A Review of Deep Space – D6: Armada

Deep Space – D6: Armada is a cooperative dice placement game that was on Kickstarter back in January 2020 and fullfilled to its backers fairly recently (today’s date in March 19, 2022) … I think.  Strictly speaking, I didn’t back this on Kickstarter: I ended up getting it from one of the Kickstarter backers who got it pretty recently.  I have really been enjoying cooperative dice placement games lately (see our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021), and it has a Star Trek theme, so I thought I needed to give it another look.

This is a cooperative game for 1-4 players based somewhat on the mechanics of Deep Space:D6, the solo game. Deep Space – D6: Armada is the fully cooperative game for 1-4 players: it’s a cooperative dice placement game where each player takes control of a ship and crew and explores/fights around the very small galaxy.

Unboxing

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Deep Space – D6: Armada is a beautiful game!  The stark white graphic design is very eye-popping.

There are a lot of tokens to punch out: see above.

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Each player takes control of a ship with 6 stations you can upgrade: notice how nice the dual-layered boards are (above and below):

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There are quite a number of cards for events, ships, and away missions:

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Above, you can see the crew cards (crew upgrades for your ship at the far left), enemies (middle) and away missions (far right).  The crew give you extra dice for fighting and away missions: note the away missions are very much a dice placement thing!

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Each ship has a nice little wood token.  The red tokens are pairwise tokens for notating what planets have what fleets.

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But the cornerstone of this dice placement game: the dice.  The white dice are “basic crew dice” that each ship starts with, and the colored dice are crew upgrades which give more dice!

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Overall, the components are pretty amazing: lots of cardboard, cards, and dice!

There are a lot of components for this game, some of them don’t come out until later!

Rulebook

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The rulebook for this game … needs work.  

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The first page has a table of contents and a list of components.

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But take a look at the list of components!  There is NO picture!  There are SO MANY components in this game and I have no idea what’s what!  At some point, the only way I figured out what the components were was by COUNTING THE NUMBER OF TOKENS!  This is a major misstep in a game with so many components.

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The next page was okay, talking about the components a little further.  But is doesn’t say WHAT to set initially shields and hull to!  Do you start at 0 or full?  We guessed they were full up?

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The next two pages are the set-up!  This is probably the most important two pages! You get to correlate what some of the components are, you can see how everything fits together. If I didn’t have these two pages, I might have thrown this game away.

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So, the next few pages give you an overall sense of the game.   They are okay.

It’s just … so many times, we had questions about issues in the game, and we couldn’t find elaborations or clarifications.  I mean, most of the rules seemed to be in the book.

There’s even a nice back page:

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There is however, a FAQ here that helps: https://www.tauleadergames.com/armada-faq

And another errata on BGG: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2740145/official-faq-game

Look, I got through the rulebook.  I was grumpy when I couldn’t find a clarification, but I was able to get through some solo and cooperative games.  I think this rulebook needs another pass.

Solo Rules

Congratulations on following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode!

Warning! The Solo Rules card do not correspond to the rulebook!

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You are supposed to have 2 Threat Detected Cards Per Turn, not 1!  The rulebook says 2 (and it’s correct according to the FAQ) even though the “solo rules” card says Just 1 Threat Detected.

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When all set-up, it looks pretty cool on the table.    I spent about 3 to 3.5 hours playing the AG-01 ship. It seemed a bit long and bit random (foreshadowing), but I had fun.  The first few turns weren’t as fun, because I couldn’t do as much as much (because I was weak, fewer thing were out).  Once the game got going, it was fun!

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Once I got the 4 microchips collected (above: these are prizes from success on Away Missions), I triggered the endgame … In order to win, you collect 4 of them and depending on what you collect, you trigger a different endgame!

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In this endgame, I had to fight the Ouroboros Mark III.  Above: before combat, Below: after combat!

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In the end, I was able to take it out!

Part of the fun in this game is getting crew (which gives new dice) and upgrades (better abilities for your ship that can be triggered by your dice).   That was fun.  There was an unfortunate amount of maintenance for the solo mode as I had to handle both the “Thread Detected” and “Events” after every turn.  That’s probably why it took 3-3.5 hours.  

