Review: Five Parsecs from Home

As I’ve gotten older and my schedule filling up with non-gaming activities, I’ve found my flexibility to game with other people waning. So over the past few years I’ve been leaning more towards games that have a solo component. It’s much easier to have a table set up where I can putter down to the basement for a few hours during the week, instead of trying to coordinate with folks on where and when to get a game in. For board games I’ve got loads of choices but for miniature wargames there hasn’t been many options. I stumbled on Modiphius Entertainment’s Five Parsec from Home and was eager to give this sci-fi skirmish game a shot.

It’s an interesting game as it leans heavily on roleplay elements. You create a crew of individuals, one of which will be the captain that much of the game revolves around. Each member will have a basic profile characterizing their movement, combat ability, how quick they react, and a general stat for non-combat events. There are options for different alien races and a bevy of gear and equipment, all of which is generated randomly on a series of charts and tables.

For the meat of the skirmish game itself, you play on a table somewhere between 2 to 3 feet square. A good amount of terrain will be needed to break up line of sight. You’ll have roughly 6 crew members matched against a random number of opponents (usually about 3-8). The game will have some manner of a win condition and is played over rounds. 

Each round you will roll for reaction, assigning each die roll to a crew member. You are trying to score equal to or less than a crew’s value. This allows you to act before your opponent. You can also have a crew member hold an action, interrupting the opposition’s turn with fire, or even just hold off till the end of the round. After initial quick reactions (if any), the opponent acts. Every figure activates once. Finally the player’s crew will have a turn with any remaining members activating if they haven’t done so.

An activation is a move and shooting or melee, just attack, or go on a full out sprint getting a little extra movement for the round. Ranged combat is dead simple using d6 and true line of sight. Close up, without cover hits on a 3+, 5+ to hit targets in the open at range, with most rolls needing a 6 to hit while in some manner of cover. The number of dice will match a weapon profile, adding the unit’s combat ability. Simple.

If a unit is hit another d6 roll is made adding the weapon’s damage value that is compared to the target’s toughness. Rolls equal or greater than the toughness will essentially take the model out of the fight. Otherwise they take a stun marker. Units with stun markers have limits on the actions they can take the following round (and then the stun marker is removed). But if a model gets 3 or more stun markers, they are removed from combat. Basically they are knocked out and removed as a casualty. Melee combat is resolved similarly but the opponent will get a chance to exchange blows.

Combat is brutal, quick, and easy to resolve. You’ll find yourself jockeying to get into position, hoping to get that quick reaction roll so you can provide overwatch while other members of your crew maneuver towards the objective. The opponent’s actions are governed by a simple AI that will dictate how aggressive they advance, adhere to cover, and what formations they will use on the table. The tactical rules are pretty bare bones and simple. What pairs wonderfully with this are the campaign rules.

See the game has a strong story theme. You are managing a starship crew and the resources needed to keep them going. You define a rough goal for the campaign picking from a list. This might be to earn so many credits, or as simple as playing a certain number of campaign turns. You measure resources as abstract credits. Each campaign turn you have to pay upkeep for your crew which increases if over 6 members. Your starship has a sort of mortgage that will increase until the debt is paid off. Damaged equipment needs to be repaired (or dumped as a loss) and injured crew members will need treatment.

Each campaign turn you’ll have crew members undertake different tasks. This might be to try to  barter for equipment, seek out information and opportunities for big scores, or recruit new crew members. Every campaign turn you will automatically get a job opportunity, but you really want to obtain patrons. Patrons offer more lucrative payouts and potentially other benefits for completing operations. Job opportunities dry up? Get too many local rivals? You can pack up and jump to another planet.

This leads to how the tactical game plays out. Each mission will have an outline of a random objective and forces you’ll be fighting. Objectives might be to obtain a specific item, get crew members across the opposite table edge, or simply eliminate the opposition. This is paired with a randomly determined group of enemies and other battlefield conditions. 

