Captain, where is the navigation room ?!
How would I know ? They probably moved it again without telling me.
In 2784, after a successful specimen-harvesting mission, the Biological Survey Mission-ship Pandora returns home. The crew is in stasis, and the computer executes a series of scheduled Faster-Than-Light jumps. Unfortunately, as it stops between two jumps close to the Wolf-Rayet star, the latter emits a “burst of near-ultraviolet radiation”, which cripples a large part of the ship’s electronics. Various systems crash, some crewmembers are pulled from stasis and the ship computer starts a cold shutdown process to try to save the ship. Cold shutdown is designed to save the crew in stasis by navigating without FTL jumps to the destination ; for anyone not in stasis though, it is the synonym of a slow, freezing death. Onboard the B.S.M. Pandora, five crewmembers struggle to repair the ship and cancel the cold shutdown before it completes.
While Avalon Hill was showering the video game market with products in the early 80s, its main tabletop competitor SPI only released one game : the Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora. Even then, the Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora is nothing more than the port of a 1980 tabletop game of the same name. Expectation management : The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora is not a wargame, and really it does not really belong to any genre, still I really wanted to check the only video game by SPI, and found in it a pretty unique game that no other retrogamer has ever covered, to my knowledge – totally worth being on this blog.
The game can be played both in single-player and in multiplayer, but really feels designed for the latter due to its origin. I played it on my forum with some commenters and this is the AAR of our attempt to save the B.S.M. Pandora.
The crew is therefore composed of :
- Commenter Argyraspide as Blnt Skraaling – that first name is not a typo,
- Commenter & fellow blogger Ahab (the Data Driven Gamer) as Weapon Officer Hesiod Charybdis,
- Commenter Porkbelly as Medical Officer Claire Teleman,
- Commenter Dayyalu as Maintenance Officer Oolt Markmar,
- And finally myself as Neema Stroff, the Commander of the Pandora,
As the Commander, I suppose I am responsible for the accident, but since we don’t have enough players to have the navigator in our team, I am going to pin everything on him. In any case, I wake up first :
As I said, the 5 of us must save the ship, and to do this we need to find and fix the 5 “core” pods (power, enviro, control, navigation and computer). Once the fixing is done, we can reboot the computer from either the Control Pod, the Navigation Pod or the Computer Pod.
The problem is that in the future, spaceships are all modular, so the pods we are looking for could be anywhere. And sadly, due to the shock of being pulled out of stasis that fast, no one among us remembers where those pods are. We will have to explore the 3 decks of the Pandora to find the core pods.
Did I mention that the alien lifeforms we collected during the voyage broke containment, and they have to be brought back into their containment, or killed ? Well, that’s another problem we have. Neutralizing aliens yields points to the individual player (more so for non-lethal neutralization) and determines which player wins the game, but everyone loses if the B.S.M. Pandora enters cold shutdown, so initially the aliens will be obstacles, not targets.
In The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora, ranks are purely cosmetic: each character has fully randomized stats. My character, well, let’s just say in another game I would have rerolled it.
You are supposed to avoid direct combat in Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora until you find weapons, so stamina (health points), attack and defence are not often useful. On the other hand, low speed is punishing. Each turn is 120 seconds long ; with a low speed it takes me 11 seconds to move by one tile – a character with normal speed would take 7 seconds only, a character with a very high speed 4 seconds ! Finally, intelligence is used to repair things, and on the Pandora almost everything is broken, so that’s another critical skill where I don’t shine.
Turn 1 : 2 minutes after the accident
Our starting location is ideal: level 2 (out of 3) and right next to the lift. In my first 2 minutes, I explore the surroundings. Opening the airlock, I reach the central corridor. There is an alien there, but it flees left when it sees me. On the floor I find a “botkit”, an item that allows me to repair a bot with 100% success rate. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether the botkit is functional or not – examining items takes time. I will check when I find a robot to repair.
I also explore the top pod, which turns out to be a “crew pod”. Every pod in the game has a function, and the crew pod allows to heal but also to control remotely a small service bot called “erobot”, wherever it is in the ship, provided of course it is functional. The crew pod also happens to contain an enviro-rig on the ground. These allow you to enter pods with hull breach without dying instantly. Useful, but also cumbersome as they can also slow you down, so I leave the one I found where it is. I did not know then that, when you are already as slow as I am, rigs don’t slow you down further.
It is the end of my first turn, and the other players move. All much faster than me, they spread out in the ship : Argyraspide and Ahab explore the corridor to the left, Porkbelly goes to the first floor, and Dayyalu to the third floor. Argyraspide also finds the time to use the crew pod to take control of the erobot, which turns out to be on floor 3 at the moment. Exploring the area remotely, Argyraspide manages to find the enviro pod, one of the core pods we need repaired, before losing the robot to an aggressive alien.
Before being destroyed, the robot reports that the pod is in condition yellow – which is good enough for a reboot of the computer.
At the end of the first turn, this is what we know of the ship :
Turn 2 : 4 minutes after the accident
I join Dayyalu on the third floor, check Pod 7 (it is one of the few useless pods, and it is also full of aliens), and don’t do anything else because I am that slow.
