Full disclosure: A preview copy of Intrepid was provided by Uproarious 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.
Sound the bells; I’m playing a heavy game. Where did I find time for this in the midst of everything going on? Unclear, but also, being honest, I definitely just like, had this game since January and have been playing it on and off. So here we are! On the other end of a very long game review. I think I’m pretty dangerously close to like, 5000 words with this one, making it easily one of the longest pieces of writing I’ve produced for a board game in a while. I think Near and Far is the closest available contender? Words! Board games! Et cetera. In the interest of not extending this review any farther than it already has been extended, though, let’s get straight to Intrepid, the latest from Jeff Beck of Uproarious Games.
In Intrepid, you’re a member of an international delegation sent to the International Space Station to, you know, I’m actually not totally sure what they do on the space station. I think I just thought, “space is cool”, and then let the rest of it pass by without further interrogation. That’s relatively unconcerning to me, though, so, not really that bothered. Either way, disaster strikes! A meteor storm has barreled through the station and threatens to bring the whole thing crashing back down to earth. It’s a massive disaster waiting to happen, and, well, you don’t want to ride this thing back to the ground; it won’t end particularly well for you. Without much other choice, you need to put the space station back together before it’s too late. Thankfully, you’re not alone! When we said an international delegation, we meant it, and there are many bright astronauts wielding the finest technology of their country to try and keep the station in one piece. Manipulate dice and weather disasters to try and keep the station running while you make the critical repairs required to save everyone. It’s going to require your best strategic skills and dice placement management, but thankfully, it’s cooperative, so you might want to lean on your friends for this one. Are you up to the task? Or will it all come crashing down?
Setup can be a fair bit. I had to compress some parts of “where things go” to fit my game table, so bear with me if my setup looks different from yours; I have a 3×3 tiny photography table, and in another life I would get a larger one to make my dreams actionable. Anyways.
The center console board gets placed first. Most tiles have Upgraded Sides (with stars on them), so, don’t place that side up:
The other board is the Tile Tier mat; make sure it’s got the correct side facing up.
Place the Station Boards nearby in some configuration, as long as you’re roughly consistent. For the two-player game, only use two.
Each player now takes one Nation Mat; each has a rating of between 1 and 4 Complexity and also an A / B. Make sure that you divide A and B semi-evenly. If you’re playing with two players, that’s one A, one B; four players, that’s two A’s, two B’s; if you have three, well, that doesn’t divide evenly, so have two players take one and one player take the other. There are many nations, each that come with their own tiles:
Place your Starter Tiles on the Station Mats in some pleasing configuration. If you want to leave some rows blank or not, it’s up to you; from a probability perspective it’s all the same expected value. You may notice that my tiles and Tiers are 1 – 5 and yours are 1 – 4; I have an older preview copy of the game and the Starter Tiles are considered Tier 1 (rather than just gratis). No gameplay difference! Though at lower player counts, you’ll also need to use a Boost Tile, which I do not have. Now, give each player a Resource Mat (or two, if you’re playing two – three players). They fit your Nation Mat quite nicely, so store them there and adjust the Drain Wheel:
- Two players: Every resource starts at -3 Drain.
- Three players: The player with two resource mats sets their Drain to -3; the players with one resource mat set their Drain to -6.
- Four players: Every resource starts at -6 Drain.
Give each player a set of dice:
The other set was white and doesn’t photograph well, so these gameplay photos are brought to you in part by the Roll Player Expansion. Roll Player: a ton of dice. Thanks, Thunderworks! Anyways. Give each player some cubes:
I use the white ones for Capacity, but I believe they’re for tracking how many dice you use. My bad. Also set aside the hit cubes, and keep the other tokens nearby:
Let’s make some disasters! There are four levels of Disaster: 1, 2, 3, and, to your great surprise, 4:
Shuffle each set of Disaster Cards, and then set the deck up by stacking them as follows:
- Intro Disaster
- 2 Level 1 Cards
- 3 Level 2 Cards
- 3 Level 3 Cards
- 3 Level 4 Cards
If you survive past that, well, you did something impressive. Flip the first card and read the intro. The purple die from earlier (the d8) goes next to the Disaster Deck. Next, shuffle the Emergency Resupply Cards:
And create a stack of Mission Cards, depending on how challenging you want the game to be:
- Training: 2 Mission Cards
- Steady: 3 Mission Cards
- Turbulent: 4 Mission Cards
- Disastrous: 5 Mission Cards!
Flip the top card and make sure that it’s visible. Once you’ve done that, tend to any lingering nation-specific setup (we see you, UK + Brazil) and you’re ready to get going!
