Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review: Project Pandora Grim Cargo




Firstly you have my apologies for not posting this article last Thursday, something important came up and it needed my attention. It's also the reason I'll probably be taking some time in responding to your comments for the next few days. So sorry. Like my review of Dwarf Kings Hold: Ancient Grudge on Wednesday, I've held off reviewing this game for a few reasons. Firstly because I actually only got my copy a few weeks ago. Secondly because as with Ancient Grudge I playtested this game and thirdly because I wanted to make sure none of the above was biasing me. I accept the above facts will undoubtedly have an influence on me, I just wanted to make sure that what I wrote was as fair to the game as I could be. It is after all very easy to get swept up in new game syndrome, and potentially even more so if you've been close to the project. I also got given this copy of Project Pandora to review while I was at another playtesting event at Mantic, so it's a freebie in effect... except I'm taking it as payment for all the playtesting I've done for them over the past year!

Product Description

It's a game in a box... I haven't said that on this Blog in a while! If you've brought either of the first two Dwarf Kings Hold boxed sets you'll already have a pretty darn good idea of what to expect from Project Pandora as a product. There are 24 full colour floor tiles, that are very reminiscent in shape to those you find in the Dwarf Kings Hold games, indeed while I was playtesting the game I actually used my Dwarf Kings Hold tiles as proxies. Obviously the Project Pandora ones have a suitably sci-fi feel to them. There are also some 70 or so colour card chits representing various things from Action Tokens to status effects. There's also a decent sized black and white rules booklet, which handily contains all the rules and 6 missions to play, very much like the Dwarf Kings Hold books it's 21 pages long. There are 10 plastic resin Veer-myn and 10 plastic resin Corporation miniatures. The corporation miniatures are made of roughly 4 components each, while the Veer-myn are roughly 5 pieces on average. The game also comes with 9 white dice. I'm going to point two things out here though I wish Mantic would consider for any future releases. Firstly the boxes, they don't feel like great quality, because they're not, they're flimsy and will get battered about a bit over time and people have to find less attractive, alternative ways of storing your games. I've seen people dismiss your games in shops because of the boxes. Secondly please include some bases!!! Some of your miniatures are quite light or off balance in their pose, so it can make it difficult to keep the miniatures upright during games. Some of your plastic bases would solve this problem.

Gameplay 8.5 out of 10

Firstly lets get the lazy comparisons out of the way, Dwarf Kings Hold in Space, no it's not that. Yes there are mechanical similarities, but whereas Dwarf Kings Hold is all about getting close and hacking your opponents apart, Project Pandora is about shooting them from afar. Yep you can get in close and attempt to eviscerate your opponents, but it's not the games core mechanic. The next lazy comparison is Space Hulk. Given the perception of Mantic as being a company determined to 'knock-off' Games Workshops ideas and IP, you know what, I can see why many would make the assumption, even if it is unfair, there is that perception out there. The fact that the game plays bugger all like Space Hulk, and that the over simplified view of what Mantic is actually doing should counter those lazy comparisons neatly. Both Space Hulk and Project Pandora are indeed adversarial sci-fi board games... true. But, so too is Earth Reborn and many other products out there, so it's just as likely to be similar to those products. So all I'm saying is this, if you are expecting Project Pandora to play like Space Hulk, or be a Space Hulk clone you'll be sorely disappointed.

Mission 101 set up to run again.

If however you approach the game with an open mind and a willingness to give the game a fair go I don't think many will be disappointed in the games it has to offer them. As I say if you've played the Dwarf Kings Hold games then I think many of the mechanics like Action Tokens and how the dice mechanic works will be very familiar to you, and you'll comfortably learn the game in about 30 minutes tops. For those who haven't played the Dwarf King Hold games it's not really a massively complex game in terms of mechanics and after an hour or so of playing and you'll have most of the game down. You draw action tokens that allow you to do various things like move two miniatures and shoot and what not, it's a little different to having the ability to move all your miniatures and not have to worry about such things. You resolve the actions on those tokens as you see fit, and although the mechanic is the same for both factions they both draw from different Action Token pools. In this way you are in a way forced to use the Action Tokens at your disposal in the best way possible, and although it can sound restrictive it really isn't and it adds a nice tactical element for players to manage and is genuinely a brilliant little mechanic.

