Almost a year after my last big LARP experience (The Climb, played with basically the same group), we got together to try out a new project called Far Space by Christian Griffen. The print-on-demand website describes it thus:
This game is a Live Action Roleplay scenario based around escape-room-inspired problem solving challenges in which the fate of individual characters and the ship as a whole depends on the choices that the players make.Far Space game description
I was immediately intrigued by the bridge simulator/ship in crisis vibe of the game. I’m a huge fan of any game that really wrestles with life aboard a vessel, be it a submarine, spaceship, or airship so I knew this was something I wanted to try. I’m also a fan of escape room-style puzzles and resource management, so that was a bonus when I found out what gameplay was going to be like.
The premise of the game is a team exploring an alien vessel discovered on Mars are beset by aliens and having to use the vessel as an escape pod, leading the alien attackers away from Earth and trying desperately to figure out the foreign vessel before it kills them or their pursuers do. As challenges arrive, they have to work together (or answer to their personal motivations) and sort it out for the good of the group. Unless any among them have ulterior motives…
Gameplay is mostly timer management, with most cards drawn at your station having a time attached to complete it. You set your timer for the task at hand and can flip the card when the timer runs out. Since each scene is 45 minutes long, the early cards are easy enough to knock out, but when you flip the next batch and they are 10, 10, and 20 minutes each, you have some decisions to make about what elements are worth the research and which have to fend for themselves. Resolving a card can change the ship’s stats (which can end the game in disaster if you end an Event with any stat below 1), unlock additional cards in your station (or a different one!), or announce a decision that needs to be made. From my limited vantage point down in Engineering, it sounded like some of the other stations had different types of cards, with the Bridge having more “fix this problem or everyone dies” cards and the Elseship location exploring different parts of the alien vessel, but mine were fairly straightforward. Priorities in each area are defined by your character’s goals or the loudest voice willing to visit your station and fight about the ship’s needs. Since players have different amounts of information, it is an interesting exercise in concise communication because a literal timer is running all the time, meaning every conversation has a cost.
The venue setup is four stations with the printed card decks and digital timers, and a common area with the big timer for the three Events and Intermissions and public record of the ship’s vital stats (Morale, Health, Tech, and Safety). Players select from eight named roles, with little sense of the characters, their powers, or capabilities beyond their last name and position aboard the ship. We played it with 7 PCs and a moderator/host, which meant we didn’t include one of the roles. The rules suggest keeping the four specialists in game (Captain, Genius Technician, Xeno-Biologist, and Security Officer) and let the missing roles come from the Corporate Rep, Executive Officer, Director of Research, and Intelligence Officer who usually have some capability in multiple areas.
I had a great time with the game, though I felt character creation was a little shallow in terms of refining your role for yourself. Since it isn’t a game with a lot of personal exploration downtime, it’s not a huge knock against it but it provided less focused character building on the back of the character card than I might have liked. The cards themselves are handsome and clearly laid out, which is a must in this game because you are reading a card full of text while timers count down and people shout about how they’re 45 seconds from finishing the DNA Sequencing, Captain! The pace of the game doesn’t let up unless you have literally played your cards right and find yourself counting down the last sequence of the game with time to spare as we did. Since there’s nothing else to accomplish once certain tasks are completed in Event 3 (The Finale), there was a moment where we all took a breather after outpacing the pursuing aliens waiting on one last Elseship card to resolve. There’s really nothing you can do once the timer is set, other than make sure other players don’t change your department’s priorities and change the timer to something else, so my Technician found himself hanging out in the cargo area flirting with the Intelligence Officer while my workstation ground out new Hyperspeed protocols.
I think it’s a game I will play again, having a narrow view of it from my station, but wouldn’t want to run it a second time as the Technician. I’d be keen to see how other roles fare, especially the Captain, and might want to come prepared for the host to have some sound files cued up on the primary viewscreen/tablet with the main countdown timer. Various alarms, klaxons, and an annoying humming are called for throughout the game, and some background noise during the various Events and attacks on the ship might help ground the experience (and clutter up communication which may or may not be a desirable element for your playthrough). It’s currently available on The Game Crafter (which is where I printed BITE) with some associated pdfs, but it sounds like a second version might be coming soon or at least a more complete presentation on the shop page. I’ve left some bits out of my review, as I don’t want to spoil some of the surprises and mechanics hidden in this game, but those of us who survived the experience had a great time. I’m sure the two who died also had a great time, but we didn’t fire up Project Lazarus so it is hard to find out.