Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 29 September 2023

Friday Filler: The Rocketeer

With war looming – at least in Europe, the future of the world may depend upon who gets possession of a startling piece of equipment which could push the future of aviation technology—a rocket pack! Stolen to order from Howard Hughes by gangsters, they were forced to hide it in their getaway and both the one working model and the plans have ended up in possession of Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot. As he learns to fly the rocket pack, he comes to the attention of Eddie Valentine, the mobster hired to carry out the theft in the first place, and the man who hired Eddie, the matinee idol, Neville Sinclair, who also happens to be a secret Nazi! If Eddie Valentine cannot get the plans, then Sinclair’s henchman, the glowering Lothar certainly, if Lothar fails, Sinclair has a secret army of soldiers at his command. Cliff Secord must stop the plans from falling into Nazi hands—and if they do, get them back before Sinclair can travel to Germany. He has the help of his trusty mechanic, Peevy, and his girlfriend, both of whom can get places he cannot. Will Cliff keep hold of the rocket plans or will he fail and advance Nazi science in readiness for the coming conflict?

So this essentially, is the plot to the 1991 Disney film, The Rocketeer, which of course, was adapted from the brilliant comic book series by the late Dave Stevens. Both combined art deco stylings, pulp action, and a serving of modest cheesecake with the inclusion of the Betty Page-like Jenny with the inspiration of Republic Pictures serials of the early nineteen fifties, most notably Radar Men from the Moon and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. (If you have not seen the film, why not? It is genuinely good fun. Actually, go watch the film instead of reading this review. I honestly do not mind. Really. I promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, I am watching it right now as I type this, so what is your excuse?) This it also turns out is the set-up for The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future. Designed by the same team behind Indiana Jones: Sands of Adventure and Jaws, The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is a two-player, asymmetric boardgame which was published by Funko Games in 2021—the thirtieth anniversary of the film. Designed for ages twelve and up, each player in The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future controls a team of three characters who will race back and forth across Los Angeles, trade punches as much as pithy putdowns, all the while trying to ensure that by the time the zeppelin, the LZ Luxembourg, is in town, they have possession of the rocket pack plans. The game plays in forty-five minutes, but faster once you get to it is rules—though it is not that complex.

The first thing that can be said about The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is that this is a great looking game. You know that the moment you open the box and the Rocketeer’s helmet stares at you from the back of the board. This is a lovely detail—as is the map of Los Angeles on the inside of the lid of the box. Neither add a single thing to the game except love for the source material. The game is full of such details, such as the Current Event cards being designed to look like newspaper front pages and the art deco style throughout. The artwork is excellent, fully painted rather than drawn from Dave Stevens’ own artwork or stills from the film. It is all inspired by the film and is all very, very good. If there is a downside to the components, it is the miniature figures for each of the six characters. It is easy to tell which one is which, but they are more representative than effectively depicting the characters. The other aspect of the game’s look is the lack of reference to, or iconography of, the Nazis. Although we know Sinclair to be one, that is enough to play the game and it need not be made obvious and so spoil the look of the game.

At the heart of The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future are the plans to the rocket pack. These are represented by three cards. One is the Rocket Blueprint, the other two are dummy plans. The Heroes start play with these hidden and face down. The Villains will Tussle with the Heroes to determine which of them has the Rocket Blueprints and having taken possession of them, will keep them hidden and face down. It is the Heroes turn to Tussle with the Villains Heroes to determine which of them has the Rocket Blueprints and having taken possession of them again, will keep them hidden and face down. Play will continue like this over the course of five or six rounds, the aim being not just to keep hold of the Rocket Blueprint, but acquire Finale cards. Finale cards can be earned from playing the Abilities on cards and from having the Plans at the end of each round. Finale cards reward points and the player with the most points at the end of the game—indicated by the arrival of the LZ Luxembourg in Los Angeles—wins the game.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is played out a board depicting different locations from the film across Los Angeles. These include The Observatory, the setting for the film’s climax, the South Seas Club where Sinclair takes Jenny to dinner, Sinclair Mansion, 1935 Palm Terrace—home to Peevy and Cliff, Bulldog Café where Cliff takes Jenny to dinner, and Chapel Airfield, scene of much of the film’s action. These locations are marked with Icons indicating the benefits a player can gain from visiting, knocking out opponents, and being in control at the end of a round. Each Player controls the three heroes—Cliff, Jenny, and Peevy, or the three villains—Neville Sinclair, Eddie Valentine, and Lothar. As the Rocketeer, Cliff has the advantage of the rocket suit and has greater movement—which can be increased, whilst as a Nazi agent, Neville Sinclair can recruit and build a secret army of soldiers. When he ambushes any of the heroes, Eddie Valentine realises who Sinclair is working for and scarpers, but Sinclair has his army, nonetheless. It is best for the Villain player to recruit as many as he can before unleashing them. Sadly, unlike in the film, Eddy Valentine does not then fight on the Heroes’ side.