Setup is pretty involved, but the gameplay is a fairly straightforward loop of a very challenging puzzle. Your goal is to stay aloft in a space station being bereft by crisis. Thankfully, since you’ve got access to a diverse array of astronauts, you can leverage their various skills (and their nation’s upgrades to the space station) to try and weather this storm. Complete enough Missions and you win! Run out of resources and you … don’t!
Over a number of rounds, you’ll go through five phases. Let’s cover each in turn.
Roll and Place Dice
To start, every player rolls their dice. You can see how many dice you’re allowed to roll to start a round via the dice tracker on your Nation Mat. That number is likely different between Nations and can change over the course of the game (especially with different Nation Abilities).
After rolling, you must assign dice to your tiles or to the center console. You may place in any order, and do not need to wait for other players, though it will behoove you to talk about what you’re doing and plan your placements so that you collectively generate enough resources to survive.
Each tile has one or more slots for dice on it, with restrictions. If it says 1-6, any die may be placed there; if it says 1-4, only dice with a value less than 5 may be placed there. Some tiles have multiple slots; if they’re separate, you may fill them one at a time. If they’re joined together, they must be filled at the same time. Some tiles also ask you to put a matching pair on the slot; otherwise, a 3-4 joined slot may be filled by a 3 and a 4, two 3s, or two 4s. As much as they’d likely like to, other players may not place dice on your tiles, but everyone may place dice on the center console.
Some tiles may give you extra dice or let you manipulate rolled (but unplaced) dice. You cannot manipulate other players’ dice with your abilities. Generally, every tile generates a resource (except the Boost Tiles, which generate multiple resources). Some tiles generate any one resource (your choice, but you may only choose one), and other tiles still allow you to increment a die on a Mission Card (speeding up your progress towards winning the game / surviving). Keep in mind what tiles do before you place; you may need those abilities.
Sometimes, tiles can no longer generate abilities due to being Disabled (has a Disabled Token) or Shut Down (has 4 Disaster Cubes). You cannot place dice on those tiles.
While you cannot manipulate other players’ dice, you may share them, occasionally. There are four slots on the center console that allow players to pass a die to another player. When you do, rather than taking the die on the console, take a new die from your supply. This means that only four dice can be shared each round!
You may also place dice on other things, if they’re in play:
- Mission Cards: Place a die set to 1 on a Mission Card to begin that mission. It will affect your resource gain, so proceed with caution!
- Persistent Disaster Cards: Some disasters really come back to haunt you every round; you may be able to place dice on those cards to prevent (or end) their nefarious effects.
- Tile Tier Mat: When you start, you only have access to Tier 1 Tiles. All players may place dice on open spots on the Tile Tier Mat to unlock Tier 2 / 3 / 4 Tiles. Naturally, you may not unlock Tier 3 until you’ve unlocked Tier 2, and so on.
- Habitation Module. The last tile you should place on is the Habitation Module, in the center of the center console. At the end of the round, all dice there provide +1 to a single resource (in that if there are 5 dice there, you may use them to boost Nutrition, Oxygen, Power, or Climate by 5; you cannot split the boost up).
This part’s not too bad. So what you do, is you check every tile to see how much of its resource it generated. If the tile has multiple separated boxes for dice, it generates for each die placed. The specific amount generated may depend on a few factors:
- Value of the die: Some tiles generate resources equal to the number on the die you placed on them.
- Printed value: Some tiles just give you a certain amount of that resource per die / dice set placed.
- Counter value: Some tiles (I see you, UK) give you a certain amount of resources depending on what that tile’s counter value is. Have fun with that.
There may also be penalties that affect your resource generation:
- The drain: You don’t start at 0 resources (usually, unless you’re crushing it). You actually start at negative and you have to generate more than 0 total of that resource. If you can’t get into the positives, you lose the game. So that’s fun.
- Mission Cards: Mission Cards generally eat a certain amount of one or more resources for several rounds. Don’t forget to factor them into your plans (and don’t forget they’re not permanent!).
- Hit Tiles: If a tile has been hit by a Disaster Card, it generates one fewer resource total per Disaster Cube. This means if you have a Disaster Cube on a tile and it gives you 3 Climate per die placed, if you place two dice on it you’ll only gain 5 Climate (3 * 2 – 1 = 5).
There’s one final bonus. Once you’ve calculated all of your resource totals, if there are any dice in the Habitation Module, choose a resource type and add one to it per die in the Habitation Module. You may want to pick the resource with the lowest value, but you might not always want to do that! More on why in a second.
