Working on the orbital research station seemed like a great career move, but when a deadly virus wipes out just about everyone on board just as a micrometeorite storm hits, you’re thrown into a life or death situation that’s way beyond your pay grade. There’s a half-built spaceship that you can hopefully finish building and use to escape before you run out of time, but you weren’t trained for this and it’s going to be a tricky proposition…
That’s the premise of the 1-2 player mini strategy game Assembly, by Janice & Stu Turner. I got to try out a prototype version of the game, focused on solo play, and found it a fun and thoughtful game that is a solid addition to your game library. Better yet, unlike so many game boxes that take up half a shelf in your Kallax, the entire game fits neatly into a box that’s smaller than your smartphone:
This means the game is super portable and easy to keep stashed in your purse, backpack or computer bag. It also includes scoring and setup quick reference cards, but after 2-3 plays you’ll find you don’t need any of them.
Back to the game! To assemble the escape spaceship, you are going to have to get a dozen room module tokens deployed into the dozen different Bays or areas of the ship and then use the almost completely broken computer system to move the tokens around until you can match each token to its corresponding room.
Let’s start with a closeup of four of the Bay or area cards and three room module tokens:
Notice that the AI Core card (top left) has an IC chip graphic on the bottom of the card. That’s the matching token: the alien head is from a different area of the ship and so this Bay is not ready to be locked up. The Transporter token matches the Transporter card, however, so I’ve locked it (flipped the card over, which is why it’s a black background). One down, 11 to go!
In the 6 o’clock position, the Shuttle Bay has the correct token, but it’s not yet locked. This is denoted by the card not having a black background. And finally, Hydroponics is missing its token entirely at this point in the game. Is it deployed in the wrong Bay or just not out yet? Hold on, we’ll get a bigger picture view momentarily.
The core challenge of Assembly is that you only have four different types of computer commands with which you can instruct the damaged computer running the assembly process to get everything in the correct place:
The leftmost Swap card lets you swap tokens on two cards (hopefully creating a double match, but at least one where the token matches its card), the red Draw card lets you either bring out a single token into the assembly area or lock one or two cards that have the correct token, the third is a wildcard that lets you rotate everything left or right 1 space, play or lock, or swap (it’s a good card to have!) and the final command card lets you rotate clockwise 1 or 2 Bays.
Actually, the green/blue card has a misprint (I told you it’s a prototype, right?) and it should be an Any Rotate that would let you rotate 1 or 2 Bays clockwise, or counter-clockwise. That’ll be fixed in the final game!
This is going to make more sense once you remember that the cards – in the game they’re called Bays – are laid out in a clock-like pattern:
The Bay cards are laid out randomly – and unlocked ones will shuffle twice during your game! – and when a token is brought into the ship assembly area, you roll the 12-sided die to decide which card it’s placed on. For example, I’ve rolled a 10 above, so I’d pick one of the face down circular tokens, flip it face up, then place it on the Bay (card) in the 10 o’clock spot. In this case, the Elevator.
The long and short of it is that to win you have to get room module tokens in play, move them to the right bays, and lock down bays where the token matches the area symbol, simultaneously. You also only have three action cards at a time, so above you can see I have two red Draw/Lock cards and a single yellow Swap: with no tokens in play, however, the swap card is useless.
Notice also that in the above, I’m playing “Holly”. She’s one of a set of 6 different role cards that offer up additional features or capabilities. I felt these were unnecessary in solo play, but in two person play the capabilities of the individual characters can become important. Here are three of them, up close:
Each role’s powers are only usable once, so I tended to just ignore these entirely during solo play. For two players, by the way, the game is more complicated, requiring both players to keep their command cards secret. The active player states what command they want to execute (e.g., “swap”) and the second player either confirms that they also have that card and so the command can proceed, or that they do not have the card and the command fails.
That’s the game: You use the red cards to get tokens onto the system, rolling the die to figure out where they should be placed, then keep rotating all tokens or swap pairs of tokens to finally get the right token on the matching Bay and lock it down. You have three passes through the command deck before you run out of time and each time you reshuffle and refresh the deck all the non-locked bays are pulled back, shuffled, and dealt out again. This means that the ship keeps changing underfoot even as you try to build it!
And finally, here’s how I ended up with 1 card left in the deck:
A Win! If you’re thinking that this game sounds rather like low level computer programming, you’d be correct. With my ancient degree in computer science, maybe that’s part of why I enjoy it so much, but particularly as a solo game it’s a rather meditative and quick playing entertainment. I will warn you also that it does take up a lot of table space for a game that fits in such a small box.
I recommend Assembly and think that Janice & Stu have done a really good job of balancing simplicity with strategy. I will continue to play it and am going to start trying to see the minimum number of cards I can play to complete the task: This game I ended with one card to spare. Could I do it with 2 spare? 3? 5? We’ll find out… There are also optional malfunction cards I’ll add next time I play just to make it a bit more difficult. I’m looking forward to my next play!
ASSEMBLY, a game by Janice & Stu Turner of Wren Games UK. Coming to Kickstarter May 24, 2018. Learn more and find their print ‘n play PDF download for the game at: www.ks.wrengames.co.uk
Disclosure: Game play and all components are prototypes. The final game will not exactly match this and there might well be changes to the design, rules and gameplay in the interim.