Control of each player’s three characters is done via a deck of cards. Every card has icons to indicate which character or characters the card applies to, an action or an ability that the player character choose between, and the cost of using the ability as well as a good illustration. For example, ‘Put It In Neutral’ can be used by either Cliff or Peevy. If used as an Action card, it grants a Move and a Tussle Icon and their associated actions. However, if used as an Ability, there is no cost, but the character can move to any Location and take the associated action there. The illustration shows Cliff as the Rocketeer in the back of Peevy’s pickup truck, using the power of the rocket pack to make a getaway. This illustrates one of the scenes from the film and all the cards are like this, depicting a scene from the film and so combining the film’s story and the rules in such a way that helps bring the game to life. It is really quite subtle, but if you know the film, it is just one more way in which the designers reward the players. Other rewards from the Ability options on the cards include gaining Grit or Clout, drawing a card, drawing a Finale card, revealing or hiding Plans. The Hero player can also increases Cliff’s skill and range with the rocket pack and the Villain player can recruit soldiers to his secret army and stage ambushes. Grit is possessed individually by each character and is used in Tussles and Clout is a shared resource used to activate the Abilities on many of the cards.

The game consists of several rounds. At the beginning of each round, a Current Event card will be draw, which adds a random event and determines how far the Luxembourg travels this round. Then, using a hand of seven cards, each player will take it in turn to active his three characters, have them move, Tussle with the enemy. A player can use as many cards as he wants or he can for each character. Once a character has been activated and moved, he cannot do so again that turn. At the end of the round, rewards are earned for having the Plans and from each location controlled. Tussles are simple. The Action part of a card has a Tussle icon on it. This represents the character’s strength in the Tussle and it can be increased by adding the character’s Grit tokens. The defending player can block the attack by discarding cards which have the Shield icon on them and card’s which have the defending character’s Icon on them. This also costs Grit. The character with the higher Tussle Strength will win the Tussle. Only the defending character can be knocked out in a Tussle, which if his side has the Plans, will also reveal if he has the Rocket Blueprint or the dummy plans. A Tussle can—and will often—end with a standoff, with blows exchanged, Grit expended, and no knockout. This though does make a defending character weak if the acting player still have characters to move. Once both players have moved all three of their characters, the round is over, rewards are awarded, and a new round is set-up. Once the Luxembourg arrives in Los Angeles, a final round is played and the game ends. Players total their points from the Finale cards—typically two or three points per card, though some have zero points and others have conditional rewards such as a bonus for Grit in play or controlling a location—and the player with highest total wins.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future does feel a little long in its game play and though designed to be asymmetrical, does favour the Heroes more than the Villains. The Heroes have more chances to gain Finale cards and their mechanics are simpler, whereas the Villains have the Secret Army, which is a bit fiddlier and a different sub-mechanic for the Villain player to have to contend with. Plus, when the Secret Army does come into play, it cannot possess the Rocket Blueprint, meaning that if in the Villains’ hands, either Neville Sinclair or Lothar has it, making it easier to track down and get back. The aspect of winning via the Finale cards means that neither player quite knows who is winning until the very end unless one player has managed to get many more than the other. So, it can be difficult to work out how you are progressing in the game.

The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is a clever design which really takes advantage of its source material to turn it into a good game. The game play is fairly simple, tactical rather than strategic—a player needing to get the best out of his hand of cards in a round rather than long term planning, and thematic. In fact, highly thematic! If you are a fan of The Rocketeer, then The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future is definitely the game for you. The Rocketeer – Fate of the Future definitely looks the part—comic book or the film—and who wouldn’t want to sock Neville Sinclair where it counts?

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