I dunno, I still liked it, but I was very worried about the randomness and the game length …

Cooperative Play

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As we headed into a cooperative game, we discussed my concerns for the randomness of the crew and upgrade draws.  After some discussion, we came upon a solution we really liked (see House Rule: Randomness Mitigation below).  This house rule made all the difference in gameplay.

But it still took 4 hours to play a 4-Player game! We were exhausted and tired of the game.  We really felt like it should take 2 hours ….

House Rule: Randomness Mitigation

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One of the biggest complaints from both me (as a solo game) and my group (as a cooperative game) is the amount of randomness. When drawing crew or ship upgrades, you are supposed to simply draw 3 at random and buy as many (0-3) things as you like. Every buy is completely random! You have NO IDEA what you might get or if you can even afford it! I get very lucky in my solo game and was able to get the AI Core update (which allows you to reroll upto 3 times), and this upgrade is perhaps the best possible thing you can get in a dice placement game: the ability to reroll makes the game that much more interesting. BUT I only got it because I “randomly” drew it at the time when I had enough money!

I knew the randomness would be an issue: you don’t know what you can get, you don’t know how to build combos, you don’t know if you’ll have enough money, you can’t plan!

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We came up with a house rule that absolutely made all the difference!  Essentially, every Way Station has 3 crew next to it FACE UP and every Ship Yard has 3 upgrades next to it FACE UP:  See the the above picture at Zenith One (which has both a Ship Yard and a Way Station).  When you visit a Location to hire crew and/or buy upgrades, you can make informed decisions!  You can choose to go to Zenith One because you REALLY want Jaszz-Rit (the purple guy above) or decide to go to another place that has a crew member you want.  You can also choose to clear-out all before you buy: you’ll get 3 random picks, but only after you’ve looked at the three already there.

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Basically, the house rule is:

  • Put 3 crew at every Way Station
  • Put 3 upgrades at every Ship Yard
  • When you go to buy, you can choose to clear the currently slate and get another 3 completely at random or keep the current slate
  • Finally, you can buy what you want

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The idea of this house rule is that you can do some planning on what Crew and Upgrades you go after! Rather then being at the mercy of the random deck draws, you can do some planning and have fun figuring out what you want. See above as we start putting CRew out at the different planets.

I need to be clear: this house rule seemed critical to making the game playable. Without it, I suspect my gaming group would have rage quit much sooner. We made it through a full game because we felt like we had strategy and choices along the way.

AND this house rule makes the game more thematic!

“Remember that weird creature on Titan VI? Let’s go recruit him!”

“Ugh, we need an engine upgrade: I guess we have to go to Terra: I think I saw an engine upgrade there!”

One other minor house rule: When you roll for Hull, you can only upgrade if you roll the “gears”. It’s very frustrating and NOT FUN to waste a turn rolling if you roll no gears: A Hull Upgrade should always give at least 1 upgrade!

House Rule: Length Mitigation

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At the end of the night, it tooks us 4 Hours to play a 4-Player game. The ONLY reason it didn’t take longer is because we went ahead and triggered the endgame. We could have easily spent another hour trying to get more upgrades to make us more powerful. As it was, we were just tired of playing after 4 hours so we tried to get the game over. See Andrew on his phone.

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My solo game probably took about 3 – 3.5 hours to play. See above. Again, it was all about getting tired of upgrading and just wanting to trigger the end-game.

At the end of the day, Deep Space – D6: Armada is just too long. Although I like the idea of playing as long as you want in order to upgrade your ship as much as you want before endgame, this game is really in need of some length mitigation.

Although we know for a fact that our HouseRule: Randomness Mitigation works really well (as we played with that rule), we’re not sure how to mitigate the Length. We think that if we limited the game to a certain number of rounds, you can keep the game under 2 hours: 2 hours seems about the right amount of time for this game. Maybe 15 rounds? If you don’t get all 4 microchips to trigger endgame, you just lose. That’ll force players to keep one eye on the clock and one eye on upgrades as they head for the endgame.

Unfortunately, it feels like the number of rounds will really vary on the number of players. And we currently don’t have enough data to make a recommendation for those number. However, a simple house rule might be “At the 2-Hour mark: you must have triggered the end game or you lose!”

