Today, Gameosity sets out to fight interstellar bugs in Space Infantry, a solitaire game from designer Gottardo Zancani and Lock’n Load Publishing. Well, not necessarily bugs. It could be religious fanatics. Or venomous space plants. Or mutants. Or even just mercenaries. Really, we aren’t that picky. If they’re between us and our objective, we’ll use all the ordinance at our disposal to permanently remove them or die trying.
The latter is much more likely.
Space Infantry is all about controlling (and occasionally managing) a squad of “totally not Warhammer 40K, or Starcraft for that matter” space marines in a series of increasingly difficult missions. Missions that include rescuing stranded scientists, hunting a large worm-like creature, and more. Eight in all, actually, and there are six different enemy factions to deal with (which can be picked intentionally or randomly selected) to keep things fresh. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but who you fight in a given scenario can make a big difference.
Many of the components, honestly, are kind of “meh.” The artwork is totally fine, and the various sheets and cards look nice, but nothing feels particularly sturdy. In fact the scenario maps and the enemy tracking sheets are pretty flimsy – they’re like slightly thicker than normal paper, really. This doesn’t actually hinder the game per se, but I feel like I’m walking on eggshells whenever I set up or repackage everything. Even the box feels somewhat structurally thin. However the tokens, of which there are many, are decent enough.
The bulk of Space Infantry’s gameplay revolves around making skill checks, which is done by randomly drawing from a set of numbered tokens. If the section of the map you need to enter requires “Advance,” you draw for every soldier with the Advance skill. If you’re in melee combat, everyone draws for their Melee skill. Each time a number that’s equal to or higher than their skill’s value is drawn it counts as a success (multiples count as well, so if you need a 3 and draw a 6, that’s two successes), and the more you can wrack up the better.
It’s admittedly a little hands-off at times, but there are a lot of little decisions that can make a real difference. The soldiers you choose to bring along, the enemies you fight against, the items you carry (and/or use), and the route you decide to take could all very well mean the difference between success and failure. Sure in the end it comes down to the numbers you draw, but proper planning and tactics are still plenty important.
What’s most impressive about Space Infantry is how many ways it allows you to play. You can play through the missions one at a time, in any order you’d like, just to see if you can make it through. There are also six different Hive missions, which use randomized map tiles (also included in the box) and more complex rules for things like using light to see what’s around you and narrow passages that limit the number of troops you can use. There’s a Campaign mode in which you pick a squad and run through all the missions, in order, with soldiers gaining experience and new skills as you progress. Finally, there are also a number of special rules you can use (or not) in every mode, such as keeping track of ammo and issuing special orders. To say there’s a lot of variety in this box would be a bit of an understatement.
While Space Infantry isn’t my favorite solitaire game, mostly because there are just so many amazing examples out there, it’s very good all the same. It’s pretty thematic too, despite the fact that it’ all sheets and tokens. I’ve had games where my squad just barely managed to complete their objective while being dogged by highly trained mercenaries the whole time, squeaking by with one or two turns left on the timer. Then I’ve had games, one that was quite recent actually, where six out of seven soldiers ended up dead after an extremely rough battle with carnivorous plants (even grenades didn’t help). My wounded shotgunner had to drag himself to the final location in an attempt to finish the mission, but I’d spent too many turns restocking on grenades and ran out of time with the objective in sight. It was painful, but it was also fantastic.
I wouldn’t mind some nicer (or at least more durable) components, but I’m still quite happy to have Space Infantry in my collection. It’s plenty entertaining in its own right, but it also offers so much variety that there’s bound to be something for almost anyone with an interest in either solitaire games or the sci-fi genre.