Slower Than Light: A depressing game about dying in space

Setting

In a scifi world that didn’t invent FTL travel, each player is captain/dictator of a huge generation ship launched centuries ago. The original purpose of the mission has long since been forgotten – colonization? military strike? flight from a Grey Goo scenario? – but it’s kind of a big deal now that the ships are almost at their destination.

Like its premise, the general tone of the game is grim with some dark humour. No objective seems worth sending a tin can of miserable astronaut families in outer space for generations.

Gameplay overview

Gameplay is a mix between an action point game and Galaxy Trucker, somewhat similar to the video game FTL. Players must:

  • Keep their derelict ship in working order. Between food riots, pvp combat, and surprise meteorite showers, the ship’s economy will naturally go into a downward spiral, and players will have to prioritize where to spend their precious few spare parts and spare workers.
  • Gather information to figure out the fleet’s objective, which is initially secret. There’s a Clue-like mechanic that will help them figure out which of several possible objectives is used in this game. Some objectives are fully competitive, others fully collaborative, others hybrid. And of course, gathering clues takes workers away from tasks with greater short-term utility.
  • Prepare their ship to fulfill that objective (e.g. get their population as high as possible if it’s going to be a colonization mission).
  • Trade with other ships and/or blast them off the sky (which could come back to bite them if they’ve misguessed the objective).
  • React to external events (supply caches, the aforementioned meteorite showers etc.).

Gameplay details (work in progress)

(Any number in this part is likely to change, it’s just there as an example.)

The ship is made of 22 squares (rooms) laid out on a 6×6 grid (allowing players roll d6 for coordinates, à la Galaxy Trucker). Each room does one thing: colonies produce and store workers, farms produce food, warehouses store stuff, laser beams shoot at other ships, the AI gathers clues etc. Each room is divided into two halves; a damaged room still works at half-capacity. It might end up looking a bit like this (very WIP):

Ship wip

There are little tokens for crates of various resources: food, fuel, metal etc. There are meeples for the workers.

There’s also a secondary board (à la Galaxy Trucker), which is just a ladder which shows how far each ship is from the destination. Being ahead on that board is generally a good thing.

The game has five possible objectives. For each objective, there are four Objective cards. When the game is set up, the Objective cards are sorted into five piles. Each pile is turned face-down, and one of them is removed from play: it’s this game’s objective. The other Objective cards (which therefore show only objectives that aren’t this game’s objective) are shuffled. The game offers various ways for a player to draw Objective cards, which, by elimination, will let him/her figure out the real objective.

There is also a deck of Event cards and Unrest cards.

Here’s how a standard turn goes:

  1. An Event card is revealed. It will be resolved at the end of this turn, leaving everyone some time to prepare. Event cards tend to have large effects (positive or negative).
  2. One player picks up one worker and places it in a room, which lets them do an action related to that room. E.g. they move it to a Farm, which produces one Food crate. E.g. they move it to a damaged room and repair that room, spending a Steel crate. E.g. they move it to their Laser and attack another player’s ship, possibly damaging it. E.g. they move it to a warehouse to move crates around and maybe trade them with other players. E.g. they move it to any room to break that room down for parts.
  3. The next player does the same, and so on until everyone’s workers are used.
  4. Each player moves his/her workers back to their Colony rooms – which may have been damaged in the meantime, so excess workers die. Then each player spends Food crates to feed their workers. If they do, they get more workers. If they don’t or can’t, some workers die. There’s no way to completely avoid worker deaths, really, since eventually overpopulation becomes an issue.
  5. The ships move forward on the ladder, at a speed that depends on the number of reactors still in working order.
  6. The Event card is resolved.
  7. Each player draws and resolves one Unrest card for each of their worker that died this turn. Unrest cards tend to have small effects (usually negative). Deaths caused by Unrest do not cause further Unrest.
  8. If a ship has reached the end of the ladder, the game ends. The real objective is revealed, and people check various criteria to see if they’ve won.

Possible objectives (work in progress)

The general idea is that every place where you can focus your resources (speed, population, weaponry etc.) will be very important for one objective and somewhat important for one other objective. I haven’t achieved this yet.

  • Colonisation: co-op. Players all win if they’ve accumulated a large total number of workers and Food crates, and all lose if they haven’t.
  • Military Strike: team. Players are separated into two teams based on their position on the ladder as the game ends (the slower half is rounded down). Each team gets points based on their ships’ military capabilities, and a few more points for number of workers. The team with the highest number of points wins.
  • Grey Goo Flight: solo. Each player gets points mostly based on their position in the ladder, with a few extra points for hull integrity.

are the objectives I like best. Then there are a couple of objectives more liable to change:

  • Special Delivery: solo. Points based on the number of face-down and face-up Special crates that each player has. Special crates are a game element that I worry is unnecessarily complex, so it might be removed. The idea is that each player starts out with a number of face-down Special crates picked at random. Special crates can contain super-missiles, frozen workers and the like. So players are tempted to check their content (turning them face-up) and to use them to solve all their important short-term problems, or trade them (face-up or face-down) with another player for a bunch of stuff, but they can’t do this safely until they’re sure that Special Delivery isn’t this game’s objective. It basically rewards early gatherers of Objective cards.
  • AI Overlord’s Orders: solo. Points based on ladder position (though not as much as Grey Goo Flight) and on Electronics crates. Electronics crates are just another kind of raw material crates which I’m not sure the game will keep.

Status

A lot of content is already written and the rules are somewhat firm. Would take me a couple of hours to whip up a playable prototype, which I will probably do this week. (last updated 03/02/2013)

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