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Another way to mitigate game length is to have players start with a few upgrades and some more money: As we found, in the first few rounds of the game, the players can’t do much anyways (which isn’t fun)! So maybe avoid the first few boring rounds by giving the players something.

As a suggestion: Have each player take 1 upgrade (2 for a 1-2 player game) and 2 more credits. This will thin the front of the game (which is less fun anyways) and bring the game length down.

EDIT: Turns out, there is some work of reducing the game length on BGG: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2740145/official-faq-game

The Stroop Effect

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In psychology, the Stroop effect is the delay in reaction time between congruent and incongruent stimuli. See wiki article here.  Why is this relevant here?

A basic task that demonstrates this effect occurs when there is a mismatch between the name of a color (e.g., “blue”, “green”, or “red”) and the color it is printed on (i.e., the word “red” printed in blue ink instead of red ink). When asked to name the color of the word it takes longer and is more prone to errors when the color of the ink does not match the name of the color.

This is relevant because the colors of the dice can be distracting.  In most of the game, the “reroll” symbol is a purple symbol, the “fight” symbol is a red symbol, and so on.  See the basic crew dice below.

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This convention permeates the game: the upgrades and away missions use these symbols and colors everywhere:

We encountered the Stroop Effect because the UPGRADED CREW DICE are all different colors, but the symbols are ONLY WHITE on these dice: see below.

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As you can see, the symbols are WHITE above. You might think, “Oh you are being silly, that’s not an issue”. But it was! As we played (especially in the 4 hour game), we would occasionally misread the dice because EVERYWHERE ELSE in the game, the color and symbol mattered, but on the crew dice, the symbols are always white. We miscounted symbols a few times.

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In general, I think these dice in Deep Space – D6: Armada are really great. I like them. And I understand why they made all the upgrade crew dice have white symbols: they have to be legible on the colored dice. But, the Stroop Effect seemed to happen with us and it affected our gameplay. Maybe it would have been worth having ALL the symbols be the right color, even on the colored dice, at the cost of some color clashing?

Conclusion

Deep Space – D6: Armada is a beautiful game with really great components. The stark white graphic design is very eye-catching, and everything is easy to read. The dice and cards and dual-layered boards were all just fantastic.

Unfortunately, this game needs some more work. The rulebook needs another a major pass as a lot of stuff was unclear and/or underspecified. The gameplay is too long and the randomness can be too much.

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Having said that, a few house rules can make this game playable:

  • Add crew/upgrades at appropriate Locations so players can choose what to buy at Locations.  This allows strategy and mitigates the random buys issue.  And it’s more thematic!
  • Make it so Hull Upgrades always fix at least one Hull (if you roll NO gears, you should still get something)
  • Set a timer to force the game under 2 or 2.5 hours: this really should be a shorter game!  You get tired of the mechanisms after 3 to 4 hours, but it’s still fun for the first few hours!
  • To further reduce the game length, give each player more upgrades/crew (as the first few turns aren’t much fun anyways as you can do so little)

With these changes, this game can become a lot of fun.  It does nail the Star Trek theme and it is fun to roll dice and upgrade your ship/crew as you play!

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Here’s our ratings:

  1. I probably give this a 5/10 out of the box, a 6.5 with the House Rules for buys, and probably a 6.9 if we can keep the gameplay length down.  I can’t quite give it a 7 because the rulebook needs some more work.  
  2. Sara hated this game and never wants to play again.  She couldn’t roll well and that ruined it for her.  She probably gives it a 4.5, but would give it a 3 if we didn’t have our house rules for buys.
  3. Teresa.  Thought it was okay.  Would play again, but only with house rules.  Maybe 6.5 total
  4. Andrew.  Eh.  Without house rules, 4 or 5.  With house rules, maybe a 6. Would only play with our house rules.

If you like the Star Trek theme and cooperative worker placement, there is a good game here.  It might just take a little coaxing to see it.  But I do think Updated/House Rules are critical (either the ones we present here, or the the new ones on BGG here) to making this more playable and more fun!

I dunno.  I liked it. But my friends kinda didn’t.

8 thoughts on “A Review of Deep Space – D6: Armada

  1. I love this game. To me this is the closest there is to an FTL board game currently out there. The art is beautiful and actually done by the same artist as Into the Breach.

    Like

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