Star Trek: Boldly going where a whole bunch of people have gone before. Amidst a smattering of original titles (for better or worse), Star Trek flying from one game system to another at warp speed. From Star Trek Catan to Star Trek Attack Wing (a retheme of Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures), it seems there’s nothing out there in the universe that can hold its shields against the Star Trek universe.
This episode featuring a re-theme of Castle Panic called – you guessed it – Star Trek Panic.
How It Plays
If you’ve ever played Castle Panic, you’re in familiar territory. Star Trek Panic does, however, include a few adaptations.
The goal of Star Trek Panic is to survive a vicious onslaught of enemies while completing five missions.
It wouldn’t be Star Trek without seeing some of our favorite characters, so each player gets to play the role of one of our Original Series favorites. Each character has a special ability they can use as directed.
On your turn: you first refill your cards to your hand limit. Then you have the opportunity to trade one card in your hand with another player. You reveal a new mission if necessary, and then you get a chance to play your cards and maneuver the ship.
Most of the cards are Hit cards, which allow you to target enemy tokens with phasers or torpedoes. Every hit card has a range (short, medium, or long) and a direction (forward, sides, or rear), and to play that card you must be able to hit an enemy in that location. Some cards can hit more than one range or direction, and some do 2 damage instead of one.
You also might draw Dilithium or Tritanium, which can repair damaged shields or hull respectively. Combine one of each and you can rebuild a destroyed shield or section of hull. Other cards – crew and technology – grant varying abilities like drawing extra cards, removing threats, or adjust the position of things on the board. Many of the cards have Division icons, representing command, engineering, science, and medical, which are used for completing Missions.
You can also maneuver the Enterprise once, either rotating or moving forward. Forward motion brings any token in front of you one range step closer.
After you’re done with all your activities, threats on the board move one range closer to the ship and fire, dealing out damage to shields and then hull. Once your hull has 3 destroyed sections, you can’t maneuver. All 6 sections destroyed and you lose the game. Also, if a destroyed section of the ship takes damage, you remove cards from the deck and put them back in the box, and when you run out of cards you lose the game.
At the end of your turn you add 2 new threats. Usually these are new ships with between 1 and 3 hit points. Others, like comets, immediately damage a random section of the ship. Some, like the Klingon Commanders, enhance existing threats on the board in some way. Also, watch out for cloaking ships which can’t be targeted while cloaked.
To win, you’ll need to complete missions, which come with a wide array of goals. Most require spending some of your valuable cards for their division credits, but many have secondary conditions like destroying a particularly powerful target. Some missions have penalties while the mission is active, like limiting your character abilities. In some cases, failing the mission causes you to lose the game.
You win the game when you complete 5 missions and then remove all remaining threats from the board.
Panic In Starfleet
Star Trek Panic is, in many ways, a whole lot like the original series TV show. There are plenty of great parts to it, and then there’s a good chunk of it that makes you arch an eyebrow, cock your head to the side and wonder just what in the grey skies of Vulcan were they thinking?
That may be an exaggeration, but ultimately the game is about 40% a whole lot of fun and excitement, and 40% adequate, and 20% actually kinda painful.
When you’re zipping through space, blasting enemies with your phasers, strategizing with your crew about the best cards to save, the best to use, and the best to put towards the mission, it’s a lot of fun. You can burn through your whole hand and feel clever doing it by combining your card plays and your maneuvering of the ship. It’s fun to figure out just how you can stave off your ship’s destruction while at the same time sacrificing valuable cards to complete the mission.
You have excitement moments when you’re surrounded by bad guys and you see it, just the way to play so that you survive to live another day. The final moments may come down to a dramatic, tense finish where you can just barely complete the last mission in time and maybe even have enough phaser juice left to shoot down that last Klingon.
It’s even fun in a tactile way. That Enterprise setpiece is a beauty. I mean… just look at it.
Almost worth playing the game entirely for that. Your shields are big, chunky pieces of plastic you have to physically pull out of their slots when destroyed. You have to add little explosion markers to your ship when it gets hit. As enemies take damage you spin them down – the triangle shape with current hit points oriented towards the center is a brilliant design, albeit one of the things carried over from Castle Panic. When you finally blast them to bits, you get the satisfaction of tossing them into a discard pile.
Or you’ll lay the smackdown with your security team when they try to board your ship.
There are a lot of entertaining adjustments to the Castle Panic system. The ability to rotate your ship adds some cleverness and planning to your cardplay, since you might be able to line up your shot (or a shot for the next player). Enemies do damage every turn instead of just when reaching your castle… er, starship… but your shields and hull sections can each take damage before getting destroyed.
But it’s the Missions that really set the game apart. Many of the missions are interesting and challenging, adding extra obstacles or pressure and forcing you to spend valuable cards to complete them instead of blowing the Romulans from the stars. You really have to work as a team and communicate to take down those missions as quickly as possible, and you’ll have to question the weight of your short and long term goals. You’ll even have to utilize the maneuvering system to reach disable ships or encounter strange artifacts.
But even though tribbles are fuzzy and adorable, the trouble becomes apparent the more time you spend with them. And while Star Trek Panic isn’t born pregnant, it does have some flaws.
See, a lot of those missions don’t just add extra challenges you have to overcome with limited resources. Many of them cripple you in tedious ways that make success more about luck than teamwork. So many missions prevent you from trading cards, which is one of the very few ways you can actually coordinate with your teammates. Anything that prevents you from maneuvering the ship simply adds frustration more than a fun challenge – and while in certain situations it makes sense, it’s utilized far more often than it should be.
And for one mission, you literally just have to survive the onslaught of Klingons without retaliating. There’s literally nothing you can do to make that mission succeed; you just have to hope your ship is in good enough condition and there are few enough Klingons on the board so that you don’t get blown up. Whee?
The point is, it’s just not very fun to be arbitrarily crippled.
Even more common is just getting stuck with a hand you can’t use. In the original Castle Panic you could always discard 1 card at the start of your turn, before you drew to your hand size, in hopes of getting something more useful. That element is gone now. So what happens if you can’t maneuver the enterprise and all you have are Phaser cards that target empty zones? Well, nothing. You do nothing, and you’re stuck. In a 2-player game it can be annoying for a few turns. In a 4 to 6 player game, missing out on a turn like that can feel like missing out on half the game. True, with more players you have a better chance of being able to make a trade that works for you, but it’s only one trade, and being able to play a single card isn’t particularly exciting.
And yet, weirdly, Star Trek Panic feels just a little too easy. In adjusting the balance of the game, you have far fewer threats on the board to deal with. Sure, they fire every time instead of doing damage only when they reach the center of the board. But you can absorb more hit points and it’s easier to repair. Maneuvering lets you protect your weak angles, and when your ship actually gets a bit of hull destroyed you only begin to lose cards from the deck. There are a LOT of cards in the deck for this method of loss.
So you really only seem to lose when some arbitrary crippling happens at a randomly bad time. There’s hardly a motive to hold back cards in your hand, which takes a lot of pressure of trying to play strategically. If you have something that’s useful, use it. If you can play on the mission, do it. I’ve never seen the threats stacked up on the board enough to warrant holding off on the mission.
You get a few games of discovery, maybe, before you learn the best tactics. Then things just fall into a rut. It’s almost always pretty clear what to do. You rarely have to make a hard choice to sacrifice one part of the game to succeed at another, and the threats don’t ever seem to come hard enough to really be threatening. Eventually the coolness of the Enterprise set piece wears thin.
I do recommend playing with more players. The camaraderie of a full crew will get you more mileage out of the game. The trading is more of a thing, and the challenge increases since you have fewer cards to play before the bad stuff happens.
On a side note: there’s another thing about Star Trek games in general that transcends rules and mechanisms. So far, in pretty much any Star Trek board game that’s been produced, the theme is pretty much slapped on. Oh, sure, they pull in all the details – references to episodes, enemies, and characters in the show, of course. The Federation is more diplomatic, the Klingons are aggressive, Romulans sneak around. But Star Trek has never been about galactic warfare or “panic” or even tactical missions to take down enemies. Thematically Star Trek has always been about humanity; exploring who we are, where our place is in the universe, and the darker shadows of our society. Even with the good Star Trek games, the actual theme of the show hasn’t yet been captured.
Can it ever? Is it even possible to create a board game that pushes you into introspection or promotes philosophical discovery? Will we ever truly go where no one has gone before?
This doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. We can still enjoy seeing our favorite characters on the cards in our hands, blasting Klingons from the sky, and engaging in cardboard diplomacy with strange alien races. But one day I’d like to play a board game that really, truly, is Star Trek.
Maybe you’ll get more mileage out of this game than I did. Maybe you’ll get lost in the excitement of battle and the thrill of completing missions enough to overlook the game’s flaws. I can certainly recommend that if you enjoy Star Trek – or the original Castle Panic – it’s worth giving a try. As for me, I got some enjoyment out of it, but the reliance on randomness and crippling penalties to create a sense of challenge means I probably won’t be keeping this on the shelf forever.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank USAopoly for providing a review copy of Star Trek Panic.