Full disclosure: A preview copy of Assembly was provided by Wren Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
In Assembly, you work on a space station building spaceships with your coworkers, when suddenly a virus attacks. All your coworkers did not survive (unfortunately), and, to make matters worse, the computer is attempting to quarantine the station to prevent any contamination getting to Earth. You’ll have to build a spaceship pretty quickly if you want to escape alive. Will you be able to construct a way out? Or will you be lost in space?
So, setup is reasonably straightforward. The first thing you’re gonna want to do is set aside the Room Modules:
You should set them in a stack, but I’ve got my handy little What’s Eric Playing? dice bag, so I’mma use that for this game.
Now, hope you like Circle the Wagons, because you’re about to lay a bunch of cards in a circle with no guidelines. Get hyped. First, place the Bay Number Cards at 12, 3, 6, and 9, like a clock.
You’ll notice there are more than four Bay Number Cards. The ones with text on them are Malfunction Cards, and they’re part of a set (A / B / C). If you want, you can substitute the regular Bay Number Cards for the Malfunctioning ones, but make sure you use all of the cards from a given set. What do Malfunctions do? Well, I’ll cover that later.
Now, shuffle the Bay Cards:
And lay them in a circle, with cards on 12, 3, 6, and 9, and two cards in between each of those numbers.
Now, you’ll add Command Cards to your game:
You’ll want to set aside the middle two, and then remove these four cards, if you’re playing solo:
- 1 Draw / Lock
- 1 Swap
- 1 Rotate Clockwise
- 1 Rotate Counterclockwise
Shuffle the rest, set them in a deck in the center, and then deal each player three cards. Now, give each player a Role Card:
Role Cards provide a special single-use ability that you can activate, even if it’s not your turn. It’s helpful to either return your card to the box or to turn it face-down once you’ve expended it.
Once you’ve done that, roll the die:
And take a random Room Module token and place it on the Bay corresponding to the rolled die’s value. Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to begin!
So, in Assembly, your goal is to lock Room Modules into their corresponding Bays before you run out of time. The game will handle slightly differently at two players than it will solo, but the general mechanics are the same, so I’ll cover them, here.
At two players: You may not discuss or indicate which card you would like to play. If you say any of these words (Draw / Lock / Rotate / Swap), immediately skip the Choose Step and move immediately to Confirm without saying anything else. Each turn, the player playing cards will be the Active Player, and the other player will be the Support Player.
At one player: Skip Choose, Confirm, Declare, and Verify. Do not do those steps. It’ll make sense why. There’s no Support Player.
- Choose: Pick a Command Card in your hand that you’d like to execute. As with many other communication-restricted games, you may discuss general strategies but not reveal any cards in your hand. Once you’re done or once you say any of the words Draw / Lock / Rotate / Swap, this step ends.
- Confirm: The other player must respond “Yes” or “No” to the card you’ve indicated. They must respond yes if they have a card that matches the indicated Command in their hand. Cards that have multiple Commands on them (Wild / Rotate either direction) can be used to verify any Command on their card. A Wild Card, usefully, can be used to Verify any Command.
- Declare: The Active Player discards a Command card. If they’d like, they may discard three cards from their hand to perform any action. Note that the Command card discarded does not have to be the one they indicated earlier. There are reasons for this. Either way, the Command you discard is the Command you’ll perform.
- Verify: If the Support Player does not have a card matching the Command that was just played, they must discard a card from their hand (to activate the ship’s manual override). If they do have a card in their hand matching the Command that was just played, they do nothing.
- Execute: You will now perform the discarded Command on all unlocked Room Modules.
- Draw: Roll the d12 and place a new Room Module on the Bay Card in that location.
- Lock: If one or two Room Modules are on the Bay Card with their symbol, you may remove those Room Modules from the game and flip the Bay Cards over to indicate that they are locked. Locking 12, 3, 6, or 9 may trigger a Malfunction, next step, if you’re playing with Malfunctions, just so you’re aware. If you’re ever forced to unlock a Bay due to some effect, put the corresponding Room Module token back on top of it.
