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Who hasn’t dreamed of setting off into space and experiencing exactly this? In Black Angel by Sébastien Dujardin, you now have the chance to do so. The only drawback, however, is that there are no humans on board the Black Angel, only the DNA of humanity. The earth is wrecked and we or our DNA are now trying our luck again on the planet Spes. The AI on board will get us there somehow. If this experiment can succeed, we will clarify in our test of the Black Angel board game from Pearl Games.
Have fun reading!
Aboard the Black Angel
After all, it took seven years until the first idea became a game and Black Angel could celebrate his debut at GenCon 2019. Seven years in which the space-themed board game was properly polished. So according to the designer there is actually nothing left of the original idea. Interesting is also the statement that the well-known Troyes from the same publisher has a lot of similarities to Black Angel, but these similarities were taken over into the current game much later.
So now it’s up to us on board the Black Angel to use dice to save humanity. And of course we don’t do such an important job together! Every artificial intelligence uses this for its own advantage or, in the case of Black Angel, to generate as many victory points as possible.
And the game succeeds in this amazingly well and I enjoy it, also because I have understood the rules of the game by now. Black Angel does not only come along with a random element that should not be underestimated, no, it also has a crisp learning curve. That’s why in my opinion the game is one of the more challenging titles of the last game year.
Similar to many other games of the last year, such as Crystal Palace or Cooper Island, Black Angel doesn’t forgive mistakes. If I make a foolish decision, the race for victory is over. However, and this is where the game differs from other games, luck can still be on your side and help me out of a mess. That is not a big problem for me. I really like this twist in games, as long as it is communicated from the beginning and is not disguised by other mechanisms.
Parallel board game worlds I
Many things about Black Angel seem familiar. Most noticeable is of course the mechanism of the rotating game board, which I could already enjoy in Solenia. And this similarity is quite intentional. Because Black Angel is the spiritual father of Solenia. While Solenia refers completely to the rotating game board and its mechanism and is played there, this is only a part of the Black Angel concept.
In Black Angel you also move in a straight line across the game board. Through certain events, parts of the game plan are exchanged. However, these parts come back into play, but no longer behind the Black Angel, but in front of the Black Angel and can be passed in further moves. Any cards on the game board that are laid out will trigger effects again as soon as they leave the game. Just like in Solenia already seen and already played.
But there is one little thing, where the two games differ. While in Solenia I fly to the cities to complete missions or collect raw materials, in Black Angel I use the game board to perform further actions. These give me additional possibilities to those I can use on board the Black Angel. Thus the game plan changes dynamically and causes each game to play a little differently. Because these additional actions are not only available to the player who goes there first, but also to every player who sends a small robot with spaceship there.
Parallel board game worlds II
The actions on board also resemble another well-known game from Pearl Games. We are talking about Troyes. Like in the classic game of 2010, you get dice that you roll and which are then available to you to make exactly one of two actions that match the color of the dice. There are three different dice colors available to you. This results in a total of 6 possible actions. Whereby 3 actions always mean playing a hand card.
Just like in Troyes, you can also take dice from other players. Of course they want to be paid for this, but they can’t refuse this trade. This element is of course predestined to annoy the other players. Unfortunately, this also works in the other direction.
The fact that Troyes finds itself in the game is also largely due to the fact that the same developers behind Troyes are behind Black Angel. Now there is a very serious difference between the two games. While in the medieval game I have a fixed income in each round, which means I potentially have money to buy dice, this aspect is not applicable in space. Here I need an extra resource, which I have to get first to be able to grab the opponent’s dice.
The second difference is the dice. In Black Angel they only have numbers from 0 to 3, while in Troyes they follow the standard from 1 to 6. The playful benefit is however the same: The number of dice eyes indicates how many actions I can perform.
But there’s so much more…
But Black Angel is not a mix of the well-known Pearl Games. Black Angel offers much more and not too little. Beside hand management you get a tableau, on which you can program your AI. This leads to various bonuses in the game, if you have the right cards in your hand. But these bonuses have to be bought by precious dice first. And as if that wasn’t enough, I also have to keep an eye on my resources.
If I move outside the Black Angel in the empty space, I need robots and spaceships. Unfortunately, these are not provided by any income on their own, but have to be organized by actions. But that is not the only resource I have to keep an eye on. Also the resource I use to buy the dice from the other players has to be brought here first. Too bad that this is the same resource that I can use to secure my dice from the other players. And then there is the garbage, which I also need, because it lets me manipulate my dice.
