The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Panic Station — The Fever has broken

Update — I had to fix a ton of grammar. Ugh.

The one game I was looking forward to from Essen doesn’t work.

I was wary when they revised the rules after the game was published, and now that I’ve played it I’m thinking “missed it by that much”. The game (if you haven’t heard) is a slight twist on The Thing. One player starts infected (during setup or in the first round). In general, when you enter a room with another player, you either trade cards or attack. If you trade, then an infected player can give one of their 3 infection cards. If your opponent doesn’t respond with a gas can, they are infected.

The original rules started everyone with a gas can, so there’s a dominant strategy — always trade a gas can, and attack anyone who breaks faith. Since everyone has one, ta-da. (Yes, you need 3 gas cans as a single player to win, but there are plenty, around a dozen, in the game. Someone should get three).

In the new rules, you randomize so that lots of gas cans start in the game, but not everyone is guaranteed to get one.

So now the Host’s strategy is “Hope your first victim doesn’t get a gas can.” I do think there are some potential work arounds, but waiting seems bad. Eventually everyone will get a gas can and then start trading them back and forth as insurance, which puts you back in the same situation. So the early game risking it seems better.

There are a bunch of little things that don’t work:

  • Even if you  know X is infected, they can move (forcing a trade) then move out and back (forcing a trade). Unless you have two gas cans, you are infected. This can easily be worth breaking cover to do.
  • If the game settled into a 3 (or 4) humans versus 2 aliens that would be fine. The aliens still have self preservation  (aliens lose when they die). But once you get two aliens, there are 3-5 infection cards that can be aimed at a single human. Usually by the back-to-back(-to back) forced trades. Now you are 3-3, and there are 3 new infection cards to repeat the process.
  • Players start unarmed (you get guns but no bullets? Hell of a way to run a military rescue). Someone will be armed, but being revealed early isn’t terrible.
  • Being attacked costs you action points, so the first attack usually results in a dominant position. If I’m sitting next to an Alien, I can go and attack and then the next alien can attack. The victim (going next) probably lost half of their action points. So what if they know you are an Alien?

So, the host infects another player. In our second game, two humans (myself and a new player) quickly figured out two aliens … and killed the host. But by this point the 2nd alien had converted a 3rd. Now it was 3 on 2, but wasn’t clear which side had 3. The unknown player made an obviously alien move and now it’s 4 to 1.

Even if the game couldn’t have swung over (if the aliens had mysteriously run out of infection cards) they could have simply killed the remaining human.

In short, what made The Thing (and BSG) great was tension. Like I said in the first game, “This is what Aliens would be like if you skipped the first 45 minutes without Aliens.” Unlike BSG, which had the Brig (and Airlock) to deal with too obvious cylons, there’s little disincentive to stay hidden as an alien …  the humans don’t have a nuclear option against revealed aliens. The only real threat is getting caught before you infect someone, so if you miss, you have to hurry, infect and play in the open. If you delay too long, it will be hard to get the team out of the way. So the opening seems to be a pot shot. Make an infection (or double infection) and hope for the best.

Perhaps the 3rd (or 4th) version of the rules would fix this game. I have some ideas, but I’ve no clue what would work.

  1. A player can only force a trade on an opponent once per turn.
  2. Have a trigger, beyond which nobody can be infected?
  3. Limit each non-host to only using 2 infection cards.

There’s a great idea, but Panic Station needed a developer and wider playtesting. I’d play it (maybe I’m missing something), but I’m holding off on purchasing.


Written by taogaming

November 8, 2011 at 12:02 am

Posted in Reviews

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4 Responses

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  1. Played it this weekend. The game has an interesting concept but I had a bunch of issues with the rules.

    You start with a character, called the ‘Trooper’ who can’t use a gun. Huh?
    Oh, he’s got a flamethower? Cool. But the flamethrower ISN’T A WEAPON. That’s just silly.

    In addition to the broken trading rules, it seems like the players can just avoid each other. If some tries to trade with you, they’re probably infected. I think it might be interesting if people could ‘turn’ based on time or cards drawn rather than the trading mechanic.

    Chris Esko

    November 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm

  2. The world needs more negative reviews! Hooray

    Also, as for the rules, the designer writes “I must say I agree wholeheartily the rules could have been worded alot better. This is partly the result of english not being my native language and the fact the translater didn’t have a physical copy of the game at that point. Most vague sentences could have been avoided and currently we are working on a revised version which we hope to put out very soon that will cover all the FAQ-questions.” (which are, of course, versions 2.0 and 2.1)

    And yeah, I had the same thought you did. The game needed more development and more playtesting.

    ————(for what it’s worth, I like Panic Station)————–

    mikehulsebus on BGG

    November 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    • I don’t really have a problem with the English. I have a problem that simple ideas don’t seem to be tested. “What if the alien just plays openly and attacks the next player.”

      What if trading ended your turn? Say, for example, if you moved into a room, that obligated a trade, but you could spend the rest of your AP before you traded. Would that work? I have no idea, but it would prevent a lot of abuse. Now the alien has to sneak. Trade in, fail an infection, and it’s game over. Actually, I think that variant would work.


      November 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm

      • See, that’s the thing. Every time (exaggeration, but it feels like it) there was a new FAQ there would be a new variant like “hey, what if the turn order worked like this” or “what if the victory conditions were like this (see: master/servant variant)” that it seems would have been tried in playtesting. Similarly, things like “what if everyone decides to always trade gas can for gas can” should have come up too.

        The game also has too many exceptions. Like “when you enter a room, you have to trade….except when it’s the reactor room, then you don’t have to” (this was added in 2 or 2.1). I don’t like any time where I have to stop the game and be like “hey, so, this is an exception but you can’t actually do that”. I like how in forbidden island it’s like “ok, here’s what an action point does. go.”

        For some reason, btw, whenever the hive comes out there’s also now a free heat scan that happens.

        I enjoy playing this game, but I feel like in a year or two we’ll be playing a game (by David maybe even…shoot, maybe even Panic Station 4.0) that we’re like “look how this took what Panic Station was and really improved it and made it so elegant and concise”

        I feel like we’ll also see Stronghold put more dev time into games too since its previous games (Confusion, Survive) just required them to make pretty components and give their great customer service, not change the game.

        mikehulsebus on BGG

        November 9, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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