Solo Game: Septic Shock

Fairway looks at the other fifth-place finisher in the Solo Game Challenge from The Game Crafter: Septic Shock.

Septic Shock is a single player, dice-placement game in which the player is actively trying to cure themselves of some nasty infections that are spreading throughout the body. Like the other reviews in this series, I followed a slightly different scoring rubric from the contest. Here’s how this game scored:

Total Theme (5) Art / GD (10) Solo (15) Game Play (10) Creativity (5) Other (5)
60% 4 4 10 7 3 -1*

* the game came with no box and came in plastic baggies. The rules required “packaging.” This wasn’t quite Love Letter where everything stored neatly in a little velvet bag. What’s more all the components came in separate baggies inside a giant plastic baggie. So perhaps not disqualifying, but we removed all the points from “other” and one. 

Initial Impressions ^

Not a box shot. 🙁
  1. There is a very high luck component to this game and most of our games were over much more quickly than was probably ideal.
  2. The game has a consistent visual motif: loud, vibrant, videogame-esque design and color scheme. It worked for the game.
  3. The rollable mat for a game board was a nice touch.
  4. No box!
  5. The integration of the game mechanisms and the them worked: circulating the viruses and antibiotics throughout the body.

How to play ^

In Septic Shock, the player is tasked with ridding their body of rampaging infections before becoming so ill that the infections actually spread throughout the body.

To start, the rollable mat is placed at the center of the board. Three white pathogen tokens are placed in three different organs on the mat. These white pathogen tokens will be the points at which the infections will originate. A red blood pressure token is set in the middle space. A stack of tissue cards are placed unused-side-up on the mat.  Two pills are placed in the prescription vial.

Starting Arrangement

Next, the fifteen custom dice (once stickered) are placed into a black bag.  There are nine dice with unique die patterns–three for each type of infection–and six with the same. Each die has one of a series of symbols: 

Dice images from the rules

A set of treatment cards are set next to the board and will be available when unlocked.

Finally, the colored pathogen tokens are all placed to the side. As pathogens are rolled, these tokens will be placed on the circulation track.

Now, the game is ready to play.  The game is played over a series of turns. First, the player takes between one and three tissues. These tissues represent the number of die roll attempts a player will get.  If you take one, tissue, you draw three dice from the bag and roll them.  If you took more than one die, you can re-roll all the dice up to the number of tissues you took. Should you ever run out of tissues, you will skip directly to the circulation step and take five new ones — this can be avoided if you are later able to use the replenish tissues.

Not a good roll.

After you finish rolling, you have to survey the damage.  Any pathogens rolled results in a matching pathogen token placed on every organ with a white pathogen token.

All of the other rolls are evaluated. Each red cross die is placed on one of the open red cross spaces.  Once a complete set of red crosses is completed, you take the corresponding basic procedure such as administering an antibiotic, getting one of the pharmaceuticals, or replenishing your tissues.  Likewise, if you complete a row of one of the special procedures, you take the corresponding action.

Then the player performs the circulation step. First, all pathogens (except white ones) will move around the circulation wheel by three spaces. Second, any pills move one space. Third, any antibiotic removals occur. Finally, for any organ that has two infections of the same color on it, a new white pathogen token is added to that organ if it doesn’t already have one.

As pathogens are added to new organs or removed, blood pressure changes. So long as blood pressure is managed, the player avoids dying.

The game continues until either the player wins by eradicating the infections or the player dies the various complications of the infection.

Where it shines ^

Art and graphic design.  The game feels straight out of a medical drama or maybe a medical-themed video game. Every aspect of the game from the icons to the mat to the pathogen tokens feels on-point. It is consistent, coherent and of good quality.

The Theme.  The game takes full advantage of its theme: circulation, treatment, infections, etc. Aspects of the game play itself followed directly from the theme like circulation and treatment.

Solidly Solo.  This game definitely follows a solidly designed solo-first game play. Everyone liked rolling the dice and assigning the red crosses. Players were less happy about placing the infections, but such is the game. The use of the tissues as a timer was also a thoughtful design choice.

And, but for the difficulty, there was a lot of player choice and thoughtful strategy available in this game.

The dice.  Who doesn’t like a bunch of custom dice (even though they were stickered). The one concern we had was that it would have been nice if the color of the dice was coordinated with the color of the infection.

Where it comes up short ^

Difficulty.  I think we collectively played the game a dozen or more times and had one true victory and one incredibly lucky victory (a bunch of heart stoppers at the beginning).  Most games however were lost causes very early: a bad roll or two and the game is over.

The issue was mostly how infections spread.  If you rolled a double of a single color on any given turn, but especially early, more or less guarantees that infections are going to spread faster than you can roll cures. A double means that you’re placing two of a color at each of the infection sites, circulating them, and (most of the time) spawning yet another infection site thus lowering your blood pressure.

Why is my “getting cures” probabilistic?  The game is a dice chucker, but one question everyone asked is why the mere getting of cures probabilistic?  For infections, this seemed fine. But rolling and hoping for red crosses on every turn and then selectively having to place them seemed difficult to connect with the theme.

Dice mitigation.  There is a special power in the game — if you survive long enough — that lets you selectively re-roll dice rather than having to re-roll all the dice. Re-rolling all the dice made for poor dice mitigation (see the difficulty comments above).

No box/container? The rules of the contest require packaging. The game page says it’ll all fit within the provided velvet bag (except for the game mat). This is sort of true but hardly an elegant solution. We could really store the game this way (with things in baggies and like and ended up getting a box for it.  So while perhaps not disqualifying, we reduced it’s bonus points.

Conclusion ^

Septic Shock would be the hands-down winner if  the only criteria were difficulty. However, it’s not. The game does have an interesting merger of theme and mechanics. The dice-chucking and dice-placement is fun too. If there was a bit more mitigation and the difficulty reduced by a hair, this would have been a top finisher. In any case, this was a well-deserved finalist in this contest.

You can find Septic Shock on the The Game Crafter site.

This post was originally published on The Indie Game Report:

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