On paper, Hull Breach: Loyalty & Vigilance sounds like the kind of game that was made especially for me. It’s loaded with sci-fi space stuff, lets you collect resources to manufacture an entire fleet of ships (many of which are big enough to house smaller fighter ships inside), forces you to carefully plan out what you build and how you use it, can fit into a small box, and takes about 10 to 30 minutes to play. Heck, you can even load some ships up with marines and use them to board enemy ships – then decide whether to scuttle or capture them for yourself. Off paper, it definitely seems like the kind of game that was made especially for me.
Hull Breach: Loyalty & Vigilance is actually the second set of decks for Hull Breach. Fortunately either set plays just fine without the other, as really you just need two different decks (from either set) to play. Of course, though, the more decks you have, the more players you can accommodate (up to five). Regardless, if you get one set you’re good to play with two to three players right out of the box. The cards look good and feature some great artwork (at least most of them do), and the other components (counters, dice, etc) get the job done. I’m a bit confused as to why something that takes up so little space was packaged in such a large box, however. I mean it’s not ridiculously huge, but it’s way bigger than it really should be considering it’s only meant to hold three decks of cards, instructions, counters, and dice. I dunno, maybe I’m just bitter about having to reorganize my entire shelf for it.
Taking that first look at the instructions can be pretty daunting. Hull Breach is loaded with terminology you’ll have to familiarize yourself with if you plan on doing anything other than displaying it on your shelf. It’s nowhere near as intense as it seems, but taking that first step can definitely be scary. Fortunately once you’re through that initial barrier it all starts to make sense. Really the only sticking points are the card abilities and the order of turns. Both could really benefit from some kind of quick reference card (goodness knows there’s plenty of room in the box for one – no I won’t let it go), but the ship abilities definitely need one the most. There are just so many of them and they’re worded somewhat ambiguously. Resistant? Stoic? Hunter? Overload? Little by little the particulars will start to sink in but for those first few games you’re going to be referring back to the manual at least once every other turn.
Once you figure it out, though… wow. Hull Breach just feels right. Gathering resources, repairing damaged ships, manufacturing new ones, placing fighters/drones in the hangar, stationing marines, etc. It all comes together to really drive the point home that you’re in charge of an entire fleet (armada, even) of badass space ships. Even the way you can “scramble the fighters” when you get into combat (i.e. pull out all the fighter ships that are docked and move them into the skirmish area) is really cool.
Then there’s the way you can attempt to board ships of the same size or larger using teams of marines. It can be tricky to keep a ship carrying boarding parties functional in a hectic battle, but if it survives you’ll be able to pull up to another ship (or station) and attempt to board it – with the battle being put on hold until you or your opponents marines (if they have any) are exterminated. Then the victor gets to decide if they’d like to destroy the ship or hijack it and use it for themselves. I can’t express just how fantastic it feels to take over an opponent’s massive battleship and turn its cannons back on them, or how terrible it feels (in a good way because, really, it was your fault for not preparing) to have the same done to you. This can be a real game-changer.
At this point you’re probably wondering how a game like this can possibly be “quick.” This is because there is generally no reshuffling cards back into your deck. If you build a massive capital ship and get it blown up within the first few turns, well then it sucks to be you because you aren’t getting it back; you’ll just have to make due with what you have left. So even though you’re all manufacturing ships, building upgrades, stocking drone bays, and hiring marines as fast as you can, you’ll also be burning through a limited pile of resources. This can lead to some rather intense fights, and is a good example of why you probably don’t want to throw everything you’ve got at an opponent all at once unless you’re almost certain you can win.
In fact, this is how I won my last game. My opponent threw everything he had at me and destroyed most of my ships, save my rather intimidating battleship. I managed to use my battleship to board his, barely squeaked by after a very intense firefight between our marines, then scuttled his ship and followed up with a counter offensive. He had no ships to defend his base, and no marines to keep me out. So I took a few potshots at his station, then boarded it unopposed and won the day. Aside from a few minutes spent here and there going over rules and double-checking ship abilities, the game took maybe 20 minutes total.
Hull Breach can be a little daunting at first, and it could definitely do with a quick reference guide or something, but it’s a lot easier to learn and play than it looks. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun and overflowing with awesome spaceship fleet commanding goodness. Plus you can take over your opponent’s destroyer and use it to shoot their space station in the proverbial face. I mean come on!