The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise from the Star Trek universe that presents cadets with a no-win situation to test their character and resources.
Into e Breach, Subset Games’ follow up to Kickstarter success story FTL, gets to the dramatic core of this concept – forcing people to make choices without any good options – and transplants it into its latest game.
I went into the game expecting gratuitous mech punching and a dollop of tense strategy, and both of those things are core components, but the reason Into the Breach captured my attention is that for nine-out-of-ten choices in the game, there simply isn’t an optimum choice.
As a design philosophy, it seems to have informed several other parts of the game: the mechs you actually have control of as a player are, to a degree, expandable. Your pilots, safely embedded inside the mechs, are squishy XP batteries that get better with each kill and die for real when your mechs get destroyed. However, this doesn’t end the game, as you can always recruit new pilots for the next encounter.
More valuable are the buildings, civilian apartment blocks, power stations and batteries that generate the power that keeps your mechs fighting against the insectoid Vek. Run out of power on the grid and the mechs power down. The Vek’s conquer the world. Game over.
The Vek know this, too, and will often ignore you to try and beat down apartment blocks. The game knows this also, and creates tension points by giving you objectives to protect a dam, or a train, or even your mechs. Just enough extra work to stretch your resources.
This means that every turn on the game’s small 8x8 tile map generates interesting choices: is it worth moving a mech into the path of an enemy attack to protect a building, causing him to take a point of damage? Sure.
Is it worth sacrificing that mech entirely to protect the building? How about if that building is an objective and will reward you with resources? How about if that building is all that stands between you and a potential game over?
Similarly, when it all goes wrong and the Vek win, which is inevitable in the first few runs, you have to make one nal – ultimate – choice. You can send one pilot back through time into a new timeline to try and help the next generation be more successful. Much like sending Spock through a wormhole to give Picard a helping hand.
Losing is common with Into e Breach, but the way the game is structured you won’t need to see a game over screen to feel like you’ve failed.