Mercs: Recon is a boardgame by MegaCon Games set in “MERCS” the near-future dystopian sci-fi universe. Mercs: Recon is cooperative for 2-5 players working to achieve goals before the security levels rise to impossible levels. The game is also fully playable solo (and even has an appropriate “infected” zombie expansion), and the Lockdown expansion adds the element of playing security forces attempting to hold off invading corporate special forces. The game is the result of a mostly successful Kickstarter campaign launched in 2014. This post will be a first-look/unboxing of sorts. Instead of simply showing the contents of the board game, I’m including many of the extended pieces from expansions that were part of the Kickstarter package. I will try to explain gameplay basics throughout the review. This game preview will probably be split into two posts because of all the images.
The Universe of Mercs
Mercs is set in the near-future dystopia after national governments have collapsed and borders erased as mega-corporations emerged from international trading agreements. National security was taken over by mega-corporations, and national militaries were transformed into corporate security forces. The corporations vie for control of markets and technology, using elite mercenary companies as special forces. Mercenaries are used to complete suicidal missions deep within the competition’s zones of control. Missions may include sabotage, rescuing informants, kidnapping scientists or VIPs, stealing vital R&D, or simply trashing production facilities.
And this already brings me to my first criticism of the game. One of my chief complaints about Mercs: Recon is the decided lack of background provided. As in, there isn’t any. Perhaps this was left for the tabletop book coming out, or perhaps it was expected that gamers interested in the boardgame would already be familiar with the existing universe. In my opinion, a detailed background is part of what sets a miniatures game apart from just another standard boardgame. Background stories place the actions that occur during the game into a larger narrative and create bigger stories. It also serves to make you care more about your little plastic soldiers and become more invested into the game.
Entry into the world of Mercs: Recon is by way of two boxed sets, Counter Threat and Assassination Protcol. Each set contains all the components needed for play, including characters from two different mercs companies. Counter Threat features mercenaries affiliated with the megacorps CCC and EU, Inc. Assassination Protocol has figures for KemVar and Keizai Waza. As a boardgame, each box contains the main rules so only one boxed set is required for play. Several expansion packs are complete (but not yet for sale) featuring new missions, tiles, and mercs. Eventually, MegaCon Games plans to have expansion packs for every faction in the MERCS universe. Each merc company has different squad specialties. Expansion packs add 5 new mercs and 2 employee miniatures along with mission cards and tiles.
Contents of each boxed set:
20 plastic miniatures (10 MERCS and 10 OPFOR)
10 player boards
15 custom dice
29 variable office tiles
The boxed sets retail for $40 each online. Expansion packs have not yet been released for sale. Rules for the second edition of the Mercs tabletop game are being printed very soon, and plastic models to fill out each corporation will be released along with the hardcover book.
In my opinion, the boxed sets are an excellent value at the online retail price of $40. Considering the average price of boardgames being $60-100, Mercs: Recon is a bargain. Even if the core gameplay doesn’t suit your tastes the components are useful for a wide range of games. Tiles are heavy, double-sided card printed in full color, and marked with 1″ squares, so they are absolutely usable with any 28mm miniature game. Play Infinity or WH40K? Kill Team, or even Deadzone? Skirmish inside a hab structure or warehouse. They would also make perfect scenery for role playing games like Shadowrun.
Components and Gameplay
Games take place inside a corporate office building. The board tiles are modular and double-sided. Modular tiles allow for great variety in play and theme, turning the sterile offices into warehouses, manufacturing centers, or bio-research labs. Expansion packs include one large tile and mission cards to add colorful flavor for new games. I will take a closer look at the tiles and cards in a different post.
The miniatures are game-decent quality, however certainly not nearly as nice as metal or resin. They won’t win any awards for quality but are more than suitable for boardgame models. The biggest problem that arose during the Kickstarter campaign was with degraded facial detail on the female SecFor II models. These are being replaced in future sets. I’m not a very skilled painter, so the quality issues don’t really matter to me. Please note that the bases seen here are still very much works in progress.
Each team of mercs consists of five models. Security forces (SecFor), employees, drones, and infected all make up Opposing forces (OpFor). OpFor is set for each game by mission cards. OpFor cards are drawn each turn to determine reinforcements and actions on the tiles. OpFor are placed on the board as Agent counters, much like the blip counters from Space Hulk. Agents are revealed when they move into line of sight of the mercs. Sometimes they are revealed as employees, sometimes as SecFor. The mechanic keeps players guessing: do you want to breach into a room with an Agent? It may be a lowly technician, or it may be a cluster of security guards. Each Agent represents tradeoffs that a player must consider. This slows down movement toward the mission objective, and can potentially increase the security level.
The game is a race against increasing security levels. Each time the level increases more SecFor become available to stop you. SecFor increase in power and ability as the levels increase. Players that take too long to complete the mission will find themselves overwhelmed.
As mercs take actions their priority changes. SecFor target higher priority mercs over lower priority models. This mechanic is used to balance out taking actions with one merc against becoming too big of a target. Sometimes it may be worthwhile to increase priority, for instance making a heavily armored model a target to protect wounded mercs.
Combat is resolved by rolling d8s. Mercs: Recon uses three types of dice to create a pool of dice for each attack. Dice have a chance to roll burst, shield, or blank. Red dice are heavy damage, with a 50% chance of scoring a hit. Yellow dice have less chance, but also the ability to roll shields. Black dice represent collateral damage. The dice pool allows weapons to have different firing modes, such as focused fire to increase accuracy or sweeping fire to indiscriminately damage anything in an area.
The gameplay in general feels similar to Space Hulk, but with a lot more options and strategies. I hesitate to directly compare the two games, but if they definitely occupy the same genre of boardgame.
SecFor I and IV are not included in the base game. Counters are provided. I do not know when these models will be made available outside of the Kickstarter campaign.
Employees, unique OpFor, and tiles in part II!
So far I like this game. I like the quality of the components, for the price, and I like the options for varied gameplay, especially with expansion packs and new mercs models. You can pick up both starter sets for the price of most boardgames, giving four merc factions and more than enough SecFor to keep you busy. And at the price, even if you dislike the game mechanics, the components are still very useful for other games.
I haven’t dug too far into the gameplay just yet, but I will be posting a detailed review of the rules and a sample game when I get the chance.