On level 2, Argyraspide checks pods #3 and #6 without initially entering them. Pod #3 is the Control Pod and it is in critical condition. Unfortunately, there has been a hull breach in that pod and only someone with a rig can get in the pod and repair the control pod. Pod #6 is a weapon pod (allowing to repair weapons) and by coincidence also contains a weapon on the floor. Argyraspide also notices one of those peaceful aliens and a “Uboat” (a transport and repair robot).
Feeling safe, Argyraspide enters the room… and the Uboat attacks him ! Something is wrong with that robot.
He retreats, and it is Ahab’s turn. A good combattant, Ahab destroys the robot with his bare hands. Maybe I underestimated combat skills after all !
On the first floor, Porkbelly explores slowly and carefully, finding an armoured rig he equips, and a CompKit – an item that allows to repair the computer.
Finally, on the third floor, Dayyalu explores pod #4, a “restraining” pod where incapacitated aliens can be dropped to be restrained forever. It contains two “mad” robots : a particularly dangerous reconbot, and a transport bot.
But it also contains a critically important item (“C”) : a CompCon. Using his superior speed, Dayyalu manages to snatch it before being too wounded by the ReconBot. Running to safety out of the pod, he checks the CompCon, and it works ! A CompCon allows to query the ship computer remotely and suddenly we have a lot more information on the situation :
- We receive the map ! In particular we know where the 5 strategic pods are located (in orange below) :
- We can check the list of all aliens and their locations (weirdly the computer knows the location of the aliens AFTER they breach containment). Here is the complete line-up of the 15 aliens :
With that volume of information, we can plan !
Turn 3 : 6 minutes after the accident
From the information we received, we know the following about the core pods :
- there is only one core pod on the third floor, and it is somewhat functional – no action needed,
- there are two on the second floor, both within reach, at least one has to be repaired by someone with a rig. The Argyraspide-Ahab duo seems to have the situation in good hands, especially since they have found a weapon. That weapon is still on the ground, but well, if they need it they can grab it,
- The two last core pods are on the first floor, and that’s where it is going to be tricky. The power pod is as far as possible from the lift, Porkbelly is alone and there are aliens on the way, in particular this piece of work :
With his armoured rig, Porkbelly has some protection from aliens, but still he needs reinforcements. I feel I am redundant on the third floor, but I cannot expect to beat the Abomnid alone. The solution is in the pod Dayyalu just exited : two robots, including the weaponized ReconBot.
Of course, the robots are broken and frenzied, but if you remember I picked up a botkit earlier on, so I can repair them with 100% success rate. I spend some time examining the botkit : its condition is “yellow”. In The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora, all items and pods have 3 possible conditions : red, yellow and green :
- Green items and pods are fully functional,
- Yellow items and pods can be used, but when use they can break and become condition red,
- Red items and pods are broken and cannot be used.
All condition red items and pods can be repaired to yellow condition, and yellow conditions items and pods to green condition, but repairs are time-consuming and often fail.
In my case, with a yellow botkit, I am 100% sure I can repair the ReconBot, and with some luck I can also repair the Transport bot immediately after that – but even if I fail the Transport robot has no combat capacity to speak of so I will be safe.
Confident my plan is foolproof, I get into the room :
… and what do you know ? It works ! I manage to repair both robots with the botkit and the botkit is still functional !
Meanwhile, Argyraspide inspects the navigation pod on the second floor, and find it in green condition. Perfect !
Turns 4 and 5 : 10 minutes after the accident
There are two ways to take control of robots. One is to find the relevant pod. The other one is to stand next to a non-aggressive robot and give it orders. That’s exactly what I do, and the robots are brought to level 1. I follow them slowly.
Meanwhile, Dayyalu and Ahab start cleaning up their respective floors of aliens. Dayyalu found a stun weapon and tries to incapacitate the aliens before bringing them to restraint pods. Ahab has found a laser weapon and is more definitive…
On the first floor, Porkbelly manages to progress to the computer pod as the aliens he encounters on the way are not hostile and prefer to flee. Entering the pod, he finds out that the computer is broken, but with the CompKit found earlier he repairs it easily. The computer is repaired – two more core rooms to go and it can also be rebooted.
With nothing better to do on the first floor, Porkbelly then heads for the second floor, as his armoured rig could be useful to repair the broken control pod.
Turns 6 and 7 : 14 minutes after the accident
We still don’t know how much time we have left. Two rooms have this information : the power pod, which is still out of reach, and the enviro pod. Dayyalu takes it upon himself to check, though not before repairing the pod to green condition, just in case.
Result : 10 minutes left from turn 8. Aka 5 turns. Not much.
On the second floor, Ahab is frantically trying to fix the control pod, without success. Argyraspide does not have a rig, so he cannot help.
As for the first floor, my robots and myself are in front of the Abomnid. Except there is a third party there :
The Urasmax has a low aggressivity and it tries to move away from me while the super aggressive abomnid tries to move in my direction so they block each other in the narrow corridor. It gives me some time to prepare the perfect attack.
