You’ve probably heard of corporate takeovers, right? Maybe you think Wal-Mart is pushing out the “little guys?” See Nestlé as cornering every market? Afraid Apple will control your daily life. Anxious that McDonald’s is polluting our health? Exxon is destroying the environment? Volkswagen is conquering the world? Well, you ain’t seen nothing, yet! Now you can take the reins of an advance corporate entity in the far-flung future, arm yourself to the teeth with a powerfully vast space fleet, and blow your competition away – literally!
How it Plays
In Hull Breach: Corporate Wars, players are military CEOs of the Xeros, Anaheim Manufacturing, or Bank of the Galaxy corporations. Only these have nothing to do with copiers, Ducks, or low interest mortgage rates. No, this is more like a John Houseman, “the individual is bad,” Rollerball future where companies have supplanted nationalities and governments as the ruling powers – on a galactic scale. And other businesses are cutting into your market share…
The design mixes smart tableau-building with a straight-up, in-your-face combat game of spaceship battles and Marine firefights. Players have unique, 55-card decks representing their factions which include a space station with special powers. As a militant Donald Trump, you’ll use cards to expand your station, amass a powerful fleet, and deploy Marines to take out the competition in the ultimate, “You’re fired!” There are other cards to support those military ends, as well. You can customize and build your own deck if you have enough variety. Or you can use one of the game’s three pre-constructed decks included.
As any successful business should be, Hull Breach is extremely organized and structured, and it begins with set-up. To start the game, each player lays down their Station card and chooses two of their four station Modules to play for free. Stations and Modules grant various benefits and provide a regular income of currency and resources every round. Commanders then draw their starting hand of five cards and, other than Events or Tactics, can chose any number of them to play to their tableaus which they can afford.
A round of game play is divided into three phases of several actions each, most of which are relatively quick. To determine turn order in a round, players calculate their initiative values on deployed Ships and Modules. The faction with the fewest and/or lightest ships will have a lower number and thus generally move first. A player resolves all phases of his/her move before the action passes to the next.
The Logistics phase is for your accounting department. You draw to your hand size limit, generally 5 cards. You earn a number of currency and resource points as indicated by your Station and Modules. Finally, you’re allowed to repair one point of damage on every ship, Marine unit, or Station element that has sustained injury. Simple book-keeping, really.
Primary tableau-building occurs during the Manufacturing phase. Here, you’re going to stock the shelves, so to speak. You may play any card, as long as you can pay its cost and legally place it. For example, you may assign any Marine company or Fighter Wing aboard one of your deployed ships, as long as that vessel can hold them (as indicated by an icon on the ship card). Essentially, this phase allows you to build your fleet, upgrade it, and expand your station. You can also move attached units around, such as Fighters, Drones, and Marines.
Finally, you get to do exactly what you’ve been preparing for in the Engagement phase – specifically, blow stuff up. Yep, here is where you can basically create the “Mother of All Clean Ups on Aisle Four!” After choosing an opponent, you’ll select an assault force for a deep space mission against your target’s defense fleet and space station. Battles typically last multiple rounds, unless you’re going in for a quick, surgical strike. Either way, these proceed in just as orderly fashion as the Logistics and Manufacturing phases before it. Fighting begins with the Skirmish phase, followed by the Volley phase, proceeded finally by Maneuvering, Boarding, and Retreating. Choose your attack craft wisely, as there are several traits and modifiers that can affect combat in different ways depending on the enemy’s composition.
Hull Breach’s rule structure is straight-forward, but the Engagement phase is where the game earns its ‘G’ rating for me. There’s a lot going on, it’s a bit fiddly, and there are several variables to remember, track, and implement. And if you don’t closely follow initiative order within each engagement phase, then it can spoil the whole basket. Every ship card is rated for attack, health, and defense. The attack value indicates how many dice it rolls when firing at another. Health is the amount of damage it can sustain before going boom. Defense is the number an opponent is required to roll on a d10 when firing upon it. In addition to those, many ships have one or more traits, as well, with various impacts on combat. Furthermore, Upgrade cards can modify a ship’s statistics or add yet more traits.
