain rooms to unlock the escape pod, or spin the rings in a certain sequence to get the final code? There are so many ways that the rings could actually be made interesting with just a little more design effort. Otherwise it’s just a wasted, pointless gimmick that is mildly attention-getting for about two minutes, and then boring. Come on! Right now it’s just a fancy-game-component equivalent of roll-and-move.
So the game isn’t broken. The mechanics work. It’s playable, winnable, and losable, and you have choices while you play. It’s got a cool theme, and a cool board, sure. But it quickly becomes dull and repetitive, and doesn’t offer anything clever to do with your actions or your cards or the board. There are a few more rules I could nitpick, but what’s the point? The overarching issues obsure anything else the game could have or would have been.
Side note – there is a smartphone app available as a free download. It’s not required, but it does keep track of timers and other randomized game elements for you. That’s nice, I suppose, but the app needs a bit of work. I’ve had it crash on me 47 minutes into the 1 hr timer, and the music for the round timer only works sometimes. That music is kind of important – it lets you know you’re running out of time without forcing you to stare at the screen.
There’s no doubt about it, The Daedalus Sentence provides spectacle. But for $150 and a titanic amount of shelf space to hold that box, it’s gotta do more than look good. It’s got to give me a reason to keep coming back, and after just a few plays I can’t say that it holds my interest.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Eagle-Gryphon Games for providing a review copy of The Daedalus Sentence.