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Purple Haze

[Purple Haze]

Bernard Grzybowski


No. of Players:



G@mebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Vietnam, 1967, right in the middle of the bloodthirsty war in Southeast Asia. You’re leading a 6-man squad of US Marines that fight their way through jungles and rice paddies, always trying to fulfill their missions. At each corner there might be an enemy with the result that there will be a lot of fights to reach the objectives. And there might be wounds and casualties.

Purple Haze is the name of the upcoming title by PHALANX GAMES, a kind of successor of the award-winning UBOOT: The Board Game that was released two years ago by the same publisher. In this review (or better preview) I speak about the well-advanced prototype of the game.

Purple Haze is a campaign game that is best played chronological, beginning with the first mission in which you take over a new squad of Marines fresh out of boot camp. Inexperienced marines with poor abilities and basic gear. It’s the idea that you lead this Squad through a series of missions, developing their skills, giving them particular abilities and equipping them with unique gear that is much more effective than the basic gear. Every Marine is unique with his own profile card and background story. During the campaign you learn more and more stories that you can use to create your own narratives. You are often asked whether you want to do the one or the other thing and your decision will alter the story. Of course, you are also deciding where to go first on the map of the mission, and whether you want to go for the one or other secondary objective. You are not forced to do so. There is always a straight way to the primary objective. It’s up to you.

[Purple Haze]

Click on image to enlarge!

But sometimes the game takes the decision for you, because Purple Haze is a war game, and if there is a war, there are also fights and injuries that can lead to necessary evacuations of Marines or even to death. Three Marines in play are needed to fulfill a mission. As a result, you should leave out the one or other secondary objectives when your Marines have come too often under heavy enemy fire. As Purple Haze's concept is to create an immersive story-creation game, a dead soldier will leave the game forever, and must be replaced by a new Marine again in the next mission. And severe injuries must be healed in hospital over one or two mission, so a Marine might be missing for the next mission after a physical injury.

Still, physical injuries are only one half of the coin. A lot of what the Marines see leads to mental wounds, and there is no quick cure for these mental damages. As a result, the Marines are getting more and more insane. This again can also lead to disabilities of your Marines.

So, you see: in a kind of role-play, with a lot of quick-narratives, Purple Haze lets you create and unfold your own story. Each mission and a lot of event cards come with a lot of new information. A lot of that is triggered only in the event of special events or actions of the Marines. And it’s often important for the outcome, if you have found a special item or learnt something decisive, before encountering a new event or if you haven’t.

[Purple Haze]

Click on image to enlarge!

Basically, a round of the game consists of three steps: Movement in which you move your Squad on the map, Events and Encounters that are drawn or triggered by entering a specific space on the map, and Combats that take place if the Threat Track has reached the red zone.

Depending on the terrain you are moving, a movement advances the time marker, the fatigue of your Squad, and the threat level further. Time is important for some objectives, and to determine if it’s night or day (because some actions are limited to the one or other half of the day). The fatigue track represents the fitness of the Squad. If the marker reaches the last space of the track, you are forced to put up a camp. On the one thing, this is good for healing purposes. On the other, it further increases the threat level (as the normal movement), and this – in the end – will lead to combats.

Speaking of combats leads us to the dice and the test system of the game. First, if it comes to a fight, a combat card is drawn with spaces for the enemies. These enemies are represented in form of dice that are placed on spaces on the combat card with the face of the dice matching the number of enemies each. The space also tells us the distance of the enemies, and if there are any special abilities of the enemy (like a sniper). The distance is important, because the weapons of the Marines have different ranges.

Then it’s time to roll the dice. Purple Haze uses a clever test system to determine the outcome of an attack. Basically, you always roll two (in the standard tests) or three (in the opposed tests) different colored dice. The number of dice of the challenging colour that matches the dice of the other colour determines the number of successes. And if there are more dice with the same result of the “defending” colour, this multiplies the matches of the challenging colour.

[Purple Haze]

Click on image to enlarge!

For example: if it is the initiate of the Marines, you choose one man of your Squad that wasn’t activated in this combat, and select one of his weapons. This weapon (or gear) determines how many dice you’re allowed to roll, let’s say 5 red dice. The combat card – on the other hand – tells you that the enemies roll 3 blue dice. And the result would be: Red: 5-3-3-2-1, Blue 3-2-2. Then you would have 4 successes (two single for the two "3" and a double-success for the "2"). This works similar for the Viet Cong attacks and for all other tests of the game. A little bit unusual at the beginning, but very effective in the end.

Now, what do I think about the game? First, it’s definitely a war game, there are a lot of fights, and thanks to the story elements you will learn a lot about the war. You will suffer with your Marines and losing a Marine is hard to bear. That makes the game intense. I lead my Squad through the three first missions of this prototype, and already in my first mission I lost one of my men. The game is already well-developed, but the final product will even have more details like tactics for the Marines (and, of course, a lot more missions). I especially liked the idea of the many role-playing elements. There is a lot of material you can give to your Marines, and the specialization system ensures that your Marines will get more and more unique abilities. During the missions you gain XP that you can spend for developments, you can send your Marines to hospital, and you will take mental injuries from one mission to another. A deep experience that you will remember.

Although there are some Euro elements in the game, there is also a lot of American gameplay. After reading the rules, I first feared that there would be endless rolls of dice. But I was wrong: the clever test system takes you quickly through the abstract fights, and the different combat card arrangements of the enemies make the fights interesting game-in-game narratives. Of course, with all that rolls, luck is a factor in the game, that’s true. Even without all those decisions you have to make, you will therefor never have exactly the same story and the same experiences in one mission. But, of course, that’s also not asked of you. Instead, you should stand up for the whole campaign!

Purple Haze, the Gamefound campaign started already on 25th of January, 2022, the final game is expected to be delivered in early 2023.

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Copyright © 2022 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany