It would be his luck to live long enough to see man conquer interstallar space… only to be stuck on the worst ship in the Universe. Today, Fairway picks up the cooperative game Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Universe. See if Fairway and friends are able to keep this hunk of junk spaceworthy or whether his space adventures are doomed.
Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Universe is a cooperative, two- to six-player game in which players try to keep the worst ship in the universe space-worthy until they reach their destination. Let’s just say: that’s a tall order for the worst ship in the universe.
Initial Impressions ^
- The game is pretty easy to teach: turn over event card, resolve its text, then take care of the ship by ferrying different bits around the board. Staying alive long enough to get to the end that’s tough.
- Bad events abound, but the ability to do anything about them is largely determined by dice rolls, not player actions.
- Eriath is to Firefly what The Captain is Dead is to Star Trek, but I’m not sure that it captures the same experience.
- Creepy eyes. Why does everyone have creepy eyes?
Game play ^
In Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Galaxy, players take on the roles of various crew members of a freighter ship making a voyage across space. Their mission is simple: get enough of their cargo to the destination. But, as the name suggests, the Eriath does not make getting to the destination easy: it seems particularly susceptible to fire and hull breaches; aliens and pirates have no problem boarding the ship, and crew members can start the journey with dysentery and other unfortunate characteristics.
In the game, Eriath is represented as a board with various rooms. At one end of the ship is the cargo hold where the stuff you need to keep safe until the end of the game resides. In the middle is a storage locker where you can find helpful items like fire extinguishers, fire hoses, contamination suits and weapons. In addition, tracking markers are placed on the board to indicate both location in space and disaster level. When the location marker reaches the end, the ship arrives at its destination (you win!). The disaster level indicates the number of events that occur each round and, if it reaches the max, the ship is destroyed (you lose!).
At the start of the game, you are given a random crew member and select two attribute cards: one positive and one negative. Each character has a role, special ability, and an “action dice” number. The attribute cards add additional penalties and perks. In addition to these abilities, players have two important values: health and stress. If your health falls too far, you die. If your stress rises too much, your health goes down. This will be a constant battle during the game. Finally, your character is then assigned a random starting location on the Eriath (determined by die roll).
The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round, you and your crew mates will each take four actions: move, pickup equipment, use equipment, drop equipment, and use special ability. At most, any one player can only use two actions to move around the ship. The rules provide that players can take these actions in any order that they want to be strategic.
After everyone has taken their actions, the round ends and a number of Disaster cards are flipped over determined by the disaster level. These Disaster cards are more like “event” cards and come in three flavors: one that moves the ship towards its destination, one that causes the disaster level to increase, and a third that causes bad things to happen around the ship.
Most of the disaster cards introduce some menace to Eriath: fire, hull breaches, hazmat leaks, power outages, pirates, aliens, etc. To take care of these, players need to gather the proper equipment, get to the right location and then somehow manage to use the equipment properly. For example, players can use the fire extinguishers in a room with fire to try to put it out.
To use the equipment, you must roll the number of action dice indicated on your character sheet. These action dice have a number of green thumbs up (success!), red thumbs down (fail), and blank (neutral). To succeed at any task, a player must have more successes than fails.
Assuming the crew can hold the ship together, the players win if the ship arrives at its destination with enough of its cargo in tact — various disasters might deplete the cargo. Otherwise, the game ends if the crew is all killed or captured or the ship explodes.
On the green ^
This game has potential to be the Firefly equivalent of The Captain is Dead. And it had a few things going for it:
Theme. I have to admit: piloting a terrible ship through space seems like a great game idea. And the disasters and events are just what you’d expect from such a game.
Characters. Of all the things in this game, the potential character creation is definitely fun. There’s something about ending up with a character who has dysentery (requires toilet paper and lavatory or otherwise stress increases) to add to the craziness of the theme.
The fact that in numerous plays, we got lots of variety of characters is good for replay.
Also, they all have crazy eyes. Crazy, crazy eyes.
Where it comes up short ^
Unfortunately, Eriath leaves a lot to be desired:
Player control. I address the dice below, but there is a serious lack of player control in two crucial areas: 1. how the ship travels; 2. the damage state of the ship.
I promise I won’t constantly compare it to TCID, but the Event deck, not the players, control where in space the ship is and the damage state of the ship. There’s no way to advance the ship faster or lower the damage state. This is unlike TCID where repairing the jump core or fixing the shield is left to the players.
Unwinnable conditions. We think that these two facts also make it certain that certain of the games never reach their destination before the damage state increases too far.
Dice. The success dice definitely add to theme, but it’s an awkward game play mechanic as used. Whether a crew could win the game mostly hinges on dice throws. Through the game, there wasn’t a way for the players to improve their odds or mitigate the risks. As a result, we mostly prayed for someone to start with the player with the “Lucky” perk (adjust success/fail rolls). That perk was the only reliable way of putting out fires and other luck intensive jobs that intensified if not not successfully the first time.
Unbalanced character traits. There didn’t seem to be much balance to the character traits. Some were definitely beneficial, like Lucky. Characters with lucky were granted the ability to alter their dice rolls. Essentially that person became the go to person to do all of the clean up of every action. Similarly, getting the pilot on your team is a huge bonus: double distance when the distance cards are drawn. Whereas, if someone drew the clumsy attribute, you’re drawing another Disaster card — also, it’s weird to think that the clumsy attribute advances the ship (see above).
Pick up & deliver gone crazy. Get item, slowly move around ship, try to use item, drop item to let someone else try, rinse, repeat. This is true really regardless of the event. There’s not much left to the game. There’s no other activities (other than running to the lavatory if you have dysentery) the players really engage in.
What’s more, there’s no option for players when there’s nothing for them to do. So many of the turns were spend just moving. If you weren’t a player with a role to do, you moved. And with a move cap of two sections, where you could move was limited.
Scaling. The more players, the easier the game. There’s no variation in the number of events required to be handled. It’s the same as if you only had two players, but you just get more actions and have people in more locations.
Player elimination. This cooperative game has player elimination but no way to bring players back in. In one of our first games, a player whose stress increased with each fire died quickly. That person was out for more than 40 minutes of the rest of the game–the rules were subsequently changed to allow anyone to use a med kit which might have fixed this problem in this game, but the same basic issue arises.
In the hole ^
The ship in Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Universe definitely lives up to its name: so many bad things happen to this ship. The game has the opportunity to create an interesting cooperative game out of keeping a disaster-prone ship spaceworthy. We did laugh at the series of unfortunate events and our hapless crew’s attempt to overcome them. There’s also probably a player count (3, probably) and character mix, where the opportunities balance the effects to the make game interesting. But in its current state, I’m not sure this game is there, yet.
Eriath: The Worst Ship in the Universe is in the hole for One over Par. ^
Fairway was provided a copy of Eriath to write an honest review. He wasn’t otherwise compensated for it.