Project Pandora – A Review

Time for another review but on this occasion its a board game that’s coming under my scrutiny. Specifically Project Pandora: Grim Cargo by Mantic.

First of all I think it’s really important to deal with the elephant in the room. I, of course, refer to the elephant wearing terminator armour who in his spare time likes to wander around hulking derelict spaceships. Yes it’s a game a little bit like Space Hulk by the Games Workshop in so much as there are dudes wandering around a pretty banged up spaceship hunting things that are very good at ripping their faces off. But by that logic Warhammer Fantasy is a rip off of Lord of the Rings…oh, wait…

So, Project Pandora is set on-board the merchant vessel CSS Zloveshy Vassily. The Corporation – who look a cross between Imperial Guard and Cobra Commander from GI-Joe – are transporting a super secret shipment of Verminium. No, really. However the Skaven in Space Veer-myn want it for themselves. Greedy rat-bastards.

The models are pretty good sculpts for the most part. I wouldn’t say they’re Mantic’s best work but they’re meant to be easy to build, easy to paint toys that allow you to play the game as quickly as possible, so it’s not really a bad thing. I’m pretty sure that they’re actually the same toys as the ones for Warpath so Grim Cargo is a pretty cost-effective way of getting some more models as well as a game.

They’re more than adequate to convey that the Corporation shouldn’t be messed with and that the Vee-myn are going to anyway. Because they’re mental.

Needless to say much peril is set to ensue and the Corporation Marines are tasked with manging the Veer-myn whilst the rat people attempt to return the favour. At this point I concluded that Mantic weren’t taking things very seriously. Take concepts like Verminium and scenario names like Moustrap and Yodobashi Maru – a homage to the Kobayashi Maru training mission from Star Trek – and it all rather points towards Mantic hamming it up a bit but really it’s just an excuse to have a punch up on a space ship. Which is fair enough.

The scenarios themselves are played out over tiles that form a board again like a certain other sci-fi board game. Mantic did a great job of making the tiles look grungy without making them look like they were lifted out of 40k. No mean feat considering the legacy Space Hulk possesses and the inevitable comparisons being made. The production value and attention to detail is good although I’d have liked a little more variety in the tiles if I’m honest. However I think this is as much to do with keeping the cost down for the consumer as anything, plus it allows for supplements to come out along the way, which should be interesting.

The game itself is actually a pretty neat system. Each side has tokens which allow you to give your blokes orders. These orders vary from shoot someone in the face, to run at someone’s face or both. However, it’s not quite as clean-cut as that as the majority of the orders will allow you to perform actions with multiple models but the actions will be a combination – e.g. move 1 shoot 2. So, quite simply move one bloke, shoot with two.

The reasoning for this is that it forces you to play the game almost like Chess; thinking two or three moves ahead at all times. Weirdly you almost have to try to outplay your limitations as heavily relying on your strengths just won’t cut it and you’ll get turned to mush. Also, the team specific special rules not only make complete sense and really gives the opposition a headache as to how to deal with it but makes the game very cinematic.

The Corporation, for example, can make reaction fire actions, attempting to splat Veer-myn as they rush down the corridor. However, the rats are capable of dodging out-of-the-way of incoming fire if they only sustain a single point of damage which makes me imagine the Veer-myn leaping and bounding of bulkheads and ceilings as bullets whizz through the air all around them. However they’ll get manged if there isn’t a free space to jump into which, again, conjures images of a horde force being whittled down as their numbers count against them in a confined space.

There are lots of other natty little rules that make this game much more of a survival horror such as all corridors are considered to be in the dark which can test the mental stability of the Corporation Marines to the point that they can Panic Fire and piss away all their ammo. But the Marines can use flares to light their way. Similarly the Veer-myn can make squares dark allowing them to escape injury or lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce. So it’s nabbed a lot of the cool bits about Alien. Which is no bad thing.

Shooting and combat is nice and quick to resolve and requires a single dice off which bares a remarkable similarity to Risk although a tad more streamlined and using far more interesting models… At first I wasn’t too sure about this but the whole point of Project Pandora is that it’s supposed to be as quick to play as the action unfolding on board the CSS Zloveshy Vassily.

Models get activated in turn so the situation can change really very quickly depending on what you order your forces to do and your opponent in response. The action can slow down a bit as you use up your order counters or spend a turn reissuing orders (where you get all your used tokens back) but that’s why making the right decisions at the crucial moments is so important, and utilising those special rules to the best ability.

On the surface I thought Project Pandora was a pretty straight forward game and in the sense of learning the rules that’s true, but an easy to learn rule set is by no means a bad thing. It’ll take a couple of games to get the hang of and the token system may, at times, frustrate as your find yourself without the right orders at the wrong time. But the point is that in real combat situations bad decisions cost lives and really that’s what PP:GC so aptly demonstrates.

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