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!

What A Mecher!

Maybe you won’t believe it, but I did something else besides playing Sharp Practice! (Truth be told, I do play other games, but I usually don’t write about them on the blog…).

Soon after What a Tanker! was released, Virago started talking about making a variant for Battlemechs instead of tanks. I always liked the idea of Battletech – the German edition of the boxed set was my first hobby boardgame and I read a number of novels.

This box was my first “hobby” boardgame!

However, the original game is rather unplayable, especially nowadays, when I’m much too old for long-winded, extremely detailed and convoluted rules. What a Tanker!, on the other hand, is a great fast-paced game I like very much, even if I’m not interested in tanks at all.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, Virago announced that he was ready for some What a Mecher! action (incidentally, WaM is a working title…). He had put down some ideas on how to convert WaT to the Battletech setting, which basically means replacing tanks with giant robots. Which is much cooler in my opinion.

So far, we had a couple of games which worked really well. Sigur has written detailed reports here and here, so I’m not going to repeat myself and just show you some images from our games.

The game has everything a Battletech game needs. Virago, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Battletech lore, has devised very clever mechanics for heat management, which is one of the core mechanics of the original Battletech and also features prominently in the novels. There are also rules for different kinds of weapons and mechs and of course for close combat – what would giant robots be without punching each other up?

The game is great fun and I really enjoy playtesting it!

Tanit’s Talons – Dead Drop

Marghus Sho approached the Talons to conduct a small and simple mission, “if you can even call it that”: He had a spy at NovaGen (the same guy that sent Nehden Sho the information that led to Lt. Leekon’s ambush) who seemed to have important information about the going-ons at the shadowy corporation. The spy, codename ROOK, proposed to place a parcel into a dead drop at the Quar Memorial. However, he seemed to be nervous and afraid someone might be on to him. The Talons’ job was to retrieve the parcel, but watch out for a trap or ambush.

Tanit tasked Lt. Leekon, who had acquired a taste for cloak and dagger stuff, with the mission. As sergeants Delxen and Chuva were in sick bay, Leekon decided to take new Sgt. Roniac to teach him the ropes. He also took Specialist/CW Jasard Nazzari and his drone to get some situational awareness. Just in case, Fire Team Cyla would be on standby close-at-hand.

When Leekon, Roniac and Nazzari arrived, a couple of people were loitering in the little park surrounding the monument. Leekon had no problems finding a memory chip in a nook of the statue. However, when he turned around, he was approached by a panicked-looking person: “I’m ROOK. I’ve been followed. Help me!” Leekon cursed. So much for an easy mission.

“I’m ROOK!”

Seconds later, shots rang out and shadowy figures ran towards the park. Leekon turned to ROOK: “Run!” Then he drew his pistol and laid down suppression fire to cover the spy’s escape. ROOK ran across the street, followed by Sgt. Roniac, who also fired wildly at the approaching enemy. Specialist Nazzari tried to hack his way into the enemy’s network, but they seemed to have rather potent security measures in place. After several tries, his deck suddenly overloaded and crashed.

With pedestrians and cars moving around, the situation was pretty chaotic. When one of the goons ran across the street to catch the spy, he was rammed by a vehicle. When he saw this, Sgt. Roniac chuckled. But suddenly another car came around the corner. Brakes screeched, Roniac tried to jump aside but too late – he was also knocked down by a vehicle.

Lt. Reekon had meanwhile sent a signal to Fire Team Cyla. The Quar were running toward the fire fight, but it would take them a couple of minutes to arrive.

The approaching goons completely ignored the Talons and concentrated their fire on ROOK. The panicked spy managed to run another couple of meters before a bullet found him and he went down. Leekon ran over to check him – still alive, but heavily wounded. The goons now shifted their fire to the Talons and another bullet found Leekon.

Nazzari was valiantly shooting back, but fire fights were not the hacker’s forte. Things looked dire when finally the cavalry arrived in form of the Quar Fire Team. One of them had jumped on a moving truck’s bed and was the first to arrive. He immediately gunned down one of the assailants. The others were close behind, panting from their sprint, but as always efficient in their team work.