- Swap: Swap the positions of 2 unlocked Room Modules.
- Rotate: Move all unlocked Room Modules one or two Bays clockwise (Purple) or counterclockwise (Green). Skip over any locked Bays, and all tokens must move in the same direction.
- Malfunction: If you’ve locked Bay 12, 3, 6, and / or 9, apply their Malfunction effects. This may result in the Bay unlocking, which is a bummer, but hey, that’s malfunctions. Malfunctions, unless otherwise stated, only affect the Active Player.
- Refresh: The Active Player (not the Support Player) refreshes their hand by drawing back up until they have 3 cards in hand. If this causes the deck to be depleted and you still need to draw a card, you’re going to execute a Deck Refresh:
- Add one of the removed Command Cards to the discard pile:
- 1st time: Any Rotate
- 2nd time: Wild
- 3rd time: The game immediately ends.
- Shuffle the Command Card discard pile. That is now the new deck.
- Scramble. The computer forces you to scramble the unlocked Bays.
- Take the Room Module tokens off of the unlocked Bay Cards (setting them near their respective Bays so that you can return them to the same spot later).
- Shuffle the unlocked Bay Cards and then re-deal them into empty Bay locations, starting with Bay 12 (if empty) and going clockwise, as needed.
- Replace the Room Module tokens on the Bay card that is now in their location.
- The active player now finishes drawing until they have three cards in hand.
- Add one of the removed Command Cards to the discard pile:
Like I said, solo, you only do Execute, Malfunction, and Refresh.
Anyways, play continues until one of two things happens:
- Players lock all Room Modules;
- The deck is depleted for the third time.
One either happens, the game ends!
Tally your scores:
- 2 points for each Locked Bay.
- 1 point for each Unlocked Room Module in play.
- 1 point for each card left in the deck.
Then check this handy score chart!
- 15 points or fewer: Poor.
- 16 – 19 points: Good attempt!
- 20 – 23 points: Almost there!
- 24 – 25 points: Perfect!
- 26 – 29 points: Ace!
- 30+ points: Gifted!
If you scored 24 points or more, you win! Otherwise, better luck next time!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is that you do fewer things at one player than at two. At one, it’s also a bit easier to play because you don’t have to worry about missing the hit on Verify, which is essentially crucial to winning the game. If you miss every Verify, you’re essentially burning through the deck at 2x speed, which is not really a … winnable condition. More on that in strategy. If you’re looking for a fun solo puzzle, this is definitely it, but if you’re looking for a very strategic two-player cooperative puzzle, this will likely satisfy that part of your collective brain as well. I’d recommend at either player count, while acknowledging that I think it is substantially more difficult at two players.
- Get the Draw / Lock cards played, first. Remember, there are only 6 / 7 in the game, so, you don’t want to waste them by keeping them in your hand during a deck cycle, especially since you’ll need 6 (usually) to lock all of the Room Modules and 11 to get all the Room Modules played. Sure, the Wild will help you, but this is just math.
- Don’t waste energy locking only one Room Module. You really want to lock two at a time, if you can, and you don’t have many shots to make it work. You can definitely lock one a few times, but if you’re consistently locking only one, well, you’re not gonna do so hot.
- Don’t waste your co-player’s cards. There may be times in which they can’t Verify an Action and you don’t need to take it. If that’s the case, play something else; hopefully they can verify it and you won’t have to waste two cards. If you miss all the Verify steps with your co-player, as mentioned previously, you’re essentially burning the deck at both ends, and you’ll definitely power your way through to a loss.
- Keep track of what your co-player is Verifying. If they’re Verifying the card, that means that they have it in their hand. You can occasionally use this to combo. Don’t swap such that they’ll need to be able to Lock; swap so that they can rotate 4 Room Modules into place. Efficiency!
- You’ll want to keep an eye on the Malfunctions. Don’t lock the ones that unlock other Bays or discard cards until you have to; that’s just silly. If you want to win, you’re going to have to be extremely thoughtful about when you unlock your stations.
