Black Angel

1-4 players, Competitive, A.I. Managed Dice Placement

Designer: Sebastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, Alain Orban

Artwork: Ian O’Toole

Publisher: Pearl Games

Preface

Black Angel originally caught my eye due to the colorful boards. I usually go wild for bright and vibrant colors like a hummingbird goes wild for that sweet, sweet liquid sugar. As I researched the game I discovered the theme was really cool as well, which was enough for me to take the plunge. I’m always up for playing a variety of games and I usually opt for more thematic games over those thinky, crunchy euros. With that said, let’s take a look at my overall thoughts of the game!

Overview of Gameplay

This game has players each controlling an Artificial Intelligence aboard the space ship “Black Angel”. Your job is to ensure the most efficient management of the ship while it journeys to a new home planet for humanity. I mean already the theme sounds cool. So to do that players will be operating on three different areas, their personal player board, the “mainframe” board and the space board.

Each A.I. (player) will use their personal player board to slot in new command tiles that can be activated for various uses such as gaining them extra resources or robots etc. These are critical to gaining more of those precious VP’s as well. The mainframe board is where all the little robots for each player are at work performing the various tasks the ship requires. For this board each player will roll dice each round equal to the number of robots they have working the various sections. Then the players will pop the dice in their specific storage area on the board to use later during their turns. The number rolled and the color of each die represents how many actions they can take and exactly WHAT action can be performed. These actions can range from collecting more tiles for your personal player board to exploring the space around the Black Angel ship. Which brings us to the next board…….

The Space board is the final of the three areas to manage. This board is comprised of many smaller “tiled” boards pushed together to form an ongoing space area that the Black Angel is traveling through to reach the home planet.  Here you will be sending out your robots to explore the areas around the ship. You do this by flying out and placing mission cards on same colored areas that match whatever die you used to complete the action. You will then receive a bonus for controlling the card AND depending on the card, you can either activate it later to gain another bonus or wait till it slides off the bottom of the board to gain an increased bonus, which I’ll explain below.

So players will take turns doing these things basically until they run out of dice to spend on actions. Once this happens they can run Sub-Routine “B” which allows them to re-roll their dice, clear out any placed mission cards next to their player boards which were used to activate tiles AND progress the Black Angels travels to the planet. You do this by snatching up the very bottom Space board tile, flipping it over to reveal a different arrangement of exploration areas, and then placing it at the very top of the Space board and then moving the Black Angel ship mini forward one hex. Doing this activates all sorts of interesting things. For one this progress the game closer to the end as there is a tiny little token at the very top space board tile at the beginning of the game. As players cycle through these tiles, that space token moves further and further down the space board. Once it reaches the bottom, the planet (and end game) is in sight!

Another thing this does is slides off any mission cards and robots that were stationed on that bottom tile. This activates those particular mission cards that ONLY give bonuses for sliding off the board, so players that control those immediately reap those benefits. Of course any robots or little ships are lost back to the supply, only to be recruited again later on. These mission cards are then returned to the players that placed them originally to be scored at the end of the game.

And that’s more or less the gist of the game. The end game is triggered either when the Black Angel reaches the planet during that second sub-routine OR all the ravager cards are drawn out of the deck, which basically means those vile aliens have overrun the ship. Either way, players take one more round and then you calculate end game victory points (which in this game are actually called “Validation Processes”, clever). IF the Black Angel reached the planet, players can get extra VP’s by exchanging extra robots, resources and ships they may have on hand. But of not then those are worth nothing at the end game. Whichever A.I. has the most VP’s wins the game!

Components/Game Board

Great components all around. Let’s see there are these fun little robot minis in four different player colors that can also be placed inside these fun little gray spaceship minis when exploring outside the main ship. There are some pretty standard plastic red cubes to signify damage to the ship and some tiny little clear plastic gems to be used as a resource. The Black Angel mini itself has a clear stand and it is mainly just used to determine distance (timing?) from the games end. The dice have a nice feel to them as well although they used a big “Star” icon to represent a Zero on the dice which feels weird to me. Like the first feeling I get when I see a star is joy, perhaps it’s because of all the gold stars I received as a child *gushes*. In any case, now when I see this star the first thing I think is, “great, I’m a failure”.

The different game boards are all excellent with those luscious bright vibrant colors which really brings out a much more vivid outlook of space rather than the usual blacks. I really love the space board and how it’s used. The act of moving the bottom portion to the top whilst flipping it to signify the ship moving is amazing. And all the unique actions that trigger such as activating some of the mission cards is just icing on the cake with this. The mainframe board is also super intuitive with how you place dice on certain actions and the use of iconography on the board is super handy. The rounded VP tracker around all this looks great and blends in with the design of the board perfectly as well.

The player boards however are a little less intuitive. These are mostly comprised of nine slots for active tiles, three slot for advanced tiles and three areas for your resources of debris, gems and ships. And all that is fine and dandy, it’s the seemingly small things though that create a bit of confusion. Such as when sliding tiles on the board you will “push” other tiles in certain directions. Now of course this is all part of the larger puzzle of action activation but eventually you can “push” tiles off your board. But it doesn’t specify where or how so it would be nice to have some indication, an icon or anything, ON the player boards to show this. Also there is a small section with some iconography for the general player turn but this ends up basically trying to explain some complex actions in such a simple way that it makes it even more confusing.