All these mechanisms are closely linked together and make up the complexity of the game. I have to keep an eye on everything at the same time. And first of all I have to understand how they are integrated into the game. How do I get some robots or, for example, spaceships cheaply? However, as in many Euro-Games, I don’t want to use the expensive standard action. But maybe I would like to use the mission, which brings me so many spaceships at once, that I don’t have to worry about it until the end of the game.
Black Angel the non-euro-game
Once I have mastered the tough learning curve, it’s all about puzzling at the board game table in classic Euro-Game style. How do I best use my actions to get the most out of my turn? What at first glance looks very much like a Euro-Game is not a classic Euro-Game. Of course Black Angel has the classic basic mechanisms: I place a cube on an action space and get the corresponding output.
This is the classic approach, but here Black Angel breaks with known patterns, because it brings a lot of randomness into play. On the one hand, there are the hand cards that you get on your hand after each placement of the dice. The colour of the dice determines which deck I draw from, but luck decides which cards I get. This can result in me getting cards that fit into my strategy very well. But it is also possible that these are cards that do not help me at all. Because what am I supposed to do with cards that generate victory points when I have to give up spaceships that are already in short supply for me.
It could just as well happen that I draw a card by random, which in the end gives me a bunch of victory points again without having really played on it. But also the randomness of the Ravager cards and the resulting slow destruction of the Black Angel torpedo the Euro-Game feeling.
The Ravager cards come into play when one of my robots has started a mission. Cards are then drawn from a separate deck, which symbolically destroy our ship on its way to Spes. If these cards block an action area that I could use with my dice, it is very frustrating. But something like this makes Black Angel look less and less like a Euro-Game.
Black Angel On Course
And this is perhaps the biggest problem Black Angel has from my point of view. At first sight it seems to be very predictable, but it puts off one or the other player who wants to plan ahead.
But for me as a gut player this is no problem. That is also the reason why I like Black Angel. Because of the random elements it remains exciting until the end, when the big payoff comes. It is clear that I don’t necessarily win because I had the better strategy, but only because of luck. In addition, from my point of view, there is the enjoyable time during the game. Playing and planning goes pretty quickly. I may not always be able to do what I want to do because one or the other action is blocked. However, Black Angel is one of those games in which I have two or three other actions in the back of my hand or in the back of my mind.
Uh, what was that again?
For me there are other things that I have noticed rather negatively. For one thing, there is the rulebook. I do not find that very well done. It explains everything that exists in the game. We couldn’t find any rough rule cracks that would have made the game unplayable. We really tried hard with our own incompetence at the beginning. Here the long development time by Pearl Games paid off. But the structure of the rules is unfortunately very badly constructed. If I want to look up quickly, I search back and forth until I find the appropriate passage. This of course creates frustration and also makes sure that under circumstances the game is simply played wrong.
This is exactly what happened to us the first time. We weren’t playing Black Angel, we were playing some game that takes place in space. Which then also caused the anticipation to be dampened quite quickly and somehow felt wrong. Only when I learned the rules again, other game concepts were discovered, which changed the game from the ground up and made it the game I enjoy today. But even that needed some attempts, because of the bad rules, we searched for a long time in the further games for the corresponding rule passus.
Here the FAQ is highly recommended. It explains a lot of things and makes the rules and concepts easier to understand.
So in Black Angel it is really an advantage if someone explains the game who has already played one or the other game. Also you should point out to newcomers what they have to pay attention to. Because if I played myself out of the game because I don’t have any spaceships or robots anymore, it takes a while until I get back into the game. Then I can actually forget about winning, unless I have a little bit of luck on my side.
For me personally the graphic design is also disturbing. Here the publisher has given free hand to the well-known artist Ian O’Toole. For me personally the game board design is too chaotic and too colourful. For me personally, it does not reflect the outer space. Also the visual differences between the individual cards and the images on them do not fit into the overall graphic package. But that’s my personal opinion, with which I am quite alone here in the household. For Jasmin, the visual realization is very well done.
But what is beyond any doubt are the small robots that can be fitted perfectly into the small spaceships. I would like to see such game gimmicks more often in expert games!