Kill one more and I win!!! Mwahahaha... bugger. Failed.
Running through the simple dice mechanic of the game is also simplification defined. It's the same for each sort of attack / defend action you'll have to make in the game, you roll 'X' amount of dice and so does your opponent, so yeah it uses an opposed dice mechanic. One player is the attacker and the other is the defender. You line the results up and work out if the attackers roll beat the defenders. This is done by pairing the dice and simply seeing if you have rolled higher. If you have rolled higher than the defender on your dice you cause a number of damage equal to the amount of higher rolls. If the defender rolled higher or equal then you've done diddly squat and the defender fends of the attacks and bugger all damage is done. It's fast, simple and easy to work out. No need for tables, complicated equations and math degrees, just roll and compare. This keeps the game ticking along at a good speed. Sticking with this 'clean' design theme each unit type has only four stats, Movement, Attack, Defence and Armour, as well as a number of special rules. Project Pandora is a very pared down game, foregoing overly complex rules to offer up an accessible game at the front end, but with a good level of tactical depth on the board.

Mission 102 ready to roll, another favourite.

Obviously I don't want to reproduce the rules here because I don't want any C&D orders, but they're as simple as they can be, and that's not a problem because they're not bland. It's actually one of the games strengths that they're so simple. I've not encountered anyone who had any problems grasping the rules, including my young nephews. This means that you can actually leave the game on the shelf for quite some time and pick it up and still know what you need to do, not every board game is that simple. But, like the Dwarf Kings Hold games there is quite a bit of tactical scope and it can take a fair bit of time to master all the subtle nuances, the ranged combat on offer here does keep you coming back for more and trying different tactics out. There are six missions to play through within the game, all of them offering increasingly complex and involved challenges. But, you'll still go back to the first mission, which is a training mission, time and time again. It is arguably the best mission in the game, as it's so simple. The aim is to kill as many of the respawning Veer-myn as possible before they drag the last Corporation soldier to their death. Then reverse rolls and see if yur opponent can beat your score. It's addictive.

Things start getting tense on mission 102.

Of the other missions in the game I really enjoy perhaps the second mission 'Knock, Knock' and the fifth mission 'Hit The Lights' are the others that keep me coming back because of the tactical challenge and the scope for doing things a bit differently. Knock, Knock is a really fun challenge to play as the Veer-Myn player as you're at what appears to be a disadvantage, but if you're clever you can really cause the Corporation player some headaches. Meanwhile as a Corporation player you have to be very careful to hold your lines and keep things tight and not allow your Veer-myn opponent to build their forces up up deliberately drag you away from the objective. Hit The Lights is a great challenge to the Corporation player as really the advantage should be with the Veer-myn player, and it's all about giving the Veermyn player juicy targets they can't resist going for and then whipping them away, a bit of rsk for reward, but you have to calculate it right. Because the game is so easy to run through and quick it's the sort of game you can play multiple times in one evening easily. Winner stays on, once again coming into play like it did with Dwarf Kings Hold when reviewing that series of games. It's certainly a quick and easy game to grab off of the shelf if you hadn't planned an evening of gaming, or your wargame of choice just ended early due to a ridiculously lucky dice roll on a stupidly powerful spell.

Man Vs Rat.... Man wins!!! Oh yeah baby... hang on... I was the rat. Bugger.

All in all I've found Project Pandora to be a fun and engaging game that like its stablemates is actually a great gateway product into the hobby for younger gamers, while retaining enough tactical scope to keep veterans interested. It's not as involved as some board games are that I play, with their complex rules that offer lots of depth in terms of mechanics. Project Pandora eschews that and looks to offer complex tactics on the board, and environmental effects like darkness, and the reactive mechanics do offer you that tactical depth while mainlining its accessibility. I haven't yet encountered the same levels of tactical arms race that occured with Dwarf Kings Hold, but I'm sure if I give it time it'll come. So it's a good game, and a really good intro point into the hobby for younger kids as I said, and I've found in general young kinds prefer sci-fi to fantasy, and the idea of guns is generally better received than swords. So it's arguably a better intro game for kids that the Dwarf Kings Hold games are, however while I've enjoyed Project Pandora, I've not enjoyed it as much as the Dwarf Kings Hold games. I don't know why but I didn't find the challenge quite as engaging, perhaps it's the ranged combat aspect of the game, or perhaps it is that the game feels a little bit more 'Hollywood' than it's stablemates. There's nothing wrong with that though, because it does mean that Project Pandora feels familiar enough to those gamers who have tried the Dwarf Kings Hold games to not be daunting, but also differs significantly enough to feel fresh and new.

