A minimum viable prototype was provided for review by the publisher
- Designer: Emil Larsen
- Artists: Dinulescu Alexandru, Linggar Bramanty, Przemek Kozlowski
- Release Year: 2023
- Mechanics: Cooperative, Dungeon Crawling, Dice Rolling, Modular Board, Legacy
Rogue Angels: Legacy of the Burning Suns was pitched to me as if Mass Effect had a board game baby. What a hook! My interest was immediately roused, but I was also skeptical. Comparing your game to a critical juggernaut like Mass Effect is quite the gamble; if it fails to deliver on the rich narrative that made Bioware’s space opera such a beloved experience among millions of players, myself included, than you’re setting everyone up for disappointment.
The longer, more technical description of Rogue Angels is that it’s a cooperative sci-fi legacy game containing a strong narrative with multiple paths, tactical combat with fluent turns, action management and asymmetric abilities. If that description catches your attention, read on as I detail my experience with the first couple missions.
The preview box I received contained 3 characters to whet my appetize (over 20 characters are promised to be included in the full game). Players assume the role of a rag-tag crew of freelancers or mercenaries as they traverse the stars and interact with various characters and factions. Missions can vary from gun blazing all-out battles, to stealthy subterfuges. As each mission progresses, players may be forced to make choices that directly impacts how their story develops.
The introductory mission has players escaping a hanger as they’re being hunted by guards of the Hellfire faction. The mission is broken into small chunks, giving players room to explore each of the main mechanics of Rogue Angels one-at-a-time before submerging themselves into the system. This method offers the person tasked with teaching the rules a very easy on-ramp to the system. The introduction goes as far as to take away all the players equipment at the start so no one gets overwhelmed by the myriad of options their cards present.
The mission begins by simply moving a single character adjacent to a point-of-interest, and continues by having other players interact with a door and a console. Interacting with objects, like trying to pick the lock on a door, or hack into a console, is achieved by drawing tokens out of a bag, and trying to match 3 colours together. This may take several actions as tokens of the wrong colour are returned to the bag. Finally, the mission gives you all your equipment back, and introduces enemies. This has players managing interacting, attacking, and moving simultaneously. At the same time, players are managing the scripted behaviour of enemies. Finally, players have arrived at the full Rogue Angels experience.
The core of Rogue Angels gameplay is the card action system; each card has a cost, and when you play a card for the action, you slot it into the appropriate spot under your player board. At the end of each of your turns, you ‘rest’, which slides all your action cards one slot to the left. Any cards that happen to fall off the track are returned to your hand and are able to be used again.
In addition to playing cards to the action row, most cards allow you to roll dice to accent your action. The die can boost the listed effect of the card, regenerate your shields, or offer you extra movement. Initially I was worried about the potential for bad die rolls to screw me out of achieving victory, but in Rouge Angels, dice are only ever positive; they always enhance your card actions. In some situations you may be really hoping to get a specific benefit, but the base effect(s) of your card will always trigger, and that’s a really nice feeling. No critical misses here!
One more aspect to the card play is some cards can gain even further benefits based on the personality of the one the wields it. As your characters go through the campaign and make choices, they’ll gain personality tokens. These personality tokens can be played to enhance a card action, and can change how a card functions significantly.
Rogue Angels is quite forgiving. Should you have multiple potential targets during an action, you get to roll any applicable die, see exactly how well you did, then get to decide who you want to target. The gameplay is very flexible.
The Rogue Angels rulebook is extremely intimating, clocking in at 44 pages long. I found that there are several pages of examples, walking you through how every action works and covering many of the edge cases that we experienced during the first few games. It was a lot of pages to get through, but I found a fairly straightforward rule-set underneath.
The other (massive) book involved is the Campaign book. At the time of writing the campaign has 8 missions, and is already over 100 pages long. Every mission has several checkpoints and updates where the stated goal may suddenly change, or you and your players are forced to react to an unexpected event. It makes for a lot of reading, but once you get past the initial shock factor of just how many pages exist for this game, there’s a well executed system for progressing the mission without interrupting gameplay too dramatically.
My initial impressions of Rogue Angels: Legacy of the Burning Sun is that it’s a deep game – much deeper than I initially expected. I can tell that designer Emil Larson LOVES the universe that he has created, going as far as to create a Wiki to aid the players in submerging themselves in the lore. The campaign book is already over 100 pages long and filled with story and dialogue. The full version of Rogue Angels is advertised to have a spiral bound book containing a large number of maps, making the game fast to set up.
While playing Rogue Angels I kept thinking about Gloomhaven. While I’m not proclaiming that this is going to be the next Gloomhaven, the best way I can describe Rogue Angels is if Gloomhaven and Mass Effect had a board game baby, this would be it. If you know either (or even better, both) of these games, you’ll know that this is high praise.
It’s difficult to tell just from the demo missions I played, but I do have very high hopes for the story and legacy aspects. All the groundwork has been laid for the consequences and call-backs that made Mass Effect so popular. I would love to see the decisions we made early in the campaign return and affect players later in the game. The systems seems to be in place for this to happen, but I didn’t experience any payoffs during my short playthrough. That being said, I have only scratched the surface of what Rogue Angels has in store for it’s players.
I played Rogue Angels solo. While there is a lot of reading, the action stays on the table for the bulk of the playtime. It’s quite easy to manage three different characters when playing solo, and I would recommend playing multiple characters, as each one is quite different and has wildly different strengths and weaknesses. The enemy AI is straightforward, and I enjoyed seeing the different stratagems or rules to control the enemies in simulating different situations, such as patrolling, a disorganized attack, or tactical retreat.
I am excited to see where this project goes and what Emil Larson has in store for players. I eagerly anticipate seeing the project grow and evolve, and cannot wait until I get my hands on the full-fledged product. I’m sure I can easily sell this experience to a couple of my sci-fi loving friends to form a crew and dive deeply into this excellent system. The gameplay is smooth and the story has hooks that will have you and your friends eager to play again.