Well, we finally did it. We played Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator! Artemis is a multi-player networked computer game where each player mans a station on a spaceship, very Star Trek-style, completing missions in space. It’s kind of like a more realistic video game version of Space Alert, my favorite board game. For my birthday, my husband went ahead and bought the game for me and organized a get-together of enough friends to play the game!
The big thing about Artemis is that it’s not a particularly accessible game. You need at least three players, each with their own computer (plus one extra for the server/main display), and you ideally need to all be together on the same LAN connection. Three isn’t a lot of players, but Artemis isn’t exactly a casual game either, so it can be hard to gather a group of interested players. Ideally, you play with 5 or 6 players, and that’s 6 or 7 computers as well. You then need a space that can accommodate that many players with computers and a display that all the players can see. Whew!
The intimidation factor for this game is what’s been keeping us from playing for so long, but a birthday party was enough of an incentive to make this thing happen! We invited two friends over, and one of them brought a bonus friend for a total of 5 players. Nick and I both have PC computers, so we disassembled them and brought them down to the living room. We moved our kitchen table into the living room as well and brought down one of our office desks. Nick and I sat at the kitchen table while the other three players (who actually have laptops) sat on the couches using the office table. We hooked my old laptop up to our TV and used it for the server and main display, running sound through the TV as well. (This all worked beautifully!)
It took a bit of finagling to get us all installed and set up, but eventually we had our bridge ready to play! None of us really knew anything about the mechanics of the game, so we just decided to jump right in. The beauty of a video game is that you can just learn dynamically in the game environment even if nobody knows the rules (unlike a board game where all the rules must be read and/or explained by/to each player at some point, which is tedious).
The game has 5 main stations, plus the Captain role. We mostly picked our stations arbitrarily, with Nick at the Helm (steering the ship), myself on Science (checking the map, enemy intel), Phil on Weapons (attacking enemies), Blaine on Engineering (ship stats, resource allocation, and repairs), and Nick W on Communications (discourse with other ships and NPCs and an obnoxious Red Alert button to use at will). Since none of us knew what was going on, it wasn’t really appropriate to have a Captain (though I tried to boss people around here and there).
We fired up the game and found that we each had radically different displays! The Helm mostly used a zoomed-in tactical map with weapon ranges and warp drive controls, I had a broad map that showed enemy locations, I don’t think I ever looked closely at the Weapons display, Engineering had some crazy map of the ship showing resources and crew members, and Communications had an almost chatroom-like messaging system. We all had a lot of fun getting used to our own displays and relaying information. It took a while to get the hang of what we were doing and figure out what data was unique to each station and needed to be communicated to other players.
After a few rounds, Nick W took up the role of Captain and I doubled up with Science and Comms. The Captain traditionally doesn’t have a station and only relies on what data is shown on the main display and communicated verbally, but Nick went ahead and brought up the Observer and Captain’s Map displays on his console as supplementary materials. This role change was a great move for us and Nick was an effective leader, as usual. He also has a dramatic flair, which I greatly appreciate in a game like this. There’s nothing better than hearing your Captain deliver a chilling “Destroy them,” order after the enemy ship refuses to surrender.
We mostly stuck to Mission mode, which gave us an objective to complete other than just “kill everything.” A few of the missions had characters, plotlines, and voice acting which was somewhat entertaining (though some of them could really use some sound optimization… a few of the voice clips shocked through the speakers at some painful frequency). We also tried downloading a user-generated mission that was quite well-made, but we got frustrated and stopped after dying one too many times (and it was time for friends to head home).
I had a really, really, really good time playing the game. I love teamwork, I love roles and responsibilities, I love games about communication, I love leadership. I don’t necessarily love space as much as those things, but if they keep making space-themed games that are all about collaboration, then I will keep playing space-themed games!
It’s hard to say when we’ll play Artemis again. If Nick and I both had laptops and a couple of folding card tables, it really wouldn’t be such a big to-do to set up the game. I think some members of the party felt that we saw most of what the game has to offer in that one sitting and weren’t sure about the replay value (or at least the replay value versus the setup cost), but I think we could explore more of the missions and we could also switch roles.
Overall, I really enjoyed the game! It’s complex and interesting, it hits on some of my favorite gameplay mechanics, it’s a great social game, and it’s extremely well-made for a one-man project. I’d really love to see this set up at a convention somewhere (where I don’t have to do the setup work myself and where the play space is more appropriate). Maybe if we go to MAGFest this year I could try and get something organized…