Emergence Event Review
on Sep 21, 2015
I don’t know when the world ran out of new ideas, but I suspect it was right around the turn of the century. With “reboots” everywhere, some good and some bad, it’s hard not to have a cynical view on the lack of creativity in the world. I’m mentioning this because Emergence Event, despite being mostly fun, is the single most derivative game I’ve played in a long, long time. It’s this sort of portmanteau design that takes some things from Mage Knight and others from Star Trek: Fleet Captains, then added some stuff from Star Trek: Expeditions, shook it all up, and finally, dumped it all in a sandbox. While I really liked Star Trek: Expeditions, I didn’t particularly care for Mage Knight and I actively disliked Fleet Captains. With Emergence Event, it all seems to come together and work for me better than I’d have expected it would. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I actually enjoy it quite a bit, although some things tarnish it enough that I wouldn’t go out of my way to pull it off of the shelf every week.
The basic premise of the game is that you’re one of four spacefaring races who are looking to expand out into the universe and do some adventuring. It’s not the kind of game that I’d call a 4X space game, but instead, I’d call it a pure adventure game that happens to be set in space. Players spend turns roaming the uncharted galaxy, performing little tasks to gain resources which can be traded for tech upgrades, and there are little multi-part plots that can be revealed as you play. A lot of time was spent on the story, clearly, so there’s a lot of flavor text, and this is one of the game’s strongest points. There is a strong narrative element that is interwoven into the design, and while it’s not a super-compelling story, it’s better than most board game fare, so I view it as a bonus.
This is a card-driven game in the same way that Mage Knight is; you play cards to move, and like Star Trek: Expeditions, you have base statistics and can play cards to augment them in order to hit a target value. If you can accomplish an encounter, you gain a random reward, generally in the form of resources, as well as some victory points. If you fail, you become damaged, which is abstracted in the form of “slug” cards added to your hand which limit the useful number of cards in your hand next turn, again, just like Mage Knight. You can rid yourselves of these by repairing yourself at certain locations, but you have to find them and control them first.
One of the best things about this game is the exploration. The board is set up initially in a pre-determined fashion, but with hidden, random tiles, and when you get to the edge of a tile, you can flip up the next. The only weakness found in the system is that most of the random tiles aren’t all that different from one another, so you’re pretty much just doing the same things at the same kinds of places from the beginning of the game until the end. One interesting feature, though, is that each type of space has very different target numbers using a different set of skill requirements, so one race will be better at planetary exploration than space station exploration, for example.
I find it infinitely peculiar that in a game of this type, there’s not really much player-versus-player action. There’s a ton of passive-aggressive stuff instead. Each player has a deck of cards that’s unique to their race, of which there’s four, and these cards contain Captain Cards, which give you a bonus when played, and also screw over other players. It’s the oddest of things, really, because you may not want to hose over an opponent for a variety of reasons, but you’re forced to if you want to gain the bonus the card grants you, and to me, that limits strategic options for no real reason. Maybe they didn’t want to have more cards in the deck or something, but it just seems kind of lazy.
The last really slick thing in the game I’d like to describe is the end-game condition. Much like one of my favorite games, Red November, the game has a sort of quasi-timer track which causes the game to end. As you move in the game, you have to advance this track proportionally, and on the twelfth hex moved to, a new Epoch begins, which brings new cards into play, progressing the story in a very cool way. At the end of the third Epoch, the game ends, and the person with the most points wins.
Now, if this sounds like something you’d really dig, so far, I’d like to warn you about the one thing that really pissed me off. If you were to read the rules and play, on about the fifth turn, you’d realize that the rules are incomplete. There’s one gaping hole in the rules which is particularly odious, because the game literally neglects to tell you how far you can move using the game’s version of a Warp Drive. When I played it the first time, I caught it and we looked online for a few minutes to get the answer, but only after twenty minutes of re-reading the rules. It is beyond comprehension that such an important bit of information was completely absent. Luckily, this is the only truly missing information, although some other points are, if not confusing, vague. Luckily, this didn’t detract from the game, thanks to Google, so once you know that the “TDD Jump” allows you to move two tiles, you can play it without drama.
The long and short of Emergence Event is that it’s not particularly novel, but it does blend a lot of other people’s mechanics together in a neat, fun little package. While it only has four factions to play, each of the four plays completely differently and thus you can play it at least four times and have mostly unique experiences each time. It took me three plays to really get to the point that I enjoy the game, and my only real complaints are that the rules could’ve been organized more cleanly, and that the game is a little too much like multi-player solitaire due to the lack of much player interaction.