Ceres Operation Stolen Base Review
Review by David Lent
Ceres Operation Stolen Base is a solitaire minigame from Decision Games that uses the Free Mars Space Combat rules. The rules have many similarities to the Free Mars Ground Combat rules used in the game Phobos Rising. In this game, you are a rebel commander controlling a space ship task force attempting to seize control of the water base on Ceres. You have a limited number of assembly points to build your task force. These can be spent to purchase space ships and pods that provide extra abilities for your ships. Ceres can be played as a single mission or as a campaign composed of four increasingly difficult missions.
The components for Ceres are reasonably good, considering the game only costs $12.95 Included is the base rules, scenario rules, counters, map and 18 cards. Everything is stored in a zip-lock bag.
The base rules are only four pages long and easy to understand. If you have played Phobos Rising, you will have no trouble learning this similar rule set. The scenario rules are only two pages long and go over setup, unit types, pods, hyper cadre, random location procedures and variant rules.
Ceres’ counters represent spaceships, intercept points, pods and hyper cadre. Red counters are friendly ships, blue counters are enemy ships and swarms, green counters are pods , white counters are intercept points and the yellow counter is the Martian Free Trader Enhanced Miner. I was disappointed to see that the rules did not specify which colors were the friendly and enemy forces nor did they show what the hyper cadre counter looks like. Unfortunately, I had to look online to see what the colors signified. Fortunately, several people had asked this question online and their questions were answered.
The map is point to point and is a representation of low, medium and high orbit around the asteroid Ceres. There are some important tables printed on it also. It has the assembly cost chart, random location table, terrain key, special action table, net track, assembly point track and ship displays (where you put a ship’s pods if the ship has enough space for it).
There are two types of cards in this game; mission and ops cards. Ops cards represent events and can have a positive or negative outcome with a corresponding reward or punishment. They also control game length, because the game will end if you run out of ops card. Winning combat after an OPFOR Deployment card is drawn will cause you to add cards as will spending 2 assembly points. Mission cards tell you what you need to do to resolve a mission. They also say how many enemy will attack before you attempt mission resolution. If you successfully complete the mission, you win the game and the card gives you an enhancement you can use in further missions if you are playing the campaign game.
Before we get into how the game plays, you will need to know what the “Net” is. Net Awareness is how aware the enemy is of your presence. A high number will cause more enemy forces to show up for combat, but it also will make it more likely for you to win tactical edge in combat. It’s a 2 edged sword.
Setup for Ceres is very simple. You pull out the Intervention and Nemesis cards and shuffle the rest of the ops cards and deal 8 cards facedown. The remaining ops cards are shuffled with the 2 cards you pulled out to form a reserve deck. Next, you build your task force with 15 assembly points. You can purchase ships and pods. The ships have different strengths and energy. Energy is essentially speed and it is also part of the calculation to determine which side gets initiative in combat. In addition, some ships and pods have special action symbols, which are used to determine how many dice you, role in the special action phase. Hyper Cadre are free and they are personnel who add 2 to your cyber value whenever doing a net run. Next, you randomly determine the location of all 6 intercept point counters and place them. Each of these has an enhancement that you put on one of your ships if you successfully reveal it by performing a net run while in the same location. After you have placed the intercept points, you place your task force on the starting point.
The sequence of play is very simple:
1) Task Force Declaration Phase. You declare one task force to conduct an operation. I found there was never an advantage to using only part of your total force so make sure you activate your entire fleet.
2) Movement Phase. You move your task force up to the total value of its slowest ship. If you purchase fuel pods, it will make any ship you attach it to faster.
3) Operations Card Phase. Play the top operations card and implement its instructions. These cards can cause the enemy to attack you or sometimes they have you perform a special abilities check. The cards have rewards for success or punishments for failure. In addition, the game ends when you run out of ops cards, so it is imperative you win battles to add new ops cards to the deck or spend assembly points to buy ops cards.
4) Combat Phase: Conduct a combat operation if in the same space as enemy units
5) Special Action Phase: Conduct one special action to get extra assembly points, build pods, reveal mission cards, reveal intercept points, etc. Some of the special actions cause something bad to happen if you burnout (roll a one).
6) Mission Resolution Phase. If you are in the position to resolve the mission card, you first fight the enemy forces specified by the card and if you win you may attempt to do whatever special action checks are required to complete the mission.
Combat in this game consists of first determining which side has tactical edge and then attacking. For tactical edge, the friendly forces roll a die and add the energy rating of their fastest ship and then add the net level. The enemy only adds the energy rating of their fastest ship to the die roll, but if they have a Cyborg ship they may add an additional 2. The winner of tactical edge fights first. Sometimes, it is possible to completely wipe out your enemy before they can fight back, so it is imperative to win tactical edge. During combat, you roll a number of dice equal to the total combat strength of your ships plus your swarm pod strength plus any weapon enhancements. Any 5 or 6 is a hit and the defender loses either one pod/swarm or one step. Combat continues until one side is wiped out or you successfully breakoff.
Gameplay in Ceres ends when either all your forces are destroyed, you resolve a mission or you run out of ops cards.
In the campaign game, you keep all your ships and pods at the end of each mission and get 1 assembly point for every 2 ops cards remaining. If you win the mission, you get to use the campaign cards enhancement during further missions and get additional assembly points determined by how many intercept points you revealed. However, in additional missions you pick one additional enemy force every time you have event card combat and you get 1 less operation card for each mission won.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing this game. The game play is similar to Phobos Rising and as such, the game is a cross between a wargame and a Euro. I found this game to be well balanced, but a little more difficult than Phobos Rising since you do not get to roll extra dice equal to your net level during mission resolution. However, one thing that surprised me is there is no “fluff” inside the game. The only storyline is what is written on the back of the packaging. It would have been neat if the ops cards had a sentence of flavor text. Instead of just saying “OPFOR Deployment”, why not say, “Enemy ships hidden behind a freighter have ambushed your task force?” That would sound much more interesting. This game is a winner though, and well worth the low cost of $12.95
Buy your own copy on Amazon for $10.99.
Watch the 60 second unboxing video below: