How to Play Core Space: First Born

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Core Space Review Playtesting 2

Last updated on September 8th, 2022 at 04:24 pm

The vicious and unforgiving galaxy comes to your table with Core Space: First Born. Take command of the intrepid crew of the Eidolon as your quest for salvage leads you to the darkest and most dangerous corners of space. Will you triumph, or will you fall to the insidious First Born?

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How to Play Core Space: First Born – Introduction

If you’ve watched any Star Wars films, then you’ve probably fantasised about being a space-faring rogue at least once in your life. An adventuring vagabond or bounty-hunter, hopping from one edge of the galaxy to the next in your noble quest, whatever that may be, blaster at your side and trusty ship and crew at your back.

Well, with the help of Core Space: First Born, you can live some of this fantasy.

Take command of your own band of Traders either alone or with friends. Explore the dangerous fringes of the known universe in your own spaceship. Delve deep into the forgotten catacombs of the First Born in your quest for fame, fortune and survival.

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In this article, we’re going to take you through how to play a basic game of Core Space: First Born. Whilst we’ll provide an overview of the various rules and phases, we’ll also include a smattering of our thoughts. We’ll let you know how the game plays, whether or not the mechanics make sense, and ultimately whether or not it’s any fun.

If you haven’t already, you might want to jump over to our Core Space: First Born Review to familiarise yourself with everything in this massive box.

How to Play Core Space: First Born – The Team

As usual, this How to Play and associated playtest will be overseen by FauxHammer.com regular writer Rob, or @VoltorRWH to give his handle. This time ’round, fresh from the How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game article, is TTRPG aficionado Jordan.

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As a willing vessel of the Tyranid hive-mind, we’re unsure if he’s the best person to be stranded in a spaceship with, but he’s all we’ve got today. Hopefully, his dice rolling won’t be as cursed as it was last time either (he was very glad to see there was no rolling for armour values after every attack)!

How to Play Core Space: First Born – The Venue

We’re becoming quite the regulars at Norwich’s premier gaming space, The Games Table.

Core Space Review Crew Venue 1

A welcoming venue for gamers of all persuasions, you can be sure there’s a space for you. Whether you just want to play a basic card game, a medium-sized board game, or you’ve got a few thousand points of Warhammer raring to spill some blood, there’s a space for you.

The Games Table, a relatively new enterprise, have also recently started hosting events. Whilst we were there, they were hosting their first Blood Games: a Warhammer 40,000 tournament that had the venue absolutely packed. If you’re ever in Norwich, make sure you check it out.

How to Play Core Space: First Born – Playtesting

In a game of Core Space: First Born, you take on the role of a member (or members) of the crew of the Eidolon spaceship. You will undertake a mission – usually focussed around the retrieval of a particular piece of loot or another item – and then escape the board with your crew.

In this review, we’re going to take you through the How to Play mission that comes with the box. We’re going to see how easy the core concepts of the game are to pick up and play with. None of us playing have any prior experience with the Core Space: First Born system, so this is as new to all of us as it may be to you.

Setting Up

Every mission in Core Space: First Born comes with a map setup. As you’ll have seen in our Core Space: First Born Review, the box comes with a collection of cardboard scenery to help zhoosh up your tabletop.

How to set up your playing space is clearly illustrated in the start of the How to Play booklet. In subsequent missions, which can be found in the latter half of the Rulebook, these are similarly laid out in a clear fashion.

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Maps display all the components that need to be placed on the gaming mat before a game starts. For this mission, we needed to place Entry and Patrol Point Markers 1-6, two pillars, two Arks, a Stasis Pod and a Reactor.

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With the gaming board set up, you next have to gather the other components you’ll need to play: tokens, miniatures, and so on. You will also need Character Dashboards, complete with appropriate pegs, boards and items. These are all clearly labelled in the How to Play guide, and the booklet will walk you through how to do this so you don’t end up with the wrong stuff.

And that’s more or less it.

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For a game with so many components, we were expecting to see a great deal more of it scattered over the table. Instead, the amount of stuff is very manageable. Sure, it did take a little while – about 30 minutes – to get everything ready to go, but we’ve all had games that take longer to set up.

Well, aside from the tokens.

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There are a vast amount of tokens involved in the game. The majority are lootable items and bits of gear and equipment to enhance your characters, or loot that can be sold as part of a longer, ongoing campaign.

Unfortunately for our How to Play game, we only needed about 10 specific tokens from the lot. The majority of our set up time was spent trying to locate these! Once these are found, however, all the others can go away back in the bag – you don’t need to keep them out.

With everything set up and ready to go, we could get started.

How to Play

A round of Core Space: First Born is made up of five phases. There are:

  1. The Hostility Phase.
  2. The Trader Phase
  3. The First Born Phase
  4. The NPC Phase.
  5. The Assessment Phase.

We’ll go through each of these in turn now.

I – The Hostility Phase

At the top of each round, the overall hostility of the First Born guarding the ruins that the players have broken into increases. This is represented by the addition of a single black peg to the Hostility Tracker.

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Depending on the circumstances laid out in the mission description, certain missions will see the First Born starting in a more hostile state.

Once a black peg has been added to the Hostility Tracker, players draw an Event Card. This determines what effects will be at play during the round. The overall hostility level of the First Born dictates the effect on the card. For example, if the hostility level is “Patrol”, the card may simply say to add a new Drone to the board at an entry point. If the threat level is more severe, the same card may dictate available First Born units immediately attack the Trader(s), or that a particular unit makes an aggressive move.

The particular event card that is drawn as part of the tutorial sees one of the Traders – we rolled for it, and the dice dictated Wade – waste ammo firing off into the shadows and increase the Hostility level by a single peg. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also given a Fear token, which prevents him from acting normally until removed, either by skipping a turn of using a Skill point to get rid of it.

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The sight of the tiny purple disk with angry alien face was too much for poor Wade.

Event cards aren’t just tied to the First Born, oh no. They may also change what loot is available and where you have to go to find it, or may say that reactors on the board suddenly power up, blasting fire into the air and damaging whatever units happen to be around it.

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Approach these carefully!

It’s a well-thought-out method of adding a little spice to the turns of the game. The unpredictability helps keep the game fresh and forces players to remain on their toes. Suddenly, taking cover by an exhaust is a gamble – what if it ignites next turn?

II – The Trader Phase

The Trader Phase is when players get to do their thing. In their phase, any Traders on the board get to perform any of the four following actions. They can perform the same action twice if they wish.

  • Move – Travel up to 4 squares in any direction. You can’t go through terrain, so must always travel around any obstacles.
  • Ranged Assault – Using an equipped weapon, shoot at an enemy. How much damage a weapon can do depends on the range it is being used at. Make sure you have line of sight (LoS) with an enemy and fire away as per the stats on the weapon you have equipped. Note that some weapons deal reduced damage at longer ranges. Use the range rulers to figure this out. You also can’t shoot someone you’re engaged in close-quarters with – or if you don’t have any ammo!
  • Close Assault – If your character has an enemy in an orthogonally-adjacent square (basically, in any of the eight squares around your character), you can try your luck beating them up. You can only do this if you have a close-quarters weapon, such as a combat knife. The attacks work in a similar way to ranged attacks.
  • Search – