Review: Five Parsecs from Home

The pandemic situation is worsening again in Austria and face-to-face gaming with my friends once again comes to a halt. This really is annoying and mentally draining, especially since it could have been avoided if the government would have listened to the experts. This time, the situation taxes even my life-long honed and highly developed skills of escapism.

So, I decided to spontaneously treat myself to something I had my eye on since it came out: Namely the new edition of Ivan Sorensen’s Five Parsecs from Home. Around this time last year, I gave the old version, which was published by Nordic Weasel Games, a try. It was not exactly what I was looking for, so I modified it beyond recognition for my Tanit’s Talons solo campaign (which is documented on this blog).

However, this time I am more in the mood for a story that centres on the classical small group of misfits, canonized by books and TV shows like Firefly and The Expanse. Also, I have to say that I was attracted by the nice look of the 3rd edition book, which was published by Modiphius. Yes, I am that shallow, but I do like pretty books.

K. also showed interest in the game, so we started by creating a crew. This takes a little while, as it involves a lot of dice rolling, but it’s great fun to see the crew come to life with backgrounds and motivations. We ended with the crew of the star ship Black Cat, a worn colony ship, making their way through the galaxy.

As we are in debt, we wanted to take an opportunity mission, but old pirate rivals of us turned up to teach us a lesson. Fortunately, we managed to turn the tables around and taught them a lesson they won’t forget so fast, as they decided to leave us in peace for good. This was a pretty successful first game and it did provide us with some money to buy new equipment.

The campaign system really is the heart of the game. The rules for tabletop combat are quick and fun. They work very well and offer plenty of opportunities for tactics. But the driving force is the campaign system, which tasks you with managing the career of your little band. The game has been called an RPG lite, and Ivan himself states that the Traveller RPG was a huge influence, but if you expect something like Rangers of Shadowdeep, where you follow a storyline that has been established by the author, you will be disappointed. There are RPG elements, mainly in regard to managing the crew’s resources, but as a whole, it is more akin to a story generator. There are many tables to roll for events, meaning there is a lot of randomness. Now K. and I like this, as for us, this randomness creates a story and gives us the bones to add our own narrative. However, it might not be for everybody. For the individual scenarios played on the tabletop, the randomness is mitigated by several mechanisms, such as Luck Points, Story Points and Stars of the Story cards.

Five Parsecs from Home is a great game if you are in the mood for some solo or cooperative sci-fi action. It even motivated me to paint a couple of figures – a welcome change from ten months of painting napoleonics!