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Review: Damage Report

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damagereport_boxcover
Try not to look… too closely… at the box art. Just… trust me on this one. You looked, didn’t you.

We’ve all seen the shows. Well, maybe you haven’t, I don’t know. The ship is in danger – the aliens are attacking, or the ship is drifting towards a nearby star, or some unknown disease is sweeping through the crew. Engines are offline, weapons are malfunctioning, and it’s a race against the clock to get the ship working just enough to escape the imminent threat.

In Damage Report, players face just those sorts of scenarios. They must work together as a crew in a race against time to repair the ships systems, fend off attacks, or discover the cure.

How It Plays

Damage Report is a real-time cooperative game.  A number of scenarios are available, but in general players are tasked with repairing and maintaining a number of ship systems  (shields, weapons, life support, hyperdrive, etc.) and activating certain systems to accomplish a specific task. In one scenario, players  are simply drifting towards a star and must repair the hyperdrive before the ship is torn apart or drifts too far into the sun’s gravity well to escape. In another, players must clear a passage through an asteroid field in order to activate the hyperdrive and escape, while trying to keep a load of cargo intact. In yet another scenario, a disease runs through the ship infecting passengers, and the crew must scan the infected in order to discover a cure.

One possible ship layout. This game is huge.
One possible ship layout. This game is huge.

Each scenario features a different ship layout – the ship is made up of separate tiles representing different systems and the corridors between them.  Most scenarios run on a 45 minute timer.

Every 3 minutes, the timer beeps, signaling players to draw a “damage report” card.  This card assigns damage to various parts of the ship and may reduce shields, system power, or even cause hull breaches in the corridors of the ship.

Players must repair systems and activate the right ones in order to succeed. In general, this requires them to inspect a system (revealing a Repair card) and then retrieve the right items and tools from around the ship, placing those items on the repair card until it is full.  Most systems that require activation are automatically activated when the system reaches 100%. Some systems allow special actions, such as the Infirmary which heals Injuries, the Teleporter which can move objects instantaneously around the ship, and the Shuttle Bay which can launch shuttles to attack something outside the ship.

All the rooms! All of em! But wait there's more!
All the rooms! All of em! But wait there’s more!

Players don’t really take “turns” per say. Instead, their actions are limited by personal sand timers. The timers last 15 seconds, and the current repair level of Life Support determines how many times a timer must be flipped before another action can be taken. At full power, players can take an action every time the timer flips. At severe damage, players may have to flip the timer 4 times before taking an action; a full minute.  Players can start an action as soon as they flip their timer onto the Green section of their player board (which means the time it takes to resolve their action counts towards the next 15 seconds).

Players win the game if they complete all necessary tasks in order before the timer runs out.  They lose if Life Support or Ship Hull reaches 0%, or if the timer hits 45 minutes.

Save The Day or Losing Hull Integrity?

After my first play of Damage Report I was ready to write the game off as another pathetic, untested Kickstarter game that got funded on flash with no substance.

Fortunately, further plays revealed that there are significant amounts of fun to be had. Significant amounts of fun. In fact this game could almost, almost be in consideration for one of the best games of the year.

UN-fortunately there are some definite flaws that suggest to me the playtesting and development cycle for this game was not as thorough as it should have been.  These flaws mar what is an otherwise fantastic game.

But read on friends, because this game is definitely one worth playing and supporting, perhaps in hope of a better future.

Plumbing. Plumbing is fun.
Plumbing. Plumbing is fun.

Damage Report does a lot of great things. The first and foremost is that the rules are very streamlined, but in a way that leaves the game’s challenge relatively dynamic. Like Pandemic’s disease network that expands dynamically out of control if players don’t work together, Damage Report keeps players on their toes by constantly and regularly inflicting damage that can spiral into rapid destruction without relying on complex rules or cancelling player abilities.

The player actions are simple and easy to remember – Move, Inspect, Repair, that pretty much covers it.  Players can focus on playing the game and tackling the challenge, not remembering what they can and can’t do.

