Your footsteps echo throughout the empty hanger bay; well almost empty, standing several hundred meters away is a lone solider. The lone solider seems to be standing next to a blank wall, why would that have brought you, the Secretary of Defense, to an empty hanger on an urgent mission. As you walk the few hundred meters you are confused, why someone with Top Secret clearance is here. Surely the local commander could have handled this issue; before you could finish that through, the wall next to the solider slides apart and a man and women exit to greet you. They hand you a badge and lead you to what you now know to be elevator. As the door opens to a space 10 times the size of the hanger with all sorts of weapons, both ones your seen and some that look out of a sci-fi movie. Before you can fully fathom everything you are seeing; that commander next to you and says ‘Secretary, Welcome to DARPA’s newest facility. Everything you see here is Above Top Secret.’
Setup for Above Top Secret is as follows:
(I would highly recommend the playmats, as they are stunning and helps add to the overall feel of the game, but are by no means necessary) :
- If using Playmats, these are laid on the table opposite each other. If more than 2 players are participating, then feel free to arrange your Playmats as you see fit.
- Place your 4 Base Area Cards face up on the designated positions on the Playmat with the damage counter clips set to the zero mark (10) on the bottom left of each card.
- Secretly choose 5 Defence Cards from your personal Combat Deck; this must be 1 Card from each of the 5 Technology Levels. These will be your starting defensive/offensive weapon systems for the game and you are free to choose any of those available to you to suit your strategy. Place these cards face down on the designated positions on your Playmat without your opponent seeing them. These cards will be disclosed before the first turn begins, by turning them face up.
- Place the Security Clearance Card face up on the designated area on the Playmat with the level marker set to Level 1 (Restricted). As a minimum, you will always be able to access Level 1 technology, and the counter on the side of the card will allow you to keep track of your Security Level.
- Shuffle your remaining Defence Cards and place them face down on the designated area on your Playmat. As you build your collection of cards, you will be able to configure your Play Deck to suit your game play style.
- Shuffle your Extra-terrestrial Encounter Card deck and place this face down on the designated area on your Playmat. Assign tokens to players. As you build your collection of cards, you will be also able to configure your Encounter deck to suit your game play style, however, an Encounter deck must always contain a minimum of four of each of the three types of Encounter Card – these being Alien Assistance, Alien Technology and Alien Interference.
- Each player now draws the top 7 cards from their Play Deck. This is your playing hand and your opponents should not see these cards.
- Once this setup is complete, roll a D6 each to establish who will have first strike. The highest number goes first. If two players roll the same value, they should roll again until a result is achieved.
- Now its time to disclose your Defense Cards. Players turn their 5 Defense Cards face up.
I have only provided setup with the playmat, as I was lucky enough to get one for my testing. You can see in the picture below a rough guide on how everything is to be placed. But you can find a breakdown in the rule power also.
There are 3 phases to Above Top Secret which are as follows:
- There are certain cards/special abilities within the game that will cause advantage/disadvantage to players, depending on who goes first.
- To eliminate this advantage/disadvantage, the first turn of each Round of Play will rotate clockwise around the table. At the Clean-up Phase, the ATS Command Token will be placed next to the player who next has the Command (has first turn).
Phases of the Turn
- Draw a Card – Player draws a card from the top of their Combat Deck and adds this to their hand.
- Extra-terrestrial Encounter – player rolls a D6 to establish whether an Encounter occurs, and if so, the top card is taken from the player’s own Encounter Deck. This card may be used in accordance with the instructions on the card.
- Combat – if the player so chooses, they may attack an opponent. Combat is covered fully in the Combat Section. The general principal is to break through the opponent’s Defences and inflict damage on their Base Area Cards.Combat may be sacrificed to change a Defence Card in play. There may be occasions when you decide that one or more of your Cards in play are not suitable. In this instance, you may forfeit your opportunity to make an attack and discard 1 or more Defence Cards that are in play and replaced with Card(s) from your hand of the same technology level.
A Complete Round of Play and Clean-up Phase
A complete round of play finishes when all players have had their turn. The Clean-up Phase happens at the end of a complete round of play. The Clean-up Phase consists of:
- Repair Damage – all damage currently taken on Defense Cards still in play is repaired and damage tokens removed.
