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    A lot of components in a small box

THE PHANTOM LEAGUE - Dragon Dawn Productions

First published 2010 and now available as a part of the large box expansion "[mostly] Harmless. The Phantom League is playable by up to 6 players from young teenager upwards, and in its basic form takes around 2 - 3 hours to play. For your first game though you should give yourself an additional couple of hours to read the rules and familiarise yourself with the probabilities, possibilities and actions - the 30 pages of A5 rules begin with the basic game rules and then continue with the expansion additions, including a list of the new components. None of the rules need to be totally memorised but they do need a good read through first - this isn't a game you can play as you go.

The Phantom League game is inspired by and leans heavily towards the David Braben computer game ELITE. You start with nothing and after a fair while of playing you find that you still have most of it left, but you dream of fame (or notoriety) and fortune, and as the Captain of a Merchant vessel you have the opportunites to gain all you wish - as long as you don't mind who you ally with or tread on to get there. There is often a need for cooperation and once given on a specified deal word cannot be broken else you lose a recognition level. When players make an agreement or form a Phantom League they can move together as a group. When in such a group, cards affect every one in it. Phantom Leagues are special agreements in which players are bound to work together or suffer a loss. A player can only be in one Phantom League at a time, but they can be involved in several deals outside of the League.

There is a board but there isn't a board as such. The playing area is created from modular hexagonal tiles and half-tiles; this means that it is highly unlikely that two games will ever have the same set up. Also the roads to the conditions for victory are so many and varied that this is not a game where you can find a winning combination and press for it every time.

This is a card driven game which allows for you to control your own fate. Your game is made up of trading, stealing, exploring and challenging the laws and policies of the universe. Buying the best spaceship to augment your choice of Captain is always a good start. If you lose your Captain then you lose the game (ie you are knocked out if it is a multi-player game or you lose if it's a 2 player game) unless your Captain is the first to die in which case you get a second-chance - only the  first Captain out of the game gets this action. You can, and should, conspire and make alliances with the other players when necessary, but remember they too are out to be the sole winner and any agreement for cooperation may not last for as long as you may hope.

There is so much good about The Phantom League that it is a pity players can be knocked out of play. I have never been keen on such games ever since my Dad and Brother used to conspire at Risk to beat me off the board and send me onwards to my bed when they decided it was that time. But as I said there is much good about The Phantom League that dwelling on the one (for me personally) sour point isn't of any use to man nor beast.

I have the [mostly] HARMLESS boxed set which I got at Spiel Essen 2012. This boxed set contains all that is required to play the game with or without the MH expansion. If you do not have the basic game you should buy the "combo" version  as this set is how the original basic game should have been published. With more cards, Captains, ships and variations in this revised version, for a revised edition is really what this expansion is, the game is much more enjoyable and flexible.

Components for the [mostly] Harmless Expansion.
110 cards      1 new ship      A pirate nest token      Updated rulebook (for base game + expansion)
6 docking card reference counters (for thematically correct game),  A battle playmat
2 pcs of Improvement summary sheet, traderate sheet on the other side

Designer Timo Multamäki has done a fantastic job turning a video game into a multi-player boardgame. What was basically a travel and trade game on the small screen has become a huge living thing spread out and ever expanding. Players have Mission cards that can, on completion, give financial reward or the kind of recognition required (fame or notoriety). Some Mission cards are in more than one part and thus cannot be completed in one go whilst others will aid the player with cargo. Only one Mission can be completed by a Player in a turn and once finished the card is discarded and a new one drawn, ensuring the player always has 3 from which to choose.

Trading (buying or selling) depends on your cargo space and amount of money you have as well as the available supply of the necessary commodities. Each Planetary System buys and sells but not each Planet trades in the same resources so, as you would expect, you should always be moving commodities around to get the best prices, sell high and buy low as in all good trading games. Planets deal in Slaves, Fuel (compressed liquid Hydrogen), Narcotics, Food and Ore. Two of these, Narcotics and Slaves, are illegal and thus most valuable and the most dangerous to carry.

