ISS Vanguard can easily be called one of the most hyped games of 2020. Announced by Awaken Realms long ago (even before The Great Wall), and teased to no end in social media it kept board game fans curious for months. A small artbook added to copies of Tainted Grail only made people more hungry and left most questions unanswered.
Now we’re finally getting more official info as the draft page of the campaign is finally here. This will be the first game with a campaign hosted on Gamefound, a crowdfunding platform created by AR specifically for board games.
A Secret Hidden in DNA
The fact that ISS Vanguard will be a story heavy game with focus on exploration instead of combat was one of the earliest statements we’ve heard. Now, a game like that, needs a really strong story to stand out, and there are already hundreds of SF themed adventure games. Luckily, after learning about the plot through a comic posted on the draft website, we feel that AR is brewing something unique. The story will be told through mission logs that include narration pieces as well as some dialogues read when players reach certain locations or something specific happens. But what is the entire story about?
The action takes place on Earth far into the future when scientists discover a mysterious code in human DNA. Apparently it looks like all people have some sort of coordinates hidden within their bodies and they all lead to a faraway location in space.
Meanwhile, a forgotten alien spaceship is found in Siberia. Through mixing alien and human technology, and with the help of people from plenty of nations, it’s somehow working again. Humanity decides to use it to reach the mysterious coordinates that may point to something that will change them forever. Maybe even the very creator of the world.
Leading Your Section
A spaceship as advanced as ISS Vanguard requires an exceptional team of specialists. Especially considering that it contains elements of not fully understood alien technology. The crew is divided into sections and contrary to many adventure games: each player will lead and manage a whole section instead of just one character.
What sections can you pick?
Recon specialists explore the surfaces of newly found planets.
Scientists examine your findings and try to invent new tech.
Engineers focus on building and creating new equipment.
Security section does the dirty work of protecting other crew members, especially after landing.
This also suggests a maximum of 4 players, although Awaken Realms is known for their 5th player expansions.
You might control the leader but the members of the crew are also represented by game components. Each of them has their own card with a description of skills. Many can fit different sections and create unique use for their own strengths and abilities. When the game progresses they also evolve, get their own decks of cards but can also become exhausted in which case using a new member would be a safer option than sending these to the planet surface.
Exploring the Unknown
Missions are the vital part of the game. You usually have a number of them to choose from. Keep in mind that to get closer to your goal of finding the mysterious truth of “god’s coordinates” you’ll have to discover certain items and facts on different planets.
After picking the target planet it’s time to assign the right people for the right jobs. Like we said before, crewmembers can get tired or suffer from other conditions so you’ll have to decide between choosing your best, most trained people or picking newbies whom you might, as brutal as it sounds, miss less later on. Whoever you pick, it’s possible to gear them up and make them enter one of the smaller ships designed to land on planets.
When you finally make it to the ground, you’ll be ready to explore the mysterious land below. This usually takes up to 2 hours but can be half as short when the mission is easier or when you’re more used to the game.
Filling Your Own Spaceship Log
We’ve talked about exploration and visiting planets but some of you may wonder how the board and other components look and work in this game. Well, the solution used in ISS Vanguard is something we don’t see too often. A special binder is used to store the cards, save your game and do other things like hold the cards of characters being hospitalized.
Planets on the other hand are portrayed in a special book added to each copy of the game. You place cards on empty rectangles visible on each page. This adds lots of surprises to the exploration. Necessary story related bits will always be there but some discovered events might surprise you each time you play a mission.
As for the exploration itself: most of it is performed with the help of dice. And there’s a huge variety of these. While the pool at your disposal is big and you may use as many dice as you want to complete a test, only 3 dice will get refreshed per turn. Others will stay unusable for a while. Smart decisions and minimizing the risks without getting rid of all your tools will be vital to successful missions and progressing the story.
Crowdfunding on Gamefound
ISS Vanguard will be the first game to be crowdfunded through Gamefound. Many board game players are already aware of its existence as the website was previously used as one of the more popular pledge managers. The newest game by Awaken Realms will open a new way to crowdfund projects for tabletop game creators, although initially most campaigns will have to be approved by the staff.
The game itself though seems highly unique and keeps tempting us with its tiny bits of story released before the campaign. If the rest of the plot is equally good, we might be in for a treat. And let’s not forget about the mechanics, that also seem innovative and perfect for a 1-2 hour sessions forming a longer storyline. The binder is especially intriguing and innovative as are the partially randomized planets adding heaps of replayability. We can’t wait for the launch, although the date wasn’t confirmed yet.