Alone in Space - A Deep Space D-6 Review
My life is changing. If you heard my announcement on our most recent episode, I am moving with my wife to pursue her career as a travel nurse. This is a temporary thing (2-3 years), but you can also see my recent taste in games has changed as well. Knowing it will take some time to find a game group, I have been playing more solitaire games. I’ve revisited ones I own (Friday), tried solo variants to learn games (Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel), and borrowed a pair that could enter my Top 30 (Mage Knight and 7th Continent). And now, since my resurgence of solitaire games, I have acquired and played my newest: Deep Space D-6.
This one-player game uses mechanics that differ from most other solo games. This is a worker placement game, which is nothing new for solitaire games. But in many instances, players are playing against an automa (aka, a dummy player). With it being a game designed for just one player, Deep Space D-6 has you playing against the enemy, a force of alien ships that continue to attack the cruiser you captain. Your dice (the workers you use) act as various crew members to activate different parts of the ship.
While the box contains four different ships to captain, let’s take a look at the simplest of them, the Halcyon. There are five places to place the dice you will roll each turn, representing the five usable faces of the six dice. You have your commanders, which will change the face of available dice you haven’t used. You have tactical officers, which fire lasers at the incoming ships. You have medical officers, which can bring back dice that are “ill.” Engineering officers can repair the hull of the ship. And the members of the science team can recharge the shields or temporarily deactivate enemy ships.
The sixth side will lock your die in, with the ship being alerted of threats approaching. When using the Halcyon, if three threat faces lock in, a new threat arrives mid-turn. Medical officers on the Halcyon can return those threat dice to your usable pool for the next round, so there are ways to prevent them from triggering new attackers.
Each turn, you will follow the same six steps. All available dice are rolled, and threat faces are locked in. If the scanners are full of threat dice, a new enemy card is drawn and those threat-faced dice become available for next turn. Then the meat of the game happens in the third step, where dice are assigned to their stations. A new card is drawn, which will primarily be internal or external threats to your ship. A traditional six-sided die is rolled and threats with the numerical face activate. The free dice are gathered and prepared for the next turn.
This is an easy game to get started. When it comes to the type of solo game, I consider it more of a filler solitaire game, such as Friday, Hostage Negotiator, or Coffee Roaster, as opposed to the epic style some people adore. The rulebook is a small, ten-page read with breakdowns of the different ships’ worker placement spots/differences. The back of the rules (which you should keep nearby in the first few plays) shows a quick reference of the six steps to a turn.
Once you know those steps, turns can take a minute or less. Roll dice, place workers, draw cards, get attacked. Each ship is similar in what they do, but different in the way they do it. So playing each ship is just a once-over of the rules to understand them. As an example, the AG-8 still has you recharging shields, repairing the hull, firing at enemies and returning threat dice. But instead of placing a worker to take an action, you are pairing an engineering die with a second die to program a droid, which is locked in above the ship. Your commander dice can reprogram drones to different faces, while medical officers recall the drones to use for other purposes.
Speaking of the different ships, there is quite a bit of variability out of the box. There are four different ships to captain, a way to scale the difficulty, a way to scale the length of play, and a final encounter that you can play with or without. My copy also came with The Endless Expansion, which includes a new threat deck, some upgrades you can research on your turn, a new final encounter, and some variants that are playable. The expansion comes in a small box which actually fits with the base game.
Originally a print and play, the version which you can buy from Tau Leader Games is a mixed bag in the components and art department. I love the cover and box Deep Space D-6 comes in. Made to look like a retro sci-fi novel, the game is the first in the publisher’s TLG Book Series. The box is the size of a book and magnetically opens with three of the four sides printed to look like tan, well-read pages. And beside the deep blues of the cover art, you see in fine print the $1.95 books of this ilk would cost.
When the components are on the table, my opinion shifts. The boards and cards used for the game all look like print and play quality. The ships are bold outlines, with colors only used for gameplay icons and tracks. Behind the ship, instead of the blues that match the fabulous cover art, you have a grid with zero connection to the theme, outside of it possibly connecting that it was originally a print and play.
The cards are no better. Once again, color is used only for gameplay icons. The ships are all named next to their health, but the only art is a dull grey ship behind the text. These are all minor issues, considering the dice that comes in the retail version are custom with the icons for faces. Maybe Tau Leader was going for a full-on retro look. But for a game to run two kickstarters with stretch goals to improve art, I would assume it to have a bit more color.
On to the gameplay, which is what drew me into Deep Space D-6 initially. Not often do you see a dice worker placement game designed specifically for one player. But to be honest, the game feels a bit… procedural.
Let’s look at maybe the most-known dice worker placement board game, The Voyages of Marco Polo. Just like Deep Space D-6, you will be rolling all your dice and working with what you got. In The Voyages of Marco Polo, if you roll poorly (under 15 total pips on the dice) you receive a compensation for it. If you need a certain value for a die, you can spend camels to reroll, adjust, or even gain a new die. Sometimes you can work with poor dice results. There is even a spot to place dice and gain money, regardless of the value on the die.
Now back to Deep Space D-6. After the first step, you look at what you have there are instances where some of your dice are useless for the turn. Back on the Halcyon ship, if you roll a commander or are playing with a variant of the infirmary where you can spend medical dice, you can use them to change the face of another available die. Otherwise, what you roll is what you get. If you roll all six of your dice and get five science faces, you’re obviously going to be charging shields. On the Halcyon, Mononaware, and Athena Mk. II ships, taking the recharge action fill the shields as opposed to incrementally repairing like the engineering action.
Based on the difficulty you’re playing, you may have just drawn a “don’t panic” card, meaning that there isn’t an incoming threat to manage this turn. Say on the previous turn, you eliminated all the threats. When a new one doesn’t show up, you’re hoping to use the next turn to repair, recharge, and maybe treat ill crew members. But what happens when you roll all tactical faces and no one is around to shoot at? You’re stuck with what you have and you won’t be taking advantage of the peace.
What I’m saying is that the game in many ways plays the player. Most ships only have one way to fire at incoming ships: with tactical die faces. The same goes with repairing, recharging, or returning dice from the infirmary. If you don’t roll dice to change faces or roll what you need, there are many turns where you are unable to do anything. Not being able to take a turn doesn’t make for a fun game, particularly when those situations are based entirely on chance.
Are there choices in the game? Sure, but those choices come about particularly with internal threats. On the right side of the main board, you have the damage track that keeps the health of each enemy ship, or what the rules call the external threats. There are also internal threats, which are things like explosions within your ship, pandemics, or robot uprisings. Each of them do not have any health, but they have a die face that is required to eliminate the threat. You can choose on a turn to place a die on an internal threat instead of a worker placement spot to eliminate the threat, which have the potential to strike back like the external threats.
All in all, this game didn’t do it for me like I was hoping. Sure, the play time is quick (the box says 30 minutes, which by my estimation is the maximum the game should go). At $25, that’s a pretty good price ($8.99 for the expansion, which if you want even more variability, you should get if you plan on purchasing). But as the Discriminating Gamer has said, “hard decisions make for a good game.” I’m not getting them out of Deep Space D-6 like I wanted.
Final Score: 4/7
This game is mediocre. I will play it on occasion if my group wants to get it to the table. Try before buy.