Time: ~90 minutes
Times Played: 12
A year ago at UnPub 8 I was introduced to Faza, a cooperative sci-fi game where you are working to repel and destroy alien invaders. I did a First Look after playing half a demo and really enjoyed what there was. Since then, I have had a few extra plays added under my belt and feel like I can give a much better rundown of what Faza is and what it offers.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of Faza for preview. The provided copy has not impacted my views in this post. This is a prototype copy so the images, components, and rules are subject to change.
Faza is a cooperative modular tile-laying, variable action power, non-sequential turn order adventure where you are trying to save the final city on Earth from annihilation at the hands of an alien threat. Each player has four cards unique to their character(s) and will use them each round to effectively repel the alien menace. Players can also recruit Rebels (which are aliens that have turned against their race) and engage in combat. Combat with Drones (the foot soldier of the alien force) is done with dice rolls and card modifiers. Players will collect each Drone they destroy and use them as currency for recruiting more Rebels or unleashing additional powers listed on their player cards.
I’m big on theme and the art and narrative help channel the idea of an alien invasion unfolding in front of you. In my opinion, it feels as thematic as Flash Point: Fire Rescue due to the pressure and stress of each turn. There is a general discomfort among players as the state of the board gets worse and worse. I felt the same type of anxiety when playing Spirit Island but Faza seems much more manageable.
I could easily go into more detail on each and every action that players can perform in the game, but I thought the Faza rulebook, which is available for digital download here, did a good job of laying out the rules. The website also includes video walkthroughs, if that’s more your cup of tea.
It’s important to note that Faza isn’t just about ending the onslaught of a Drone army though. The goal of Faza is to destroy three distinct Faza Motherships that are currently ravaging the apocalyptic world that is now the Earth. Combat is different with Motherships as they need to be alone on a tile (no Drones can be protecting them) and a Rebel is needed to attack the Mothership (basically a suicide mission). It does result in an automatic hit but Motherships are not easy to bring down due to their high amount of health. Each Mothership has a unique way of inflicting damage and tension across the game board.
The Carrier Ship moves and drops drones. As drones are the only way to accumulate points (used for recruiting Rebels and occasional special abilities), this ship is a necessary evil. The Destroyer and Former also drop Drones (three and two, respectfully), they’re a fraction of the six that the Carrier drops. More importantly, the Carrier drops them over three locations so it allows the players an opportunity to attack Drones without fear of being counterattacked quickly by the Mothership(s).
In all my plays, this ship is typically attacked last or next to last. Since Drones are the only way to get points, why take out the breadwinner and leave yourself in worse shape by fighting Drones on tiles also occupied by Motherships? I also feel like the Defeated Carrier’s actions are more detrimental than the other Defeated Motherships. Adding a Drone to a players location is a surefire way to taking a wound (which you only have four of) and it removes two Drones from the game each time it’s activated. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but losing Drones mean as a player you are losing opportunities to gain points which are paramount to victory.
The Destroyer Ship moves and does massive damage to Rebels and players. It also drops Drones but they’re more of a protective shield than an offensive maneuver when compared to the Carrier Ship’s actions. The complete removal of Rebels and automatic injury on a player can be debilitating.
Once Defeated, the Destroyer will have Drones inflict automatic injuries at the end of the turn while also removing two Drones from the Drone pool each time the card is activated. If there are not enough Drones to place on the board, the players will lose (similar to say Pandemic and not having enough disease cubes to place).
The Former Ship moves and “Fazaforms” up to two tiles each phase it is activated while also dropping two Drones at the conclusion of its movements. Fazaforming can result in tiles being marked “deadly” (which result in a wound for players if left there) as well as removing valuable tiles like Airfields and Outposts. Losing all Outposts means you can no longer place Rebels and thus, lose the game.
Once Defeated, all Fazaformed tiles will wound players when the Defeated Former Ship is activated and like the others, two Drones will be removed from the pool and placed on the card.
I haven’t decided on which ship is more of a threat between the Destroyer and the Former however. I’m leaning towards the Former as having a board with many hazardous tiles that result in injury is treacherous and severely limits a players mobility, especially in the late game.
The Defeated sides of the Motherships are also a clever way to ensure that players are targeting all Motherships and not just focusing their efforts on one. If you leave them all too healthy, you will more than likely run out of Drones to place and thus lose the game. I really like this wrinkle and it’s a nice change of pace compared to a cooperative game like Pandemic (which I’m going to refer to a lot), where you just ignore cured diseases. That’s not the case here.
Motherships feel like the big boss at the end of a video game. They’re not easy to take down, they take careful planning to coordinate an attack on, and defeating one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. Faza revolves around these Motherships and they live up to their hype.
To combat these Motherships, Faza includes eight characters that players can control each game. Each two characters are paired with a color and symbol and due to the make-up of the cards for each pair of characters, choosing one from that set means the other is off limits for the rest of the players. Basically, no game will feature a a Solider and a Scout. The unused character card does turn into a reference card though, so it’s not wasted space.
After playing several games, I’ve ranked what I feel are the best characters to the worst. This is entirely subjective but it’s an interesting look at their perceived value.
Farmer (1): What makes this so powerful? The word “tiles”. You are limited to killing one Drone but if you can pass over more than one tile, you can eliminate more of the enemy. While Drones are the basis of points in Faza, sometimes you just need to clear some of the enemy out.
Rebel (2): This is an expensive skill. Two points but you are turning the enemy into a Rebel. You basically don’t have to recruit and you don’t have to waste a card for combat. As long as the player playing the Rebel is in a position to gain points each and every round, this is almost a must include character. The only negative is that you are wasting points to combat the enemy and not getting any points in return (which you would then use to turn some more).
Scientist (3): I love this. It’s so hard to move Rebels where you need them (as they move at the same rate as players) and being able to just jettison them across the board to you is huge. In the mid to late game, when Fazaformed tiles are scattered about, being able to just get some Rebels to you (particularly if an Outpost or two has been Fazaformed) is invaluable.
Solider (4): Since combat is so important (and decided upon by a dice roll), having the ability to reroll all failed dice can be a big momentum shift for the player. It does cost a valuable point to use but the ability to possibly shirk off a wound is immeasurable. If it was more automatic, it would probably be a top two character for me.
Scout (5): The Scout, like the Doctor, has a situational skill but I believe it to be better than the Doctor as it allows other players and Rebels the opportunity to get the hell out of dodge without taking wounds. It costs the Airplane card but honestly? Worth it if it means your team doesn’t lose valuable resources (aka wounds and Rebels).
Senator (6): I want to like this a lot more. On its face, it sounds like a great card but since the Rebel and Drone need to be on your tile, you need to already be in the thick of the action to take advantage of the ability. It also costs the Rebel. It’s a guaranteed kill of the Drone and you get the point but more often than not, we found ourselves pushing our luck and rolling the dice, hoping for a clean kill and a living Rebel.
Doctor (7): Cooperative games typically have a power like this in each game but it’s not one that we use too regularly. It feels much to situational to rely on. When needed, it’s great…but for the other 90% of the game, it’s an ability that sits ignored.
Engineer (8): Like the Doctor and the Scout, I find the Engineer to be situational. Another player needs to be in trouble for me to want to go and bail them out. Everyone needs to carry their own weight in order to try and win the game. If a player is in a problematic situation, having to waste another players turn to save them might mean a worse situation is now brewing. Granted, this could end up helping but it wasn’t a skill I was enamored with.
Faza officially supports two- to four-players but there’s no reason you can’t play this game solo if you want to. The solo player would just control two characters instead of one. Since decisions are happening simultaneously, it doesn’t negatively impact gameplay and it’s easy for the solo player to plan their moves since they can go by their own pace as opposed to a rigid turn structure. I wouldn’t necessarily buy this game for solo play (to be transparent, there are few games I would buy solely for solo play) but that option is there, even if not advertised. It might be a nice way to run a trial before introducing the game to a full group (although I think the rules are simple enough that a trial run is probably not needed).
At two-players, I felt that Faza was filled with tension but the low number of players made communication and strategizing much easier compared to the higher player counts. It’s similar to other co-operative games where the more voices there are does not make a more streamlined or easier experience. That’s not saying that three- and four-player counts are bad however.
In fact, the simultaneous method of playing helps combat the issue of quarterbacking that typically resides in such co-operative games. The lack of structure allows players to think more freely about their decisions instead of being handicapped to needing player two performing an action right now. We had several games where a player would perform every one of their actions before another player went and we also had rounds where we would bounce back and forth. Different circumstances call for different styles and having that option is a welcome relief. It’s that flexibility that really differentiates Faza from the gold standard cooperative game, Pandemic, in our eyes.
I did find four-player games tougher than two- and three-player games due to the increased movement of the Motherships. I’m not saying this is a bad thing but it felt like I had to be much tighter in my decision making and really needed to stack my odds when utilizing dice rolls. The board also feels much tighter at four since the size of the board does not change between player counts. I think Faza is enjoyable at all counts but we really liked how it played with two. If you enjoy other cooperative games at two-players, then Faza will entertain you just the same.
Every game of Faza I have played has been filled with an overlying tension as players are aware of what the Motherships are doing each round but for most of the game, are powerless to do much of anything to stop them. It makes each wound inflicted that much more important. Players feel a sense of accomplishment when they can clear a large amount of Drones and inflict damage to a Mothership, only for hope to be fleeting as a new batch of Drones inhabit the board. It’s frustrating but it feels like a healthy frustration.
Faza has an immense amount of replayability due to the amount of characters, the modular nature of the board, and the different difficulty levels available to players. The Easy Mode is a way for players to get their feet wet without the additional difficulty of trying to keep all Rebels alive or the increased attacks of the Faza onto the players. For me, I found the Easy Mode to be similar to a tutorial. There’s no problem with playing the Easy Mode again and again but it feels like a watered down version of the game and removes the tension that makes Faza so good.
Normal Mode introduces the Faza attacking players during the Faza phase if they share a tile. The threat of injury due to the Faza is a dramatic change when comparing Easy Mode to Normal Mode. Each movement is now under a microscope as you do not want to find yourself in the path of a Mothership when they’re activated. If you played Easy Mode and then found yourself struggling in Normal Mode, this is more than likely the reason. You really need to account for the Motherships and have a formal strategy.
If you find Normal Mode not stressful enough, Faza has an established Hard Mode that lives up to its name. Rebels and Drones that share a tile are removed (at a 1:1 ratio), Faza continue their attacks on players, Drones are added to Rebel tiles, and if there are no Rebels on the board during this phase, the game ends. Hard Mode will test your sanity and with the randomness that is dice rolling, the game will frustrate players as they cannot muster the rolls that they need. It makes Rebels, and Drones, much more important as players need protection and more importantly, ways to score points. I wouldn’t play Hard Mode every time I play Faza but it’s definitely a great way to test yourself when Normal has become too easy. We played Hard Mode several games in a row (as we kept losing) and you could see our tactics becoming refined with each game. Spoiler alert: we still didn’t win but never felt like it was impossible.
Changing gears, I want to talk about the art and components for a moment. Everything is prototype and subject to change so while I enjoy the art and the standees, I’m not going to focus on that. Instead, I want to give a kudos to the developer for including symbols that are related to the color of each character and tile on the board. We had a friend who had trouble differentiating some items on the orange tiles but the symbols ensured that they did not miss a beat. Inclusivity in gaming is becoming more common place but it’s not automatic yet so I want to commend that addition.
Overall, I really like and enjoy Faza. I liked it when I got to play a small demo at UnPub 8 and I enjoyed it even more when I had it on my table. If you like cooperative games, Faza includes some interesting takes on the genre (namely, no turn order and the Motherships still impacting play after being Defeated). I would consider Faza to be a touch more intricate than contemporaries Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue.
Faza will be coming to Kickstarter this summer and I will update this post when the campaign goes live.