Review: Assembly Card Game18 Mar 2019 2
Review: Assembly Card Game
Released 09 Feb 2019
In space, no-one can hear you puzzle. They can't hear you scream, either, as you draw up a new hand of cards, only to find the critical command you need to execute isn't among them. Nor can they hear you swear as your latest run ends in ignominious failure. Again.
This is Assembly, a new digital adaptation of a card game from independent publisher Wren Games. The original could be played co-op or solo but on mobile you'll only get the latter option. Good job there's still plenty in this cunning puzzle game to entertain you.
The premise is that you're on a malfunctioning satellite and need to use its glitchy systems to assemble an escape craft. In practice, it means you're looking at a ring of twelve room cards. To win, you'll need to get the matching module token in each room and lock it into place. The catch - of course, there's a catch - is that when you deploy a module you get a random one and it's placed in a random room.
Deploying modules is one of the commands you can issue each turn. A hand of three command cards you hold, drawn from a small deck, limits your choices of actions. You draw up after playing a command card but it's a bitter bonus as cycling the command decks is also the game's timer. Run through it three times and you're dead. Other commands at your disposal involve moving those randomly-placed modules around. The simplest one swaps the position of any two. The others all rotate the ring of room cards either left, right or in the direction of your choice.
The random placement of modules and of drawn commands is the key that makes this simplistic setup blossom into a strategy/puzzle game. It sets up a fascinating tension. Sometimes you'll get lucky and deploy a module where it needs to be, or where you can easily move or swap it. More often you'll have more work to do to get it where it needs to be. The question is: how much randomness are you willing to risk?
For example, you want to push out modules if you've got the right cards for it. But on each reshuffle of the command deck, all the room blueprint cards swap around randomly. So there's no point in moving them round close to when the timer expires. But the same command card that adds modules to the game also locks them in place. So push your luck too much and you won't have the commands needed to benefit from any luck you might happen to attract.
Instead, it's all about keeping a balance while praying to the RNG gods to give you a break. You'll need to assess the card deck, timer, and module position and decide whether it's worth swapping or moving cards around. You also have other choices at your disposal for emergencies. You can discard your whole hand to choose any command. And you're also given a role, a one-off special power. Noah the Systems Engineer, for example, can lock three modules instead of the usual one.
Wren Games is a small studio who built this app themselves and it shows in the presentation. It's functional but effective. There are a couple of annoying interface niggles, like having to dismiss the tutorial boxes every game. Sometimes the game allows you to select, but not carry out, illegal plays. The worst is the rotation dialog box whose unhelpful arrows make it look like rooms are rotating when in fact it's modules that rotate. These are minor irritations but compounded by a lack of an undo button. Such frustrations are quite minor, though, when each game only takes around five minutes.
Despite this, Assembly does a surprising job of launching you into deep space. The ice-cold orchestral soundtrack and starfield background help a lot. But the theme meshes well with the straightforward mechanics. That makes it a tasty choice for bite-sized puzzling. Much of the joy comes from figuring out strategies to reliably beat the game, of course. Once you get there a choice of difficulty levels and the random factors provides decent replay value. It's got all the pieces needed to assemble a satisfying conundrum to set yourself.