Another complication arrived in the form of urban security, which charged towards the scene of the action, indiscriminately firing at Talons and goons. Fortunately, the Quar could take out the remaining goons as well as a security person. Then one of them commandeered the hover truck while the others dragged the bodies of ROOK and the Lt. on board. Turning the vehicle around, they picked up Nazzari before the driver hit the pedal.

Back at base, Maj. Tanit was angry. Not at Leekon, but at Marghus Sho for not telling her that his spy was compromised and that NovaGen would deploy such a heavy force to take him out. She was glad, however, that Leekon was only lightly wounded. ROOK was in a worse condition and had to be transferred to an EXO Foundation facility for treatment.

Tanit’s mood further improved when a couple of hours later Sgt. Roniac returned. He had only been knocked out by the car. After coming to, he was questioned by security, which was by then swarming the area. Being in civilian clothes, he played the hapless victim of a traffic accident, so they sent him to an ambulance for a check-up – an opportunity he used to slip away.

In contrast to Tanit, Leekon was in an excellent mood. His wound was only light and he was proud of the Quar, who had reacted quickly and decisive and extracted his team from a tight spot by showing initiative.

Recovering the spy and the memory chip also gave the Talons important information. They now knew that the woman in the red jumpsuit was a special operative called Creena Niss, who oversaw a NovaGen project to harness the alien asteroid’s power to transform living matter.

Tanit’s Talons – Another Rescue Mission

While Lt. Leekon was off on his ambush mission, Maj. Tanit finally decided to take on the government contract and rescue some civilians from Cardea Vc. The evacuation area was a shantytown at the fringes of a gated community. The people living in the fancy skyscrapers had already been evacuated, so the Talons were there to rescue the denizens of the shantytown.

Maj. Tanit took a full complement: FTs Bandit and Cyla, Scout Team Zephyr, Sgt. Chuva, Sgt. Roniac (a newly minted NCO) and a flamer for support. Again, she led the operation personally.

When the Talons entered the area, there was no sign of survivors. The town was overgrown with alien brambles and motion detectors showed signs of movement. Sgt. Roniac climbed on the roof of a shack to get a better view of the situation. What he saw did not make him happy.

And indeed, soon swarms of ghastly alien creatures rushed towards the Talons and the shooting started. The creatures concentrated on the Talons’ right flank, where Fire Team Bandit took casualties.

Tanit and Ade ran over to stabilise the situation, while the Raptors and the Quar advanced up the main street. They found some survivors and led them into the street, but then left them standing to outflank the aliens attacking the right flank.

Unfortunately, more of the aliens suddenly appeared in the Talons’ back and managed to breach the perimeter, eating the poor civilians in the process.

At least the right flank was finally stabilised, with the Major personally fighting an alien beast in hand-to-hand combat.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Chuva sneaked forward to a warehouse, where she discovered another group of survivors. She also decided to call the drop ship, which arrived immediately – the pilot seems to have circled the area and already seen that things were difficult. When Chuva led the civlians to the landing zone, a large group of aliens suddenly appeared in nearby brushwork. This did not look good for the poor sods!

“Run for your lives!”, Chuva shouted to the hapless civilians as she blocked the way for the beasts. In ferocious hand-to-hand combat, she fought off scores of the aliens before succumbing to the onslaught. All of the civilians, however, made it to the safety of the drop ship.

As the right flank was clear, Sgt. Roniac rushed forward to search another hut, and lo and behold! the last group of survivors was huddled in there. He led them back to the drop ship, covered by the Quar and Tanit & Ade. As soon as all were aboard, the ship launched into the sky.

Upon return to base, Maj. Tanit took stock. The mission was a qualified success: Three civilians out of 14 did not make it, but the rest was safe and sound. However, the Talons took heavy casualties: Scout Team Zephyr (the raptors) was more or less wiped out and would have to be re-recruited. Fire Team Bandit was also crippled and would have to pass on the next misison. Also, Sgt. Chuva took heavy wounds and would have to spend some time in sick bay. She was already sent a big basket of fruit by the thankful civilians she saved with her sacrifice.

Good news however came from Lt. Leekon, who had already reestablished contact with Marghus Sho and sent him the asteroid sample. Perhaps they could do some light work for Sho, so as to give the larger part of the Talon rank-and-file time for some well-deserved R&R.