Project Pandora: Grim Cargo is the first sci-fi dungeoncrawl boardgame from Mantic Games. The mechanics of the game are very similar to those for the Dwarf Kings Hold series from the same manufacturer.
I am a fan of dungeoncrawl boardgames and sci-fi dungeoncrawls in particular. I havent played every dungeoncrawl game out there, but I have played plenty.
At the time of writing I have only played four games of Project Pandora , which is a bit early to base a 100% conclusion on to be honest. So far it has been good fun and a good addition to my already dungeoncrawl heavy boardgame collection.
Project Pandora: Grim Cargo is supplied with twenty miniatures, ten Corporation Marines (Colonial Marine/Mobile Infantry/Imperial Guard type humans) and ten Veer-myn (space ratmen).
The figures game are made from a rigid resin with a plastic-y texture and are very nice in terms of detail. While the miniatures in Fantasy Flight games have become far better in quality over the years (the Gears of War figures being the best FFG figs that I have seen so far) the figures in PP:GC are more crisp and of better quality than those. Its not that surprising considering that the game comes from a dedicated miniatures manufacturer, but its worth noting.
The figures require assembly and dont slot together sufficiently well to be able to play with straight out of the box. Getting Pandora ready to play takes nothing like the amount of work required to get something like Dreadfleet or Space Hulk 3rd edition up and running for example, but it is worth noting for those who are all thumbs.
Also of note is that an exploded diagram of the components is not supplied, so it might take a little bit of fiddling to work out which pieces go where. I looked up some photos on the Mantic site to confirm a few things while I was assembling my miniatures. It wasnt a big hassle for me and I see that sort of thing as part and parcel of miniature gaming, but I can imagine it being a little more daunting for someone who is coming from a boardgame background. At an estimate, assembling and gluing the figure parts together should take a leisurely hour or so in front of the TV I reckon.
The card components feature nice artwork and are perfectly adequate, but in a post Space Hulk 3rd edition world full of games like Gears of War and Claustrophobia they are not going to blow your mind. You wont mistake this game for an FFG one for example.
The tiles are a little bit thin. Apparently they are thicker than those used in Dwarf Kings Hold, but they are still a lot thinner than the tiles in most modern games such as Descent: Journeys in the Dark or the like. Again, its not a deal breaker for me but if you tend to be very rough on your game components then maybe its worth thinking about.
The boards are not designed to connect together like a jigsaw as they are in many similar games like Space Hulk or Descent: Journeys in the Dark: the Grim Cargo boards just butt up together like those in the Gears of War boardgame.
Obviously it would be better if the boards did jig together, but it didn’t cause me any significant problems. Maybe if you tend to play in a Teflon factory or while off-roading near a major fault line it might be an issue, but on my felt covered table it wasn’t a problem.
Players are supplied with nine order chits each. Players alternate selecting and using one chit each turn. Each chit allows the player to move or shoot or take a “special” action with a small number of their miniatures.
Once a chit has been used it cannot be used again until the player essentially misses a turn, which then resets his hand of chits.
Each side has a unique spread of chits, including chits that allow them to do something characteristic to that force (the ratmen swarm forward to overwhelm in close combat while the humans gain opportunity fire for example).
The dice mechanics involve opposed rolling of dice and comparing each players scores in descending order. Modifiers effect the number of dice rolled rather than the results on the dice, which makes combat resolution both fast and straightforward. I dislike games with lots of fiddly modified results and Project Pandora: Grim Cargo avoids this.
Scenarios dictate the forces, maps and objectives for each game, as is pretty standard for the genre.
I have played only four games of Grim Cargo so far, the first with a guy demoing it at the Salute Wargames show in London a couple of weeks ago and the remaining three at home.
I have enjoyed playing it so far. The system for choosing and replenishing orders is fun to use and makes for some awkward decisions. Also, as the orders are significantly different to the usual action point systems used in dungeoncrawl games it makes the game feel different to the other sci-fi dungeoncrawls on my shelf. That is just fine with me. In itself that is a good enough reason for me to have this game in my collection.
Also of note is that the classic Space Hulk style, few-against-endless-horde format isnt quite what players get here. The veer-myn get reinforcements alright, but only from a limited pool. That reinforcement pool is replenished with veer-myn killed in the game, but only if the veer-myn are killed under certain in game conditions (usually the veer-myn has to buy the farm on a tile designated as “Dark” in order to qualify). These conditions can be manipulated by both players, which is quite fun.
This conditional re-spawn combined with the fact that the veer-myn have ranged attacks helps to make the veer-myn more interesting to play than say genestealers in Space Hulk or zombies in Last Night on Earth. It also helps PP:GC to stand out a little from some of the other similar games around.
As an enthusiastic miniatures painter I was very happy with the figures in the game. The cardboard components are not as nice as I have come to expect in modern boardgames, but they are more than adequate all the same.
The gameplay is streamlined, fast and fun and I am happy to have Project Pandora sitting alongside my other similar games. I am hopeful that I will be picking up further additions to the series featuring Forgefathers, Plague, Marauders and the like in the not too distant future.