A couple of years ago while wandering around PAX East Matt and I saw an Unpub booth and decided to help a designer out by playtesting their prototype. We found an open table upon which sat a surprisingly polished-looking design. The art was surprisingly good. Like, finished, published game levels of good. I saw some familiar elements: pawns and dice and cubes and a grid of square playing spaces that called to mind Forbidden Desert. It’s a co-op game? Ok, I know what’s going on here.
I’d never played a prototype for the purpose of giving feedback before, and I suspect that my long winded and highfalutin comments weren’t greatly appreciated, but we talked about the design for a while and now, a couple of years later, I’ve got a prototype copy of FAZA right next to me, it’s on Kickstarter, and I’m here to show it off.
Here’s the situation: the world has been invaded by 50’s sci-fi style aliens and, as is tradition, only you and between 1 and 3 of your friends can stop them. Ben Farahmand has included a healthy amount of variety and asymmetry in FAZA. Each of the four colors have two different characters to choose from with different special abilities.
And each character set has slightly different set of basic action cards.
During the player’s turn there’s essentially no structure, and everyone can play any of their actions in any order. Because of this, FAZA fits firmly within the “collective puzzle” style of cooperative game with no hesitation and no apologies. Players are instructed to keep their action cards on the table and encouraged to think through a collective gameplan together.
The goal is to take down the three motherships before they destroy one of the players, fazaform too much land, or deploy too many drones. The drones are particularly annoying, swarming around like pesky mosquitos, constantly messing up your plans. Most critically, you can’t move out of a space that contains drones, so you need to fight. Fighting is a free action, and it involves a simple die roll where your odds of success are at a clean 50/50. That can be modified by using weapons or being on familiar terrain (areas that match your player color). Fighting drones is tough, but each kill gives you a “point” you can spend on certain special abilities, or you can always spend 2 points as a free action to recruit a rebel to assist you in your battle.
Once you’ve cleared out the drones in your way you’re ready to make an assault on one of the motherships. To do that you’ll need to help of rebels: aliens converted to your side who can take out the motherships from within. Simply send one up as a free action, drop the mothership’s health by one, and draw a Faza card from the deck.
The Faza cards can be nasty. They represent the response from the mothership from being attacked, and while some provide positive benefits (a sort of “rally the troops!” moment), most are going to hurt. Aliens don’t respond well to being attacked. Who knew?
The player’s turn is surprisingly robust. Especially at 3 or 4 players you’re going to be able to accomplish a lot during one round if you prioritize your actions well. This is one of those games that embraces its puzzly nature and encourages you to pick apart every action and try to find the optimal play. You can certainly take a more casual approach with the lower difficulties, but if you crank up the challenge you’ll be suitably rewarded with a tough time.
Part of the challenge is factoring in what the motherships do on their turn. They each have a simple AI that prioritizes different things. One wants to hunt down and kill players, another deploys swaths of drones, and the third fazaforms everything in its path, destroying terrain and potentially making it deadly to traverse.
As you take damage trying to fight off the invading threat, you’ll flip over your action cards to their weaker side, making it even harder to fight effectively. Not only will you probably want to find a way to heal yourself, but what you can do is limited as well.
If you’re a fan of traditional co-op games like Pandemic, FAZA is right along those same lines and has a bit more meat on its bones. If you want to really collaborate with others to weigh your options, order your actions wisely, and figure out when and where to press your luck, this is the game for you. I know Ben’s put in a lot of work to make FAZA as good as it can be, and it shows. A couple of weeks ago I got to demo the game at a local event. The last group to play was so immersed in the experience that they stood up and cheered when the last mothership fell. They excitedly asked if the game was available to purchase right then and there. “Not yet, but soon”, I informed them. Guess what? It’s on Kickstarter right now, through July 25.
Preview copy provided by publisher.