How It PlaysLast Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident is a solitaire boardgame. The player controls 12 UN Colonial Marines who have boarded the crippled lab ship USS Feynman. The object of the game is to rescue as many surviving crew members as possible, while collecting items that will enable the UN Marine Corps to assess the nature of the alien threat (such as the RAM dump and ship security video). The marines have only a limited time to accomplish their objective, as the Feynman is in a decaying orbit and will soon break up in the atmosphere of Beta 07921.
Fluid Turn SequenceVesuvius Incident switches between tactical and operations turns as the marines move through the ship exploring new areas. As long as the marines stay in an area they have already secured, turns remain operational. The marines may move freely through secured areas, and may perform actions such as hacking the ship's computer, repairing robots and guns, and so forth.
When marines move into a new area of the ship, play shifts to tactical turns, 5 seconds long. Every time a group of marines enters a new area, the player draws encounter chits from a cup. These may be aliens, surviving crew, equipment items, or random events. Crew members are friendly or, if driven insane by their ordeal, may be hostile to the marines. The aliens, of course, are always hostile.
Pvt. Yee encounters an alien in the computer room.
Tactically Rich Combat SystemAliens and hostile crew are controlled by a simple automated action algorithm. When outnumbered, they will tend to flee if there are enough exits available. Otherwise, they usually attack. The combat system enfolds to-hit, damage, and weapon jams into two quick die rolls.
The marine units have tactical displays for recording their status, as shown below. These tell the player at a quick glance the equipment each marine is carrying, medical status, and skills.
Vesuvius Incident is thus a highly tactically rich simulation given its relative simplicity and microgame format. Rules cover line of sight, missed shots, decompression, and other special situations aboard the ship. The player must also worry about leaving single marine units by themselves, where they may panic or be abducted by the aliens (in which case the unfortunate marine gets put into the encounter cup).
The Situation Deteriorates . . .Combat is fast and deadly in Vesuvius Incident, but that's not the only factor the marines need to worry about. Every turn, the ship moves closer to reentry. When it hits the atmosphere it will break up, killing everyone aboard. But the precise time of reentry is uncertain; the marines can push their luck or opt for a conservative retreat. The system handles this by having two tracks, the Orbital Decay track and the Atmospheric Reentry track. At the end of each turn (operations or tactical) a reentry timer counter advances one square along the Orbital Decay track. At the end of the track are five Orbit counters, turned face down. One of these is the Reentry counter -- when that counter comes up, the ship enters the atmosphere. Play immediately goes into tactical turns, and the marines now have scant seconds to get safely off the Feynman. The reentry timer moves to the Atmospheric Reentry track, and at this point the player rolls every turn to see if the ship explodes.
The ship has hit the edge of the atmosphere and will soon break apart.
Victory or Disaster?Vesuvius Incident is not easy to win. Often as not, the game ends with a final, desperate last stand between the aliens and the tattered remains of the marine squad. But with good tactics and a little luck, the marines can emerge the victors.
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