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Teaching GSF or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the PAX demo

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Foote's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Apr 09, 2013
Teaching GSF or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the PAX demo

Hey everyone! As promised, here is the total breakdown of how I taught GSF to folks during PAX East. In this post, I will go through the demo setup and the steps in which I introduced new mechanics and terms. At the end, I will go over some additional thoughts about the proccess.

The Goal:

There were two main goals we kept in mind when formatting the demo. 1) It needed to showcase and highlight all the nessesary mechanics and themes so folks knew exactly what they were going to get and 2) It needed to play in about 30-40 minutes with 5-6 players in order to maximize table turnover and get as many people to play as possible. Even with 30-40 minutes games I was still turning people away constantly who wanted to play and that was tough, so this balance was important.

#1 is easy as the games mechanics and theme sell themselves. We just had to make sure all our bases were covered. #2 was the hard part. GSF is not a short game under normal circumstances (my averages have been around 1.5 hours per game, sometimes more). 95% of the games I taught had a full table of 6 players. Starting each game with 12 Opp ships and expecting either the board cleared or the flagship scrapped in 30 minutes was not going to happen.  Either the game would go for 2 hours to a win, or the new players would have been soul crushingly demolished in 2 rounds. The options were to showcase mechanics in an easy-mode environmet that would play quickly, or to showcase the difficulty and force losses to keep within an acceptable timeframe. We went with the easy-mode option, for better or worse.

The Setup:

Sectors - Oothagos Expanse. Barada Trade Outpost. Kolvarian Wastes

Opposition - Technovore Infestation

Strike Force Ships - Wrath, Marot, and BjarlSpire were consistently left in the box for various reasons. Anyone else was free game. My table used Tharendim, Vigilance, Conclave, Warbeast, Claw, and Hammer. 

Stacking the Odds - For 5-6 player games (which was the majority) we deployed 2 Opp ships in each sector, making sure to have a Technovore Swarm in at least the Wastes and Trade Outpost. Each Opp ship deployed through the game would start with -2D. The first card of the mission deck was always "The Space-Net Gambit". Sometimes we even stacked the second mission card to be "Sleeping Monsters", but not always.

For 4 players, remove 1 Opp from one sector to start.

Teaching the Game:

Once the table is set and everyone has seated, the fun gets to start.

  • Pre-Travel

I started every game with explaining the set and setting of the game. I would tell them that they are all smugglers and pirates and theives trying to take down some nasty stuff cropping up around the galaxy. The Technovores are particularly bad for business as they are devouring technology across the universe which is the stuff they have to sell to make ends meat. I hate spiders and am always eager to blow those suckers up. Once they know why they are playing and what the stakes are, I give them the win/lose conditions. Either clear all sectors of the infestation, or take down the Hive-Master whos controlling them if he ever decides to come out of deep space (I do *not* tell them how the Hive-Master deploys).

I have them shuffle their starting decks a bit and tell them to place it face up in front of them, and draw the top 4 cards. At this point I tell them about the 2 different card types. Techs are the upgrades you instal on your ship to make them better. Boosts are instant cards that can be played at anytime unless they have a specific phase requirement. I then mention and explain the two important keywords to know - Scrap and Recycle.

I then have them place W/D tokens on their panel and start the first phase.

  • Travel

I introduce the first phase and explain that this is where our ships first jump out of deep space into contested territory. The first thing we go over is the start of phase Icon activation, where we scan the board for any phase Icons and resolve them before players get to act. There are 2 [T] icons. First we go to Oothagos and activate that. I use Oothagos because at this moment I explain the Energy symbol and what it means. We then go to the Hive-Master panel and deploy the first mission, usually into Oothagos (though it doesn't much matter).

I then give details on the 3 sectors to help guide movement options. Oothagos has the mission where the Ion-Net is being constructed. Barada Trade Outpost is where you can find deals on all your upgrades. I then stress that the Wastes are in grave danger of Overrunning and are an immediate threat. Explain here that for each Opposition ship not challenged by your Strike Force will turn the technology in these sectors against them, and that if all cards flip in a sector at the end of a round, it becomes Overrun.

With all of that information, allow them to choose where they go as a group. 

  • Requisition

After you activate all [R] icons, explain the value numbers of the cards in their hand and how money works. Explain that any card that is bought goes immediatly under your deck face up. Explain everything happens at once, so talk with your partners who are in the sector with you to coordinate what you all want to buy. Point out the price on each station card and the red symbol which hints at the cards flip side. Touch on that sector manipulation is a key strategy for winning, but won't be nearly as important for the demo, so just buy whatever looks good.

  • Installation

Do all [I] Icons. Then I usually borrow someones hand and explain how you install differnt techs. Make sure you stress that W/D go onto the cards and not all on the panel, and explain why. Unless it already came up as a question, here I address that shields get lost before weapons and that the order you install techs can matter.

  • Battle

Do all [B] Icons. Here requires the most explanation. First, explain the various events that happen in this phase, and that players can play cards before and after each event. This is important for whoever is playing Claw, as Deadly Focus/Ramming Speed will be brought up. Explain engaging and how damage calculation works before letting them have at it. After everyone engages, I jump around as I paint the picture of Claw ramming broadside into the ship that they will inevitably scrap. As Claw or Hammer scraps their first ship, I explain Bounties. Clever players will feel so awesome when they find the bounty on the Technovore Swarm on their own and piece that together. Battle it out and move on.

  • Aftermath

Icons. Then allow any last minutes boosts (usually coming from Warbeast if applicable). There will usually be at least one unengaged ship at this point, so reiterate the flipping thing and flip the station cards as need be. IF they decided to abandon one sector at the beginging (which I never warned them about), its awesome when they see the Flagship come out. If that happens, explain why he came out and what he does, and that the win condition has changed. If not, continue as normal. Have them recycle any cards in hand, draw back up to 4, and continue back to the top of the Travel phase.

At this point, they now know every major mechanic in the game, how phases work, what all the cards do and how to get them, and have all the nessesary information to keep going on their own with minimal questions. By the end of the 2nd or 3rd round, the board should be cleared. Tack on an extra round or two if Hive-Master showed up. They should win no problem around the 40 minute mark. As you are cleaning up, explain again that this was an introductory demo and it was super easy-mode. Explain that instead of 6 ships to start, you would have seen 12 all with full shields. Have smelling salts in pocket as a few folks might feint.


Closing Thoughts

The Demo, while it succeded I thought in its original goals quite well, was not perfect. The most common complaint I heard was that the game seemed way too easy. And it was. A smart group of gamers could easily win in the battle phase of round 2. 

What was a success was the flow in which all the major mechanics could be introduced. I did not frontload all of the information, instead dealing out bits and pieces that were important as we moved through the first round. This allowed folks to retain all of the information easier and compartmentalise things they needed to know for each phase. That was a huge success as I had very few questions after the first round was over.

Some games would never see the flagship, some would. It was very awesome to see folks come back for multiple demos with me that would see something new every time even with the highly scripted nature of the demo. 

I would really like to find a way to introduce more difficulty and impending danger into the demo while at the same time not increasing the play time, but I have not found a way to do that. 

I hope this demo setup is useful. Even if you do not use the exact setup, hopefully you can glean some tips on how to best present and teach the game to new players

phantaskippy's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Jan 26, 2013

I loved the demo as was.

The low shields allowed players to get the damage dealing dynamic of the game, while the limited ships let you focus on learning gameplay rather than trying to come up with strategy to deal with the overwhelming numbers.

After the first turn it was too easy.  First turn was perfect.  That's the problem, I doubt you can preserve the first turn perfection and make the game harder.

Once that initial turn was done we had a pretty good idea of what was going on and could really get into figuring out how to destroy the ships with some teamwork.  If there is a group/mission/setup that would bring a good number of ships into play on the second turn it would be cool, I don't know if that exists or not.

At the end of the game I played I felt I had a really good grasp on the mechanics of the game and was really excited to play it again with more challenge.  I think a harder start to the game would be much more overwhelming, and while that would better convey the setting of the game, it would detract from learning how to play the game.

Foote's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Apr 09, 2013

phantaskippy wrote:

If there is a group/mission/setup that would bring a good number of ships into play on the second turn it would be cool, I don't know if that exists or not.

Fantastic Suggestion. I will be looking at different mission configurations.

Starting with the Ion-Net mission will probably be the first change made. It actually does the exact opposite of what you're suggesting, it can scrap Opp ships during the 2nd round when weaker Spiders get moved there.

Another change that I mulled over was actually using the Elite Mode Icons. Technovores just scrap installed techs starting the 2nd round. It wouldn't end up hurting too badly, but its another aspect of impending danger that lacked in the demo.

Thanks for your input!

arenson9's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Aug 08, 2011

Thanks, Foote.

Hi. My name's Andy. Feel free to call me Andy, since, ya know, that's my name. (he/him/his)

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If not now, when? If I am for myself alone, what am I? -- Hillel