Unfortunately for Core Space, Pax Pamir 2nd Edition was released in 2019. Otherwise this hybrid miniatures/board game would have ran away with the illustrious honors of my top release of the year – don’t scoff at that designation, it comes with a repurposed Pinewood Derby trophy as well as a Charlie Theel quote to slap on the box full of commas, em dashes, and florid prose.
This game is over the top and rad and totally my jam.
It’s been many months since Core Space first arrived, yet I’m just getting around to writing about Shootout at Zed’s. This is one of several boxed expansions that compliment the base game, extending its rich environment in organic fashion. I’ve been very impressed with each subsequent release in how the vision of this product line remains faithful and tightly woven. In many ways, the expansion material feels unlike the bloated mass of a Kickstarter miniatures game that’s unfurled its blubber and slobbered all over your table and game shelves.
Shootout at Zed’s is noteworthy because it’s the introduction of an additional NPC type. That is the punk-like ganger who was wearing a mask long before it was en vogue. As a lifelong devotee to Necromunda, I’m totally on board.
These units function like aggressive civilians, more apt to clog the streets and get in your way. They don’t activate randomly but instead choose a target – Purge, followed by Traders – and then take two activations to storm toward them and pop off a few rounds.
While they’re predictable on the surface, the inclusion of several event cards ratchet up the tension and provide for dynamic behavior. This is really the beauty of the system and reinforces the design philosophy. The rules are simple, almost overly so as you feel like the addition of a whole new character type should do something besides moving and attacking those nearby. The sophistication comes in through the chaotic environment comprised of those event cards as well as the collision with other sub-systems.Core Space is a wizard at generating moments. Like that time I was up against the wall, a Purge Annihilator on my tail as I was dragging MAC’s lifeless machine body across the decking and trying to escape. An Assassin and multiple Harvesters were flanking me and this tale was looking grim as hell.
Then the confetti happened.
An event card spawned a whole gang of gangers too close to the action for social distancing. It was a mess, like tossing a grenade into a box of Styrofoam peanuts. Playing through the fallout was pure joy.
The variety of narrative situations generated provides a wide range of experiences to be mined. That’s the nature of this system and each expansion leans into this facet. I want the environment to be unpredictable and dangerous. I want it to feel like I’m running a dangerous shadow op to keep my crew eating noodles and my freighter eating fuel. This desire is absolutely supported by this expansion and the dynamic atmosphere is given new texture.
How smoothly these additions integrate is a real wonder. You can slip the gang event cards into virtually any scenario to mix things up. You could arbitrarily throw a ganger or two into the starting setup. All of this is completely up to you and within the spirit of things.
This set also comes with three scenarios that can be played as one-offs or inserted effortlessly into an ongoing campaign. They highlight the titular Zed and his cronies, showing off the new terrain pieces of Z’s bar and the second story overlook. And boy are these nice terrain bits.
You probably won’t get as much mileage out of the second floor balcony structure (although it’s the most sexy of elements), but you will have every opportunity to add the circular bar or the curved privacy wall section to an existing scenario.
The three gang-focused scenarios are standouts in their own way. I particularly enjoyed the second which pits the players in a Warriors-like situation that has your crew fighting their way across the station to escape, meanwhile the board will repeatedly flood with gang-bangers looking for their pound of flesh. Of course the Purge are there, sticking their robotic digit in your eye and taunting you to come out and play.
As I mentioned earlier, what really hits home with this release is in how seamless this system integrates new material. The only rough spot is that minor nitpick of utilizing named NPCs which are recycled. So you may end up spawning Chunk four times in one mission, which is admittedly weird. There’s a tradeoff here and instead of laying the foundation on generic enemy profiles, we’re given distinct personalities with background stories. Yes, you may have to do some mental handwaving to suspend your disbelief, but it’s overall a small thing to cope with.
Setup time is also minimally impacted. I could see it eventually ballooning once enough expansions come out and you’re forced to navigate a library of stored terrain and miniatures, but at the moment it feels pretty restrained. Each boxed expansion includes only a small amount of additional terrain and most of the miniatures can actually be used in every single session. The malleability of the event deck and forethought in the NPC integration means there’s overall little hassle. I will definitely be keeping a narrow eye on this facet as we look toward the future.
Finally, one of the greatest considerations of this expansion is in how it enhances solitaire play. Core Space is a design that simultaneously provides for excellent solo gaming as well as occasionally stumbles in that regard. The criticism is founded in the excellent tension of the semi-cooperative crew structure which is completely absent in lonely play. That dynamic isn’t necessary, but it’s the deepest and most meaningful interaction in the game. Additional NPC types work to mask that inadequacy and they do a rather standup job in enhancing the chaotic suspense we crave.
Shootout at Zed’s will not revolutionize your Core Space experience; by design, that’s not intended. Rather, it’s another ingredient to be mixed into the slurry of techno noir salvage ops siphoned from the bones of Shadowrun, Cowboy Bebop, and Firefly.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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