Gen7: A Crossroads Game review
You are the seventh generation of crewmembers on a colony ship on a 210-year journey to a distant star system and things are about to go wrong – though perhaps not the way the game designers intended.
Gen7 is a seven-session campaign game using the Crossroads narrative-choice system that appeared first in Dead of Winter. It’s a semi-co-op: players must work together to overcome a common threat, but at the same time you’re jockeying for the morale points that will raise your individual rank, giving you bonuses in future sessions. By placing dice you’ll fill seats in the ship’s facilities to get the resources to complete tasks and objectives – some personal, some operational and some mission-critical.
You won’t get much of that information from the rulebook, which is barebones. That’s because many of the actual rules and special conditions are delivered on cards and other components, most of which unlock as the game goes on. While many campaign games alter after each session, Gen7 pushes that pretty far. New boards, new decks of cards – a lot of stuff can change, and the whole experience can be replayed to tell a completely different tale.
The core story is delivered in a thick ring-bound volume, structured like a solo gamebook. The choices it offers are clever, often moral ones with no clear right answer, and you’ll need to negotiate and vote on your decisions – a higher rank provides more votes. The Crossroads cards add more player-based story elements. It’s decently written but slow. This isn’t a great epic. There’s about enough plot here for a single direct-to-video movie.
Ultimately what it lacks is atmosphere. Dead of Winter is not the same game, but playing it was tense, human and occasionally terrifying, because the threat was obvious: zombies and starvation. Gen7’s mechanics are simply mechanical. It never feels like you’re controlling a spaceship crew. The logbook, an RPG character sheet where you choose the ship’s name and record its stats, is a nice touch but nine small boards do not give the sense of journeying through space. When things are getting tense, placing dice on grey cards to earn resources punctures the fiction that the narrative sections build up.
The Crossroads system, which ought to give players their individual story challenges and tasks, never catches light. That's partly because we simply kept forgetting to take the cards when we were meant to. It may be subtitled ‘A Crossroads Game’ but the system is not at the heart of the gameplay; it’s bolted onto the side, doesn’t feel like a coherent part of the structure and slows down an already long experience.
Back in the 1990s, as the Eurogame juggernaut was hitting top speed, there was a name given to big-box games lacking the elegant structure of the German newcomers: Ameritrash. They weren’t necessarily bad – some were brilliant – but they had too many mechanics and components doing too many things in too many directions.
Gen7 is a modern Ameritrash game. It’s a box full of exciting-looking bits and promise, and it does clever things with interactive narrative, but it’s fiddly and lacks focus. When you’re paying £90 you want to be sure the core mechanic isn’t going to get dull after a few sessions. For some groups, this will be their game. For others, leave it in hibernation.
PLAY IT? – PROBABLY
It’s a seven-session commitment, but if you like story-heavy games and worker-placement then prepare to come aboard.
Designer: Steve Nix
Artist: David A. Nash, Gunship Revolution, Jen Santos, Marlon Ruiz, Justin Cruz
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.