Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a ship that has a particular proclivity for losing its shields and never getting them back again. I'm talking, of course, about Star Trek Panic, a tower defense-esque board game for 1-6 players via a collaboration between Fireside Games and USAopoly.
Star Trek Panic is a sci-fi themed twist on Fireside Games' Castle Panic, and the game has many mechanical similarities. Players will work cooperatively to try to survive against waves of oncoming enemies before they're destroyed. Whereas Fireside Games' previous title was themed around a castle under siege, this particular game changes things up to the U.S.S. Enterprise facing odds so brutal and unfair that it makes the Battle of Wolf 359 look like a pleasant stroll through a botanical garden.
To start, the board is divided into six segments. Each segment has three "ranges", and these determine where you can fire at enemies and where the sturdy little flagship of the Federation fleet will take damage. The game begins with three threat tokens randomly placed in three sectors on the outer edges of the board. Each turn, these threats will fire on their respective sectors and do damage to the Enterprise's shields. Each of the six sectors are covered by a plastic shield, and each shield can take a maximum of two hits before going down. After shields are down, the hull takes damage. Similarly, each section of the hull can take two hits of damage before being destroyed. If three pieces of the ship's hull are destroyed, the Enterprise is unable to move. If all six sections of the ship's hull are destroyed, you lose the game!
It's possible to effect repairs on the shields and hull throughout the course of the game. There are a handful of Tritanium and Dilithium cards in the deck. A single Tritanium card can repair a damaged hull and a single Dilithium card can repair a damaged shield. If a shield or hull is completely destroyed, you will need to spend a Tritanium and a Dilithium to repair it. There is also a single Starbase token in the pool of potential threats that you can draw. The Starbase can completely rebuild some of your hull and shields - if you can reach it by moving. It's very often the case that you cannot, and it will simply sit on the edge of the field, taunting you in a way.
Movement is an area where Star Trek Panic presumably differs from Castle Panic. (After all, I imagine it would be rather difficult to move an entire castle on a whim.) Each turn, players can rotate the ship one sector or move it forward. Moving it forward advances any threats in front of the ship one space forward. Some missions and tokens require that the Enterprise have a particular token within Short Range (right next to the ship) to complete the mission. These missions are particularly rough when the Enterprise is so badly damaged that it cannot move.
Each turn, players go through several phases. First, they'll draw cards until they have five in total. Next, they'll draw a new mission if the previous one was completed. Third, they'll have the opportunity to trade one card with one player. This limit is an important part of the balance; if players were able to trade more than a single card, then players would simply pass around all of the needed cards to whoever is on their current turn. Barring any special conditions, players can play as many cards as they'd like during their turn. I've personally seen as many ten cards played thanks to various other cards that allow a player to draw additional cards.
After these steps, players are able to play Enterprise cards, move the ship once, and potentially use any special abilities they have. Each player can select one of the Enterprise bridge crew as their character at the start of the game. Each crew member has special abilities that can affect the game. Hikaru Sulu, for instance, is able to move the Enterprise twice in one turn instead of only once. Spock is able to draw three threats and then discard one of them, potentially changing the course of future battles. Each power is useful in its own way, and my tabletop group has occasionally found itself lamenting not picking a different character.
Once a player has played all of their cards, the status of the mission is checked. The objective of the game is to complete five missions (although you can tune the difficulty of the game by going for fewer or more missions, to taste). Most missions have a timer, and the timer ticks down in this fifth phase of a turn. If the timer expires, the mission fails and a new one is drawn. In some cases, failing the mission results in the immediate destruction of the Enterprise!
The threats currently on the board then move forward one space and fire. Most ships do one damage to the Enterprise, but some ships have other special abilities. The Romulan Bird of Prey, for instance, does two damage per shot which makes it a particularly nasty threat. Some ships can cloak; in these cases, they will move forward, cloak, and reveal themselves in one of three random places on the following turn and fire. If a threat reaches an unshielded portion of the Enterprise, it does damage relative to however many hit points it has remaining.
After the threats have torn the ship up, players conclude their turn by drawing two new threats from the bag. The majority are simply hostile ships, but there are some particularly nasty tokens in there are well. The Comet threat immediately destroys all enemy ships in that entire sector but it also does two damage to the Enterprise. Legendary Klingon warriors such as Kang will activate a special effect when they come onto the board such as making all Klingon ships immediately fire or move forward.
