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Hull Breach – First Impressions!

Chris Caran heads to Charlotte, NC for MACE 2013, and discovers a nifty card-driven game of interstellar warfare now on pre-order.  How awesome does he think it is?  Read on….

Preview by Chris Caran, 23 November 2013

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A mixture of cards, dice, and strategy, Hull Breach is a sci-fi deck-deckbuilder with great tactical nuance.

While attending the MACE convention this year in Charlotte, NC I got the chance to play a demo of Hull Breach, a new deck building space warfare game from Not So Broken Games. According to the two-person NSB Games team, it was so new it hadn’t even cleared customs yet.

The game’s premise is that each player represents an interstellar faction vying for galactic dominance. Each player has control of their own space station and associated modules. You deploy ships of different sizes along with associated fighters, drones, and marine complements. In addition to the unit-type cards, there are also various upgrades and options for your units as well as generic galactic events and tactics to give your faction the edge.

It is a resource-building game as well, your resource (raw material) and currency (funds) generated each turn by your station, attached modules, and other breakthroughs or upgrades to modify your turn-by-turn abilities. That being said, it’s pretty simple to keep track of and there was never any point of confusion as to buying power or reach.

In place of miniatures and maps, the combat mechanic takes a cue from CCGs and has a “Magic: The Gathering”-like assignment of attacking units towards another player’s space station.  Once in combat, the game brings more complexity to the table – in a good way.

Ships can deploy fighters and drones, perform boarding maneuvers for marine vs. marine combat, and use a variety of abilities and tactics to try and win the battle. It is initiative-based by ship type, so the ships with a lower initiative (generally smaller ships) get to take their actions first, with a few trait-based exceptions (Interceptor, for example, is a trait that allows you to jump ahead in the initiative order on defense). That variance in ability makes it pretty cool – so you have to make some on the fly decisions, sometimes taking a risk for a big reward.

Ships have complements of marines, fighters, and drones that immediately are deployed with the ship (searching the deck and adding) and are also limited by the size and capacity of ship so you can’t have twenty fighter wings on a frigate. Combat itself is dice-based. Ships have an attack rating (number of 10-sided dice) that target an enemy ship’s shield rating (target number). Each hit does one point of damage to the target’s health. Different traits can also affect this outcome. Ships with jamming capabilities can put a jammer token on an enemy ship, limiting their attack dice. Other ships can paint targets for others, lowering their effective shield rating. There are countless other ways of affecting the outcome and it is this tactical mechanic that really gives the game much of its charm.

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It’s a kid-friendly game, too

That being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the boarding rules – but that could have been just how my particular demo played out. If you don’t have marines on a ship and don’t have some sort of escort frigate to negate a boarding maneuver, you can lose a ship without a fight. I would have liked to have seen each ship have some chance to repel boarders or negate boarding without having to deploy marines.

The set I played wasn’t a final version – but the cards are well designed and are easy to read and understand. Statistics and traits are logically organized for ease of use. The way it has been designed, adding new factions seems to be pretty seamless. It’s not a CCG by design so each set is ready to play out of the box. But the web site mentions that the non-faction restricted cards are universal, so there is no reason a player can’t create a customized pro deck. So maybe they’re hoping that it will become more CCG-like? I do know that if I were to play more, I would prefer to have a deck more customized and flexible than the ones I used in the demo. (Ed note: the actual game boxes will have several pre-formatted decks, but those can be mixed and matched to customize your own)

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And it’s easily played during lunch, too!

The first set, Corporate Wars, includes three corporate factions – the Xeros Orbital Shipyards, the Anaheim Manufacturing Platform, and the Bank of the Galaxy Regional Headquarters. Each faction gets bonuses to certain actions or events giving them a definite advantage. The second set, also available for pre-order, is Loyalty & Vigilance. It is a more of a government-themed set, with the RDF Skyline Defense HQ, Deep Space Colony, and Stellar Tax Gate Bureau. Pre-orders end on December 2nd and there is a discount for ordering both at the same time.

Overall I enjoyed the game. I’ll be pre-ordering off the web site and I think it is something that I can regularly play with my normal gaming group. The table-space needed is the same for any other card-based game and I think that it would have more of a chance to really shine in games of three or more players. Also it ran pretty quick – you can play a game within an hour. The two-player demo was fun, but struck me as way too easy for one faction to get a lucky break and the engagement snowballs into a rout. In a three-plus game, you can’t commit the amount of firepower to a single engagement without leaving yourself vulnerable, so it would probably be a bit more balanced.

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5 Responses to Hull Breach – First Impressions!

  1. Todd Holiman says:

    Thank you Chris, I’m glad you had fun trying the game (I was the demonstrator), and also very glad for the good review! You are correct that three-way games are a lot less luck-dependent than the two-player, in my experience. Hope to see you at upcoming events, and once you have that pro-deck built let me know – We’ll see how yours does against mine…

  2. Mr. Caran,

    thank you for the awesome review. It brings me great pride when other hard-core gamers review our work. As the creator of Hull Breach, let me extend a huge thank you for your time and interest.

    …as for Marine boarding… there is a very important reason for ‘naked’ ships getting raw end of boarding actions.

    First off, it is very hard to effectively land a boarding action in the first place, as without Escorts, generally the ships with Marines are targeted first (and destroyed.)

    Second, Commanders that use Marines as part of their main effort are rewarded for doing so, in that, a Commander that shuns or decides to use other cards in lieu of — gain a slight advantage in ship construction, tactic or event card play… so it’s done as a balancing act. You can surely get away with fewer Marines (as every deck of HB is always 55 cards, even a custom one) and replace them with more stuff, but the penalty is always there in the background.

    Lastly, conceptually, naval crews with difficult technical jobs aboard ship are ill prepared to deal with companies of professional killers. When given the option to have another employer (and stay alive!) vs. fight back badly with small arms and pipe wrenches (leading to almost certain death) most naval crews opt for another paycheck injunction with keeping their lives. The only exception being STOIC crews, they cannot be hijacked, only scuttled, because the crew refuses to play ball — Marines do not have the technical expertise to fly the ship themselves, so the crew is assumed to have ‘fought back’ if only long enough to overload a reactor and destroy their own ship. STOIC ships and Marines, if you remember, use their destruction to launch one more volley attack before they fall — this characteristic was transferred to the boarding phase as well in the new version of HB, and this oversight, that made me palm plant my face as a fan, mentioned it to me in passing as since been fixed.

    We encourage players (Commanders) to mix and match cards within a certain set of rules, for custom or “Pro-deck” play. CCG always implies random cards in conjunction with splitting packs — wasting time and money.

    In our vaguely-LCG format we are using, if a Commander needs more cards he can simply trade or purchase another box… knowing full well where the card already lay in the inventory. some cards are harder to find then others, as their is a set frequency, however, all boxes carry the same inventory. So hunting for, then trading or buying a card is very easy. The cards are expressly un-marked as rare, uncommon, etc etc — as all cards in Hull Breach are good and have a very specific or general purpose, and ultimately we wanted the market (our Commanders to decide the value of any given card.

    Let me know if you have any other questions, comments, and concerns — I am very proud of our work and love the feedback.

    Daniel Auxier

  3. Todd Holiman says:

    By the by, it’s my intent to demo Hull Breach at PBKW in Cornelius, tomorrow from 6PM till they kick me out :-). Come say Hi!

  4. Just want to let everyone know,

    our new Kickstarter for Hull Breach!: In Defiance of Dictators is going on now (18MAR-17APR2016) here’s the link for you to check it out with;

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hullbreach/hull-breach-in-defiance-of-dictators-card-game

    Thanks!

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