All resources offer bonuses when you’ve hit a certain value for that resource, printed on the board. These may give you a variety of effects, from increased Capacity to free tiles to drain reduction. All are worth taking. When you use it, put a “Spent” token on it to indicate that it is, in fact, spent.
Either way, once you’ve totaled your resources and gotten your bonuses, you gain Capacity. To do this, look at your lowest resource (among the four). Gain that much Capacity.
This means if you generated 20 Power, 15 Nutrition, 8 Climate, and 14 Oxygen, you would gain 8 Capacity. That’s good.
Flip Disaster Card
Now, before you do anything else, disaster strikes! Reveal a new Disaster Card from the deck. Some are momentary and immediately are discarded after their effect, and others are persistent, staying in play until they’re resolved during the Roll and Place Dice phase of the game.
Many cards will ask you to roll the Disaster Die and then hit relevant sectors. If the card asks you to hit sectors of Die + 1, Die + 2, or etc., add that number to the die’s value. If it exceeds 8, wrap around. (Meaning 7 + 2 = 1). If a tile is hit, add a black Disaster Cube to it. If it has four cubes, it’s shut down (and cannot be played on). If it gets a fifth cube, it’s destroyed! Remove it from the game. Some Disaster Cards also call for tiles to be destroyed. Bummer. Others may Disable a tile, which forces you to place a Disabled Token on the tile until the next round.
If you failed to Resolve or Prevent a Persistent Disaster Card from a previous round, it takes effect now, as well.
Certain cards have an icon on the bottom-right that may match an Emergency Resupply Card. If they do, activate that Emergency Resupply card’s negative effect. Everything comes at a price.
Now, if you have Capacity, you may spend it on one or more different things. Each player gets their own Capacity; it’s not shared. Unspent Capacity also persists, so, no need to worry about it going anywhere. You may use it for any of the following:
- Purchasing a Station Tile: Buy a new tile by searching your available stacks (based on which tiers you’ve unlocked). Add it to any spot on the Station Board that you’d like. Note that new tiles increase drain. This requires you to rotate the resource indicated by the drain forward by the indicated jnumber, meaning you’ll start with less of that resource in all subsequent rounds. Hopefully you can generate enough resources to cover the new gap! If you need to increase the drain but the wheel can’t support it, use a -10 token to indicate that the drain is even more than the wheel can indicate. That said, it’s probably not great if that happens.
- Purchasing an Upgrade: Spend 5 Capacity to flip a tile over to its upgraded side. You may also spend 5 Capacity once to upgrade the center console, providing an additional benefit to all players. That’s nice of you.
- Purchasing Additional Dice: Spend capacity to advance the dice tracker on your Nation Mat; this will let you start with additional dice next round.
- Repairing a Tile: Spend 5 Capacity to remove a Disaster Cube or a Disabled Token from a tile.
Also, if players generated less than 5 Capacity, you may choose to reveal the top Emergency Resupply card and activate its effect. However, this may cause disasters to become even more severe! Your risk.
You may also use your abilities during this phase; each can be used once per round.
After that, the round’s over. Get your dice back and return them to the supply. Start a new round!
End of Game
Play continues until either players win (by completing the correct number of Mission Cards) or players lose (by either not producing enough of a resource or running out of Disaster Cards).
See if you can survive!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, while there are other ways to play the game with fewer than four players, I think it’s kinda like Pandemic; the four-player experience is very much the definitive way to play, and I’d still recommend playing that way as a result. Just play as all four countries! You have to appreciate the synergies and make things work in a way that I think is fascinating; don’t deprive yourself of that experience just because our hamster brains can only handle so much stimulation over a multi-hour gameplay experience. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing with fewer players; I just like having access to more player powers and rolling more dice. It will make the game take longer, but, that’s also okay. I’d say that I like playing four countries with two players the most, but either way I still think the four-country experience is the highlight, for me, no matter how many players you have.
- Those Nation Complexity Ratings are serious. Don’t take them for granted. There are definitely a wild variety of options to choose from, each with their own quirks. Counters! Locks! Geometry! Make sure you read what the Nation’s abilities are before you decide to choose them; they can be pretty intense! I like them all, basically, though.
- Don’t get tiles before you have enough dice to support them. Common error, here. You want to get “better options”, but, you increase your risk because they also incur additional drain. If you’re not prepared to use all the tiles you have, don’t necessarily buy more. Ultimately, though, you may find yourself getting new tiles to replace your old ones that met with an untimely end…
- Coordinate with your partners constantly. This is a challenging cooperative game; make sure you’re letting your partners know what you have, what you need, what you can do, and what you’re expecting. You miss even one resource, and you’re dead. That’s high-stakes problem-solving, and coordination isn’t always easy.
