Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: Five Parsecs from Home: 3rd Edition - Modiphius

 For a site that is about Wargame Design, where the writer talks about having a wide and deep breadth of knowledge about existing games on the market; there sure haven't been a lot of reviews lately!  There are a couple reasons for this: 

  1. I try to get my new games via my FLGS and their distributor has been giving them a bit of a problem getting in the books I want.  Therefore, I am a bit behind.  
  2. I generally only try to grab games I either have minis for, really want to play anyway, or am working in the genre now-a-days.  Honestly, not a lot has been grabbing my attention even though a lot of cool stuff has been coming out.  I have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it all lately!    
  3. I have been working my backlog of Kill Teams, Kadesh, and Heroquest.  Therefore, no time to add new projects right now. 
  4. I have been contemplating what my next Blood and Spectacles Project needs for post-production and been putting money towards that instead of new game rules. 
So, those are my excuses.  Therefore, I did manage to pick-up a set of rules that I have been meaning to get my hands on for a bit.  I know, I know I am very late to the party on this one.  The year 2020, during the Pandemic; the history we are all trying to forget and move on from; saw a huge boom in the solo-wargaming realm.  I think the reasons were pretty obvious.  

One of the "stand-outs' from this period was Ivan Sorenson's Five Parsecs from Home.  This is explicitly designed to be a solo-wargaming experience.  It is a sci-fi, skirmish game where you create a "crew" of folks and go have adventures!  This game (and others similar to it) from Mr. Sorenson pre-dates the Pandemic and definitely pre-dates Modiphius picking it up to publish.  Ivan Sorenson had been very active in the Indie Wargaming world as Nordic Weasel Games for a long time now, and helped blaze the way for Indie Wargame designers and self-publishing games.    

I will gladly admit that I have been slow to get on this bandwagon.  However, I figured it was about time for me to check it out for myself.  Grab your jump bag, gear up, and get ready to dust-off on my mark.  3....2......1....

Things I Liked

This is an Indie wargame and is therefore scale and model agnostic.  You can grab any mini you want form your collection and plug it into this game.  In addition, it is intended for small model-count games.  As a player you can control a 4-6 man crew to go out on adventures.  For adversaries, you probably want 6 aliens, 6 non-military baddies, and 6 military looking foes.  So, to play a campaign you might only need about 24 models?  The rules quickly touch on how to play in different scales as well.    

This is a campaign game by design, so there is a lot of material for the campaign.  However, there are two things that I want to point out.  First, you can select the victory conditions for your own campaign ranging from relatively short to utter slogs.  That means your solo-adventures can have a definitive "end" point to strive for.  That is good as many campaigns seem to be never ending!  

The game is not afraid to break the fourth wall for the player.  For example, there are guidelines for making them easier for a beginner and much harder for very experienced players.  Finally, there was something called "Elite Ranks" which are rewards that you give yourself for completing campaigns, rewards for YOU the solo-player.  In addition, if you own three of the creators games (or more), you also gain in-game benefits!  I liked this idea and it amused me to no end.  

Enemies have different play styles that are randomly generated.  This impacts the actions they are likely to take, the way they deploy, and how they operate on the table.  That allows for a lot of different combat encounters and various enemy actions.  

Things I Did Not Like

The game is based heavily on dice rolls.  Some players will not like this level of randomization and wish to control the flow of the story a bit more.  There are mechanics and mechanisms to off-set this to some degree,  However, some players will just prefer more "decision" making in their campaigns.  

Like a lot of individual, sci-fi skirmished based games there is not a lot of tactical game play.  The game wants to lean into the cinematics, and the focus is more on the adventure storyline, with the actual battle being a component in telling the larger story.  This is pretty common in campaign focused, skirmish games.  Again, the replayability comes from what happens off-the-table as much or more than what happens on-the-table.  That doesn't mean there are not decisions to be made, but there as just as much off-table Strategic Decisions, as there are Tactical Decisions.  This book is 175 pages long, and the combat rules are about 7-10 pages of it.    

There is a lot of work you have to put in prior to and after a battle.  That is half the fun of this game, but there is a lot of homework a player has to do to get table ready.  

Meh and Other Uncertainties

The basic mechanics, rules, and other details are nothing really new to the skirmish, warband , campaign genre.  You get injuries, deaths, recruiting, upgrades to your ship/hideout, etc.  If you have been following the skirmish game evolution in wargaming, none of this is particularly new or innovative; but it has been required.  Where this stands-out is the variety of randomized events that can happen to your crew along the way.  There is a ton of replayability thanks to all the charts and randomization of adventures, enemies, objectives, etc.  This reminds me a lot of Outremer and Rogue Stars both from Osprey Games.  The game is worth picking up just for those parts alone. 

There are several great Appendixes that give guidelines for ways to expand the game in a lot of different ways.  Things like scenario design, making story lines, rivals, etc.  This has a lot of great content for those who really want to dive into the world building of their games.  In many ways, this game really epitomizes the idea of RPG-lite in wargames.  

Final Thoughts

If you want a solo-campaign that fits in with the Firefly ethos of "Keep on Flying".  This game matches that better than any other game I have seen out there, with the caveat that it is ONLY for solo-play.  The closest comparison is Stargrave, but that was intended for Versus play.  The game leans pretty hard on the Strategic element and RPG-liteThere is a ton of opportunity for replayability and making the enemy actions unknown.  This is probably the gold standard of solo-play I have seen in a game BUT the player has to push-a-lot of buttons to make this game work.  That means, the player is operating the game more than they are actually "playing" the game.  However, in a solo-game that is somewhat expected and this one provides a lot of off-table decision making.         

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  1. One big change from the Nordic Weasel editions of the game is the graphic design style of the book. While the older books look like someone threw them together in MS Word or equivalent, the new ones have clearly had a whole art department work on them - and it makes them almost unreadable.
    For practical use, I quickly went back to playing the Nordic Weasel 2nd edition. There may be a ton of interesting new ideas in the game, but I couldn't be bothered to hunt for them.

  2. I have to disagree with Pompey Dave. For me, one of the big attractions of the Modiphious version was the layout. Clean, easy to read, immediately obvious where you are in the game sequence. I loved that.

    I also really like the rules, life events and Ccovid have left me playing solo most of the time. 5 Parsecs gives me the closest I can come to my old RPG Friday nights as I can come when I'm "Billy no-Mates." Those Friday night sessions were often a group build up to an end of evening fight and wash up. Exactly what I get with 5 Parsecs.

    I mean I'd sooner be sat round a table with friends (sorry Ivan) but this certainly lets me scratch my RPG itch.