Box/Storage

The first thing I noticed was just how sturdy the box is. I mean they really went above and beyond on the box side walls as it feels VERY premium. It has a heaviness to it that belies its size for sure. On the inside there are some sturdy cardboard sections to store your components along with a generous amount of included baggies to bag up all the punched out resources. Publishers take note, if you are not going to have an insert designed around storage AT LEAST provide baggies like this. In any case, kudos on the storage and box.

Visual Appeal /Theme

These are the main things that attracted me to the game in the first place and I’ll say they did not disappoint. Visually the game is gorgeous with all the incredibly vibrant colors. ALTHOUGH I will say for the player colors I wish they would have went with something a little more different between pink and red. I can tell them apart easily enough but at the same time they are almost TOO similar but that’s a super minor nitpick.

The theme is just incredible. Humanity is gone but before they perished they at least were able to create the Black Angel and store vast amounts of human DNA to at least ensure the survival of the race. They also created a super intelligent A.I. to control the space ship on its journey BUT of course they couldn’t agree on which nations A.I. would control it….(humans amirite?). Which now brings us to the game where we have humans in the real world pretending to be A.I.’s managing an intergalactic space ship en route to a planet to restart the human race. Love it.

Rulebook

This rulebook is SUCH a quandary. What I mean by that is, for the information that is written, it is written VERY well. And the layout is one of the best. I mean you have color coded sections with nice, easy to read headers. You have a beginning components list, the setup section is easy to understand has visual references with numbered bullet points. All the rules are laid out perfectly to explain the game in a nice cohesive manner AND there are pictures and examples galore. There are also some nice player aid cards that have really helped with learning the game.

BUT, there are quite a few missing rules and omissions. I think I have noticed it more with this game in particular just because of the complexity of the game but I have had to visit the internet a few times to ask questions and search for answers. Also there is a bunch of iconography in this game which of course increases the learning curve a bit. This is mostly a non-issue as there is an insert that details ALL the iconography and what actions they represent. However even though this guide details what they do there are certain specifics that I couldn’t find anywhere. Such as the little icon for the robot. Now my first thought is that I gain a robot…..but this is not such a simple game. Where go I gain it from? The supply? The break room area on the board? I flipped all over the rulebook but could never find confirmation of this. There are more than a few little instances like that where it’s assumed you know, but you’re just not quite certain.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

The game does an interesting job at creating player interaction. I mean simple actions like taking a new action tile for your player board might neglect other players that specific tile. When you choose a die to place on the main board you can nab one of the other player’s dice that may have rolled a higher number to get those delicious extra actions. Of course this will cost you a resource that you have to pay to them in exchange…..which they could turn around and use to place later die rolls into their dice security vault which completely prevents other players from stealing from. You could be the first to place a mission card on specific spots outside the ship and if it’s one of the activation types this might lure in other players to also visit your card to reap some benefits, but you also gain stuff for them using your cards.

So for the most part there are quite a few interactions with other players to be had all around…BUT I can see this game having some horrendous analysis paralysis issues with some players. Starting out each player only has three different starting tiles on their player board so nothing major here with the decision making. However as the game progresses players will be adding more and more tiles of varying abilities and colors to their boards in a very specific way. This determines which tiles get pushed off, which tiles can be activated based on what color card you choose to play at what angle. There can be SO many different choices that go into this one seemingly simple action its crazy. And then even after that choosing which die to place on which action on the main board can have a crazy ripple effect. For example you want to take a certain action BUT there are ravager cards on that action SO you have to discard a card (as an example) unless you want to LOSE VP to take the action. But hmmmmm you could do the action that removes ravager cards instead…..BUT there are two damage cubes on that action so your die that you place is worth one less which means one less action…..

That is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the choices you will need to make in this game. Of course the less the player count, the less this becomes an issue. Either way it’s a super fun game that really gets your brain going to try and maximize your efficiency.

Optimal Player Count/Replay Value

Personally I really enjoy the solo game that is included. You have all the time in the world to contemplate your choices as the actual A.I. player knows no impatience. Of course that’s not to say the two player isn’t any good. At two players the AP feels lessened, as you wait you can kinda plan out what you are going to do next. Three is getting iffy and I’m not a fan of four players as the wait between turns would be a little longer than I prefer later in the game. Now of course if you are playing with others that are snappy with their decisions this is a non-issue.

The replay value is so-so. There are a few different kinds of tech tiles that can be placed and the changes to the space board based on which side of the tiles you use differs a bit. And the cards you draw and choose to use for either missions or player board tile activation’s will certainly differ between plays. But for the most part it’s the same every time with no real difference between one game and the next. I mean you are always activating tiles to gain or move something. The actions on the main board are always the same six actions etc. Players always start with the exact same tiles with the only starting difference being that players further back in play order get a few more starting resources than beginning players as a way to balance the game.

Now that said, even though the replayability isn’t super game changing I can see this being a game that I would pull out over and over JUST because the decisions are so tight and deliciously crunchy. Everything you do has an effect on something else and those ripple effects are what make this game such a treat to play.

The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction

Positive Final Thoughts

I love the theme and gorgeous artwork and colors. And I love how the gameplay integrates with the theme perfectly to create this very tight, brain burning game that just unleashes the choices on you. The components are very well done and when combined with the different boards, really creates a unique and alluring table presentation that always catches the eye.

Negative Final Thoughts

Even though the rulebook is very well put together it is missing small little details here and there explaining certain things. Also kind of a side effect of having so many great choices in this game is that the many choices also bring along some analysis paralysis. Turns can become quite lengthy when playing with certain players at higher player counts.

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