Board games, the final frontier. These are the voyages of me, trying Star Trek board games. Boldly going where many have gone before. I’ve tried many Star Trek games over the years… to mixed results. There’s been Star Trek: The Next Generation Game of the Galaxies (no, I still am not sure how to play it 30 years later), Star Trek: The Deck-building Game (not bad, but not all that unique), Star Trek: Attack Wing (one of my most played games), and more.
As Star Trek: Away Missions is a miniatures game like Attack Wing, but on a personnel level rather than starship level, I had high hopes, but hopes don’t mean much if the game can’t deliver, so it was time to add another Star Trek game to the list.
It is a game for 2 players (though expansions or additional core sets do allow eventual player count increases), and it plays in 90 minutes.
In this core set, you either play as the Federation (featuring characters from the Enterprise-D), or as the Borg led by the assimilated Captain Picard, Locutus. In terms of story, this is the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 359 in which a single Borg Cube has wiped out an entire force of Starfleet ships (destroying 39 of the 40 ships). Your away teams are beaming down to the Federation’s wreck or onto the Cube to complete missions and score points within a limited time frame.
This is a miniatures game, so everything revolves around your away team. Each member of your away team has a miniature and a punchboard character card with their stats and abilities. Through the course of the game’s three rounds, your characters might take damage reducing their effectiveness or gain equipment increasing their effectiveness (and likely both). The action all plays out on a set of modular boards, representing important locations like the bridge and engineering on either a Federation or Borg ship (this difference is only aesthetic, and the gameplay is basically the same on either one).
After setting up and beaming down your away teams, the game proceeds in three rounds, each consisting of two phases: Draw and Action.
In the Draw phase, you will refill your hand. There are two types of cards, Mission and Support, which have their own decks. You can draw up to five of each during the draw phase. Mission cards are how you score points and win the game, in combination with a Core Mission chosen during set up. Each will have tasks or skill checks you need to complete to score them. Support cards are equipment, events, and personnel that can help you with these objectives. Their effects are varied. Some are specific, some are more generically useful.
Most of your choices will take place each round during the Action phase. Taking turns, each player will activate one of their characters, completing two actions with that character. Actions include moving, attacking, taking cover, drawing additional cards, and more. Some actions will be on Mission cards, and you can perform them after playing that card in order to work towards completing the Mission. The two actions a character chooses can be the same or different.
It is also possible throughout the course of the game that the away teams will have unequal sizes. In order to keep it balanced, whichever team is smaller in a given round gets a number of bonus action tokens equal to the difference in size of the two teams. For example, if the Federation only has three members compared to the Borg’s five, the Federation would get two bonus actions. These bonus actions can be spent when it is your turn to activate a character, but for only one action instead of two.
The gameplay here is pretty tight. You know how many actions, roughly, you have to complete as many objectives as possible right from the start of the game. You cannot do everything, and while you’re guided by your Core Mission, you can’t plan out exactly what those actions will be because it is also dependent on what you’re able to get from your Mission deck. Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy either, and ideally, you will be trying to disrupt your opponent’s plans (and they will be doing the same to you). With only two actions per character per round, each choice you make matters, but your choices are also not extremely varied, such that you get overwhelmed. Each action you can take is simple and fairly easy to understand.
With this tightness of the action, the game is saved from devolving into just another combat game. Combat is certainly important, and some Mission cards are asking for it (one of the expansions in particular is focused this way). However, while this is a miniatures game, it is not a combat miniatures game. Combat can be a means to an end, but it is generally not the end itself. Most teams win the game by completing their objectives rather than shooting up their opponent. I thought this was very appropriate for the franchise. Sometimes in making a game like this, it is easy to overly accentuate the combat, which can be a detriment since Star Trek is about much more than that. It feels appropriate here that it is a thing that can happen, but you can also win the game without firing a single shot.
The combat is actually the part of the gameplay that can get a little time-consuming as well. It is dice-based, but it can be a little complicated. You have an attack rating that’s based on whatever weapon you choose to use for that attack, and your target has a defense rating. You roll dice equal to those numbers, which is simple enough, but then you line them up on a dice board high-to-low and compare. Hits where the attack number is higher go through, and there can be “uncontested” dice for either attack or defense, depending on who had the higher rating. You can also discard Mission or Support cards to reroll any or all of your dice, which players can keep doing until they are out of cards. It can take some time, and there is a bit of back-and-forth. This ultimately can result in damage to a character. When taking damage, you remove one or more pips from your character card, which lowers your skills and movement. If you have to remove one from a character and they have none, they are neutralized and removed from the game.