- Try to solve your micro-problems before dealing with the larger macro-problem. Don’t bog your partners down with the minutiae of your tasks unless you need something from them. This is similar advice to what I’d say for Spirit Island. There’s a lot going on and it’s often hard to keep track of what everyone’s doing all the time. It helps if you come up with some indicators for like, the communication framework you want. Like “I’m going to ask for dice I need and tell you what dice I want”. Nobody needs to know what else you’re doing; they just need to know you need a 6 and can give a 1. That can decrease the amount of information you’re externalizing and make it easier to play.
- I usually leave my resource trackers on the resource even after we’ve converted it to capacity. That way, when a tile gets hit, I can track the potential loss and estimate how much capacity we will potentially get next round. The game specifically tells you to put it back on top of the drain, but, I mean, this makes it easier for me to predict (and to see if we’re doing better or worse than the previous round), so, I just do it this way.
- There are some tiles that aren’t worth fixing. Certain tiles are better used for their effect than for their resource output. I might say spend enough so that they don’t get destroyed, but if you can’t get the 1 Climate they provide, well, that’s not the biggest loss.
- Make sure you’re always generating enough resources that you don’t lose the game on that. This is pretty key, but it’s easy to forget if you have drain or you activate a Mission Card. If you don’t overcome your drain, you just … lose. Instantly. So make sure you’re keeping track.
- It might sometimes be worth getting less of one resource so that you can get the bonus for another. This can be clutch, especially if you get bonuses that reduce the number of turns you need to wait on a Mission Card. Just make sure that you’re generating enough of the resource you’re deprioritizing.
- You don’t need to necessarily get high amounts of resources to win (but it does help!). You can get 5 – 10 Capacity per round and still win just fine (proof: we did it). Getting a lot of one resource from time to time is useful, though, since it lets you get those huge bonuses.
- Passing dice is key. It can let your partners activate their best tile abilities for a relatively low cost. You can even upgrade the center console to allow players to change the dice values, if you want. That’s a pretty useful ability, honestly, especially when the dice aren’t 100% on your side.
- Emergency Resupplies aren’t always bad, they just may have some unexpected consequences later. They can really get you out of a bad situation if you had a tough round, but you might pay for it with later Disasters when they’re augmented. That’s the risk!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I love the theme. I generally like space games, but this is such a cool concept for one! Especially since it allows for challenging, cooperative gameplay. I like the way the whole game fits together.
- The modularity of it is super interesting. I really like that every time you may go for a different nation or different station depending on what you unlock, what resources you specialize in, or how different disasters force you to think on your feet. It creates a fairly unique experience every game! There are definitely some Nations I prefer to play as, but I think there’s a fun experience in the game for every player.
- I really appreciate how despite it being a dice game, the dice aren’t really a “luck” thing as much as they are randomizing the starting points of a puzzle you have to solve. I think a lot of players turn up their noses at dice in games because they don’t like “luck”. I wouldn’t say that the dice create too much luck in the game; in my opinion, they serve to just randomize the starting points of the possible paths you can draw through the tiles (that you need to draw to earn resources). It creates a puzzle that has a solution. Is the solution always the optimal output? No, but it’s worth thinking about what options you have. And I appreciate that it changes every round; keeps things interesting.
- Speaking of the dice, though, these dice-placement effects are wild. Some of the most inventive stuff I’ve seen. Japan in particular is my favorite. It treats the dice as three-dimensional cubes and modifies them with rotations and flips so that you can get different values gradually. It requires you to be very “on” in terms of spatial reasoning, though; you need to know when you turn a 4 to the left, what number comes up? Other ones are interesting as well, with the UK’s counter system or Brazil’s locks or Malaysia’s increase / decrease game. I think that there’s a LOT of good design happening on these abilities in particular, and I kind of love playing the game just to try new combinations.
- The length’s not a problem, since it’s consistently pretty interesting. Y’all know I’m not much for long games (though I’ll side-eye that 60-90m time recommendation; I’ve never played a game under three hours). The game consistently engages me, though! It’s really fun to plan out our route of resource generation and to try and solve the puzzle of how we survive each round. I think it’s wonderful.
- The Mission Cards were a nice simplification for the game. We used to have a threat tracker and a ship hull integrity. Those were fun, but they added a lot of additional overhead. The Mission Cards draining resources is a good way to streamline the tension while still allowing players to work actively towards the game’s conclusion.
