In Space, No One Can See You Point The Finger! - Dark Moon Review

In the early days of my recent board gaming resurgence I was introduced to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (BSG) Having never watched an episode in my life it was good to finally get some understanding of it. I enjoyed the game especially the deception aspect of it and I felt the theme was spot on, but I felt it was way too long especially with too many players. Most games would take over 3 hours and that was just getting ridiculous especially if your character couldn't do a lot each turn. And not once on multiple plays did I get to be a Cylon, it's not fair!! Seriously I love being the traitor in these games but for some reason I always end up as the goody-two-shoes. I want to be the traitor! I wanna! I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna!. . . . . <cough> OK I'll just retrieve my composure there, been watching the latest DBZ abridged and I always laugh at those moments!  
   
I then came across Shadows Over Camelot, which became my preferred choice of the two for its simplicity and shorter time span while still giving me that cool traitor mechanic. Then Dead of Winter came and. . . . . well you can read my review here on that one but suffice to say I was a tad disappointed. Other occasions have involved the mechanic being used almost as a tacked on variant, much like the one used in Legendary Encounters: Alien, which despite being my #2 game of all time, I do feel that the traitor variant was poorly integrated. 

Dark Moon's hype brought my attention to BSG Express, a variant that was created to simulate what BSG did, but condense the time down and for a lot of people it was a good alternative way to play. This is what Dark Moon is trying to simulate, but does that mean it should be compared directly to BSG or does it hold up fine on its own as an alternative traitor game rather than a lighter reskin? 
 
Designer: Evan Derrick (2015) Publisher: Stronghold Games Ages: 12+
Players: 3-7
Time: 60-75 Minutes
BGG Rank / Rating: 1095 / 7.17


Gritty Simplicity


In Dark Moon everyone plays a member of a mining colony on Titan that's been hit with its fair share of malfunctions and hardships. But to make matters worse an unknown infection has spread that turns people paranoid, deceitful and violent to the extent of destroying the others by any means necessary. Those that are Uninfected have to survive a series of events while keeping the base in good repair, and those that are Infected have to destroy the base by one of three main methods - bring down the shields, mess up the base systems or take down life support. Various tasks will need to be fulfilled each turn that will rely on teamwork to achieve, however the Uninfected must find out who they can trust and who they can't because the Infected can ruin things at the worst possible time. Votes will be held for quarantining suspects requiring effective negotiation among all the players. If the Uninfected can survive four events, they will win as a team, but should any one of the base stations fail beyond repair, the game is lost to all but the Infected. 

Aesthetically the game is a hit and miss affair. The box makes a huge deal about having lots of custom dice, but they're fairly basic really and simply just have positive and negative numbers on them. OK it's custom technically, but when that word is said to me I want to see obscure symbology or really creative work put into them. King of Tokyo has good custom dice. Seasons has fantastic custom boulders, er I mean dice! Here, it's not exactly worth having a big explosion effect on the back of the box to brag about. The board itself though not very colourful keeps to the gritty theme of a malfunctioning space station and looks fine in my opinion, obviously keeping to a retro space feel with the 80's computer font on all the cards. On the whole the component quality is fine, nothing is of a low standard, but I was expecting maybe something more dark (no pun intended) after seeing the box cover which reminds me of Ripley in her space suit when hiding from the Alien. It really does make you go in expecting something a lot more "horror" orientated than it actually is, in fact you could probably remove the space theme entirely and set this in an underground facility on Earth or in a post-nuclear fallout setting and it would probably still hold up without any further aesthetic changes.

Dark Moon is thankfully not a difficult game to learn - the rulebook gives a full setup guide for all player counts, is easy to read with large font and contains many full step by step pictorial examples of how the more involved aspects such as voting and tasks play out. On top of all that there are even some tips on how to play both sides for new players, which have been quite useful to read out to players before the first turn starts to give them a better understanding of their roles. It's certainly one of the better written rulebooks I've seen and the player screens help even more by being well laid out and not burdened with tonnes of iconography (yeah take note Roll for the Galaxy with your ridiculously complicated screens that do more harm than good). Obviously on the first play I'm referring back to the book to respond to questions, but once a single game was done, everything stuck and was easy to recall. I'm not talking Shadows over Camelot levels of simplicity, but it's not far above it, making this a good "next step" game for the traitor genre.


In Space, No One Can Hear You Roll


BSG's main mechanic for group interaction was the Crisis cards. An event would need to be completed and players would submit cards to either help or hinder the task in hand depending on their allegiance and motives. To bring the time down, Dark Moon substitutes a dice pool where players roll secretly behind their screens and then submit dice to the task in hand. This also applies for in-turn actions such as repairing the base or trying to complete the events. Positive numbers will help and negative numbers will hinder, but you are always forced to submit at least one die every time you roll for any reason whether you like it or not. 

In terms of time, it works a treat. It's much easier to roll dice and choose from them and you're only likely to have a max of 5 at any one time, but usually less. Using dice however brings about an inherent amount of luck and this is a double edged sword. Occasionally bad rolls will ruin your day and especially from the perspective of the Uninfected, being forced to submit a negative die will result in a lot of accusive finger pointing in your direction. But on the plus side, this is a neat way of keeping up the uncertainty amongst the players as to who they can trust. A player can bang on all day about making a bad roll, but as it's all secret, you don't know if that was a lie or not. And of course any Infected who knows what they are doing will be submitting a mix of good and bad dice to keep up the charade otherwise they deserve what they get. 