To resolve combat, ships with the trait Raider (in attack) or Interceptor (on defense) may engage first in the Skirmish phase. After that, all vessels participate in the Volley phase according to their initiative order, lower numbers acting first. The lower the initiative value, the smaller and lighter the ship. Stations are the largest, and so the defender’s Station will fire last. Ships roll a number of dice equal to their attack rating and can split that up between targets, declaring such before rolling. If the result equals or exceeds the target’s defense rating, it takes a hit.
Any ship with Marines that survived the previous broadsides may attempt to board another vessel during the next phases, Maneuver and Boarding. Unless your opponent prevents it with an appropriate trait, you simply move into a declared target and board. If that boat has a compliment of Marines, a firefight ensues, much in the same manner as fleet action. If successful, you capture the ship, but from then on must always maintain your Marines aboard her, lest she mutiny and revert back to her former loyalties.
The ultimate profit margin and bottom line to these stellar fisticuffs is to capture or destroy your enemies’ corporate HQ – a.k.a. Space Stations. That’s pretty straight-forward in a two-player affair. Conflicts with three or more may require some dicey diplomacy and nervous negotiation. The last company standing holds every corporate share in the galaxy. And with such a hegemonic business monopoly, you know what that means, right? You can charge anything you want for your products!
Bull or Bear Market?
Where I live, there is this huge competition going on between the two pharmacies Walgreens and CVS. Wherever one of the companies builds a store, the other constructs a rival location just across the street, on the same intersection, or half a mile down the road. In fact, we have so many of these little pharmacies all over town now, I’m not sure how a population of 125,000 can sustain them all. We must be one drugged up society, is all I can conclude. Be that as it may, at least these two corporations aren’t arming to the teeth. At least, that I know of…
Hull Breach: Corporate Wars is a blast to play…if you enjoy thematic, operatic, chaotic space warfare. Of course, that tends to mean its appeal will be limited. It is not a complete luck-fest, though. Far from it. There are opportunities for some calculated tableau-building and strategic card combos. It also requires smart tactical decisions. That will appeal more broadly outside of its target audience. Still, it is decidedly sharp and aggressive in its interaction.
The variability and possible customization are out of this world. The number and array of fleet ships are extensive. You can stock up on lighter and faster craft that may not hit as hard – but they’re cheaper and shoot first. If you bring enough to the fight, you may still be rolling as many dice against larger, but fewer, ships. However, going big is an option, too. Lumbering in with 2-3 capital ships will make any commander nervous about the well-being of his precious Station. Pummeling a Station to space dust requires great perseverance, because you need to eliminate all of its Modules first. However, if you can manage to bring a few Marine companies, and their escort ships survive the first round of combat, boarding the Station is an attractive alternative to alleviate the damage to your mighty fleet – or avoid your enemy’s.
That’s only accounting for the diversity in ship types. When you consider the mix of characteristics and traits, as well, there are scores of possible combinations to create. Some vessels can bring in Fighters, Drones, and/or Marines. While weak, Fighters can soften up a target. Drones can provide opportune abilities, like jamming an enemy attack. And Marines give you an option to hijack a ship without having to wear it down with your guns.
Traits also add a lot of options. Some ships already have them, while Upgrades can add to those that don’t – or stack on even more that already do! If your opponent has some Stealth ships, come in with a Hunter to make it easier to destroy them. See a particularly armored beast? Bring in a Target Painter to reduce its defense. If you want a larger boat to get in a devastating first blow, acquire Raider or Interceptor. Tacking on Repair to a defensive behemoth creates an even more menacing monster that keeps coming back to life. Annihilate can cause a catastrophic punch, while Stoic gives your Ship or Marine a parting shot when destroyed.
With all of these traits, Hull Breach proves to be much more than flying in and trading broadsides in which the biggest dog with the biggest bite always rules the kennel. Working a mixture of ship types and traits to your advantage is the heart of the game. For example, Fearless is a trait that lets you swap a ship’s attack and defense values, meaning you can roll a number of volley dice equal to its defense, which is always higher, instead of attack. The danger is that now your opponent only needs to roll equal to its attack value in order to hit it, which is considerably easier. And the switch is permanent for the remainder of the engagement. If you can pull it off, it’s devastating. Time it poorly, and it’ll backfire terribly.
Breakthroughs, Tactics, and Events throw in even more variety and replayability. These cards can have a huge impact on the game. So much so, that the rules stipulate you may only have one copy of these in a deck, whereas you can have 3 copies of any Ship, Upgrade, Marine, or Module. Breakthroughs remain in play permanently and are free.
