Review – Level 7 [Omega Protocol]
Damian Mastrangelo, Play Unplugged
Level 7 [Omega Protocol] is Privateer Press’ entry into the increasingly crowded field of role-playing game-light games that have hit the market in recent years. These games share the basic role-playing setup of a lone “Dungeon Master” playing the enemy forces against a group of other players, each controlling their own character. Some examples of this genre are Descent, Space Hulk, and Fury of Dracula. These games, and others like them, are often popular with players of traditional RPGs as a nice substitute for those times when the entire group isn’t able to get together for a full-on role-playing session.
Privateer Press, a game company known for its finely detailed miniatures, is making the jump into board games with their Level 7 series. [Omega Protocol] is the second game in the series, following the earlier release of Level 7 [Escape] (and its expansion [Lockdown]). Both games are set in the same universe where an alien race called the Ghin have made a deal with the United States government that has gone sour in the post-Cold War years. Now the experimental creatures created by Ghin science are in danger of escaping from their confinement and running loose across the USA. The players are a team of commandos sent in to stop these monsters before they can escape, while the Overseer is in charge of the hideous monsters seeking freedom.The game’s basic mechanic for most tasks is very simple. A player rolls a number of special dice marked with a miss, one hit, or two hits on each of their six sides. Count up the total number of hits, compare to the target number and determine success. This simple system works very well, and because the game has many different things going on at once, the simplicity of the basic mechanic keeps the action moving. The “currency” in the game is Adrenaline, which is used by the players to take different actions (like moving, attacking, or healing). The twist is that all the Adrenaline used by the players during their turns is then turned over to the Overseer to form a pool which he can then draw from on his turn to take actions of his own, such as spawning new monsters, moving monsters on the board, and attacking. This presents an interesting dilemma to the commando players. The more they do, the more their opponent can do. So, do you play conservatively and limit both your own actions and that of the Overseer, or do you go for broke and hope for the best?
Many options are made available to both the commandos and the Overseer. Commando characters each have their own separate kit deck to use before the game starts. The cards in these decks are used to equip the commandos with special skills or items that will help them on their mission. They can also locate additional items by their investigations of the rooms in the complex. The Overseer builds a control panel before the game that determines which actions he can take. He also prepares small stacks of cards that are placed in each room. These cards are revealed by the commandos upon first entering a room. Room cards may aid the Overseer, but could also reveal a vital mission objective to the commandos.
The most interesting feature of the many options available, though, is the commandos’ stance cards. Each turn each commando will choose a stance that he will be in until his next turn. These stances, like Cautious Advance, Braced, and Hustle, determine not only the commando’s speed for the turn, but also the maximum Adrenaline he can spend as well as his Ranged and Melee defense. The choice of stance is of vital importance to the commandos, as the wrong stance could leave a commando without adequate defense against a surprise attack. Conversely, taking too conservative a stance at the wrong time could waste valuable mission time and allow the Overseer additional time to strategically prepare his forces.
Level 7 [Omega Protocol] is a scenario-based game. The Mission Guide provides a series of 9 scenarios that can be played individually or linked into one long campaign. Helpfully, there are suggestions in each scenario as to how to either increase or decrease the difficulty for either side. This is an excellent idea and more games of this type should have this feature. The scenarios determine the basic set up of the game and give each side its victory conditions. For the Overseer these are usually to kill a certain number of the commandos, while the commandos are normally attempting to reach a certain objective room and perform some action there to win.
Time can be vitally important, as a scenario could last only a limited amount of turns, or a certain turn could trigger the Crisis Point of the mission. When the Crisis Point occurs the mission becomes harder for the commandos. There may be an effect that benefits the Overseer, but the key element is that until the Crisis Point is reached commandos may not be killed. Instead, they are Downed (which is a stance with serious restrictions) when they suffer enough hits to reduce their Vitality to zero. After the Crisis Point of a mission the commandos may be put out of action permanently and removed from the game. The Crisis Point mechanic gives the game a sense of escalating danger and helps to avoid a major problem in some other games in this genre, that of a long, drawn-out game that never seems to end and consists of players fighting a never-ending horde of spawned monsters with occasional breaks for healing. Kudos to game designer William Shoonover for recognizing this potential weakness and for devising a clever mechanic to help prevent it.
+ Great components, including nice figures and cardboard map segments
+ Well referenced rules document (An index! What a great idea! More board games should have this feature!)
+ Simple task resolution speeds up play
+ The Crisis Point mechanic builds a great sense of tension
- Gameplay is solid, but lacks the novelty needed to stand-out in the genre
- Nine scenarios hinders this games replayability
So, is Level 7 [Omega Protocol] deserving of a place in your game collection? As a game by itself, the answer is yes. This is a nicely designed, beautifully made game that should provide hours of fun for any game group. Not a lot of new ground is broken here, but that’s okay. The game has a lot going on and by keeping the basic mechanics simple the game plays smoothly. The number of scenarios provided limits the amount of replayability, but the game includes a couple of pieces that are not used and are intended to be used with an expansion. Privateer Press has a history of providing good support for their games, and an expansion will probably be available in a few months time. Level 7 [Omega Protocol] has a very tactical feel, not surprising coming from a company known for its tactical miniature games. If you have any interest at all in this genre you should give Level 7 [Omega Protocol] a look.