- Keep the Wild in your hand for as long as you can. It’s the Ultimate Verifier; your opponent can play any card as long as you have a hold of it, which is incredibly useful. You should try not to part with it unless you absolutely have to. Once you do, well, at least it’s flexible enough to be exactly the card you need it to be in the moment.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Neat theme. I do love space games, and this sort of race-against-the-clock-style game is awesome.
- Very portable. The box is super teeny and all the components fit so nicely inside of the box! It’s very handy.
- The wooden Room Module tokens are very nice. I particularly like how clear and distinguishable the symbols are so that players don’t have to rely on color (or their perception of color) to be able to effectively play the game. There are a lot of good design elements at play, here.
- Very different game at 1 and 2 players. I find the solo game to be a straightforward-yet-interesting puzzle, and my two-player win rate is currently a firm 0%, not even trying Malfunctions. I like that there’s such a dichotomy, there, though; it makes me want to try to crack the two-player puzzle since I’m decent at the solo game already. Plus, I know a lot of people who are intrigued by a game that I tell them I’ve never won, so I’m never really wanting for players / victims to try this with.
- The option to speak only in sign language is super cool. I like the opportunities that opens up and providing the signs such that players can learn them is a super neat accessibility move. I’m a fan.
- Would love if the cards were a bit bigger. It makes them easier to shuffle, and you’re going to be doing a lot of shuffling in this game, so easy-to-shuffle cards are always a boon.
- I think it might just be that it’s a Kickstarter preview, but a more standard-sized box would also be great. As it stands, it’s very portable, but difficult to store anywhere in particular. Honestly, I need to come up with a more practical storage solution for my small-box games. I’m thinking something with drawers or something.
- The most aggravating part of Circle the Wagons is something you have to do three times in this game. I like making perfect circles, and without some kind of guide it’s difficult to do. I was a bit frustrated with the setup of Circle the Wagons for requiring it, but it’s a tiny bit more frustrating in Assembly since you have to do it three separate times during the game. That said, one of my co-players just kinda lays the cards out in a circlish sort of shape and lives with it, so maybe I would be better off just mellowing out.
- Another fairly small game with a fairly large footprint. I think I’ve got a slight bias in favor of small-box games that are easy to play on airplanes (Maskmen, Cake Duel, Love Letter / Lost Legacy) and so I’m a bit disappointed by smaller games that can’t easily be played on airplanes. This is, unfortunately, one such game. That’s not a huge deal, though; just something worth keeping in mind if you’re looking for the Next Great Travel Game. It’s portable, yes, but it’s not a game that’s easy to play in transit.
- I find games that impose communication constraints on their players without very strict rules cause some issues. Part of why Magic Maze doesn’t frustrate me as much as other games in this realm (Hanabi, for instance) is that Magic Maze’s rule is very clear: you cannot talk at all. Hanabi and Assembly both prohibit certain kinds of communication but don’t restrict enough that you can’t just dance your way around the rules, should you feel so inclined. I find that leads to a lot of not-great behaviors (probably a reason why I’ve cooled off on Hanabi a bit, among other things) during the game. Thankfully, we’ve managed to avoid it in Assembly, but the potential exists. I may start playing signs-only or only allowing players to say (Draw + Lock / Rotate / Swap / Verify) or something. Should make the game interesting.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Assembly is a lot of fun! Like I said, I don’t think it’s especially challenging (it’s a nice mental puzzle) at 1 player (unless you add in some of the Malfunctions, which can be brutal), but at 2 players I think it’s a delightfully devious little game. Sure, picking up and resetting all the unlocked bays and rotating the modules myself each time is a bit of a pain, but I don’t think it really distracts from the experience all that much. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of neat design decisions being executed well in this game (the prominent and easy-to-read logos, the use of BSL, things like that) that excite me a lot, and I’ve had a lot of fun playing Assembly. If you’re looking for a puzzley game in the vein of Hanabi (it doesn’t have the logic-puzzle-thing that The Shipwreck Arcana‘s got going on; it’s more spatial [in a different way than Magic Maze]), or if you’re looking for a nice solo puzzle or two-player cooperative challenge, Assembly is a game I’ve really enjoyed!