‘The new normal’ is a common phrase right now. And I think solo gaming is one of the niche areas that will benefit from the covid 19 lock down. I’ve picked up several solo board games recently. But I was also lucky to be involved with a development project that’s just coming to Kickstarter. The Dead Eye board game. The project is live now and you can back it until July 3, 2020.
As a disclaimer, I’ve been working on this game a bit. I’ve been helping with play-testing, hence know enough to write about the game here. But I’m writing this because I want to support the game (I’m not financially invested). If I hadn’t liked the game, I wouldn’t be writing this.
So, to the basics. The Dead Eye board game is a small box card game. It is a solo sci-fi experience that takes less than an hour to play. But despite its short play time it’s tense with tricky decisions. While also being packed with personality and atmosphere (always handy in a space ship. Sorry). But lease remember I’m discussing my experiences with pre-launch prototype components.
A unique feel
While moving away from franchised fictional settings can be a breath of fresh air, it can lead to a soulless experience. Because if there’s something worse than ‘star [blank]’ settings, it’s settings that use white-label cliches in an unimaginatively parallel universe.
That’s certainly not an issue with The Dead Eye. The art style and language are unique. But importantly they don’t add difficulty in learning the game. Creative use of language gives the game a feel I’d liken to the Belters of The Expanse. A pidgin patois which brings words to the game such as ‘partz’ (equipment), ‘tox’ (your impending doom) and ‘safe havn’ (your destination). Also, not everyone will get on with the 3D art style. But even without the glasses it adds an other-wordly look to an already distinctive art style.
It also has the claustrophobia of the earlier Expanse seasons. But perhaps more of the slow tension built into films such as Silent Running or Aniara. although I don’t want to over egg this. We’re talking about a short-playing card game, not a sci-fi epic. I just think it tells an interesting story as best it can with such a small number of components.
Playing The Dead Eye board game
The game involves completing a series of ‘runs’, which eventually lead you to ‘safe havn’. If you fail a run, you simply try your luck and start again at the beginning. Each run has three or four ‘destination’ cards which have a criteria to meet. Which basically means collecting the right cards without running out of time.
Your starting hand has 14 cards, 12 of which have either a ‘heat’ (bad) or ‘juice’ (good) icon. But the main part of each each card shows the outcomes for completing it as an encounter. You’ll want to add them to your tableau as either ‘partz’ or ‘distance’ (which allow you to meet destination requirements. But bad luck (and/or poor play) may lead to a negative outcome.
Putting a card (destination, partz, or distance) in the board’s ‘encounter’ slot means you’re trying to complete it. Now, the cards you turn over are used for their ‘heat’ or ‘juice’ value. Each encounter has a value for each, and when you reach one or other value the encounter happens – either for good or ill. Enough juice, and you’ll get your card (yay!). But too much heat and you get the bad outcome.
A bad outcome often adds a card to your draw deck. This can be a good thing, as it adds cool new partz to your deck. And/or add more cards with ‘juice’ icons, swinging the odds in your favour. But when too many cards are added to your deck ,the run ends in defeat. It’s more complex than that, but hopefully you get the general idea.
The Kickstarter experience
I’m generally not a fan of Kickstarter. But a lot of smaller publishers rely on it as an amazing advertising platform and for forward-funding production costs. I avoid backing many games as I’ve been burnt in the past. But I’ve been impressed by all the titles I’ve played from Pleasant Company Games. Especially Ancient Terrible Things and Snowblind, both also created by The Dead Eye’s Rob van Zyl and Simon McGregor.
So if you’re looking for a short-ish small box solo card game experience I’d recommend The Dead Eye board game. It feels, looks and plays original, while evoking a classic sense of tension and dread as you flip your cards. It rewards multiple plays, as you start to learn how to play the deck. And for such a small amount of cards it has a surprising amount or story and replay value built in.
So if you’re up for the challenge, remember: “You are pilgrm. Get Partz. Get furtha. Beware the tox.” I’ll see you at safe havn.
Find out more about The Dead Eye on Kickstarter.