Quite suddenly, I was bitten by the sci-fi bug (well, it might have something to do with reading the latest book by Christopher Paolini, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, a rollicking space opera). I wanted to play something skirmishy, with lots of characters & adventure, and first thought about starting a new 28mm project. Fortunately, I dissuaded myself from this idea, as I already have a nice collection of 15mm sci-fi stuff!
As COVID is still on, I wanted a game that was specifically designed for solo or coop gaming. At first I thought about using Joe McCullough’s Operation Last Train and bought the rules (for a donation to a charity, which is a nice concept). However, I then stumbled across Nordic Weasel Games’ Five Parsecs: Bug Hunt and immediately took a liking to the whole Five Parsecs family of games.
As the monsters I’ve ordered have not yet arrived, I quickly improvised some green alien blobs – one of the monsters featured in Bug Hunt. This was easily done with air-drying modeling clay painted in a nasty green and gloss-varnished.
Then I set up my table. Bug Hunt seems to be mainly aimed at Space Hulk-like settings, but I will use it for outdoor environments. I will also use my own background story, as I like to develop such narratives. Games like these have to be story-driven for me, so I will modifiy the rules to fit into my own narrative.
In Bug Hunt, you create a core set of characters and then get support options for your mission. I created four, as I’m already thinking of playing with a mate over Zoom or Discord and I want each of us to control two main characters. The game has a fun campaign phase, which allows you to track the development of your guys and girls and level them up.
For the first mission, I set up an abandoned colony outpost which has been overrun by aggressive alien vegetation. A small detachment from Easy Company of the 7th Toulmore Pedestrians is sent out to investigate. Drone reconnaissance has shown an abandoned patrol vehicle – this is to be secured and used as an escape vehicle in the case of enemy activity. There are also two other objectives.
I have to admit that I played this mission twice. My first try was a complete and utter disaster. A combination of stupid tactics and bad luck got me completely overrun by alien blobs before I could achive a single objective. Instead of resolving the campaign phase, I did the cowardly thing, pretended this never happened and reset the whole thing to try again.
The second run was much better. I had a better understanding of the game and therefore my tactics were a bit more sensible. Also, I had reduced the difficulty by reducing the Mission Priority to 2 and the aliens’ toughness to 5. Incidentally, the last thing hints to something that bothered me a bit. In ranged combat, you have to roll to hit and then roll to penetrate the target’s armor (toughness). Both target numbers are usually quite high, which means that you fire a lot but achieve very little. This is fine if you are up against a handful of guys, but if you are staving off hordes of unstoppable monsters, it gets incredibly hard to make an effect. From a player’s perspective, this mechanic is a bit frustrating – and I’m saying this as someone who generally is not easily frustrated in games. But perhaps blobs are just very difficult monsters.
Five Parsecs: Bug Hunt is a neat and fast solo game. The activation mechanic is simple but allows for some tactical moves and the ‘blips’ provide a good sense of suspense. I like the character-oriented approach and the possibilities offered by the game system in general – especially since it can be combined it with Five Parsecs from Home, another solo skimirsh system which follows the story of an intrepid crews of ragtags (think Firefly).
I’m not yet sure it if will become my go-to solo sci-fi game (I also want to try out Operation Last Train and maybe Black Ops), but it certainly has potential and I will have to play more missions to make an informed judgement. I also want to experiment with including elements from Five Parsecs from Home, setting up special-ops missions with other opponents than mindless monsters. Let’s see how this works.