There are also opposed skill tests, which function similarly to combat, but without the reroll option, making them go a bit faster. This is good as skill tests are more common. They are needed to actually move your objectives forward, most of the time, whereas attacks are typically just to slow down or derail your opponent’s plans. Often skill tests will need to be done at a certain place on the board (for example, a science terminal on the bridge). This can also lead to them being unopposed, as no opponent might be nearby. Another factor making them go a bit faster.
All of these actions you take are going to be guided by what cards you draw from your Mission and Support decks. The former will be how you score points, and are very important as a result, while the latter can help more with some Missions than with others. Having a piece of equipment in a character’s hands when they are attempting a crucial skill test can make the difference between success and failure, or having a strong weapon could dissuade an opponent from coming near. The Support cards can do many things, and it is hard to overstate their importance. At the same time, both kinds of cards are also a resource. Mission decks are exactly 20 cards, while Support decks are at least 20 cards. If you only draw the minimum through the course of the game, you won’t even see all your cards, so discarding ones you might not need in this game to save a character or defeat a foe can be worthwhile. It could save you in the moment, while also helping you fish for the card you really need.
I also had the opportunity to try out the first two expansions for the game: Klingon and Romulan team packs commanded by Gowron and Sela, respectively. They each come with a team’s card and minis from their faction and a set of Mission cards and Support cards. Unlike the core set’s cards, these are not divided into pre-built decks, so you have to build your decks from scratch. They do a good job showing off the expandability of this game. The Klingons in particular are quite different from the factions in the core set, as they are very combat-oriented, as you might expect. Nearly every Mission card at their disposal involves damage or combat in some way. Gowron also has the only inherent 4 attack skill. Their direction is pretty clear!
The Romulans are more subtle but they do switch things up, with their focus on sneakiness and intelligence gathering. Whereas the Federation takes a lot of skill tests, theirs are mostly focused on repairing the ship. The Romulans are much more about subverting their opponent and covertly getting the upper hand. Both of these expansions felt like a strong addition and added a lot of possibilities to the game to keep it fresh. One thing that would have improved both of these sets, however, would have been a small rules sheet. They largely play by the same rules as the core set, and what is new is pretty much on the cards. A sheet would probably have been good just for clarity as to what is new.
In general, it feels like there are many ways to expand, and these two expansions just scratch the surface. Notably, the next two that have been announced are teams for the Federation (the rest of the Next Generation crew, led by Captain Picard), and the Klingons (the infamous Duras family). I will be interested to see how they are distinct from the existing teams from those factions, but additional characters beyond what you need for a single team opens up the possibility of team-building in addition to the deck-building that already exists.
Overall, I think this is a good game with a lot of future potential. As the spotty history of Star Trek games suggests, there’s always the possibility for things to go off the rails. That does not seem to be the case here. Star Trek Away Missions not only succeeds at being both fun and interesting, it also does a good job of feeling like Star Trek. That is a really important point for me when playing a game based on a popular IP. If it doesn’t match the theme, then what’s the point? Fortunately, that is not the case here. As the game is by GaleForce9, which also brought us the wonderfully thematic Star Trek: Ascendancy (a bit more of a galactic perspective on the franchise), that this treats the source material well, probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
If there is one criticism that I would call out as most noteworthy, it would probably be the miniatures. My issue with them is actually that it can be hard to tell some of the miniatures apart. While characters like Riker, Gowron, or Worf that have a famous profile are fairly easy to discern, it is hard to remember and tell the difference between some of the other characters (such as the backup Romulans and Klingons, or any of the Borg). This can confuse the board state a bit, which can be problematic. I’m not sure there is too much of a solution here, as it might be more because they’re just unknown characters more than anything having to do with the style choice. The Next Generation main cast members (and even Shelby) all stand out pretty well from one another.
That certainly can be problematic, but I think all the positives outweigh the negatives. The factions are all fun so far and relatively well-balanced. The gameplay decisions are important and clear. There’s plenty of room to expand in terms of characters, location boards, cards, and more. This is one I am happy to add to the shelf and look forward to seeing what more is in store.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great miniatures game with engaging choices and gameplay that delivers really well on its Star Trek theme.
• The exaggerated style of the minis could be off-putting for some who want a bit more realism.
• Minor characters fleshing out the teams are a bit less interesting and are also harder to tell apart, causing potential confusion.
• Expansions could have used a small rules sheet.