Complete the mission objective and you get a decent payday along with some loot. Fail a mission, you’ll get a few credits but it’ll mean losing a patron and a tighter budget for the next campaign turn. Crew members that survive will earn experience which can be used to improve their stats. Over the game you’ll have crew members develop, get better gear and weapons, and sadly, some will be removed as casualties. All of this is done through random charts that results in an evolving, narrative experience that makes the game shine. 

And the potential outcomes are so varied. You can gain rivals, suffer a planetary invasion, get information on a juicy job, or a snippet of data that leads to an extended quest where you’ll keep seeking out rumors until you get the MacGuffin, earning a big reward. Crew members can suffer a bout of PTSD and sit out a mission or two, gain a skill, or other noteworthy life event. There are a series of charts you’ll be rolling a d100 for, continually evolving the trials and tribulations for your crew.

It’s paired with light resource management. Aside from gear and equipment, you also have credits. This part reminds me some of the classic solo microgame, Barbarian Prince. You are ever striving to balance credits needed for maintaining your crew and ship, and spending them for better equipment and skills. A windfall job can help get you out of debt, paying off your ship. Or a mission can be disastrous, having crew members tied up in the medbay or with damaged gear, leaving the hard choice of either cutting them loose or spending more of your precious credits to get them on their feet again. As a solo experience, it’s a lot of fun. Best of all there are also other more narrative elements like luck and story points which can be spent to mitigate a bad die roll some. So if you think you’ve gotten hosed with a streak of bad luck, there are ways to counter it. But like credits, their supply is limited.

The Good – It offers a grand experience that borders on being a roleplaying game. There’s a lot of choices with a touch of resource management each turn of the campaign. It’s matched with a tactical wargame ruleset that is fast and engaging. With varied opposition, battlefield conditions, and objectives this randomness increases the replayability. Best of all the actual battles flow pretty quickly with just enough tactics to make it enjoyable without bogging the experience down with lots of simulationist rules. It’s great fun expanding the abilities and gear of your crew, ever on the hunt for that next big payout.

The book is colorful with pleasant art. While an index isn’t present, the rules are sectioned off in different colors making it easy to go through after some familiarity. Another huge plus is the game is miniature agnostic. Any figures will do and the game works well in 28mm or 15mm without having to turn rules into pretzels for ranges.

The Bad – The rules are pretty well laid out but it can take some time to fully grasp everything. There are a lot of procedural charts which are rolled on and the first few times can be difficult to navigate everything. You are going to have a fair amount of bookkeeping to keep track of gear, cash, and other game resources. Lastly, the actual rules for playing the wargame portion are pretty thin. Some fights can be blown through so quickly, it might border on being anticlimactic. I could see the argument that as a skirmish wargame ruleset, it would be too light for some tastes.

The Verdict – Five Parsecs from Home is a wonderful solo sci-fi game. You aren’t going to get a meaty tactical AI experience here like with Star Army 5150. But it’s enough for a quick, brutal gun fight with enough gear and abilities to keep it interesting. Plus I love the idea of units sticking to cover as much as possible, risking that mad dash across open ground to get to an objective. All the while hoping your mates can offer enough suppression to stave off any incoming fire.

It’s paired with an enjoyable campaign ruleset. You will have a few random events, but also each turn mull over the choices to send off crew members in hopes to achieve some task. Do you settle on taking the regular opportunity job? Or do you put time and resources into finding a patron that will offer more lucrative pay? Do you spend credits and time trying to repair equipment? Or let it go and see what a crew member can find on the local market? Lots of fun choices. Lastly, if you think you’ve garnered too many enemies and dried up your prospects, you can always fly to another planet to see what awaits.

The battles also have a fair number of core objectives you need to achieve to win. And on top of that are several profiles of enemies you’ll be fighting against. The variety is impressive for such a modest rulebook. For me that is the selling point. It’s not some deep story, but Five Parsecs from Home sells a narrative experience. Over time you’ll see your plucky crew of adventurers and mercs improve, get better gear, and slowly accrue riches and fame. I am pleasantly surprised how much is packed into the rules. Well worth checking out if you are looking for a solo, sci-fi, skirmish wargame.