If you are looking to hop into a spaceship and engage in a dogfight, tabletop gamers don’t have any shortage of options. From licensed games like X-Wing or Armada, to more classic hex and counter games like Talon from GMT, chances are you’ll find something to scratch that itch.
Today though, we are going to look at Snap Ships Tactics. A newcomer into the genre that realizes, hey, sometimes you just want to play with cool-looking ships and have fun. Plus, you get to engage your inner builder. Sign me up!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t first mention that unlike pretty much every other skirmish game out there, the first thing you have to do in Snap Ships Tactics is build your ship. No, I’m not talking about cutting plastic off sprues and gluing things up. I’m talking a full on LEGO-style building of your ship. Much like is suggested in its title, Snap Ships Tactics has you building your ships ahead of time, either via the instruction manual, or just customizing the look to your heart’s content.
Once that’s done, then the gameplay fires up its 1v1 skirmish mode (at least for the starter set). Each ship will have a dashboard composed of a chassis and a number of add-on modules (guns, engines, wings, etc.). The goal, of course, is to destroy your opponent’s ship.
On a player’s turn, they first must take any actions listed on their chassis card. This is usually resetting your evade number back to its default, venting 5 cubes, and taking a forced move action. After that, it’s up to you what you want to do. You can activate any parts on your ship you like until you run out of cubes to spend. These will do things like letting you take extra moves, turning your ship, or attacking your enemy.
Combat is fairly simple, there are a few range bands, and as long as you are in range, you can roll the dice listed on the card. Usually, you have to roll higher than a base number plus the target ship’s evasion value. Doing so will cause a hit to the ship’s hull. Each die also has a critical hit side which, in addition to doing a point of damage, will disable one of the target’s add-on cards.
Turns will go back and forth like this until one ship is space dust.
Snap Ships Tactics is almost two games in one. The first bit is building your ship. If you are a fan of LEGO-type construction, you will love what you have to work with here. The parts connect very well and stay together solidly. It’s always a risk with new games like this because if your gimmick doesn’t work, then the whole house of cards comes crashing down. Fortunately, it works really well for Snap Ships Tactics. You can build according to the guide books or just get creative and build a monstrosity of death.
However, the actual rules do say that your ship must be a 1:1 representative of the cards on your dashboard. So if you have an auto cannon, your ship needs to have the actual piece on the ship miniature. Now for me, I’ll probably file this rule in the same place I do with Games Workshop’s rule that all minis must be assembled and painted to play. If I’m in a tournament or organized play at my FLGS, it makes total sense. But for home play, we rarely rebuilt our ships between matches after changing the load out.
However, I must say Snap Ships Tactics,l isn’t just a fun toy. The gameplay rules are actually quite good. While many skirmish games come down to positioning and dice rolling, Snap Ships Tactics also requires a bit of resource management. You have about 7 action cubes to use each round, but your ship only vents 5 of those. And on top of that, some of the more powerful abilities also generate heat cubes, which only act as a delaying mechanism to slow down your use. So if you go all in one round spending 6 cubes and generating 5 heat, it will be at least two rounds before you are cleared off again. And as cards can’t be used when there are cubes on them, decisions will have to be made as to what parts are venting each round. It’s a clever mechanicsm that really keeps the game interesting.
That being said, there is still dice rolling in the game and even the most tactical player is going to be subject to the whims of the dice. So on that front, the game can be quite swingy. If your opponent rolls 3 crits on 6 dice with an attack, you are going to be in bad shape. I do like that you can spend cubes to repair parts, so even if your primary weapon gets taken out by an ill-timed critical hit, you aren’t out of the battle.
Speaking of, it does feel a bit like a missed opportunity to not have pieces blown off your shop when damaged. I could see a gameplay mode where there are no repairing parts and when your missile pod gets destroyed, it gets removed from your ship as well (a la Galaxy Trucker). In fact, Catalyst Games should license this technology and make a light BattleTech Game where you can have pieces of your Mech fly off when destroyed.
Overall I’ve been really enjoying Snap Ships Tactics. My biggest complaint is probably with the scale of the pieces. It feels really weird to say (especially for an admitted component addict) that the ships just feel too big. They are bulky and seem to get all the way across the 3’x3′ play area in almost no time at all. It also means that you will be crashing into stuff quite often. Honestly, I almost wish they would have scaled things down by 75% or so, just to make the game a bit more manageable.
Finally, I should mention the alternate play modes. The game comes with an AI deck for solo or cooperative play. The system actually works quite well and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve actually lost to the AI a number of times. Definitely need to work on my tactics.
Snap Ships Tactics, despite being a relative newcomer to the genre, really did an amazing job with their first offering. The pieces are wonderfully made, the ruleset is silky smooth, and overall it’s just a lot of fun. My biggest gripe probably comes from the fact that this is just a starter set, so you only get 2 ships and a handful of component cards. You will need to buy some add-ons to fully customize your ship or experience multi-ship combat.
But even as a way to just check out the gameplay and see if it’s for you, Snap Ships Tactics works great. If you are looking for a light skirmish game with a toy factor set to 11, this one is definitely one of the most innovative games we’ve seen in a while.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great new entry into the skirmish genre that has both entertaining mechanics and an amazing toy factor.
• Ships are just a bit too large
• Pieces don’t actually get blown off