Dead Alive’s Bernie Lin initially suggested the Omicron protocol to me as the perfect introduction to the minis’ wargaming hobby, and boy was he right. Through a combination of inspired design and sheer generosity of content, Dead Alive has brought out a complete and near-perfect beginner’s mini-game in one box. The key word here is streamlining, as veterans will quickly appreciate how much care has gone into stripping the grease from the mainstay of the mechanics to provide an experience that is both true to the genre and welcoming of newcomers as well. That said, it might not be something I would recommend to those same veterans.
Using a hex card is a deceptively big step as it simplifies so much right away without dumbing anything down. Movement and range no longer require rulers, all you have to do is count hexes. Likewise, AoE effects do not require templates, since affected fields are indicated on the corresponding card. While line of sight may occasionally require a ruler, it is determined by the active mini’s ability to draw an unoccupied line from a corner of its hex to a corner of the target’s hex. Journeymen in the hobby may have had the nightmare of squinting from their Mini to argue how much of their target is obscured to determine cover, but the rule here is, “If the target is in terrain, give.” it’s an attack penalty”. Combat rules have eliminated the need to constantly monitor minis’ melee ranges, instead simply requiring approach to penalize minis that shoot into a fight and give the opposing mini a free melee attack from anyone leaving the fight . One of the most common problems for newbies is terrain – buying it, assembling it, determining how much of what type to use and where to put it can all be daunting. The Omicron protocol uses scenarios that clearly dictate where targets, pinboard terrain, deployment zones, and other relevant tokens will be placed.
Listing is one of the places where this simplification hits an unfortunate but necessary catch. The genre standard is that games have a predetermined allocation of points that players use to purchase their units and upgrades. Omicron Protocol instead opts for players to secretly select four of their faction’s six characters. If you’ve played a mini-game before, you know that half the fun is coming up with theories about how your units stack up against each other, covering each other’s weaknesses to have a plan for the game before you hit anything lay table. This stripped-down approach limits that quite a bit. Honestly though, keeping this game from overwhelming fresh meat is a sacrifice worthy of, and it means the box comes with everything you need to play the full game, rather than other games that require multiple boxes and the money of a used car are required Get out of the children’s pool.
When Omicron Protocol comes to the table, it once again showcases the innovations that make it a great choice for new players, although it ultimately feels tactically stifling for returning players. The flow now uses ubiquitous alternating activations, with players taking turns activating characters they haven’t used that turn, moving them, attacking enemies, interacting with targets, and using special abilities. All of this has a cost, in some combination of the few action points players get for a turn, or by making noise. The Omicron Protocol features the Luck mechanic, which feels similar to cheating the fate of Malifaux while sticking to dice. Whenever a player rolls dice for a character, they may trade in a number of dice equal to or greater than their luck value to generate that character’s luck, which can later be used to change dice results, avoid incoming damage, or to remove a state. Importantly, characters in the Omicron protocol do not die; Instead, they are KOd, which scores their opponent’s victory points, hindering their next activation and bringing them to their recovery health. At the end of each character’s activation, all non-player third-party CyMS models within a radius equal to or adjacent to the sound made by the activated character will activate. Your opponent can move this CyMS towards the attacking character and make him attack if he is able to. Once all characters have been activated, CyMS will spawn according to the noise generated and the rules of that scenario. At the risk of getting the point across, the four characters apiece is a perfect amount to introduce someone to Mini’s wargames. It eliminates many of the choices present in other squad-level games like Crisis Protocol or Malifaux, not to mention the armies of 40K or Legion, resulting in a more beginner-friendly experience.
If diving straight into competitive play is too daunting for you, Omicron Protocol offers solo and cooperative rules. These modes play very much like the base game, with the simple addition of boosted CyMS and new rules for their movement (since you don’t have an opponent to do that part). Co-op mode is different, but expands on solo mode in the same unfortunate way as War of the Ring and Rebellion, going from two to four players simply by splitting resources between players. Not a big fan.
All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend the Omicron Protocol, and it would be high on my list of suggestions if you or a friend are interested in moving tiny plastic people and making them fight for your entertainment. However, this comes with some limitations. The art that would have passed a decade ago is noticeably inferior. Likewise, the minis are fine, while companies are releasing pieces so awesome that people who don’t even play their games buy them to paint and display. Additionally, for readability, they could use at least a primer in their faction’s color, as well as a wash. If I were being generous, I could say that this is the Omicron protocol, which offers another onboarding experience, but I think that’s going a bit far.
Omicron Protocol is the omega gateway game for the minis hobby, just don’t confuse it with its heavier brethren.
- Successfully streamlines minis wargaming while staying true to the feel of the genre
- The CyMS and luck mechanics feel great and innovative
- The whole game is in this box, you don’t need to buy anything else to get the real experience
- A small number of units and streamlined rules can feel restrictive to people familiar with the hobby
- The art and minis are mediocre when they could have been stunning
- Co-op is simply solo, where players divide characters between themselves
Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted early on that he was an idiot. When he’s not busy exploring the intricacies of a hobby he’ll never take up, Nick can be caught trying to either cook an edible meal or befriend some local crows.
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