Core Space is a semi-cooperative miniatures skirmish system that was one of my most beloved releases of 2019. It continues to see a substantial amount of play and my enthusiasm remains elevated. Dangerous Days functions as the second season of this system, featuring the first expansion material developed post-release.
I’m using the title Dangerous Days, but I need to be clear, three separate products make up this wave. There is a softcover rules supplement and two small miniature sets.
Shift Change at Megacorp is the first miniatures box. It adds six figures which are comprised of four “workers” and two “scavengers”. These are new AI-controlled neutral character types that will wander the board and muck up your plans. They add life to the unstable environment, which is the core competency of this system and its primary achievement.
The second minis set is Rogue Purge. This is arguably more interesting than Shift Change, adding a new type of NPC that consists of, well, Purge gone rogue. They start off non-hostile and pursuing their own mysterious goals, but of course the powder keg can explode and their cybernetic bodies will eat bullets like the best of them.
If you want to experience the entirety of this wave then you will want to pick up all three products. This isn’t a requirement though as you can simply grab Shift Change or Rogue Purge and the included leaflet will contain all of the necessary rules to integrate them into your standard Core Space games. But it’s evident there’s an ingrained scope here where each set plays off the other and the sum of the parts is quite impressive.
There’s a lot to unpack.
The most significant addition is perhaps the most modest in length. There are exactly two pages of new campaign rules at the front of the Dangerous Days book that radically shape the experience. One of the issues with Core Space was that earning money was simply too easy. Your ship would require repairs and hiring new crew was a bit of a sink, but overall each derelict space station felt like one of those glass booths with bills blowing through the air. Well, the cash has been suctioned out and replaced with ball bearings.
Now you need to pay your crew a cut of the profit. Ship repairs also no longer come quite as easy or cheaply. Finally upgrades to your ship cost a significantly larger chunk of change.
The speed bumps don’t stop there.
Characters who have achieved higher levels of experience will take more effort to improve. There’s a tapering off of gains that feels natural.
The importance of all of this in re-mixing the Core Space experience cannot be understated. These changes improve the campaign game massively. It now feels like you’re scraping by and actually forced to scavenge for scraps. Yet the balance here is wonderful as you can still attain quality gear and improved character abilities, but you will no longer have a fully upgraded ship four missions in. It won’t feel like Rich Uncle Pennybags is your captain, dropping fistfuls of UA as he frolics through Purge-infested spacecraft.
The rest of Dangerous Days is a hodgepodge of material you may or may not find useful. It’s nice to have the Rogue Purge and Shift Change rules collected, but you will already have those in separate rules pamphlets. A section detailing replacing Purge as the main adversary with Gangers is interesting, but not entirely useful beyond maybe a one-off or short mission arc in an extended campaign. This type of creativity is appreciated though and it’s nice to have the addition.
In terms of space, the bulk of the booklet is actually in scenarios. There’s an entirely new campaign which is absolutely stellar, as well as numerous official scenarios that were previously offered online. While some may scoff at paying for a book that pads its length with content freely available elsewhere, I appreciated having these organized in physical media and not having to use a tablet or printout when you want a quick new setup.
There are some really interesting elements to these new scenarios as they utilize expansions and even more esoteric options such as a scenario supporting those who have two sets of the Core Space terrain. Scenarios are the beating heart of this system as the rules are relatively simple and straightforward. Each mission, however, presents new challenges and integrates content in variable ways to establish the dynamic environment during play.
Let’s circle back to the new NPCs. Both sets are superb additions to this line. You can substitute workers in for civilians whenever you’d like, or simply play some of the scenarios that are focused on them. Scavengers are even more wild as they dart around the map with speed seeking to loot and pillage. They place a heavy timer on the looter-shooter aspect of the game, pressuring you to either forcibly extricate these gatherers or beat them to the supply crates.
I am somewhat conflicted on the overhead required to operate both of these new NPCs. Workers utilize the civilian die but they have a new chart. Scavengers have a set of priorities and it’s relatively straightforward. Subbing them in for a game or two is no issue, however, there is a bit of a learning curve. Additionally, there is no reference sheet or even PDF you can print of this new AI behavior, so you’re left making your own or constantly flipping between pages until you have it all memorized. A simple cardstock sheet with all of the main Dangerous Days additions would have been extremely helpful. The issue is Battlesystems can’t really offer this support post-release as the new campaign rules form a big pull in actually buying the product.
Of lesser concern is that I find the Scavengers flight behavior a bit off-putting. If you attack them but fail to secure a kill, they immediately drop a flashbang and disappear. This is relatively clean and from a design standpoint it keeps play moving, which I can certainly appreciate. But it’s a bit unsatisfying and feels clunky from a narrative point of view. This is a smaller quibble overall but it really highlights the demeanor of this second season of content: the system, perhaps by necessity, is moving further into the miniatures game realm.
The Core Space base game really straddles the line between miniatures and board game. It offers a bit of both, stretching the boundaries of its influences and offering a relatively unique experience. Because it’s so self-contained and fulfilling as a single purchase, it comes across looking better than competition such as Necromunda or Frostgrave.
But now, in order to expand into new areas of interest and widen the scope of the game it’s become a bit more flimsy. With Dangerous Days there is more load placed on the group to make shared decisions. There are references to players deciding whether a particular act of heroism is worth a career point for hardened veterans for instance. We also see this leaned into with the Anarchy rules detailing using gangers instead of Purge on the threat track. There are also a few edge cases and odd interactions with the new NPC types that may require adjudication.
On the surface this is a different type of product to the previous expansion content. Shootout at Zed’s and The Galactic Corps feel more like big box board game expansions akin to a Descent extension. Dangerous Days pushes beyond those boundaries and isn’t afraid to unfurl its feathers.
All of this new content still works and works well. I do find that a massive door has been opened to allow the role of a GM to be filled. This isn’t a requirement, but it’s obvious many of the subtleties of the new sub-systems would perform most fluidly with a third party as the central processing unit.
What if you don’t care about any of this? What if you haven’t seen your game group in nearly a year because COVID has turned the world over? Well, much like Zeds and Galactic Corps, this new stuff offers a tremendous value to solo gamers.
Scavengers in particular really fit the function of pushing your engine. You need to stay in top gear to compete and it further leverages the excellent framework of the game to support these dynamic environments that feel alive. The only niggle with solitaire (or cooperative) play in Core Space is that it can occasionally be too relaxed, too comfortable. That’s become less and less the case over time.
The rogue Purge themselves are also fantastic as a sort of surprise situation. I prefer to just mix all of my event cards together so when they do appear it’s a rare and significant event. A fresh story emerges and no one knows what’s about to happen.
I haven’t even discussed the fact that you can play as a rogue Purge crew. Yes, it’s wild and the designers here actually fulfilled that difficult promise. You begin as an errant Live One and can break down and reprogram all of the different types of machines. You will accrue a small team of Harvestors, Devastators, and even an Assassin. The most pleasing bit here is the ability to steal Mother’s spider drones if you also have the Outbreak expansion content.
This Rogue Purge campaign is not a throw-in. Like most of the content here it’s well thought out and fully supported with only a couple of pages of rules. There’s even a subsystem of scavenging gear and building new Purge-specific equipment out of the offal.
Physically, this is the quality material we’ve come to expect from Battlesystems for the most part. The illustrations are lovely, the layout of rules and tokens is excellent, and the miniatures themselves are the strongest they’ve produced in terms of detail. That last bit, however, comes at a cost.
The publisher was unsure of how well this would be received as it’s the first expansion content that wasn’t propped up with a Kickstarter campaign. Thus, they opted to go with resin casts to minimize the cost and produce a smaller run. The fallout here is that the minis need to be assembled and are somewhat harder to work with than the plastic we’ve become accustomed to. The detail is sharper though, which is a tradeoff that may be worth it. Most of the figures consist of three parts and are relatively easy to build. You do need to be careful though and will of course need the necessary tools such as glue and a hobby knife.
Ultimately, this expansion highlights the success of supporting your game and responding to its deficiencies over time. It’s commonplace to find a fresh new miniatures heavy game hitting Kickstarter each and every day. The vast bulk of these titles offer a huge swathe of expansions, the equivalent of multiple years worth of content and all developed at the same time as the base box. For most of these games that’s all they will ever get.
Core Space still feels as though its an evolving long-term vision. The system has been adjusted and tweaked over time to get to its current state. It’s a passion project whose fervor bleeds through each inch of cardboard and plastic. If anything, I find myself more confident in this team’s ability to surpass expectations and deliver upon one of the best miniatures games of all time.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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A great review of a great game.
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