Detail 7.5 out of 10

One of the things I love about Project Pandora is how colourful and bright the artwork is on the floor tiles for the game, there is nothing Grim or dark about them. They look bright, clean and crisp, and modern looking, there's not a hint of the 'gothic' about them. The artwork on them is as vibrant and fun as its stablemates in the Dwarf Kings Hold range, but there is a slight problem with this... quite often it can get a bit difficult to discern the lines that denote the games gridded squares. While I can understand the need to maintain the integrity of the original design work, I'd have preferred a far clearer grid myself. They're far from unworkable it just means that often you have to pay closer attention to the board than just a cursory glance telling you what's what. The tokens though are not only bright, with vibrant neon stylings, but are also exceptionally easy to read and are very clear as to what they are for. They're a bit of a design triumph for me and I really think they add to the atmosphere of the game.

Two of the Veer-myn, probably assembled wrong!

The next bits of detail I want to talk about are the plastic resin miniatures themselves. I've actually managed to see a fair bit of the Mantic range of miniatures, and I have to say that personally I believe that the Corporation and the Veer-myn are the two best ranges that they do. Starting with the Veer-myn they have a really savage and snarling look to them, yeah OK they aren't really anything new and you'll have seen stuff like them in the Skaven range from Games Workshop. But, nevertheless these are very well designed with plenty of steam-punk elements, with gas masks, vials and pistons. Not forgetting the fur! The Corporation Soldiers on the other hand look the very picture of the modern soldier. Neat well defined body armour and assault rifles. Combat trousers loaded with belts, buckles and bandoliers. I really like the Corporation miniatures, sure I like the Veer-myn, but I've always had a desire to paint a sci-fi human army in the vein of colonial marines from the Alien universe. Owning this game has really tempted me to paint a Corporation force for Warpath.

Quality 7 out of 10

I personally found attaching the arms, weapons and tails on the various miniatures could get a little fiddly at times as they weren't 'snap fit' and many of the contact points were quite smooth and flat. Now that's fine when putting plastic miniatures together with poly-cement as the joint is welded and they start to bond pretty quickly. That's not always the case with superglue, but otherwise these are damn fine miniatures, with plenty of detail that are well reproduced. These are perfectly good sculpts in true scale, and when compared to the quality of many other board games miniature components they are a step above in terms of quality. What isn't a step above are the card components yet again. I hate pointing this out with these Mantic board games, but so much of a board games appeal is based around the floor tiles and chits. It's these items more than anything else in a board game that need to stand up to the wear and tear of daily use. These are the components that really need to be top draw... and yet again... they're not. They're not terrible, but yet again they're far too thin for my liking and they suffer from the same dog eared problems that the Dwarf Kings Hold components suffer from after repeated use. I'd gladly pay a little bit more money if it meant the card components were made of better, thicker stock. As it is the glossy surfaced and plastic backed tiles are serviceable enough.

Service N/A out of 10

Obviously I can't really comment of the service I've received for this as I didn't pay for it. As always you'll know how good the usual service / shop is you use to buy your goods from. As for Mantic I've personally had really good service off of them in the past and wouldn't have a problem using them in the future.

Three of the Corporations Marines up close.

Price 8 out of 10

Obviously I didn't directly pay for my copy of Project Pandora, but I think my efforts and feedback to Mantic over multiple projects has to worth at least £34.99, possibly as much as £35.01 (you hear that Ronnie? You we me 2p). As to the asking price on Mantics website of £34.99, I think is perfectly reasonable for the product. You can find it various places for £31.49 though, and I'm sure if you really dug deep and delved into the Internets darkest recesses you could find it for even less. Fundamentally though it's a reasonable price range for a good solid little product, it's at impulse buy range for most people I'd imagine.

