Rogue Angels Preview
I’ve been into video games since I was old enough to press the squishy keys on my ZX Spectrum 48K. One of my favourite franchises is the Mass Effect series of games. They’re campaign games full of sci-fi action, character development, and epic space opera storylines. Awesome stuff. So when designer Emil Larsen got in touch about his board game, Rogue Angels, which he described as ‘What if Mass Effect was a board game?’, let’s say that he got my attention. I’ve played through several hours of the included campaign now, and I’ve got to tell you, it actually lives up to the claim. Rogue Angels is Mass Effect: The Board Game in all but name.
There’s a part of me that wants to draw comparisons to Mass Effect all the way through this preview, but that would be both disingenuous and doing an injustice to Rogue Angels. The concept for the game is great. A sweeping intergalactic story plonks you – the heroes – smack bang in the middle of it. I’m not going to delve too far into the story because the whole point of the game is to discover that for yourself. On top of that, what happened to me in my plays might end up being completely different to yours.
You see, one of the big draws of the game, and one of the things which draw more comparisons with the aforementioned video game, is the way the story changes based on the decisions you make. You get the same thing right from the first scenario in Rogue Angels. It’s great to have a game where there isn’t a single win condition every time you play. You might get the option of escaping or killing all the bad guys, and the choice you make shapes the story. Choices shape the story directly and indirectly, which is the kind of thing which raises your investment in a game, and Rogue Angels does it really well.
Building a legacy
I really like the legacy folders that come in the game. These little folios not only give you somewhere to keep your character’s board and cards, but also track things like your relationships with other characters. Some decisions will move towards making you closer, and some will drive an irreconcilable wedge between them, and these things again play into the story, options, and choices later in the campaign.
I was playing with a prototype copy of the game which has to go to several reviewers, so my changes happened on a colour photocopy I made, but even doing things this way felt personal and gave me that level of connection with my character. Apparently, the stickers which customise your cards with new abilities are re-applicable – how cool is that? It seems that publishers might finally be listening to players and not forcing them to go for after-market options like the removable sticker sets you can get for Gloomhaven.
The last time I felt this level of connection to my character was with Aeon’s End: Legacy (review here), which is my favourite campaign/legacy game yet. Speaking of cards, I want to give a mention to the card system in the game. There are four slots at the bottom of your board, and each card has a value on it. To play a card you have to be able to place it in the matching numbered slot, which requires a little forethought. In a nod to video games, each ability has a cooldown, and this is represented by the cards being moved a step to the left each turn, until they come off the end of your board and back to your hand. I really like this, it’s both tactical and a nice tie back to the inspiration it draws from.
Bang for your buck
Once I got stuck into everything that came in the box, I was blown away at just how much there is to the game. Not in terms of hundreds of minis you might only see once, but in the size of the campaign and map books. There’s a crazy amount of world-building, story-writing, and attention to detail. Page after page after page of new places for the action to take place, an unfurling narrative, and the writing is excellent.
I’ve been spoiled when it comes to narrative in games. I spent a lot of time playing through The Baker Street Irregulars (review here) which had phenomenal writing throughout, so games have a lot to live to. Rogue Angels does a great job. Sci-fi and fantasy can so easily become derivative and boring, but I was completely invested in what was going on. Part of that comes from the game refusing to sugar-coat anything. I won’t give too much away here, but after the second or third mission, I had a really horrible choice to make. From then on it coloured the way I felt about one of the senior figures on my ship.
Choices like this get stuck in your head, and it becomes the difference between a good campaign and a mediocre one. When you play a game which revolves around the same type of action scenes, sometimes hundreds of times, the story is what keeps you coming back. You’ll know how to move, what your attacks can do, and how your characters best work together, but a good narrative keeps it interesting and means you want to see how it plays out, and what happens in the end.
Generally speaking, campaign games aren’t my thing. If you’ve been visiting here for a while, you’ll know that. I just had to reach out and try Rogue Angels though, and I’m really glad I did. Firstly, it’s a pleasant change to play one which isn’t based on fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy, it’s just been done to death, and it was great to delve into some campaign sci-fi for a while. My biggest problem with sci-fi and fantasy is buying into yet another universe, but I love the Rogue Angels setting. The writing is superb and very atmospheric.
I love how combat works. The card slot system is great, and it genuinely feels like the cooldown systems used in turn-based and action RPGs. I said at the top that I didn’t want to keep comparing it to Mass Effect, but it’s hard not to. The branching story, the character development, and the relationships between characters are handled so nicely. Saving your game is a breeze, and setup and teardown are both quick and easy too.
The biggest caveat I have is around the components and their quality. I’ve been playing with a proper homemade prototype. Card standees in repurposed stands, a map book made of bound printer paper, dice with stickers on – that kind of thing. Obviously, this doesn’t impact the quality of the game, which is sound, but I know how important those details can be to these games. The presentation can affect a person’s buy-in to a game and its universe. Keep an eye on the Kickstarter page and official game site to find out more about that as and when more is announced.
Overall, Rogue Angels is a fantastic sci-fi campaign that honestly lives up to its billing as Mass Effect in all but name. Brilliant stuff.
Preview copy provided by Sun Tzu Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Rogue Angels: Legacy of the Burning Suns (2023)
Design: Emil Larsen
Publisher: Sun Tzu Games
Art: Dinulescu Alexandru, Linggar Bramanty, Przemek Kozlowski
Playing time: 60-120 mins