At this point, it may seem as if the Enterprise is wholly defenseless. That is not at all the case. Players have a variety of offensive options to tackle the threats approaching from all directions. At the most basic level are "Hit" cards which typically specify an area (Front, Rear, or Sides) and a range (Long, Medium, or Short). You can play that card to do damage to a ship in that particular sector. Some rarer cards allow attacks to be completed in all sectors at a particular range or at all ranges in a particular sector. And of course, it wouldn't be a Star Trek game without the requisite technobabble abilities - players will have Force Fields and Corbomite Maneuvers at hand to disable or outright destroy enemy tokens if they're fortunate enough to draw them.
Even so, the constant onslaught of threat tokens means that the Enterprise is always in peril. The "Panic" in Star Trek Panic is an apt choice of words by Fireside Games and USAopoly - you always feel as if you are in a losing battle. I consider myself quite the Star Trek nerd and I've seen every episode of every series countless times as well as all of the movies. There has yet to be a single on-screen battle that is even half as dangerous as what you face in a game of Star Trek Panic. Imagine the Battle of Wolf 359, but it's just the NCC-1701. Also, half of the ship is on fire.
One might think to strategize and maneuver the ship so as to protect the "good" sections by letting the destroyed sections take hits. Indeed, this is part of the meta, and we have won some games by the strategic protection of our one or two remaining intact sections of the ship. However, the fine folks at Fireside Games and USAopoly had prepared for this eventuality - each point of damage to a destroyed section of the ship removes one card from the deck from the game. If all of the cards are removed, you lose the game - so at best, this particular strategy is a stalling tactic.
My tabletop group played this game over several weeks, and in the roughly 50% of the time we won the game the old girl was in a sorry state. One can only feel empathy for poor Scotty as 5/6th of the ship is in flames and the only intact section is partially on fire. The game is tremendously well-balanced on a knife's edge - if you win a game of Star Trek Panic, you will have just barely won. You'll typically be only a turn or two away from defeat. That makes for a truly challenging game, and while at times my tabletop group has felt unlucky, we have never felt that the game was particularly unfair.
The quality of the game board and pieces is excellent as well. The cards were crisp and up to par, and the threat tokens and Enterprise model are made out of hefty cardboard material. A tiny element of concern was that the shield pieces were a tight fit in the Enterprise podium, but I chalked that up to allowable tolerances. I'm sure that the slots will loosen up as time goes on, and it's okay in my book that they're a little tight when the game is brand new.
We were able to pick up Star Trek Panic with relative ease, and the rules were written clearly enough that there weren't any real conflicts. The only rules complaint of note is that the rules do not state what to do if a threat spawns in in an already-occupied sector, but in that particular case we used common sense and re-rolled the die to place it elsewhere. We genuinely enjoyed the game, and I struggle to think of any complaints whatsoever. I can easily say that this has been one of my favorite co-op board games to play, not only for the mechanics but for the excellent implementation of the Star Trek theming. (Personally, I hope that Fireside Games and/or USAopoly tackles Deep Space 9 next - if there's anything in the Star Trek universe that knows how to handle sieges, it's Captain Sisko and the Bajorans!)
Ultimately, Star Trek Panic is a boatload of fun, albeit very challenging. If it sounds like the kind of thing you and your tabletop gamer friends would go for, you can snap it up direct from Fireside Games, on Amazon [Affiliate Link], and at board game retailers near you for $39.99 or your regional equivalent.
The Bottom Line:
Star Trek Panic is a brutal game that can seem unfair at times, but it seems balanced enough overall. While you'll feel a constant pressure throughout the game, victory isn't impossible - it's just a bit unlikely. The game is mechanically interesting enough on its own, and fans of Star Trek will find plenty of lore to enjoy.
Get This Game If:
- You appreciate a truly challenging game.
- You like living on the edge.
- You like co-op games that can be incredibly difficult at times but still ultimately fair.
- You're a fan of Star Trek.
- You don't like co-op games.
- You don't like challenging games that can sometimes seem brutally unfair.
- You're not a fan of Star Trek.
Have you had a chance to play Star Trek Panic? What do you think of how Fireside Games and USAopoly have implemented this particular IP onto their ruleset? Is there a different Star Trek series that you think would be well-suited for this type of game? Let us know in the comments below!
Update: We originally credited Fireside Games solely in this review. We've made some corrections to give USAopoly the credit they deserve.
Star Trek Panic is a brutal game that can seem unfair at times, but it seems balanced enough overall. While you'll feel a constant pressure throughout the game, victory isn't impossible - it's just a bit unlikely. The game is mechanically interesting enough on its own, and fans of Star Trek will find plenty of lore to enjoy.(Review Policy)