Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Sam Mustafa's "Freejumper"... a detailed review!
Well, I know I posted a few bits and pieces about veteran black powder game designer Sam Mustafa's latest... a spaceship game called Freejumper, which I got to help playtest a tiny bit, and for which I did a bit of photography (nothing better than pretty toy soldiers!)
Well, it just released this weekend, so I thought I would post about it!
Now honestly, I was *very* curious to see this game when it was first announced. I do LOVE my black powder games, but at the same time the games I play most are Fantasy Flight's X-Wing and Armada (especially Armada.) I was curious to see what Freejumper would look like, as I knew Sam wanted to do something "different" than the more common space ship games.
So, Freejumper is a largely card-based miniature game that generally focuses on a single ship per player (although you can take more if all the players agree they want a bigger game, or if you have only two players... it is a pretty flexible system, and one which encourages teamwork and ships that can cooperate.) You command a Freejumper, which is basically a mercenary cargo hauler far in the future, who jumps from adventure to adventure trying to make some cash, upgrade your ship... and stay alive! The game is meant to be played QUICK (less than an hour) and is scalable like crazy... ten or fifteen people could easily play, and it would be fun. (It seems to be a perfect beer-and-peanuts game, or even a GREAT convention game...) The cards are used to represent the various systems that your own spaceship has installed and is using during the game. They are free to download from Sam's site, which is nice... just download, print, and cut out.
A big part of the fun of the game is building your ship. Everyone gets a hundred space bucks to buy one of a bunch of common basic hulls (called "classes" in game) to build your ship upon. Each comes with a certain amount of thrusters (each of which enables a bit of movement/turning) and a certain amount of structure points, which act as both hit points but which also determine how many weapons/defenses/computers/etc your ship can carry. The ship is "run" by a simple "Interface" card, the same size as a poker card, that basically has all the important info on it. The bigger or faster you want your basic class to be, the more you'll spend on that initial hull... and if you want BOTH, you'll pay big time!:)
Then you also have to spend money on buying your ship a "brain," the computer that brings all of your systems online. The brain is a HUGE part of the game, because it is what allows you to use your systems, both to attack and defend, and as the brain takes damage, your ship is less able to perform. Brain power is represented just as a number, and a die (or two) can record it as you go.
Then, finally, you buy your systems, all of which are represented by cards. There are a few types, but the main ones are weapon systems and defense systems. (There are also cardinal systems, but they are primarily used in the advanced game.)
There are four types of weapons:
1) Projectile weapons (see the cheap ol'Needle Gun example), which are simple, dumb weapons which are often limited in range and damage, but for which there aren't really any defenses other than building a ship with a lot of heft and physical structure.
2) Effector weapons, which are big modern weapons designed to destroy enemy structure by creating antimatter. There are defenses that can minimize their impact, although the more powerful ones can actually overwhelm and damage these defenses. They are also all limited to front arcs for firing.
But not all weapons are about physically destroying the enemy. There are also...
3) Beam weapons (you can see the Maser to the left... a range of 24 and a "punch" of 4, which is what it needs to blow through shields, makes it a real pain in the ass!) which can shoot in every direction, and which primarily focus on disabling enemy systems. There are defenses that can protect you from these.
4) Broadcast weapons, which are basically hacking/computer viruses, with no range and no arcs, but which are usually more subtle in terms of their impact... they aren't going to be blowing enemies up, but they can knock systems offline, mess with thrusters and movement, damage weapons by causing malfunctions... even cause reactor leaks that can kill crew. Enemies can use firewalls to defend their ships from these attacks.
There are also defenses you can buy for your ship... shields and firewalls and the like. These can protect you against one type of weapon (except projectiles, which are tough to stop!) and in a neat co-op twist some of the more advanced defenses are advanced enough to be "projected" to defend nearby friends, creating a whole different cooperative level in strategy in team games... in a neat bit of team-work, you can have one person build a ship that has several redundant projectable defenses, and then have them stay back and buff their buddies!