- The concept of drain is also a really good way to keep the game’s challenge ongoing. I like that it means that while you generate more resources every round, you also run the risk that you’re going to need more every round. It coveys a good sense of urgency even though the game isn’t real-time, and I appreciate that a lot.
- Additionally, I really like how capacity works as the game’s currency. It makes sense within the construct of the game, which is good, and it does a great job of not rewarding players for over-focusing on one resource (in contrast to the Resource Bonuses, which do).
- This seems pretty expandable, given how modular it is, as well. I’d love to see extra countries eventually with more abilities and cool interactions. But I’m always down for more content.
- This can be played remotely, though it requires a fair bit of work for the source person unless both players have copies of the game. I had to move so many dice. But it worked!
- The sliders on the resource mats are pretty cool, especially since I have the like, hand-made versions of them. Can’t wait to see what they look like fully produced. I’m really impressed at how well they did with them given that they weren’t even mass-produced, yet. I imagine if they’re going with the same production level as, say, Sabotage, this game’s going to be awesome.
- While setup is pretty involved and the game requires a lot of planning and strategy, the actual cycle of the game isn’t overwhelmingly challenging. The game’s middle part requires a lot of strategy and planning, but it’s not all that many steps. It’s just a lot to do. It’s a complex game that I think is still fairly digestible? I appreciate that.
- I’m pretty stoked that they went for a diverse group of characters and nations. It’s the International Space Station, but I still appreciate seeing a wide variety of folks trying to prevent it from falling apart.
- Also, I think the art’s pretty great. I didn’t see much of it from the preview, but the sample art looks awesome. Really excited to see the full product.
- My one issue with a lot of longer / heavier games making the easy mode “shorter” is that it ends up changing the incentive structure of the game, which can make certain actions feel unsatisfying. This is just sort of a consequence of the design; basically, if I know the game is only going to last 10 rounds or something, I can bet against myself hoping that the consequences will only occur after round 10. It’s a different optimization strategy that can often mean you miss some of the worse stuff happening. It might be nice if the Disaster Deck were a bit shorter for the easier games, too, but that might make it too hard to win (since you won’t have the robust station infrastructure to weather some of the game’s nastiness).
- I understand why they happen and I think they’re smart from a gameplay perspective, but man do I not like it when my tiles get hit and become less useful. It hurts me, but it’s a very good part of the game and makes the challenge feel very present. Especially as worse stuff starts happening!
- It may be worth marking on the Station Mats that the tiles can be rotated any way. I didn’t realize this when we last played and that meant that I didn’t buy a number of the modules that can improve certain tiles because I didn’t think it would be useful. My bad!
- Setup / teardown can be a pain. This is pretty much the main reason why I don’t play this a lot more often. It’s serious. I will say that they’ve improved this significantly since I first started playing Intrepid, though; now that they’ve moved to Mission Cards and not leaving tiles out of play, I think that the game is much easier to set up and tear down because you have to do even less sorting (and only a tiny bit more shuffling).
Overall: 9 / 10
This review’s pushing 5000 words, so I need to wrap it up. Simply put, I think Intrepid is probably my favorite game Jeff Beck has made. It’s just a triumph of dice-placement and a complex game that can be distilled down to a very interesting cooperative puzzle. Is it heavy? Absolutely; like I said, I’ve played many games of it and we’re consistently pushing the multiple hours of gameplay. After I play, I typically want to lay down and take a break. But it’s so good when I’m playing it. It’s a tough puzzle! One that only we can crack. And there are so many cool options. It’s like the Sushi Go Party! of dice manipulation techniques, even using with a few that I hope other games use as a guide for ambitious dice manipulation moving forward. I’ve been watching this game’s progress since at least mid-2019, and, honestly, it’s really a triumph. I’m excited as hell about this. I will say that it’s heavier than I’ll usually play, and that’s okay. My only real gripe is with setup; as you might expect, it takes a while to set up and put away, since you’re sifting through tiles and setting up card stacks and placing mats on boards and cubes on mats and etc. I’m hoping a good insert will go a long way towards making this a bit more digestible for me. That’s kind of the problem with previewing heavier games, sometimes, I think; it often can be helpful to have the full product with all of its scaffolding, since I’m not as used to games with a bit more heft to them. But, honestly, I really liked this one. And if you’re looking for a game with a bit of weight to it, a fantastic cooperative title, or you just want to try your luck with space, I’d highly recommend trying Intrepid! I thought it was an absolute blast.