- Reinforce Defenses – you may fill any number of gaps in your Defenses (Defense Cards that have been destroyed and discarded during gameplay) with an equivalent level card held in your hand. This is regardless of Security Clearance level.
- Other Actions – there may be other effects/cards that last until a Clean-up Phase. Ensure these are ended in accordance with their instructions.
- Increase Security level – You may only advance 1 Security Clearance Level per Clean-up Phase by sacrificing Defense Points. There is no obligation to increase your Security Level and it will be an important ongoing strategic decision made by you at the end of each round of play.
You can win the game in one of two ways:
- Destroy all your opponent’s Base Area Cards before they destroy yours. A player is out of the game if they lose their final Base Area Card. Base Cards have 100 Hit Points each.
- Be the last player to have access to Defence Cards. A player is out of the game if they no longer have any Defence Cards left to draw upon, even if they have a Base Area remaining.
Above Top Secret is a game that I must say, is quite possible my favourite deck builders at the moment. It has so many different elements that I really enjoy. Discarding a card to give bonuses to your other cards; similar to Magic the Gathering exiling a card for X. It has that whole protect and reinforcing your base style mechanic like Netrunner. The outside event style plays similar to those of the Legendary series. Not to mention, all this without the card collection that I know drives some people away from a lot of deck builders.
I must say it again; Australia really is stepping up with amazing and versatile games. Pushing the envelope and not being afraid to try something new or a little different. Above Top Secret is another great Australian game (Well technically, he is English but he lives here now, so we are claiming him!) that flies the flag for the growing Australian Industry.
So, I sat down with Geoff, a friend of mine and the person who taught me how to play Netrunner as I thought this game would be right up his alley. What I like about Geoff is he really is the thinking man’s gamer. Everything is thought out, then picked apart and then rethought out. Games like this are played more slowly, but are normally challenging and you get a greater feel for the game.
Geoff really enjoyed Above Top Secret, he says it was because of the intelligence of the game. I think it was mainly because he beat me all but one time we played. This game is incredibly well thought out and you can see the love and care that went into crafting this game. As long as you had the right cards, there always seemed to be an answer. Surprisingly, there weren’t ever any cards that I felt were overly powerful or unanswerable. It really did feel at times like it was mono e mono. Well until one of the Extra-terrestrial Events appeared and things sometimes when a little pear-shaped.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well this game played, I have played and on more than one occasion I have sent back games made by artists. Not saying Artists can’t make games, but I feel like sometimes the art is their main concern and the gameplay takes a back seat. I had hoped that this game wasn’t going to be one of those, as the Art in this game is amazing. I’ve seen whenever James posts picture of the cards or rendering, people are always in awe of them. Before receiving my copy, I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those games that are all art and no gameplay. The gameplay of Above Top Secret is a highly intelligent and well thought out mechanics and doesn’t fall into this trap at all.
As mention the art is amazing. James has really used his talents to bring this game to life, the playmat and box art is stunning. They could have quite easily been photos rather than hand drawn art. The vehicles, weapons, headquarters/bases are incredibly detailed and lifelike; it will truly blow you away. As someone that loves the artwork of a Board game, I’m going to go out on a limb here, this is truly the best art of any game I have ever played. OK maybe I shouldn’t say best as I don’t want take away from all the other stunning artwork out there; but by far my favorite and most awe-inspiring artwork I have seen.
The artwork for me got even better after I forwarded this game to another review and James told me who he had based the man on the box art on. He had started this game the day after his father passed and his father was in World War II. So, he decided to pay homage to him by putting his likeness on the box. This for me just made me love the art even more and release why it was so powerful.
Overall, Above Top Secret was a game that blows me away both visually and in its gameplay. The only real sort of negative thing I can say about it is it has a medium level learning curve. Yet once you have a few games under your belt it, it is quite easy and quick to play though. Also one thing I must add; this prototype was amazing quality, I have received finished product of games that aren’t to this level of detail. It is this level of detail and elegance that you can see through the game, from art to the gameplay right through to the components that makes this game an instant buy for me.