Gamers have long been aware and ready to shoot the threat from beyond the stars. That’s why keep trying to get more of that sweet
XCOM nectar. From here, a very logical outcome develops: a miniature wargame about a brave human fireteam skirmishing with disgusting aliens. And that’s basically what Majestic 13 from Snarling Badger Studios is!
Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.
In Majestic 13, your squad size is fixed at 5. No more, no less, and if anyone dies on the field, they can be revived via cloning. Most of the time, you’ll squad will be facing off against a single powerful alien. The xenos come in near 20 varieties that split into three broad types for AI considerations. Aside from the universal AI rules that apply to each monster of the type, each beast is modified by their own abilities and attack patterns.
Your primary task is always to defeat the alien. The alien itself is selected randomly and so are the other aspects of the battle: whether the mission is urban or set in the wilds, the amount of terrain, secondary objectives, interference from bureaucracy… Every third mission is special, facing off against the more regular forces of the alien FORCE (read: fighting soldiers rather than a single tentacle beast), slightly reminiscent of XCOM’s plot missions.
Acuity is one of the five stats a character can have in Majestic 13 and it determines their position on the initiative track. The alien invariably has higher Acuity than starting characters, so it’s likely to act first. It activates again at the Acuity -10 step. Aliens also have special conditions that can grant them a third activation. Playing Majestic 13 isn’t the same as action-economy’ing a boss in a heartbreaker is what I’m saying.
In practice, it’s your dudes trying to whittle down the alien’s large HP pool while hoping that the alien will miss their attacks. That’s because they can take off half the health bar easily – and remember, they act more than once a turn. What inadvertently helps you is that the enemy AI can easily lock themselves into a loop, just like in Space Station Zero. Granted, none of us want to win a game by simply cheesing it…
Aliens can also go into the In Extremis state, a death-rage triggered by their HP dropping low enough. They’ll start taking auto-damage (probably to prevent annoying loses to a creature that has 1 HP left) and using special attacks. This could have been a system that’s much more widely implemented. Currently, shooting the enemy doesn’t matter until you reach the In Extremis stage. Which is a bummer! Much like video game bosses, they could switch up attacks at 1/3 health or maybe lose access to some attacks – something, anything!
After the battle, you roll for crew survival (which can lead to several permadeath scenarios), dole out XP and roll a bureaucracy check to see whether you were able to get the stuff you wanted from the HQ. Notably, you can’t let go of agents with sub-par stats or without their full complement of limbs. You’ll keep them around, rain or shine, unless post-mission rolls kill them off!
In conclusion, it’s fun to see games like Majestic 13 crop up, mostly because this area of Monster-Hunter-meets-XCOM-like gaming is relatively untouched. There are some balance and AI quibbles, but if you liked Space Station Zero, you’ll like Majestic 13.