STAR SCRAPPERS: CAVE-IN
A game for 2-4 players of ages 12 plus who have an hour or so to spare and who enjoy abstract card and tile games.
It is presented, published and produced by Hexy Studio of Warsaw Poland, one of the latest Eastern European games companies to explore the rest of Europe's game's market. One of the folk working there is an old friend who has overseen many Polish company's products break into the UK stores. He has great confidence in Hexy Studio and from playing their game 'Star Scrappers: CAVE-IN' (a mining game I excavated at this year's UKGE) I can understand his conviction.
I have to admit that when I saw the box and other full-on artwork (by Mateusz Stanislawski & Lukasz Witusinski) I half-expected a by-the-numbers roll a 4, 5 or 6 to hit/kill future-fantasy adventure. I was wrong, very wrong, and I am very happy to be able to concede my error of fore-thought. Several games into this report I have a minor discrepancy; the game book and box reckon a game plays in about 45 minutes but with core games players involved this stretches to around 60-75 minutes. CAVE-IN disposes of the background theme for this game, there is no mention of which planet it takes place on, even though there are illustrations of spacecraft and aliens which appear to show it takes place in space on an unknown, unnamed planet in an unknown unnamed Galaxy. Then there is the mysterious Hexis Crystal (Ore) that the players are competing for; what is it ? where is it found exactly ? what is it used for ? There are no answers to these questions because CAVE-IN isn't a role-playing game or a game likely to be expanded with different stories, characters, cards or tiles, thus an open ending non-tale is as good as a long-winded explanatory short story filled with BS of the highest proportion and quality. There is no story, no persons/characters, nothing except a darned good card and tile abstract game.
As far as the game goes the players are bosses of rival competing Mining companies attempting to mine the most Hexis Ore. To mine the Hexis Crystals there is a need for good Mercenary Labourers. There are Mercenary Labourers but whether they are 'good' depends on their loyalty and there isn't much of that around these guys; half an opportunity and they'll be taking an opponent's wages, until at least another opponent steps in with a better offer.
About the Mercenries. There are six different factions which are identified by their colour and by a specific icon for each; each faction card also has a Value (top left corner), Symbol (top right corner), Skill (Text box) and Skill function (bottom right corner), everything is on the cards and everything is clear and concise, you won't find yourselves hunting through the RulesBook very often if at all.
The Hexis Crystals are presented as colourful tiles leading from the small diamond shapes with a Value of 1, slightly larger tiles valued at 3, large hexes valued at 6 and finally the largest hexes with the largest value of 10. All of these tiles have a cost and a VP value, others also have the Faction symbol and others have an (exclamation mark symbol) ! which denotes a Cave-In and thus moves the Cave-In marker along the Cave-In track one space onwards - the game ends when the Cave-In marker cannot move any further thus collapsing the cave.
The Set-Up is quite unusual, possibly unique for a card/board game. The Crystal tiles are placed in 4 face-down piles, by size, to one side of the Game Board, placing 4, 3, 2 and 1 of them face up in an upside down pyramid under the Game Board - there are obvious cuts in the board to show where they should be placed but please take note of the illustration in the Rules book (page 4) as it clearly shows to leave a gap between the tiles and the board - this is for ease of use. The Mercenary cards are separated into four stacks according to their level and shuffled before 4, 3, 2 and 1 are dealt face up above the Game Board, this time in pyramid shape, again the shape of the Game Board shows where the 4 base of the pyramid (level 1) cards should be placed. Cards from the decks are dealt to the players to create their hands; 1 x 4, 2 x 3, 3 x 2 and 4 x 1 level.
The artefact cards are shuffled and split into 3 stacks of 4 cards each and placed face up on the Game Board - the artefact cards have been cleverly designed so that each offers two specific and useful actions, however because the cards are landscape in orientation when you tuck it under your Command card (each player has a Command card - there are 6 named aliens and colour coded: Hy'drans - Blue, Metanets - Yellow, Terrons - Brown, Minneglers - Purple, The Bioss - Red and Weedlock - Green) only one of the Actions is visible - once in position an artefact card cannot be moved, so choose which one you want to keep carefully. This sort of option in a game is both irritating and frustrating, but it is also a good way to make players think about their strategy and in my book anything that can make you doubt your own decisions is clever designing.
Players have two actions each turn, selecting 2 from these 4: a.Recruit a Mercenary, b.Mine a Crystal, c.Collect an artefact and d.Use a Mercenary's skill, or they can forego their actions and instead Raid an opponent's Base, this is how you force them to take their current leader back into their hand and also how you gain control of the Faction Totems.Each Action is fully described , there is a great example of gameplay and all the necessary card clarifications for the Factions and the Artefacts.
The game is about collecting. You collect Mercenaries to collect Crystals to collect Victory points. There are many other cleverly thought out rules, such as the Mercenary cards you use are laid out in front of you until you reach 7 and then you lose (out of the game) the first 2 of the 7, so if these are cards you want to be able to keep in play your manipulation and playing of the cards from your hand is paramount. You also gain points for controlling the Faction Totems - players can control more than one of these - as well as for the Crystals and for the symbols some of the crystals display.
Although this is a game from Polish designers the English translated Rules are as near perfect as possible, certainly better than any Polish/English translation I can remember seeing any time. If this is the first game from Hexy Studio (it is the first game from them that I have seen) then I will be looking out for more from them in the future. The design is great, the production is excellent, the artwork has that Guardians of the Galaxy goofiness about it and the all round quality is superb.
I have just discovered that STAR SCRAPPERS: CAVE-IN is part of a larger universe and that Hexy Games are already manufacturing STAR SCRAPPER miniatures, with CAVE-IN being the first actual board game release. More info here:
STAR SCRAPPERS: CAVE-IN began life on KickStarter at a ridiculously low price of $25.00 (US) plus postage. In the UK stores it can be found for a few coppers under £25.00. On today's market this is far more than £25.00 worth of game.