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Michal Oracz

Portal Publishing

No. of Players:
2 - 4



Theseus: The Dark Orbit is a game for two to four players who take the roles of different factions who want to gain control over a derelict space station. The available factions are the Space Marines, the Aliens, the Scientists and the mysterious Grey, and each of the participating races will dock onto the space station with its own home module. Together with the three modules of the station (The Corridors, the Control Room and the Tech bay, all modules are arranged in a circle to form the whole space station, and each of the player will place three units into these modules to represent his forces on the station. Two units will be placed at each faction's home module, and one unit can be placed freely within any other module.

When the units have been placed, each player will receive his own unique deck of Tech cards, and he will shuffle these cards in order to draw a hand of three. One of these Tech cards can be "installed" on any module of the players' choice, whereas the other two Tech cards will go into preparatory slots on the players' home modules. That's all preparation needed, and at once the players will go into a vicious battle to become the predominant conqueror of the station. This will be measured by wounds dealt to the other factions, and the player with least wounds at the end of the game actually will be declared winner.

During his turn, a player has to move one of his three units in clockwise direction along the modules of the station, and the number of modules is determined by the number of units (own and enemy) in the module where the unit starts its movement. When the unit has arrived at its new module, several steps have to be resolved:

  • First off, the active player will have to check his own and enemy Tech cards which may be installed in this sector. There may be enemy traps which need to be resolved, or useful Tech cards installed by the active player which now may give him some kind of bonus.
  • If there four units in the module, a combat round will be initiated, and the active player's units in the module will deal their combat damage to present enemy units.
  • If the module actually was full (4 units) before the new unit moved in, one unit of the active player's choice will be ousted into space. The owner of this unit may use one of his following turns to re-enter the space station, but he must forfeit all other actions during this turn.
  • After these immediate effects were resolved, the player next may use the action associated with the module he has entered. If it's one of the space stations' own modules, this may trigger an additional movement (Tech Bay), a combat round in all modules (Corridors) or a movement of a Malfunction token (Control Room) which the active player may place on any enemy Tech card within the station. If the player has moved into his home module, he will instead be entitled to an Update token. These tokens may be collected and used as the player whishes, either for upgrading his units or for increasing the efficiency of his installed Tech cards.
  • Finally, the player has to check whether a Tech card is in the preparatory slot of the module. If it's one of his own cards, he may now install it within the module, whereas an enemy card can be discarded and replaced by the next card from the player's own deck.

During the game the players will install more and more Tech cards which will either hamper the other players on their way through the station or will give the owning player some kind of benefit when he enters this sector. By using his Tech cards in clever consideration of the modules and their powers, the players will try to develop a pattern which will give them useful windfall effects like double actions or additional attacks, and despite the fact that the players are allowed a free choice which unit they will move during their turn there are plenty of possibilities to set up more and more complex patterns of Tech-card traps which the opposing players will have to tackle. These effects can be increased even further through efficient movement of a player's units, since a well-timed move into a module containing many enemy units may not only trigger a combat round, but - due to the correlation between the movement allowance and the number of units in a module - this may also force an opponent to make a move which he does not really like because it leads straight into a trap.

The author of Theseus: The Dark Orbit actually is Michal Oracz, and many of you might actually recognize this name because he has already created the brain-teasing sci-fi conflict game Neuroshima Hex. His name stands for gaming quality, and indeed Theseus: The Dark Orbit does not need to shy away from a comparison with Neuroshima Hex. Both games share the fact that the are highly strategic if played with just two players, and they get slightly less predictable if three or four players participate. However, the playing mechanism found in Theseus: The Dark Orbit is rather different, because the players do not move freely within the limits of a hex-gameboard, but instead they follow a galactic "carousel of doom" within the confines of this sinister space station. The players always need to watch their back and keep an open eye for the activities of their opponents, since inattention may lead to fatal errors which are hard to correct in the second half of the game. This poses a great tactical challenge indeed!

Overall, the game offers everything needed for many interesting rounds, especially due to the fact that the factions all have their unique units and Tech cards. In addition, the game even includes a fifth faction which may be used by advanced players, and so I would like to recommend this game to everybody who loves a tough challenge with a sci-fi background!

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Copyright © 2013 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany