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Great tabletop games for video gamers: Level 7 Omega Protocol

Image Credit: Privateer Press

This ongoing series covers tabletop board or card games that video gamers should dig.

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Level 7: Omega Protocol

Video games that Level 7: Omega Protocol reminds us of: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, X-Com: UFO Defense

X-Com: UFO Defense

Above: X-Com: UFO Defense

  • Publisher: Privateer Press
  • # of players: 2-6
  • Cost: $90
  • To learn: It took me a couple of reads before I really got the rules down. Omega Protocol is a more complicated than the average board game, due to considerations for the tactical movement, line of sight, ranged combat, etc.
  • To play: But it’s not as complicated as a typical war game. By tactical tabletop gaming standards, Omega Protocol is fairly accessible.
  • Noteworthy: We haven’t played Level 7: Escape, but reviewers seem to agree that this sequel, Omega Protocol, is the one to get in the series so far. The third game, Level 7: Invasion, is scheduled to come out this fall.

Twice I have Tweeted out “XCOM” and “board game” in the same 140-character breath (for two different products), and both times, the general reaction can be summed up like this: “I WANT.”

That’s because — no exaggeration — XCOM (or X-Com) is one of the most beloved video game franchises of all time. (The 2012 edition, Enemy Unknown, was my game of the year.) The turn-based strategy series highlights humanity’s struggle for survival against invading alien forces, both on a global scale and on the ground on a face-to-bug-eyed-face basis. But XCOM isn’t just a fan fave because it features deep strategy on multiple levels.

The video games are also moody and scary. When you touch down in a new alien-infested zone, you feel a little vulnerable, despite playing the role of the hunter armed with heavy-duty assault weapons. You know your creepy crawly foes are out there somewhere, but you’re not sure where. One can spring out from behind a tree or car at any moment. Heck, even a simple action like opening a door can be a harrowing experience.

Fantasy Flight Games recently announced an XCOM-licensed board game that focuses on the big-picture side of this conflict. But if you’re looking for an excellent tabletop experience that replicates those tense, tactical ground skirmishes, Privateer Press has got you covered with Level 7: Omega Protocol. (By the way, this publisher’s also got the “global” stuff covered, too, with the aforementioned Invasion.)

To be clear — and I know Privateer’s lawyers would appreciate me emphasizing this — Omega Protocol is not an XCOM game. But you might as well think of it as one as it’s clearly inspired by them.

Level 7: Omega Protocol

Above: An example board setup. The dice determine hits in combat, while the green tokens represent adrenaline. The more the commandos spend, the more actions they get — but the more actions they “feed” to the enemy overseer as well. It’s a very well-designed balancing mechanic.

It recreates the tactical, turn-based, soldier-vs-alien combat rather well in board-game form. Grid-based movement, combat, line of sight, cover, special abilities, equipped gear … although you have to do a lot more manual work here to keep track of everything (compared to a video game), anyone who’s played XCOM should feel instantly comfortable with all the mechanics and options.

Omega Protocol also captures the spirit and soul of the legendary video games — pretty impressive considering it has no animations, sound effects, or mood music (though you can always add your own). Besides the instruction manual, the box comes with a 27-page mission guide book full of story, flavor text, and scenarios. In these missions, up to five players take on the roles of military commandos of different classes such as rifleman, recon, or heavy assault. They have work together to enter top-secret underground facilities (represented by modular map pieces) to complete objectives like retrieving intel, finding a control panel to vent a floor of alien-friendly gasses, escaping a threat, or simply exterminating the enemy.

Outside of their own actions, however, these commandos have very little control over what’s happening on each level. One other player, the evil “overseer,” is playing against this team and hiding objectives, setting traps, and spawning enemies. The overseer runs the base and all within — and all the other players, despite being heavily armed and having more real-life brains working together, can’t help but feel a bit like the underdogs. How many alien clones will crawl out of that vent? Will the massive Fear Hunter appear, stalk, and kill everyone? Will the roof cave in and hurt the team? Will everyone make it out alive? And what’s behind that damn door??

Scary — just like XCOM.

Bottom line: Out of all the tabletop games we’ve covered in this series so far, Omega Protocol is the heaviest. But that doesn’t make it too dense or unfriendly to play. It’s still fairly accessible, especially since most of the table is playing cooperatively together. If you like the idea of a lighter “wargame”-style experience with a very immersive sci-fi theme, then keep Omega Protocol within your sights.

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