The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Stationfall Analysis

with 9 comments

At the time of this writing, I have half a dozen 2p games (each controlling two characters, no bots), two 4p games, two 5p games and a 7p game.

No surprise that I love Stationfall.

I’ve always enjoyed games with strong narratives; even excusing shaky gameplay, and Stationfall (for all the nits I plan to pick) has a solid core system.

I’m not going to explain the mechanisms or why I like it. I like it. My rating is Enthusiastic and probably will stay above indifferent for a long time. In a recent game night, we played three games in a row (which took roughly 4.5 hours, with a partial teach for a new player who joined the second game). At least for me, Stationfall is what every gamer hopes for: it has that “Let’s play again” feeling.

I’m trying to analyze what works about Stationfall and (more importantly) what doesn’t.

But here’s the review. If you dislike chaos, you’ll hate Stationfall. Your main character could be knocked out before you get a turn, and having both your characters downed isn’t out of the question. (Particularly in a 7p game). I do view some games as primarily about winning and being clever, but I’m not particularly driven to win. If you are, you’ll hate this.

The Big Issue

“It’s easier to destroy than to build.” I heard this from a few people. Let’s examine it.

Knocking a character out (“downing”) takes a wrench (which can be stopped by a helmet, if the victim is human) or a gun. Or firebomb. Or other unique to character rules. Restoring a downed character takes nano-gel (or unique characters, mainly Medical). That’s a bit asymmetric, but OK, into every disaster there will be disasters and characters going down.

The bigger issue: Characters that do not need to escape are more efficient and resilient.

Let’s examine everyone’s favorite — Astrochimp. He wants to escape and have important objects with him in the process.

With his favorable starting location and abilities, Chimpy can get to the pod in two activations, assuming each gets two actions (meaning — nobody else activated him in the last round). But that means you activate, a turn on someone else with nobody else doing anything on him, you activate. If someone else activates “your” character, even worse. So, at best you get one action a minute with your character (and one a minute with everyone else).

If you just run to a pod and launch (5 actions), you escape for a measly score of 3 points. (Most characters max out at eight or nine, plus possibly points for bribery). That’s three turns, of which two have to be on the Chimp. If you want the briefcase/artifact/gun, that’s another turn each (at a minimum), but more likely two. So a good scoring chimp takes ~6-9 turns focused on his goals. Presumably you want to spend some time dealing with others. One VP a turn.

If anyone has their activation disk on the chimp (or the characters you are using to move said briefcase/artifact/gun) you’ll need more time, as your efficiency goes down.

Now the Cyborg (who wants to murder officers and keep people from escaping). He doesn’t need to escape, doesn’t have many positive goals. He wants to Deny others. Let’s call this type a “Denier.” Cyborg doesn’t have to pull the trigger to score for down officers, so whatever character is available to murder for two actions, he can take. He doesn’t have to take Cyborg (unlike the Chimp, who has to spend some actions on a specific character).

If others activate the cyborg, its likely that they are doing it to down a character without becoming a suspect (since the cyborg is a fugitive). At worst, you don’t care. (And — insult to injury — Cyborg has the uncanny trait to get two actions more frequently).

It’s hard out here for a Chimp

If the Astrochimp does get a gun, the Cyborg’s PC (or anyone) might activate him to shoot an officer. That doesn’t help the chimp at all AND the activation makes the chimp less effective. Worse, they might move him the ‘wrong’ direction.

And they can bribe/kompromat the chimp to give his gun (etc) away even if they don’t have time to activate him! If someone bribes/kompromats the Cyborg, its likely to just bash someone’s head in, which doesn’t bother their controller at all or cost any VPs.

But worse — The Cyborg can still win if he gets dropped out an airlock. If the Chimp goes down, score ZERO points unless you happen to be close enough to the pod that you can be dragged in (max one space a turn). Even if you can get back up in a turn or two, people are free to take your stuff in the meantime.

Having a goal of “Escape” gives you a single point of failure … the character itself. But “Deniers” (Cyborg, Engineer, Operative, etc) can lose their PC and still score well. Some can score their maximum points, without every activating their character! That’s flexibility!

Since escaping is harder, “Escapers” maximum score should be higher.

Everybody Knows

In a game that takes ninety minutes, this isn’t a huge problem. But there’s a trickle-down factor. If you have six players, some will get dealt two Escapers as their choice of identities. Some get “Escaper/Denier” and some get two Deniers. If all the players with a choice think Denier is better, they’ll “Denier”, then nobody gets out (probably) and deniers will always win because they not only have the above advantages, four deniers will overwhelm the two escapers.