Turns 8 and 9 : 18 minutes after the accident
At this point, the only actions useful for the fate of the ship are Ahab and Porkbelly’s attempts to fix the Control Pod (they keep failing), and my attempt to reach the power pod.
Taking control of the ReconBot, I stun the Urasmax, and immediately after that the Abomnid. Lucky. They collapse on the same tile.
I then use the transport bot to pick up the stunned Abomnid – once picked up an alien cannot wake up. The urasmax will not be a threat when it will wake up, and I just straddle it.
I finally enter the final pod. Inside, I find a deactivated Specibot (I am very happy it is deactivated because that’s a combat bot), a broken Evabot (a repair bot) and some flying alien immediately attacking me :
I am wounded, but I take control of the ReconBot one last time. The alien is no match for the robot stun weapon, but now I am afraid it will wake up as I try to repair the power pod. I order the ReconBot to whack the stunned creature on the head until it dies, which it promptly does.
8 minutes left until shutdown.
Turns 10 : 18 minutes after the accident
I am not sure about the status of the Power Pod, but not trusting my repair skill, I use my BotKit to repair the repair bot to yellow condition, and use the repair bot to repair the Power Pod. Repairception! The power pod is functional again, and I can use it to confirm the time we have left.
I can immediately confim Dayyalu’s report : Cold shutdown in 6 minutes now
Turns 11 : 20 minutes after the accident
Ahab and Porkbelly are still trying to fix the control pod, and failing. Everyone else is hunting aliens.
Cold shutdown in 4 minutes
Turns 12 : 22 minutes after the accident
Suddenly, Ahab manages to fix the Control Pod !
Saved ? No ! We still need to restart the computer, which can fail. At least it can be done from 3 different rooms : the computer room, the control room and the navigation room.
Cold shutdown in 2 minutes
Turns 13 : 24 minutes after the accident
This is the last turn. Argyraspide manages to reach the computer room and presses the restart button :
Ahab tries immediately after that, and …
Uh. It feels a bit too perfect as a story, but that’s exactly what happened. At the one-before-the-last possible moment – after Ahab only Porkbelly was in position to try one last time…
We saved the B.S.M. Pandora…
… but the game is not over.
The game ends when all aliens have been killed or recaptured (crewmen receive points for each alien dealt with), but with the bots under our control and the weapons some of us have, it is a tedious task, not a challenging one. It takes us around 10 turns to mop up the rest of the aliens, and we finally receive the end screen :
Ahab, aka the Data Driven Gamer, has won ! As a side note, that’s the third time on this blog that he scored higher than me. But I don’t think we were really competitive – the game allows for some nasty actions between players, but we were fully cooperative until we fixed the ship, and were just eager to capture the aliens asap and end the game after that.
That’s all for today, I will wrap up with the Rating & Review within a week.
Note : Title Edited on 09/06/2022 : the game was not released in 1981 as Mobygames claims but in 1982
Sounds like you had fun! It almost feels like this could be recreated as a modern (semi-?)cooperative board game.
They did make a sequel (prequel) called Voyage of the B.S.M. Pandora. There is a PC version that someone wrote in MS Excel. As we speak it is getting a modern makeover.
Fun! I like how the BoardgameGeek page references a “hot thread” last edited 17 years ago ^^
Is it me or are the inline links in my post invisible? There are supposed to be three links to relevant pages, but I can’t see any of them.
Yeah, the BGG algorithm characterizes threads by Hot, Recent and Active. When there’s not much activity in a game’s forums, whatever got the most thumbs up is still Hot. And it’s a good thing, that review is still relevant. Board games don’t age like milk.
For the inline link, it is an issue with WordPress. I am trying to fix t, but it is not trivial.
The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora is a classic board game. The mother of all good solitaire games. Here it is given a computer port and the computer does what it does to all board games: runs the game so the players don’t have to consult tables, roll dice and in general deal with fiddly complexity.
The only downside is opacity, as dealing with the fiddly complexity lets you know exactly how the game operates with 100% certainty. Having a computer roll the dice and consult tables without telling the player what the tables are can lead to seemingly mysterious results. However, computerization is usually a net positive. The computer never forgets a phase or allows an illegal move.
Wait, I AM competitive! I lost for 1.5 points! All that effort for capturing aliens! For nothing!
I reiterate: it was fun. It’s perfectly playable even by contemporary audiences: I’d even say the interface is less obtuse than some modern games I’ve played.
It really is quite a neat game. It does have some interesting ideas, like ppeking into a pod without enterint it.
I enjoyed our game, and it really was a beautiful finish!
I must confess to a slight dereliction of duty. For one turn, I abandoned my post at the computer console to retrieve the turbolaser, ensuring some points came my way in the mop-up phase.
For me it seemed like most of the game prior to that was spent at that console, trying and failing to fix it over and over again. Even with “very high” intelligence, the success rate was shockingly low, and I’m pretty curious what the rules are! I suspect that different things have different difficulty rates, and that you get more success with repairbots.
That was an exciting read!
It’s so great that even old games like this can get you excited. I wonder how a playthrough with you guys being nasty with each other would come out. You know, besided being doomed to freeze to death?