There is a really simple and elegant balance in the purchasing of ships, systems, and brain power. A lot of your strategy goes into your ship design... do you go with a balanced build, with a little bit of everything? Or do you get a ship with a TON of one type of weapon, intent on blasting through enemy defenses for that type? Do you save money when buying brain for your ship, buying only the minimum of what you need, spending the rest on heavy duty weapons? Or do you buy a LOT of brain, which will cost a LOT of none but create a that ship that will always be able to perform at maximum capacity, even after a beating? An enemy might have a bunch of beam weapons which won't damage your ship's hull, but which WILL absolutely FRY the your brain, making it very hard for your ship to bring systems back online, leaving you crippled an ineffective. He might have a mix of effectors and projectiles, capable of dishing out tons of structural damage. In one multiplayer test game I played one player took a ship (The S.S. Edward Snowden, IIRC) with almost all worms and then sat way back, hacking and disabling and creating openings for the more hard-hitting friendly ships to take advantage of. There is a LOT to think about, but it is incredibly simple and intuitive... all you need is whatever systems are online (in your hand), offline (in a pile next to you) and how many brain points your ship has (just keep track with a die!)
Once you have your ship, you get to fighting! The actual battles are very quick and fun, as you have to balance attacking the enemy, defending yourself, and keeping your systems and ship brain online and running.
You can attack and defend as often as you'd like in a turn, using each system once. However, every time you use a system it goes offline, and you have to reset it using "brain" points before you can use it again.
This creates a very natural "balance" of system usage and brain usage, as you have to balance every use of a weapon or a defense with your ability to bring *it* back online, and also with what OTHER weapons or defenses you'll want to use and then bring back online... there are times you might let an attack hit you because you know you cannot bring that particular defense back online in time to protect yourself from a much worse upcoming attack. Plus you have to account for damage to the ship brain, which can limit how many systems you can bring back online. The flow for this aspect of the game is super natural, easy, and effective, and is the core of the management experience. The cards make it all very simple as far as implementation.
(Oh... and if your brain takes enough damage, you might have to even take that most drastic measure, rebooting the entire ship, which leaves you temporarily drifting and vulnerable, but when power comes back on your ship's brain will be back to full power.)
That's basically it! There is more in the advanced game...crews, space stations, nebulas, black holes, tracking drones, and so on. There actually is a lot of depth in the advanced game, although you can freely pick and choose which bits you want to use.
There is also a campaign included. Players are working as Freejumpers (which are introduced in the Introduction as being sort of mercenary cargo-haulers/adventurers) and play a series of missions (called "Adventures") in which they can make money by fulfilling certain objectives for their employers. This money can then be spent making repairs, installing new systems, hiring crew, and you can even sell your ship (to the market or even to another player) and buy a new hull to develop a new ship on! You can play whichever Adventures you want, in whatever order you want, and your ships can develop and change over time. There is no set "goal"... the players can create an artificial end point ("First person to save $80!) or can even just play forever, letting their ships evolve and change over long periods of time.
Overall Freejumper is a lot of fun. It is VERY much different than X-Wing or Armada, in that rather than focusing on a bunch of ships it is more about being a captain of ONE ship and focusing on the management of THAT ship. The ships really evolve and change over time, and each have their own "flavor," with things they are good at and weaknesses as well... in my last game I made a ship with lots of thrusters and structure, and several heavy effectors, planning to get up close to my enemy and crush him. Unfortunately for me, my enemy had a ton of beam weapons, and he just FRIED my systems, and I didn't have enough brain to keep everything online. It was a mess, although dammit, I came close! :) For campaigns this is particularly fun.
As with many of Sam's games, there are a few very simple, intuitive systems that give the game fun and depth... in the case of Freejumper, it is about carefully using systems and then bringing them back online, and making sure your "brain" has the capacity to run the ship and systems the way you want them run and WHEN you need them to run. The cards are welcome, because they do lower the amount of bookkeeping down to near zero... everything is handled by simply moving cards in or out of your hand, or turning them over, and then one or two die to record structure points and brain power.
Just a note: the game is ripe for customizing, especially when it comes to the campaign. I know the first thing I would do is create a little star system and a stack of cards to represent specific cargo and the like that can be sold in different places as added revenue:) I would also create a LOT more crew, and likely have specific galaxies... then, maybe create a little rough AI so you can play co-op vs AI or something... but that's all just random rambling:)
Overall the great balance in maintaining your ship, the relative simplicity of the game, and the really natural flow in combat makes Freejumper a load of fun. If you are a black powder player, it is worth a look at the pdf.