Sine Tempore is a space campaign where your party of four heroes are scouting out a new planet called Primevus V in search of a new homeworld. This game has taken its time to arrive after kickstarting in 2017, and is a miniatures heavy game with tiles and dice rolling. Whilst there are many fantasy dungeon campaigns, there are not as many space based ones around so let us see how this compares.
Initial impressions on unboxing are really good, the models are great quality, with pretty hard plastic and good detail, and i felt at the better end of genre and beating softer plastic models of Descent and Sword & Sorcery (purple bosses an exception). Tiles are larger than usual with square grids and excellent artwork that is better than all my other games, and scenery is great too with a three dimensional aspect to crates and trees that really stand out alongside the models, and provide cover and objects to climb on. I was really pleased with how a set up scenario looked on the table. Artwork on the booklets, cards and tokens are also top notch, and the player boards beat the thinner cards of most other games, coming with neat skill token upgrades to insert.
The core campaign is a pretty solid 10 mission storyline including occasional branching paths and is the main part of the game, with these missions interspersed with exploration missions which randomly set up each time with new enemies and scenery. There are 12 more of these in the core box spread across 4 difficulty levels. Completing these explorations will help you take control of 24 areas on the planet map and gather important resources which you can use to upgrade your spaceship or equipment. So you have 22 scenarios to try in the core box even if you have no intention of replaying any, but the game does lead you to play some explorations multiple times if you fail. It may have been nicer to have a longer storyline, but comparing to Sword & Sorcery or Massive Darkness this comes out pretty well with a lot of missions to try, even though it is not quite a Gloomhaven size book. There are a lot of upgrades choices available, and skills offer specialisation paths to focus on, with the space ship areas and equipment upgrades competing for attention. Some expansions such as Kyrone and Motherfang offer a short series of missions to fight a Nemesis boss, with rewards for success, and these look really good.
The core box has four different heroes, a close combat leader, ranged weapon android, psionic powered character and an armed medic. These all have a unique enough role and skill sets, and you should quickly bond with yours. Enemy models are varied in size and type from tiny to large, and each model type also represents more than one card version which increases the variations available for each mission. The rules are well presented, a few minor areas could have been clearer, such as enemy loot dropping, but overall it was all pretty good for this kind of game. Line of sight was implemented well enough, and we liked that enemies had objectives until the hero threat became sufficient enough to change their behavior. The AI is not as deep or varied as Sword & Sorcery or Middara but adds a bit more compared to Gloomhaven or Massive Darkness. Now there are a lot of symbols for skills and conditions so this takes some learning and remembering, but there is a guide list in the rules book (a separate reference sheet would have been better), and there is an action reference turn guide provided helpful. It is worth noting the limitation that you need to play with 4 heroes each game, so you are best set up with the right size group, but i do not think playing 2 characters for instance would be that hard once you know them, however solo may be too much.
Gameplay is a pretty standard concept, you have action points to spend each turn rather than a set number of actions (move and attack), and whilst you may still do that combination a lot of the time, it feels like you have more choices on how to spend your turn. If you want to take a quick shot and let your turn come around a little quicker then you can opt to do this. Your attack and defense are completed via dice rolls, you score hits by rolling certain symbol combinations, with mitigation largely through gaining extra dice or re-rolls. You will of course see complaints about luck, but anyone who likes any dungeon crawl or campaign games will see this as standard gaming, and few games of this kind mitigate luck out of the equation. Tactically speaking there are some considerations, such as focusing dice from an easier attack to use later, upgrading certain skills before others, making sure you attack enemies with the right character to avoid defense, or standing in defensive cover if you are wounded. It is however a game where you will not do a massive damage combo hit early on, and you must use attrition or group focus attacks to take out the most threatening enemies. Heroes will gradually get stronger, the game missions will get harder so there is some balance built in. The game does set itself up so that you are not expected to win every mission without having improved your characters, and in the end this is a dice rolling game, so you should already know before you buy it whether you can enjoy the random (good or bad rolling) this may bring.
Game comparisons from those i have owned and played would include Imperial Assault, which of course has the space campaign theme, and is always one player v all based in nature, and so can feel less co-operative or be unsatisfying for one side by the game end. I felt the theme of Sine Tempore stood up pretty well against the epic Star Wars, and the faun enemies give enough personality to be really interesting. Massive Darkness is also game where you set up a mission in advance and execute it co-operatively, and here i feel Sine Tempore wins hands down, as the rules are much better, tactically the game is more satisfying, and the campaign and upgrading characters leaves Massive Darkness for dust. Sword & Sorcery is another close comparison for having more dice symbols, a storyline to follow, and character improvements, and i really like both these games equally at the moment. Gloomhaven still offers the greater tactical depth and more scenario missions, but it does not look quite as nice on the table and characters need more investment and learning with slower long term progress, but i do not see these as competitors in quite the same way as other dice games are.
Campaign games are often given a hard review, and bear in mind i really have not delved deep into the story yet, but all the elements for future progression are well incorporated. This games has some uniqueness too, its momentum turn tracker is proving a great feature and really beats the clockwise or alternate turn orders often seen. It’s scenery, tiles, artwork and general appearance all make the game feel alive and engrossing, and the group has wanted to return to the campaign against competing table time, and this takes no account of any kickstarter additional content that would build up new campaigns areas and enemy options. The core box is a good enough set to play through, i kind of wish i had bought more expansions but really i have enough with Silico, Black Hole, Kyrone and Motherfang boxes i ordered for a long time to come.
Overall this is a middle ground complexity game, with dice rolling play, and contains some special elements not seen elsewhere, and it has enough upgrade areas to make playing again seem worthwhile. The campaign is proving really enjoyable with my group, players have bonded quickly with their character and enjoy selecting skills to upgrade. There has been a lot of in game player interaction to strategise how to beat each mission, and the dice with all its symbols have proven to be pretty good in comparison to more basic numerical options. I like this game a lot, the characters, theme progression is all strong and i believe that even if balance did become an issue it can be mitigated by some simple changes to the ease or difficulty of gaining resources. It is fast becoming the campaign game of the year for us.