A Stellar Evening with Impulse

July 08, 2014

impulse So I went to the Origins Game Fair for the first time this year and had a blast. It was mainly to demo my game Forge War, but on the last day I took some time to see what I could see and just get in some good old-fashioned gaming. I ended up sitting across the table from the prolific Mike Fitzgerald as he showed me a demo copy of Impulse, which was released early this month, I believe. Mike isn't the designer of Impulse, he's just knows a guy who knows a guy. The designer is the one and only Carl Chudyk, who also designed Glory to Rome and other innovative card cards (i.e. Innovation). So anyway, I sat down and played a 2-player game of Impulse and was amazed. Amazed because Impulse does everything a 4X game does in the time it takes to play Glory to Rome. My 2-player game took over an hour, because there was a lot to learn, but I imagine once you are experienced, the game could fly by pretty quickly. The order of operations in Impulse is very involved, and I had to train my brain to think in a new way in order to manage the game. Maybe that doesn't sound like much fun to you, but I find learning complex new systems thrilling. And, honestly, while it does everything a space-themed 4X does, I'm not quite sure it scratches the 4X itch because it is so novel. I mean, I'm not a huge fan of 4X games personally and I thoroughly enjoyed Impulse, so if someone felt the opposite about 4X games, would they feel the opposite about Impulse? Eh, useless to speculate. Let me just tell you what the game is all about. All right, so you've got a system of cards face-down on the table arranged in a hexagonal pattern of space. And each player has their own hand of cards. Since this is a Carl Chudyk game, these cards all have multiple uses and you'll never actually just play a card from your hand to take an action. Instead you'll either place them as a new planet in the star system on the table and activate them by moving ships over them, or you'll install them as tech cards and use them during tech actions, or you'll plan them out on the right side of your player mat and then execute them when it benefits you the most. Or you'll put them in the "impulse." The impulse is a shared set of cards into which players contribute one card and then activate them all in order each round. Which is cool because you're giving other players actions, so you want to put in stuff that will benefit you the most and them the least. So what are the actions specifically? Well, I think there are ten types of cards in total, which include moving ships, researching new tech, drawing more cards, putting cards in your plan, mining cards (which go on the left side of your mat and sort of act like Glory to Rome clientele - boosting the effects of other actions), refining the cards you've mined into points, blowing up other player's ships, building new ships, turning card directly into points and playing cards directly from your hand. Did I already say you would never do that? Whoops, like I said, complex systems. Are you confused yet? All right, good because you've also got to deal with a random value (1-3) for each card and a random color (4 of those). And so the actions that you take will only affect cards of a certain value or color. Because of this, it can get a little random at times, but knowing what you're doing and parsing the correct order of operations to execute a solid plan is really what the game is about. What I like is that the game is so dense. All you've got is a hand of cards to deal with, but somehow that branches off into nigh-infinite possibilities. It definitely takes some getting used to, but by the end of the game I was executing complex maneuvers to move my fighter ships around to knock out half of my opponents forces and rack up a good amount of points. It wasn't enough points to catch up from my early mistakes, but it was still a lot fun. Especially because it happened so fast. There's no long epic sagas of military stalemates and trade negotiations, It's all just a mad point grab to see who can get to 20 first. What also excites me about Impulse is the same thing that excited about Star Realms - many different ways to play the same game. The board of cards can accommodate up to 6 people, and with your player count, you can do everyone versus everyone else, or split up into teams of 2 or 3, which is awesome. Games that can seamlessly turn an individual play experience into a team experience never cease to amaze me. If I have one complaint (other than a steep learning curve, which may be a problem for some people), it is that players' individual turns may take a little too long. There's a lot of ways to squeeze out actions in a single turn and I can imagine waiting 15 or more minutes between turns in a 6-player game with very little to do. I've only played the game 2-player, so I don't know, but I would suspect that Impulse would be better at a smaller player count for this reason. So, in the end, Impulse was the highlight of my Origins experience, though admittedly I didn't have a lot to compare it to. There was that game of Terra Mystica that I embarrassingly lost. There was a whole lot of Forge War demos, which were good, but made me lose my voice. There was the Secret Cabal get-together, which was a blast, but Origins is about playing games, and Impulse was the best gaming experience I had all weekend. I may just have to impulse-buy this if I see it at GenCon. Dammit, I came so far without using a pun, but I just couldn't resist. Forgive me.

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