Like any good cooperative game, the damage in Damage Report happens just a little too frequently,  which forces teamwork and quick, tactical choices. Otherwise things will spiral out of control into fast, decisive failure. And that is what makes this game so exciting. In the games I’ve played, we’ve tried to divide up tasks – one player watches shields, another maintains life support, a third tackles the systems needed to complete the scenario and a fourth delivers supplies from room to room. At least, that’s how we start it, but as the game kicks in and damage starts flying, we quickly have to change it up, cover for each other, and meet halfway to move supplies around more efficiently. It’s energetic and exciting. Players must clearly communicate and truly work together as a team.  This is a great midway point between the Space Cadets school of design in which each player has their individual task, and Space Alert in which you really have to coordinate but everything is so frantic you’re not sure you did it right until the end.  I’m not criticizing either of those games (I’ve never played Space Cadets and I love Space Alert), I’m just saying that this game fits in its own niche. You really feel like a crew working together to solve the crisis, and every player can contribute.

Everyone except Baxter can contribute.
Everyone except Baxter can contribute.

However, it is within this system that the first sign of inexperienced or incomplete design surfaces. The “Damage Report” cards that are drawn every 3 minutes and let you know where your ship has taken damage don’t seem to have logical consistency to them. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it does create a disconnect.  You’d think that a damage report with higher overall damage would require a higher level of shields to protect against it; and that regardless of how much overall damage, having a higher level of shields would shift more of that damage from systems to the shields themselves.  In the game’s reality, the levels of damage assigned, the shield levels required to reduce damage to your systems, and the actual amount of damage shifted to your shields if you meet the threshold is all rather arbitrary.  I think if these numbers made more sense it would add to the level of strategy involved, and numbers could be tweaked elsewhere to ensure the logic didn’t make it too easy. It is what it is, though, and it’s not ruined.

The Sand Timer element works for the most part – it’s a clever way of limiting actions in a real-time setting, and it puts some of the onus on players to remain vigilant.  If, like the crew members they represent, a player becomes inattentive or too focused on one thing, they can lose precious seconds while the game clock counts down and a personal timer is just waiting to be flipped. That is both thematic and a simple, clever mechanism that works, is intuitive, and adds excitement.

Just pile up stuff in every room. It's messy but it saves time.
Just pile up stuff in every room. It’s messy but it saves time.

Unfortunately a large part of that excitement is drained away when life support goes down. Instead of ratcheting up the tension, the increased wait times mostly serve to ruin the game’s pacing. At yellow 30 second turns, things feel slow.  You can maybe use some of that extra time to discuss how to get Life Support back up to green.  At Red – 45 second turns – the wait is excruciating, and the game plods along like a wounded donkey with no place to get to and no desire to get there. Black is right out, and if you end up on Black you’re probably going to lose the game.  In any case, waiting a full minute, or even 45 seconds, takes a lot of the energy out of the game. It’s not very fun.  The same is true when you need to move across the entire ship, and occasionally the game seems to stutter when everybody knows what to do and how to do it, and simply has to wait to do it.

The THREAT of losing time certainly adds tension and forces you to keep up with Life Support – which is good – but facing the actual consequences ruins that tension. There’s got to be some kind of penalty for Life Support that doesn’t involve grinding to a halt.  More frequent Damage Reports, maybe? I dunno.  That’s on the designer, not me.

The unique player powers, like almost any cooperative game, add another level to player participation.  Unique powers give each player something cool to contribute to the team that no one else can do; it makes them specifically useful in specific situations, which makes a part of the game getting people to their most effective place on the ship so they can do their thing.  This is true, for the most part, in Damage Report. Yet of the 6 crew included in the game, only 4 of the powers are useful and fun to use, and can be used frequently throughout the game to save time and make effective repairs.

Time is running out.
Time is running out.

Here surfaces yet another sign of incomplete development.  The last 2 crew powers are not so cool.  The Doctor can heal people wherever she is, so they don’t have to go to the Infirmary.  This sounds cool until you realize just how rarely people actually get injured.  It’s useful when that happens, but the chances of injury are really, really low in most scenarios. Counter that with, say, the Engineer who can make 2 repairs for 1 action. Repairing is central to the game and is required no matter what scenario you’re in, so the Engineer is always useful.

Even worse is Baxter the Robot, whose power is that he stays on Yellow life support even if Life Support drops to red or black, or is in a Breached or Quarantined room (which puts Life Support at black for that room only). Again this sounds good at first glance. Then you realize that his power forces him to ALWAYS be at Yellow life support – even if overall Life Support is at green. Since most of the game you should be at Green life support, Baxter is going to be stuck moving at half speed for a significant portion of the game which is more of a penalty, actually. Even in cases when Baxter would be useful – repairing a breached corridor – when you take into account the time it takes for him to get to the room in the first place, you’ll find that other players can still make the whole repair more quickly.

It was very frustrating playing as Baxter. I forced it to be fun by role-playing as the ship’s broken down old rustbucket, but mechanically it was not as satisfying to play that character, and I wouldn’t want to have to do that again. I just don’t understand how this wasn’t caught during playtesting; even in the scenario for which he is most suited, the advantage is small. In any other scenario he is so clearly disadvantaged.

If your shields are at 90%, congratulations. You prevented 10% damage from hitting Life Support.
If your shields are at 90%, congratulations. You prevented 10% damage from hitting Life Support.

Another minor flaw with this game is that there is no built-in scaling. That is, the difficulty doesn’t adapt to the number of players.  In fact, the game becomes drastically easier with more players.  You can math it out.  Say you take an action every 30 seconds (the average is probably closer to 20 seconds). A single player will get about 90 actions in a 45 minute game. Each player added to the roster adds another 90 actions, but the game doesn’t add challenge to compensate for this.

The flaw is minor, because each scenario has a smaller player range, but the problem is there. If a scenario is winnable with 4, playing with 6 gives you 180 extra actions to make it easy.  This is most pronounced in the introductory scenario, which is shortened to 33 minutes and targeted towards 2-3 players, and is essentially mathematically impossible to win with 2 players. (Oddly, the second scenario can be won with the same goal as the first, but offers more scenario time, more players, and more abilities).

You probably won’t notice this too much early on, though, because playing with a larger group is more fun.  The more players, the more you get to plan and coordinate and team up to tackle a system, and that’s where the fun lies.  It’s just too bad the challenge doesn’t scale; maybe future scenario releases will fix this problem.  At the very least, there are optional rules to customize the difficulty manually, so you CAN try to make a scenario more challenging with a larger group if you want.

Hey, cool storage bays. Now if i could just... get some... computer chips... ugh
Hey, cool storage bays. Now if i could just… get some… computer chips… ugh

Let’s move on and talk about Components. They’re fine, in some cases rather good – the game timer beep is loud and clear,  and the rooms have a clean, readable graphic design.  The Damage Report cards are easy to read quickly and resolve where Damage is applied so you can get back to your actions.  The tools are plastic, cool-looking models, the supplies are well designed chits as well as plastic gems and stones that all add up to a sweet-looking game. The player boards are mirrored on the back which is a thoughtful, if unnecessary touch.  The storage bays are 3-D “cups” which seem like a good idea until you’re trying to reach in and grab supplies with your fat fingers.  The sand timers generally work well, although you do need to keep an eye on them as they occasionally get stuck.  The board takes up a LOT of table space, so be aware of that.

The art in-game is fine, and the characters look pretty good on the player boards and standees.  The box art and the art in the rulebook actually looks terrible, though, for a professional product. It looks like it was drawn by someone who definitely has promise and should go to art school, but should not be drawing art for a professional product. I don’t understand why the art on the components is so different and so much better than the box cover art.  Just… don’t be misled by looking too closely at the box cover. The game is way better than the art.

This game is huge!
This game is huge!

I do wish that you played with the same ship each time.  I could see myself playing through these scenarios with a group and getting attached to OUR ship, but it is what it is. That’s less of a flaw and more of a preference.

I want to leave you with a positive feeling, because Damage Report is close to being a great game. Due primarily to inexperienced design and incomplete development, the result of a fantastic idea is a decent game with a few flaws. Some of these flaws seem so obvious I don’t know how they made it through, but then – inexperience. For what it’s worth, I had a lot of fun playing this game with my friends. The flaws make me less eager to return – joking about Baxter was fun once, but that’s a joke that grows stale as you get tired of having a player penalty instead of a player power – but working together in frantic real time as a team with my fellow crew/players was exciting and fun.  I hope that in a few years this gets a new edition with more balanced gameplay and fixed player powers – or at least, a PDF of revised powers – so that this game could really reach its true potential.  In the meantime, pick up a copy, play it, enjoy it, be a crew with your friends, and then you can probably move on.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Break from Reality Games for providing a review copy of Damage Report.

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Exciting, energetic real time game
  • Feel like you're a crew working together
  • Keeps up the challenge by hitting you with lots of damage, not by restricting your abilities
  • Mostly good player powers
  • A variety of scenarios included
  • Easy to remember rules and streamlined system
  • Generally pretty fun to play

Cons

  • Broken player powers
  • Does not really scale with number of players
  • When life support drops, so does the fun
  • Minor flaws detract from overall game experience
7.5 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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