Stationfall has implicit collusion. It’s game is a single hand of cards. This is a deal breaker in many games (I’ve used the phrase “A long hand of cards” as a pejorative multiple times), but Stationfall is amusing enough I’m letting it slide.

Someone probably loses on the deal. They just don’t know it for an hour or two. If there is a dominant strategy (such as Escaper vs Denier) then games will tend to bend that way and not be as amusing for those who realize they are going to lose.

That is Stationfall’s main flaw. Not all characters fit easily on the Escaper/Denier spectrum, but there are too many deniers in a game already loaded against escapers. There need to be “Enablers” who want to help other people escape. Characters who get VP for other escapers, so that people will be incentivized to move pawns towards the pod, even if they aren’t yours. As it stands, I think the game tilts towards denial, but sometimes the deal has enough escapers that the variety is OK. It could be tuned, but the melody isn’t bad right now.

(Exile is a big escape enabler and can rack up a huge score. We just had a game with Exile and Stable Wormhole and ~8 characters escaped, but that’s certainly the not the rule in our game.) This analysis applies not to just “Escape/Deny” but to many of the common goals. For “Release project X/Not Release Project X” the advantage is with the releasers, but that’s simply because they can use any character to do it and once done it cannot be undone (and you can use a four action turn which is hard to prevent).

Regarding “One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop

The game tilted towards one strategy isn’t a problem. The problem is that denialists being too effective is frustrating.

Betrayals are fun. Shocking Revelations are fun, Bad Luck (with Project X or who is a PC) is fun. I lost the last game via a stupid miscalculation. It’s fine. Ending up short one action, banging on the pod door? Great!

But a few times (someone) spends half the game left with not a single option? They are bored while everyone else is engaged. Both characters down. No other character would score points if that person escaped, so they got no help and died. In a two player game (where this is more likely) then just concede, but in a six person game you just stew for an hour.

It’s no fun to lose just because you only have twelve minutes, and need eight of them with nothing bad happening and no chaos. “No chaos” is boring. The game needs balanced chaos, and that could be better. Right now I’d say that in multiplayer games we’ve had maybe 10% of the players frustrated for a game. I suspect some were avoidable, but its still a problem.

A Sidebar on the Rules

We keep finding rules that we missed. (Perhaps the Eklund style is to blame, perhaps we are, but in any case the game can work with a close approximation of the rules). Firebombs cause fires but don’t damage sections. And there are rules interactions that are easy to forget (not to mention all the exceptions that are just footnotes). I don’t think the rules are poorly written, but they are dense enough that its easy to get them wrong.

A week ago I thought the rules were well done, now I think they are OK. Not a huge deal, more of a non-trivial nit. Fortunately (like many games that you get enjoyment via narrative and not planning) as long as the group is consistent, getting a few rules wrong is more of a nuisance than problem.

The Nits

There are a number of issues I have with the game:

  • The action tilts aft — The pods are on the aft side of the map. All the pods (unless the Medevac pod is in play). This means that there is a choke point and with a bit of effort you can basically block all characters from getting to a pod unless they have a helmet. (Particularly if the engineer is in play, then damaging the reactor will cause vacuums all around the aft hub). If you have a helmet, then it is a turn or two from fore to aft (via outer space) but if not then you might have to go a long way to escape. There aren’t many helmets.
  • Some actions just cost too much to get used — Removing a fire hazard takes two actions! (One to replace fire with vacuum, another to clear the vacuum). And you have to go to a console (mostly). Decontamination costs an action in the tanks, but getting contaminated is free (just move through the space). Why isn’t decontamination free? (Especially given how out of the way the tanks are). The point of Stationfall is that funny things happen, but over-costed actions can’t happen often enough. This is mostly because doing this takes an action, but getting to the place to do it costs multiple actions!
    • After 8 games, I’ve never seen decontamination or bridge action, etc! After 8 games! With most characters!
    • Hazard suppression is also pretty rare.
    • Similarly, there’s only one place you can manufacture evidence! And only one place to Transmit!
  • You can be out of it, particularly as an escaper. — An unhelmeted character can easily be trapped for most of the game.
  • A few unfun characters — A big deal in a game that is about the story. The Corpsicle is an escaper that starts down and never gets a free action, and can’t be activated if someone else activated her. Simply Terrible.
  • Some characters can frustrate plans too easily — Fine if they are funny or stunning. For example, if the Counselor makes you a suspect and then sends evidence, OK. Or if the Consort does his pawn switch, amazing! For this I’m talking about things like the Operative’s Nerve Gas action to down a room of characters and destroy a path … over and over again. Boarder can launch missiles and destroy section after section. Frustration and screwing over people is fine, but it should be big one-time surprises, not constant denial.
  • Characters with more difficult goals should score more — It’s harder to keep project X bottled up, but its an implicit collusion issue, as mentioned above. But Getting a max score on the Corpsicle or Clones (hard characters) seems nigh-impossible. Engineer can get nine points in six or so turns, Corpsicle needs a lot more time for its goals, so it should get more than nine if scores.
  • There are a few goals that only have a single character who wants it — Doing that goal reveals you. Also, if you are the only person with that goal, you get no help. (Again, implicit collusion works against you). If there are 3-4 characters with that goal, you might get some help.

