Review by Phil: Panic Station by Stronghold Games

It’s almost as if this game was never play tested. It goes further: people have commented about certain inconsistencies and/or questions and rules have been revised — such that the rules are up to version 2.2 — AND STILL do not address the issues that prevent this game from being truly playable and fun.

The Game’s Objective
4-6 players use an independently-controllable human and android to explore rooms in a space station to search for the hive of an alien parasite and destroy it. In addition, one of the players becomes infected (the host) and is trying to infect other players so that the alien parasites win.

Setup Comments
Whatever version, and I believe the game came with v2.1, the rules for setup were so obfuscated that it took entirely too long to actually start the game. Some of that time was devoted to applying stickers to tokens which wasn’t too bothersome.
I looked up the v2.2 rules to see if this improved at all. It does not. The biggest of those problems is the purposely, outrageously small number of cards, from a sizable deck, that are available for a given game… but more on that later.

Game Play
Players get 2 Action Points (AP) for each of their uninjured characters (human and android) and can allocate those points between them however they like. Available actions are: explore (placing the next room tile adjacent to your current location), move, fire gun, search location, heal in sick bay, use item, activate computer terminal (available in 2 rooms) and in doing so allows 1 of 3 station-wide activities: perform heat scan (giving a count of infected people), open all security doors (normally requires a key card), reveal location (like explore, but no adjacency requirement).

The Problems

  • Item Cards: We’re instructed to build the available items deck with as many gas cans as there are players (N), the host card and then a random selection of 2N-1 of the remaining item cards. Players get 2 of these items at the start of the game and those 2 cards plus 3 “infection cards” are what make up each players hand.

    The number of cards runs out quickly despite it being SPECIFICALLY called out in the rules as a “rare” event.

    “When trading, players may never use infection cards other than those of their own playing colors, unless they find themselves without any item cards during a trade. In such a rare situation, players may, as an exception, trade an infection card of another player’s color instead of an item.”

    While I’ll admit our played games sample size of 2 is not statistically significant, this happened both times and some back-of-the-envelope math would indicate that it would happen most of the time.

  • Trading: Trades are “forced” so that when someone enters a room with another player, other than the starting room, a trade must occur. You swap items. If one of them is the host, that person can trade an infection card and the other player becomes infected. This can be prevented *IF* that person trades away a gas can (for some odd reason). HOWEVER, that puts a gas can — 1 of N vital resources for destroying the hive and 3 are required — in the hands of the host.
  • Attack: This is a provided exception to the forced trades. A player can spent 1AP to attack the player instead of trading. HOWEVER, given the small size of the deck, it appears as if there’s no way one could attack unless:
    1. The android has bullets
    2. The human has a weapon (knife, gun + bullets, grenade)

    Not being able to attack, in some way, is a serious flaw.

  • Player Elimination: If you kill 1 of the 2 characters a player is using, they are still in the game. If both are killed, the player is eliminated. And when that happens the items in that players hand are “lost forever.”

    That is a serious flaw. If you trade away gas cans to the host to avoid getting infected and then kill that host. You have setup a situation where the non-aliens could win, except they cannot actually destroy the hive if the host had enough gas cans so that 3 were no longer available. This happened in one of the games we played.

Additional Analysis
Given forced trading and a limited number of infection-preventing gas cans, the game favors aliens. And that’s just fine. I’ve seen the movie. Even just one alien can be bad-ass and a slew of them shouldn’t have too difficult a time chomping into nice, tasty humans and laying parasitic eggs. Good times.

This game was disappointing because it had promise.

  • The premise is interesting and different enough. Revealing the map and the slight intrigue is nice.
  • The trade-infection mechanic is a reasonable mechanic despite the low number of available items.
  • The quality of components and the art is nice. I wouldn’t say it’s amazing, but it’s respectable.

Ultimately my rating for this game is: Playable (with Fixes)
(adjusted after Cindy’s comment for clarity)

My Rating Scale

  • Awesome: It’s fun, playable, has great art and few, if any, minor issues
  • Playable (As Is): Fun, playable with decent art/mechanics with minor issues and at most 1 easily remedied major issues.
  • Playable (with Fixes): Potential for fun, but flawed; the game requires fixing before playing again.
  • OK: Not great fun, but it kills time. It might even be playable but most would ask why.
  • Seriously Flawed: The game is so flawed I am beside myself with how it got published at all. It is also nigh impossible to fix (or just requires way too much to fix, including the creation and printing of new cards/mechanics).


  1. Luna C. Nicolas says:

    I played this game with you and I am mystified how you gave it a 3 out of 4 on your rating scale.

  2. Phil Woo Woo says:

    I would not think about it numerically because I think numbers, in this case, can lie. I believe, however, that the game is Playable with the implementation of the fixes that address the problems here.

    It can happen. You shall see when we play it again. LoL.

    If you need numerical values associated with these ratings, think more natural logarithm and the values between these 4 items on this scale are not evenly distributed.

    I just didn't want to start adding other ratings in between to avoid the potential obfuscation that might occur because of them. I am, however, making a clarification to "Seriously Flawed" to add that there's too much to even try to fix. I'm also thinking on if there's a reasonable fifth rating in the middle that might make sense.

  3. Phil Woo Woo says:

    I just updated my rating and the rating scale… thoughts on that vs. the review itself and the points raised? 🙂

  4. Luna C. Nicolas says:

    "You shall see when we play it again."

    Your scale does make much more sense to me with an additional level between this game and awesome. It is clearly more than one step below awesome. There definitely needs to be a rank for games that are playable and sort of fun yet not great.

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