Promo cards for [mostly] HARMLESS

The players stay unaligned until after they have reached the third level of Recognition. From the 4th level they must select the Path of Fame and the Allegiance of the Dominions or the Path of Notoriety and the Renegade Worlds, also gaining a price on their head. The game is about gaining Recognition, being the first player to reach level 8 in either path will win you the game.

PILOT ACADEMY - expansion 2 for the Phantom League.

Phantom League: Pilot Academy, the second expansion for Phantom League, includes three quality optional additions:
Battle rules: which change the battle system
Galactic Balance: missions may havemore effect than just Recognition
Surface Missions: another way to gather Recognition (and affect Galactic Balance)



To save me repeating some of the questions that we discovered during play let me please direct you to the great BoardGameGeek  where a Geek Patron has asked questions and Timo Multamäki (the game's author) has answered.

Our first games were using the [mostly] HARMLESS boxed set - I have to be honest and say we didn't sort out the original components and play the 2010 game, we went straight into the basic + expansion 1 before trying again with The Pilot Academy.

Set of 9 promo cards that was included with preorders of the Pilot Academy expansion.

The set includes the nine cards below that can be mixed with the Pilot Academy cards. No new rules are added with this promo.

C16 Ronya the Slayer (Captain) (printing error: card is labeled C12 on one side C16 on other)
Z25 Ronya the Slayer (Captain)
D45 Winnings (Docking)
D46 Piece of Cake (Docking)
H29 Energy Drain (Hyperspace)
A13 Warp to Unknown (Alien)
I59 Alien Core (Improvement Support)
SM16 A Step Closer (Surface Mission)
SM17 Prophet (Surface Mission)

Pilot Academy is the 2nd expansion for The Phantom League. It includes these optional rules differences:

Phantom League: Pilot Academy is meant to make a player's immersion in the world of Phantom League even deeper, while offering more tactical choices during battles. Phantom League: Pilot Academy can be used without [mostly] Harmless, the first expansion for PL, although it includes a separate rules booklet for those who do use [mostly] Harmless.

Pilot Academy lengthens and strengthens the storyline and introduces the tactical battle system as well as beefing up the Blockading action. There are rules that should be used to update the game system but if you prefer to use the original rules then that's okay too, the Pilot Academy expansion is extremely flexible. Experience says you should implement as many of these new "optional" rules as you can because they really do clarify many of the questions you will find in the original game and the first expansion.

This expansion, coupled with the basic game and the first expansion, takes Phantom League the boardgame extremely close to actually becoming ELITE the video game played on a tabletop.

If you were one of the many thousands of ELITE fans and you like boardgames then you will find this a very interesting and fun challenge. My own personal opinion is to play it 2 player as I enjoy the face to face aspect, but it works very well multi-player - my only quibble being that players get knocked out and have to watch the remainder of the game without input.

I would also suggest that when you have purchased the game, unless you are a collector you are best buying the updated [mostly] HARMLESS and PILOT ACADEMY. When you have these then go online and read up all you can about the game as there is a lot of internet chatter that is really helpful, and not too little of it comes from Timo Multimäki himself. It is so good to see an author being so enthusiastic and so honest about his creation.

Dragon Dawn Productions:   

Dragon Dawn Publishing is a Finnish publishing company specializing in gaming aids and board games. All of our products have a strong role-playing game flavor.

Our Products:

* Zanziar - a fantasy strategy/adventure game for 2-6 players. Available in English, Finnish, German, Chinese, Russian, and soon in Italian. (2008)
* Dragonbane the Legacy - a book about the most ambitious LARP project in Europe ever. It is among the most-cited academic books about LARPing in 2008 and 2009. More than 200 full-color pages in A4 format, with stunning pictures by Janne Björklund. (2008)
* The Phantom League - a scifi adventure/strategy game for 2-6 players set in the world of David Braben's Elite video game. In The Phantom League, you play a merchant building your career and legacy through trading, piracy, exploration, and Machiavellian diplomacy, joining with other merchants when necessary to form Phantom Leagues – alliances powerful enough to challenge law and upset political order across the known worlds.

Games from Dragon Dawn Publishing are built around strong thematic play at their core and are not just a mathematical diversion with tacked-on themes. Moreover, negotiation and cooperation are key components of our games.


© Chris Baylis 2011-2021