Designer: Lionel Borga
3-6 players, 45-75mins
Price: £10-20 (approx)
I wouldn’t normally review a game after just one play, but since this game has sat on my shelf since Christmas 2017 (you can read the full, sorry story about that here: 2019: The Year Ahead) and was still available to buy for less than £15 at time of writing (Feb 2019), I figured it was worthwhile saying something about it, especially since I’m rather looking forward to playing it again some time soon, preferably with more players, but we’ll get to that shortly. Moreover, this just happens to be the game that sat on my shelf for over a year before I even remembered I had it, and is also the one single game which led me to make a huge decision this year: “I’m not buying or backing anything new in 2019.”
In short, this was bought for me as a Christmas present back in 2017, and at the time there was a lot going on so it just got shoved to the side, before disappearing shortly thereafter into the cosmic quasi-black hole that is laughably called my ‘boardgame collection’. It didn’t surface again until the tail end of 2018, and by then I was getting cranky about all these games I owned but had yet to play: Ipso facto, change was needed.
Anyways, like a good li’l boardgamer, I’d done a bit of research on Metal Adventures via BGG and other sites, agreed with the general opinion that it had a dodgy rulebook, and finally got it to the table last week, and y’know, it wasn’t actually that bad at all.
Yes, there are a number of random elements, not least of which is in the rolling of dice for combat; and it has a weird gear-styled astrolabe-type construction purporting to be your instant one-stop guide to how you’re doing within the game (which is frankly just confusing and a real mess to work out initially – see pic below); and yeh, it does feel like a tacked-on space pirates theme in places, too; but over and above all that noise, at its heart this is quite a fun set-collecting game tbh.
Basically, you spend each turn either Travelling or Resting, and if you’re opting to Travel, that means you have to battle another ship, another player, or a planet this turn to try and earn the relevant reward(s). Resting just means you get the chance to repair your ship, gain some money (GCs – Galactic Credits) and reset a few things.
When you opt to battle rogue pirate ships (“from space”) you get a choice of three drawn from the Space decks: blue ones are easier, and red ones more difficult, so the blue cards are always sat atop the red ones until you’ve gone through them all. Destroyed ships are called Wrecks, and usually give you some form of instant reward, but are also kept for later, and can be ‘cashed in’ further down the line for additional Glory points, whether from a Glory card (which is just an Aim/Achievement card), or because you’ve gathered a matching set of three for the OCG Counter (a kind of pirate marketplace).
Of course it’s the Travelling bit that’s at the core of Metal Adventures, and at the centre of the rather crowded board you’ll find an iconographic disaster zone rather grandly titled “the Tour of Pirates” — which is just a fancy way of saying there’s a bunch-load of optional actions you can do if you have the money and resources, but you have to do them in a specific order by following the wheel and visiting the various planets in sequence (even if you choose not to do any of the possible actions at that planet). You can choose to “Take the Tour” before or after you battle anything, which is especially useful if you have your eyes on a particular action on the Tour, but only if you’re planning to battle one of the planets or another player. If you’re planning to take a random shot at one of the three available rogue pirate ships, you’ll need to make this decision before you reveal them, which could go pear-shaped of course, especially if no other players are willing to help you.
Ah yes… an aspect of the game that the designer really wants to promote is the potential to support and/or betray other players, because that’s what pirates do, of course, and there’s a whole section of your astrolabe thingy dedicated to ‘Judgement of Pirates’ points which temporarily reduce your Glory points and can hinder your ability to help or betray others. You can betray other players by switching your support to the other side in battles, or by reneging on your agreement after a successful battle, and as much as the designer encourages players to do this, I get the impression they were hoping to tick the ‘player conflict/interaction’ box by having players do all the work for them, which is just being lazy, really: you are sat there waiting patiently for your turn to come round most of the time.
Unfortunately, you need the right group for the sort of backstabbing ‘fun’ the game really wants you to have, and to be honest we played a 3-player game and were probably the most affable pirates you’d ever hope to meet. Indeed, having co-operated on a lot of battles together and sharing some of the spoils, at one point one of the players was struggling for money so I suggested the easiest way for him to get some would be to attack me, which he promptly did! I had a fair lead at that point, and had little to lose, but he could gain all the money placed in the Pirates’ Pot by defeating me.
That said, there is the facility to ‘go it alone’ by upgrading the power of your ships with Equipment and Support cards from the OCG Counter via the aforementioned ‘Tour of Pirates’… but it’s the Glory/Achievement cards that really dictate how you play this game, because they let you decide whether or not you’re collecting wrecks and/or Equipment from a certain group (all showing the same symbol), what particular ships you’re trying to destroy, whether you’re only battling ships more powerful than yours, etc. and this adds a nice extra layer of thought to the game. As well, each player has a specific advantage against specific types of ships, so these could also play a part in determining what kind of game you choose to play. All told, I like it.
I did say I’d cover the Tour of Pirates in more detail, but briefly: there are four planets to pass through: Exxalia provides additional Glory/Achievement cards; the OCG Trading Post lets you buy stuff; Bazaar lets you re-use Support cards that have previously been used or discarded, and lose those Judgement of Pirates penalty points you’ve collected; and finally, Karokum lets you exchange one of your Wrecks for a previously discarded pirate ship (making it easier to collect the Wrecks you need for Glory), throw an assortment of 6 wrecks away for a single Glory point (expensive!) or pay some money to battle one of the pirate ships in the discard pile and gain the rewards for doing so.
To be fair, each turn you’re basically destroying and collecting pirate ships in an effort to achieve a greater goal, and although there’s nowt much else to the game, part of the fun is equipping your ship with stuff that increases its power, which in turn allows you to win more battles. This can happen really quickly, and thus the sense of progression —shoe-horned into the mechanics— is both tangible and quick. This is one of the elements that makes this a surprisingly fun game, and can arguably place it neatly in the ‘mostly harmless’ category. I cannot deny that I enjoyed this, and am keen to play it again —preferably with more players and possibly more opportunities for Treachery to occur— so it must have something going for it, right? Make of that what you will…