The collection of Veer-Myn miniatures you get in the box.

The Corporation miniatures you get.
Overall 8 out 10

For me Project Pandora is a quick, fun and highly tactical little board game. When I first heard that Mantic were doing a sci-fi board game I will admit that I was worried it would just be Dwarf Kings Hold in space... yeah so I'm guilty of that same lazy conclusions that many have jumped to. Yes there are similarities in terms of the mechanics and how Action Tokens work, but the way it's put together does actually lead to very different types of game. Whereas I find Dwarf Kings Hold games tend to be a bit more methodical and considered, Project Pandora is a little bit more dynamic. Often in Dwarf Kings Hold you see you know that you've made a cock up and it'll be difficult to get back on track, while I like that personally I know some people haven't been so keen on it. Those situations don't seem to happen quite as often in Project Pandora. Sure cock up still happen, and you'll likely be punished for them, but perhaps it's the fact the game seems more about ranged combat that you can get back into the fight a bit easier and claw things back. Conversly so can your opponent and this more often than not leads to far closer games, that remain tense to the last action. It's a thoroughly enjoyable romp that's not too expensive to buy, with some nice mini's. I like it. Peace out!

23 comments:

  1. I certainly have been tempted by this for a while, and I have to admit that it was because I thought it would be a near-clone of Space Hulk (you see, I missed out on the limited release...)

    Either way, I'm glad to be corrected and certainly still interested. As I have young kids I'm pleased you once again covered that aspect and it's another factor that will certainly count in its favour when it comes to a purchase. As you say, at that price it is almost an impulse buy. The only problem there is I cannot think of any local bricks-and-mortar stores I could go in to and be impulsed!

    But if I'm honest, things keep popping up that push it back down the queue. Is it down to the slightly cheaper looking quality you suggested above? I don't know. But I do know that Sedition Wars (which certainly isn't an impulse buy at the amount I keep adding to my pledge almost daily it seems!) doesn't suffer that problem - and I don't even know how that plays yet!

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    1. You see I kinda see the DKH and PP:GC games as being best used when you have half an hour to try and cram 'another' gamer in before you have to pack up.

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  2. Congrats for yet another very complete game review.

    I second your point about the game components quality (would happily pay a few pounds more to a better quality one), but single handedly it shouldn't be reason enough to keep me away.

    While not entirely sure if I like how the design/theme of the tiles turned out, I must add I found it really interesting how Mantic managed to skip the temptation of the "grim darkness of the far future" environment artwork. The counters on the other hand look great, so thumbs up for them on that account.

    The game mechanics sounded fairly simple (in a good way), and the possibility of playing an entire game without having to run back and forward with a bunch of charts looks priceless.

    Just one last comment on an issue that seems to be recurrent on other Mantic games: lack of plastic bases!
    I believe every single component in the box must have been scrutinized to the last cent/penny in order to keep the game in an affordable budget and still keep a profit margin.
    But still, would it be that much expensive to get a few plastic bases for the minis on the box? And if so, how much?

    Anyway, all in all it sounds like a good bet, and probably well worth the money.

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    1. I'm sorry I appear to have totally missed your comment. Thanks for the compliment again.

      The mechanics are exceedingly easy to learn, and I've found that means you end up playing the game not the rues. The rules don't get in the way of your tactics, and I've not seen a rules dispute yet. That the game remains true to the short 'fix' of gaming it was meant to be is a great thing for me. Because sometimes after the mammoth Mansion of Madness session, or all day wargaming you want just one more hit. Project Pandora fill that need as do the Dwarf Kings Hold games very nicely.

      They're neither of them the best board games every made. They wouldn't make it into my top 10. They would though always have a place on my gaming shelf because of what they represent.

      I enjoy the game despite the bad card components and the issues putting the miniatures together. It's not got the greatest quality components in the world, that's for sure, BUT I think it makes up for it simply by how many times you will pick it up and give just one more game. So from that perspective, for me, yeah it's worth the money and you can find it a lot cheaper elsewhere.

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  3. I love it. I love the Dr. Who lakes Seven vibe to the art and tiles. The box is so flimsy though. Miner arrived battered and bruised and of course it doesn't affect the game but it still leaves that hollow feeling to see an ugly ox on my shelf. Sigh.

    Looking forward to painting them up. I've seen quite a few people mount the models on clear acrylic bases so you can see the tiles underneath which sounds like a good idea.

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    1. Yes the box would be my biggest concern if I was a store owner actually. On the shelf next to Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games and AEG product it just feels substandard. The tiles also don't do much to help that image either.

      If Asmodee can get the quality tile products they do, and the pre-painted miniatures they can into the Hell Dorado box for a similar price to DKH and PP:GC AND wrap it up in a lovely box... shouldn't Mantic be able to do the same?

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    2. Yup I am assembling models now and I keep seeing my battered box and being sad...

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  4. My feelings toward this game somewhat differ to yours, however that was a good reveiw.

    I have a couple of questions for you though.
    Did you get the special weapons sprue in yours ?
    Also are all Mantic Mini's made from that same Plastic Resin ?

    Cheers buddy,

    -Voidsign-

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    1. I can answer that one, well, for me anyway!

      Yes I got special weapons sprue in mine.

      No, Most models are hard-plastic, for instance the models in Dwarf Kings Hold and Green Menace although they do have some in metal, upgrade kits for plastic and plastic-resin are usually metal.

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    2. No all the Mantic mini's aren't made out of the same plastic resin. The vast majority are made out of a very similar plastic to GWs miniatures... infact I'd go as far to say that it is the same. And no I didn't get the special Weapons plastic spru, but I assumed as they were provided in the plastic resin that the plastic spru was no longer needed.

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    3. Wow

      Minitol, according to Blogger we literally posted at the exact same time! No difference, not even the seconds!!!

      You still apparently ninja'ed me on my own Blog though...

      how rude!!! :P

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    4. I personally didn't get along with this game.

      I found the tiles horrible, the print and art is good but there was just no sense to the tiles that you got in the box. It just left the game looking like you were playing in some random area that had been thrown together. Plus I found them so cluttered where they had thrown as much detail in that they could that it all just looked messy.

      My set however, did come with the Special Weapon Spru but no arms to use said weapons. When I emailed Mantic and said it shows the arms in the pictures of the game they stated that they decided to drop them from the game but didn't update the pics. Just cut off a gun and replace... Which just doesn't work because the gunbut is moulded into the arm.

      I found that the models were well sculpted and look really nice, but nowhere does it give you any hints that there are Three types of body that will only fit the correct types of arms and if you don’t assemble them in the right way they just look odd and don’t hold their guns correctly.

      Also all of my corp figs had he ends of their guns bent; looking at your pics so did you. I tried to bend them back into shape, even using warm water but I was so worried that I would snap them that I just left them all with the ability to shoot around corners.

      The Plastic Resin is HORRIBLE, no matter how much I cleaned it, it always felt dusty and really brittle. I'm glad that Mantic don’t use it with the rest of their Mini's as this would have put me off the entire range.

      I'm sorry that I'm poopooing on something that you obviously enjoy, but after all of the above, I couldn't even bring myself to play the game. I read the rules and just felt meh!, guess I was too disappointed that I had wasted my money on what I feel is a very poor product.

      And don’t get me started on the BOX...

      -Voidsign-

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    5. Yes, I mentioned that the tiles at times got in the way of actuallty playing the game. The artwork I can appreciate, but it is a bit 'loud' for a board game and the markings denoting the squares are a pain.

      The reason I haven't straightened the mini's guns (they can be) is because a nephew was too impatient and we stuck them together ASAP so we could play in. I don't agree the plastic resin is horrible. For some things it's fine, for others it's really not idea. Is it the best substance in the world? Hell no, but for the price I don't expect it to be.

      You are more than entitled to your opinion and what you've posted will add to the review and give people another take on these things. I personally can look past the component faults, even though I've mentioned them in my review, to see the fun little game that lurks there. Some people won't be able to. I do wish Mantic would purt their games in better boxes. People store their games in boxes so trashy boxes is a big no no for me.

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    6. I found that I was worried about breaking the guns off as I was trying to straighten them. Thus I left them.

      The box is bad, very bad, it feels like it should have Tesco's own brand Cornflakes in it, not a miniature game. Don't get me wrong, I think the print and detail quality of the entire game is fantastic. But I have not personally worked with mini's worse than the ones provided in Pandora. I really did find them horrible. And that’s purely due to the plastic resins quality, not the sculpt quality.

      I was so excited when I first got my hands on a copy and as time passed and I looked closer at my latest purchase my disappointment grew. It's a real shame because for me it is just the quality of materials that ruin it, and for some reason I just can’t get past it.

      After reading your review I actually got the game out and thought about giving it another chance, but after a couple of minutes of looking through the components again, it was put away again with a sigh.

      -Voidsign-

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    7. I'm not going to disagree with you on the quality of the materials used. It's a point I've made before, it's a point I've made here... and unless Mantic decide to up the quality of somethings I'm sure it's a point I'll be making again. Many games designers are frustrated to see their hard work on the rules undone by corner cutting and cost control measures... but I guess they'd urge you, like I would to give the game a go. Plonk some blu tac under the tiles and away you go. Honestly it is a really fun little game and as you've spent the money you might as well see what it's like... right?

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    8. Agreed, I've been thinking about that since your review. I feel that I would prefer to try and get some money back, and then invest in something that I would probably enjoy more.

      I've not yet got past the point where I have needed to pop the tiles out yet, so at the moment the potential of clawing back some of the funds I used to purchase the game is a lot higher than if I were to pop the parts out.

      I know that may sound a little mercenary, but wargaming on very limited funding, is a needs must thing.

      -Voidsign-

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    9. No I can understand that entirely my good man. I too am not only gaming on a limited budget, but living on an exceedingly limited budget right now. I feel your pain don't you worry about that. If you can recoup a bit of your money and use it for something different then I wish you all the best with that. Although I think it's a shame because you will be missing out on a fun little game.

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  5. It looks good, about what I expected and I'll be more than willing to give it a try. I'm very glad you made a point of eschewing the lazy comparisons; it's great that the developers recognise that no one wants to buy the same game twice!

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    1. I have no problem buying the second game twice... I have shelves full of computer games and their sequels that prove that point eloquently. But you're right. There has to be a twist or a fresh take when it comes to board games in particular, Wargames are slightly different, if the mini's and fluff are good 9 times out of 10 you can get away with repackaged rules... but that marketplace operates on different rules to board games.

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  6. While Mantic's efforts to avoid the grimdark feel you usually find in corridor games, I feel like they went too far in the opposite direction. The tiles themselves feel very cluttered, and the overuse of bright neon colors with fake glow on the tiles really grates on my nerves.
    Plus the actual quality of the components, excluding the miniatures, it rather disappointing, but I suppose you get what you pay for!

    The game itself does sound like a real blast. There is a fine line between stupidly simple and mind-bogglingly complicated and cluttered, and it seems that Project Pandora treads that line well.

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    1. It does for some and it doesn't for others. Some people have told me they find the DKH games and PP way too simple for them. And I can see that, because the rules really are very, very slim. But for me the complexity is on the board.

      On the whole I agree with your assessment of the tiles being a bit too noisy. I struggle sometimes to see the spaces on the tiles as they are ill defined and the noisy background doesn't help. I'll let you into a secret... I still use DKH tiles to play PP as it's easier to see the squares.

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  7. Sorry I'm a bit late to this party, I'm just catching up on some of your reviews.

    I've just painted all the figures from Dead Rising and still haven't played it yet. It's a matter of time and opponenet availability. I like what's in the box and it has me tempted to look for a copy of Project Pandora. The board game has become of great interest since my wargaming habit died a little over a year ago.

    Anyway, on to a couple of questions/remarks.

    First. Having just invested way too much money in the Dreadball Kickstarter, I think it would be festive to add games of PP with the results affecting the next Dreadball game somehow. So, if the Corp wins, they get some extra advantage... that sort of thing. This would require many more races be introduced to PP, probaby via house rules. But, I've always liked the cross-game tie-ins.

    Second. I know, it's not Space Hulk. I love Space Hulk. I have ever every edition (1st several times over) and enough tiles to construct an actual space hulk. I love the flow (1st edition) and the simplicity. Does PP have a similar... flow? Once you get moving is similar in "fun value" in your opinion?

    Thanks for the insightful review. It is appreciated.

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