The dice I feel will be the deal breaker in this game for some. For me, I admit it abstracts the theme of the game a lot to use dice to resolve everything, but to be honest I can't see how you would do it any other way without complicating the game. It's not uncommon for me to "invent" a story as to how the tasks are resolving with each submission, but it requires a fair bit of imagination as the tasks don't have much of a thematic tie in themselves. It's not helped either by the voting system as it also requires use of the dice, but the colour becomes more relevant (red or black or abstain) rather than the number. However not having one of the particular colours means you can't vote in that way even if you know you should. This is probably the worst casualty of the abstraction as this requires a fair stretch of the imagination to deal with - regardless of what state I'm in, I'm sure you're still able to make "yay or nay" decisions. With some good memory skills it can be used to good effect if you know several players are out of particular dice so maybe you can argue it's about manipulating the people involved in the vote, but even so it's a bit weird.  


As much BSG has been mentioned so far, one thing I'll state now is that the two games shouldn't be compared at this point. I've played BSG, it's a beast of a game that takes many hours and involves card play, two chances of being the traitor, a board map, miniatures, space combat and expansions to boost that even further. Dark Moon doesn't have most of that list and even taking what it does have, it feels like its own game. I see many reviews comparing one to the other, but this feels like an unfair comparison. You may prefer one over the other, but it shouldn't be because one is simply "unlike" the other.


We Don't Have Time To Sit And Chat!


The box claims 60-75 minutes for a typical game and to be honest I think that's pretty accurate for a change. The longest game I've played was just over 90 minutes with 5 players, but we were all learning the rules. I got it down to just below 90 minutes on a subsequent game with 6 players. After that, meeting the 75 minute target was perfectly feasible and obviously if the Infected win it's going to end much sooner! This is a rare occurrence among most traitor games as most non-filler examples take longer to resolve. The longest part of a turn is clearly the tasks, but even these can be resolved quickly once everyone is clear on the rules leaving only the banter and negotiation among the players to draw the game out, but such things are enjoyable anyway as everyone is involved in the discussion. It can be argued that the downtime is slightly too long when you get above 5 players, but tasks are usually done as a group and that only leaves the player to consider one action on his turn so it shouldn't be that long before it gets back round to you. And of course as stated before, everyone should be involved in pointing the finger and either deducing the Infected or creating discord. 



Of course as soon as I mention the word "negotiation" the first phrase that springs to mind straight after is "group-dependant". Certainly that still applies here as the most vocal players (myself included, I do like to dive into the theme in negotiation games, it's why I love Sheriff of Nottingham so much) are going to get the biggest kick out of it. However it also is a factor with the quality of the player who is on the Infected side. The dice luck helps to keep them hidden as everyone can claim a bad roll, but even then it's not easy for the Infected to remain hidden for long and in the hands of a player who's new to the game, it may even become pretty obvious quickly as to who you need to quarantine. The balance of having to make an early start on screwing the other team over and keeping your identity safe is difficult to get right on your first game. It therefore definitely takes a more skilled player to win as the Infected and therefore the majority of my games have resulted in a fairly stable, yet enjoyable Uninfected victory. When playing with those who have either played Dark Moon before or other alternative traitor games however, the difficulty quickly balances out again and having been Infected myself during testing it is certainly possible to screw the other team up royally if your timing is right. The rulebook does however give some ways that the difficulty can be increased or decreased depending on your experience so this issue is unlikely to be a major one, though I have not personally felt the need to utilise these changes.


Verdict Dark Moon was designed to take the feeling of BSG and bring it to a shorter time span. I would actually go as far as to say that the two games shouldn't be compared. Even though this was advertised as BSG Express and borrows one of BSG's key mechanics, it feels like its own game rather than simply a lighter re-skin. Using dice abstracts the theme to a large extent but that's not to say it's completely removed, the feeling of tension is still there while you don't know who your allies are and the dice have the secondary effect of helping to keep the uncertainty strong amongst the players. Mechanically, the game works fine, it's not complicated to learn and the player screens not only do a good job of hiding your dice, but also acting as a well laid out player aid for the important rules. 75 minutes is a fairly accurate timescale depending on the player count though ideally you're playing this with a minimum of 5 players as you'll want two infected players at least to contend with. It is however very group dependant and new players are going to find it hard to play an effective Infected player without being too obvious. The game does seem slightly skewed in favour of the Un-infected as a result, but this can be adjusted easily. Dark Moon is worth investigating for anyone who enjoys the traitor mechanic. This isn't BSG-lite and it shouldn't be compared as such. Even more so it shouldn't be instantly dismissed just because it doesn't have all of BSG's elements, that game is a completely different and unique beast. This sits on its own just fine in the growing selection of traitor games that exist. Heavier than Shadows over Camelot, but lighter than BSG and Dead of Winter it sits alongside the competition under its own merits, offering an alternative and enjoyable way of implementing the tension of not knowing who's on your side and who isn't. It's not the best of the bunch, but it's a decent effort, so give it a try.
If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store -http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/
 
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a traitor game, but want it condensed to a much shorter time.

You don't want too much complexity - the screens are a useful player aid and the rules aren't that complicated anyway.

You enjoy games that involve bluffing and deception - that's the true crux of this game, figure out who those infected are fast!


YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:

You are hoping for a BSG clone - this is a different game in its own right, don't compare this to BSG.

You are put off by the dice mechanic replacing the cards - you can't really get round this, so accept that luck may have an effect. 

You aren't keen on the aesthetics - it's very hit or miss among players.

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