Right now these play balance issues aren’t a big deal. But they are fun-balance issues. The characters should be maximally fun even when they lose. (As an example, the TaoLing just mentioned that Daredevil could string together a giant move. That’s not balanced, but its fun, so I don’t mind it).

Possible Variants / House Rules

To be clear, I’m not attached to any of these. Even eight games isn’t enough to guess balance. But these are things I’m leaning towards.

  1. A character can only drag or be dragged through a single section with gravity per turn, but can drag/be dragged through zero-G as often as you like. (Makes being downed more palatable).
  2. Anyone moving through Tanks is Decontaminated (no action cost).
  3. Hazard Suppression can fully remove fire (if the user desires) with a single action, or go from fire to vacuum.
  4. I think that one of the regular pods should be in the Medevac pods location, (and the Medevac pod go after), but I haven’t considered this in detail.
  5. Adding another helmet and/or nanogel at setup. (Not sure where to put, just a thought).
  6. Making the Briefcase worth one point for any character to have at the end (in addition to any points on your card).
  7. Seems to me that there should be a “badge” that lets the holder be an officer.

We can also modify individual characters.

One simple balance fix is to give each character a VP modifier to reflect how hard they are. For example, the troubleshooter seems hard pressed to score nine points (no damaged sections? Antimatter never armed? etc) so a straight bonus would work.

But my goal is to make things more fun. Everyone would have to be aware of these before the game and have notes available (as to the rules).

  • Corpsicle
    • When corpiscle reveals, revive if down AND (instead of OR) perform an action.
    • The Corpsicle may reveal during ANY PLAYERS ACTION if they are in the same space. (What’s a zombie movie without a jump scare?)
    • During the revealed action (only), the corpsicle is considered to have a wrench to attack/rob.
    • The Corpsicle counts as downed for the medevac pod constraints at all times.
    • (All together these might be too much, but you have to admit, it sounds fun to play right?)
  • Engineer
    • Reduce antimatter VP from 3 to 2. (So he has a maximum of 8).
  • Legal
    • You do not flip over the pods on setup, they flip over the pods when Legal reveals (similar to boarder’s ship). (Escapers already have a hard enough time, no need to add to it just via setup ..)
    • Scheduled timed launches are cancelled upon reveal unless all characters on the pod have an NDA.
    • (Possibly Legal should be changed to make printing an NDA a free action as well).
  • Maintenance Clones
    • Add +4 points if the third clone escapes. (Getting all three clones out should be a huge victory).
  • Medical
    • Anyone collocated with Medical may take an action to decontaminate (if Medical is not down).
    • Medical may decontaminate everyone (living or down) in the same room as an action.
  • Microbiologist
    • The Contaminate action infects ALL co-located characters (instead of one), or maybe it should be one person, but a free action (replacing pickup/drop)
  • Operative
    • Unwanted Attention — Operative cannot win if she revealed prior to Stationfall unless innocent.
    • (If that’s too much, at least lower Nerve Gas to once per game).
  • Troubleshooter
    • Raise Influence Limit from six to eight (so no penalty ever). (Rationale — she’s hard to score points with already, and her abilities require co-conspirators).


Again, I love this game. Enough that I’m constantly thinking about how to reduce its failure modes from 5% (or whatever they are) to half that, or a third that. If Stationfall get’s “Solved” then its no good. If everyone says “Oh, X always wins” then its no good. If there’s 1-2 dominant/bad characters we can just leave them out of the shuffle, but let’s have more chaos and more fun!

See you on re-entry.

Update 3/21 — After some discussion on the BGG thread (especially Geoff’s notes), I think the troubleshooter can be made less fragile by his changes:

  1. Change the “2 VP for antimatter not armed” to “2 VP if Stationfall happens at minute 0 or 1”
  2. Change the “2 VP for Project X not revealed” to “2 VP if there is no live monster on board at stationfall”
  3. Change the “2 VP for no damaged sections at the end” to “Troubleshooter gains 1VP per damage repaired or hazard suppressed.” (Geoff has this be data on the character, which certainly works and allows for more shenanigans).

The basic point of all these is to let Troubleshooter recover from antimatter arming or project X released or damage, which are all good idea.


Written by taogaming

March 16, 2023 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Reviews, Stationfall

Tagged with ,

9 Responses

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  1. Great analysis! I generally agree, both with liking the game and with the premise that chaos vs escape tends to result in chaos victory.

    Someone on Discord grouped characters into escapers, deniers, and chorers (who are more focused on other stuff than escaping).

    Troubleshooter vs. Engineer is the most frustrating matchup (that I have played multiple times). Troubleshooter just loses; the Engineer ability invariably wrecks one VP condition for Troubleshooter, and it just goes downhill from there. It used to be even worse…

    Sussing out identities becomes very important. Escapers should consider downing chaos characters if they suspect they are PCs – or take whatever actions make life harder for them.


    March 16, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    • “Chorers is a good extension.” I agree with the Troubleshooter vs the Engineer. Frankly I that repairing needs a big buff in general, but am loath to think of a rule. Troubleshooter should probably be something like (Star 3VP) -1 per damaged section +1 if no sections damaged (So 0/1/2/3 damaged sections are 4/2/1/0 VP or some such). Also the fact that # of robots on the board is variable is a minus.


      March 17, 2023 at 4:21 pm

      • This game wants a “more characters” expansion, and it would be nice to include “v2” variants that reflect experience from being in the wild.

        I like that graduated approach to scoring for the Troubleshooter. The big fun and balance issue with her is the irrevocable nature of her scoring. Project X released? You are hosed. Antimatter armed? You are hosed. It’s frustrating.


        March 17, 2023 at 4:37 pm

  2. Great stuff here, Brian. Are you planning to post this on BGG for more eyes/responses?

    I dislike the idea of having to fix a game so soon after release, but this seems like the rare game where it’s worth the bother. There may be some value in crowdsourcing the solution(s).

    Jon W

    March 17, 2023 at 11:25 am

    • I think the game is fine without a fix, but if the changes could be a one-sheet of “House Rules” that’s ok with me. I’ll likely post to BGG in a few days, once I’ve cleaned this up.


      March 17, 2023 at 4:22 pm

  3. Great analysis: I’m also not a fan of houserules and the like, but Stationfall is such a cool concept that it’s a pity to leave it the way it is. You are right that escaper characters should be boosted somehow, simply because denying victory conditions is easier than achieving them, and often does not even require you taking actions: the Operative starts the game with more VPs than the amount some character could even reach, for example.

    Troubleshooter: I once suggested the very same solutions as yours, but that idea went unnoticed. To me, it only makes sense for such VP conditions not to be so fragile, especially considering how easy damaging a sector is.

    Some actions just cost too much to get used: my thoughts as well; most actions are too time-consuming to be worth using, and hazards at the current stage are nothing more than a dull addition with little to no gameplay.

    Briefcase being worth 1 VP: truth be told, I think all Macguffins should be worth 1 VP, just to incentivize moving them around. That could also create a nice mindgame between players: should one risk escaping with it for 1 VP, at the cost of giving more of them away to potential players? It would also boost weak characters such as the Botanist. Right now you care about some of them only if they are part of your agenda, or if the related character is your BC. Basically, how to give your identity away.

    Few other points worth mentioning:

    Strangers: what’s with that random VP for Secret X? It’s so random and unthematic. Stranger’s agenda is all about their BC, why shouldn’t Secret X be in their possession instead?

    Billionaire: 3 cubes as the limit for such as weak character is a questionable choice. He is supposed to be a crowd control character, after all.

    Security: I am not sure I have ever seen it win.

    I agree

    March 20, 2023 at 10:50 am

  4. Is it legal to pass? Because if it is, you can just leave orders to pass once you’re toast.

    Eric Brosius

    March 22, 2023 at 9:25 am

    • Eric – it is legal to pass, which you could do. However, since you can control almost any character (anyone but revealed player characters), given time you can probably revive your character and improve your game state.

      For example, in our last game, I was going second to last turn of the game. My character was down. I could have revived my character (which would have hurt Ron), or I could use another character to send the evidence to the Authorities (which would have REALLY hurt Ron). Ron, going last, could damage a Section (hurting me). Reviving my character didn’t affect my score (I didn’t want to escape), so instead I made a deal with Ron that I wouldn’t send the Evidence if he wouldn’t damage a Section. (In matter of fact, I never activated my character the entire game – my conspiracy didn’t require it.)


      March 22, 2023 at 9:59 am

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