Events cost Resources and Currency and either give its owner a one-time benefit or his opponents a penalty – or both. These are also interesting because they have two effects for which you must role to determine. The “normal” event is more localized to one faction and triggers on a roll of 2-9. If you roll a ‘1’ or a ’10,’ it triggers the “critical” effect which applies to all commanders. Breakthroughs and Events are typically economic in nature. Tactic cards, on the other hand, affect combat. Most of them are reactionary in that you can play them against your opponent to cancel an action, but others boost one of your own. These cost to play.
Hull Breach: Corporate Wars has an interesting and creative back-story. It includes a little novella about the history of the factions and their mysterious conflict. The game’s build-up and action are fairly thematic. Ship stats and their traits make sense and tie in with the space warfare theme. There is also a fun balancing act in managing your assets. Sending an all-out invasion against your opponent can leave your home defense woefully vulnerable if it fails miserably…which it can! You also have to conserve Resources and Currency. If you spend it all in the Manufacturing phase to buy Ships, Upgrades, Marines, and etc., you won’t have a reserve to pay for Event or Tactic cards when needed to derail the enemy’s current plans.
That build-up can be somewhat problematic. Hull Breach is best served fast and furious. If commanders play too conservatively, amassing outrageously potent fleets, it really slows the game down. When the two armadas finally do come to blows, it will be a double-edge sword. Yes, it will be one epically major collision. But it will also take a long time to execute and be very fiddly in maintaining initiative, manipulating damage tokens, and applying traits and powers where appropriate. Depends on your preference, in the end.
The biggest drawback to Hull Breach is its learning curve. There are 10 icon/location combinations and 16 traits, plus various special card powers. Many of these can be in play at a time, requiring players to track multiple effects and apply them correctly. Keep the rulebook handy for your first couple of plays and for any newbies after that.
The design works extremely well for two players, and that is probably it’s most suited player count. I have not a chance to play with four, yet, but I would imagine it would be fine, just a little longer. As a three-player conflict, it unfortunately falls flat and is actually kind of frustrating. The first two commanders to have at it leave the third at a decided advantage. While he’s cunningly observing, that duo is weakening each other, whether in a short skirmish or sustained engagement. Even should one emerge gloriously on top, it will prove a pyrrhic victory as that side is weakened through attrition.
Those factions can also prove a bit imbalanced. The decks themselves are fairly equal as far as ship strengths, Tactics, Events, and Breakthroughs. None of those seem overpowered. It’s actually the faction-specific Station cards which give three very different special abilities. One Station allows its faction to build Upgrades, Options, and Modules for free. Once you’ve played the game, you’ll see that’s just plain silly. The second faction can build ships for two less Currency and Resources, which is really, really, nice, but not as much of a game-breaker as the first. Finally, the third corporation merely gets to play Event cards for free. However, there aren’t as many in the deck, and a couple are dirt cheap, anyway. You can also shuffle them back into your deck if you roll a critical, rather than discard them. But the odds are low on that. Overall, it’s just not as fun or useful.
The cards themselves are excellent. The card stock is very sturdy with a slick, glossy finish. The design layout is also well-done. Every card has its type and title along the top with the illustration comprising the bulk. Below are flavor text, card powers, and stats. There can be as many as six icons along the card’s base. But the layout is clean, rather than confusing. The colors are neither bright nor dark, but a subdued tone appropriate to the games’ mood. The artwork is hit and miss. Some, particularly the ship illustrations, are excellent. Others, like most of the computer rendered humans, are passable at best.
Just like Wall Street, Hull Breach: Corporate Wars can be brutal and unforgiving. But it’s also fast-paced and fun, especially for two players. It has randomness, chaos, and smash-mouth space brawling. But it also mixes in some deft tableau-building. The result is a relatively quick, medium-weight combat game with plenty of variability. And if the publisher keeps new decks coming, its world will only expand for the better. It definitely will not appeal to everyone. That’s just par for the course with a design of this nature and theme. However, if you like plenty of action, a story you can dive into, smart tactical decision-making, and operatic galactic warfare, Hull Breach will be a winning investment.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank NSB Games, Inc., for providing a review copy of Hull Breach: Corporate Wars.