Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Sensor Ghosts

Game: Sensor Ghosts

Publisher: Wren Games

Designer: Janice Turner, Stu Turner

Year: 2020

'You have escaped both the virus-ridden space station and the clutches of the station's computer in Assembly.' Perhaps an enviable position right now? If you're reading this review in April 2020. You can only return to Earth if you bring with you an uncontaminated virus sample, for use in a vaccine.

Thankfully, Sensor Ghosts is an abstract puzzle game that doesn't hit too close to home, in our currently climate. Perfect for playing solo, or with 2,3 or 4 players, a puzzle might be just what you need right now and this one is certainly a challenge! Sensor Ghosts was successfully funded on Kickstarter, by independent publisher Wren Games and has recently found its way into backers' hands.

Gameplay

You start a game of Sensor Ghosts by setting up the map - a five by seven grid of square tiles with an entrance at the bottom left and an exit at the top right. Before the game can begin you will also place the virus tokens face down on the map and remove a couple of tiles, just to make life that little bit trickier! You objective is simple: find a pure sample of the virus you are infected with and carry it to the exit. Doing so is anything but simple.



On your turn you will play one of the cards from your hand. There are three card types: movement, shields and scans. Movement is the most critical - it moves you one space in the direction you desire. Whenever you move onto a tile you flip it over, so the actual tile you interact with is not the one you can see, but rather the one hidden underneath. Space is a cruel mistress when it comes to momentum though. If the top card of the discard pile is a movement card then you will need to get your allies to help by playing movement cards with you in order to burn enough fuel to change direction. Alternatively, you can use movement cards to peek at the card in front of you, making sure your route is safe. Playing a scan card lets you flip over a tile, helping create a (hopefully) safe route for your travels. Shield cards give your shields one charge cube. Should you take damage when you have two shield cubes then the damage is ignored at the cost of the two shields.

Navigating the asteroid field is tricky! After every turn the field changes and shifts. The row ahead of your ship will rotate, with all cards being moved 1 space to the left (any which go off the end come back on the right hand side). The row 2 spaces ahead of your ship flips. Every single card changes side. If you're clever then you can use this to your advantage, using the 3 memory aide cubes to help you pinpoint safe (or unsafe routes). Every tile reacts differently when you fly onto it. Yellow asteroids damage your ship, destroying you unless you have shields. Red asteroids are more deadly, they go straight through shields even if you have them, and it's game pver. Purple boost cards can be a boon, letting you move an extra space for free, which is great so long as the next space isn't a red asteroid! Green spaces are open, safe, space which doesn't do anything to you at all. Finally some tiles have points of interest on them, these may be the virus you are searching for, but can also be uninfected samples. If you can find a valid sample and carry it back to earth before going through the draw deck twice then you will win.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

It's important to consider my first experience with Sensor Ghosts, because it doesn't so much have a difficulty curve as a brick wall. If you try and go too fast and take chances then... You. Are. Dead. Simple as that. The red asteroids are plentiful enough that taking any chance has a significant chance of instant death even if you have shields. And those purple boost cards don't seem so friendly when they send you spiraling into a rock or even off the map! Sensor Ghosts is a memory game and any attempt to not engage with that mechanic will be met with an extremely firm hand.


Once you do engage you realise that Sensor Ghosts is a rather clever puzzle. The rows ebb and flow as the game goes on, you mark off safe routes and try to time your actions to traverse them quickly and efficiently. When things go well you feel great, you feel smart, you feel a complete absence of stone smashing through your primary view-port. Life is good. The cooperative element largely felt like having an extra brain to help navigate the twisting pathways. While there was the ability to assist with changing directions or even discarding multiple cards to play a 'Wild' card the use of extra players didn't seem too great. The main benefit would be having access to additional player powers, which re one use and often extremely handy.

The biggest drawback with Sensor Ghosts was that after completing it I felt largely done. Sure there was the option of playing a more challenging mode where you also had to navigate your escape pod. But I didn't feel the draw to return to the game. The map may be unique every time, but you are facing the same problems, just in a different order. Increasing the difficulty happens by reducing the number of live viral samples in play which simply increases the chance of your wasting time. Ultimately, Sensor Ghosts felt like a game which hadn't quite been perfected. An extremely good core concept that needed a mini campaign/expansion to truly flesh out and explore the potential here.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

What impresses me most about Sensor Ghosts is its simplicity. On the rare occasions that we have an idea for a game design, it becomes overwrought in minutes - coming up with something so simple has never struck me as an 'easy' games to design. Sensor Ghosts is really a bit of a riff on the classic memory game - flip over cards and remember where they are to do something useful with them later. It's just added a much more significant purpose and some extra trickiness in the shifting puzzle so that your mind is far more melted than in would be in a simple game of Memory. Of course, there's some areas where simplicity isn't always the best and the art and graphic design in this game is not simple in the best possible way. It is basic in parts, especially the personal player powers. The main card art is also very basic, although it does have a graphic design style that I personally quite like.


Sensor Ghosts feels, first and foremost, like a solo game to me. It's you vs. the puzzle and it's got a real level of difficulty to it that makes me want to try it, then try again, and again in order to beat it. However, it is a cooperative game listed for 1-4 players, and I am glad that the two-player experience did more than just add another person to sit at the table and discuss strategy with. The addition of the support ability which allows you to turn your ship (for a great sacrifice!) is a nice touch. I was also thankful for playing with two players because there is so much information to try and keep track of. The memory cubes helped, and I like that there's not many in the box - the game would be much easier with more cubes in multiple colours, and I'm glad that they kept things difficult. Really you  need to hold the information of what's on the front and back of two cards in your head all at once. There's only four colours and that makes it even harder - was that one yellow/yellow or yellow/green?

Memory may only get you so far in this Senosr Ghosts though. The time limit - of running through the deck twice, is pretty strict and at some point you might just have to push your luck, pushing you onto that purple tile that boosts you into an asteroid., smashing your ship to smithereens! It took us three tries to beat the game for the first time, and I'm not sure if we were getting better, or if the board layout just comes more favourably for some games during the random setup. Beating the game felt great, but I don't feel a big urge to go back and beat it again. It's the sort of game I might go back to in a month or so when I'm looking for a puzzly experience to keep m brain cells fired up.


You Might Like...
  • The board layout can be different each game, giving you a new puzzle to solve.
  • Sensor Ghosts is definitely a challenge - it took us a few tries to succeed, which keeps it interesting.
  • There's nothing complex here, it's just simple and pretty clever.
You Might Not Like...
  • Even though the board is different each time, once you've solved it, it's easy to feel done with the game.
  • If memory games aren't your thing, then Sensor Ghosts probably won't work for you.

The Verdict
6/10 Sensor Ghosts is a very tough puzzle to beat and that journey to your first win can be tricky and yet very satisfying as you finally manage to puzzle your way through the asteroid field. The downside really is that after your first win, any further games don't have the same excitement. Sensor Ghosts is a fun puzzle, and a good solo or two-player experience, it just needs to be part of a broader puzzle book to keep us interested.



Sensor Ghosts was a review copy kindly provided to us by Wren Games.

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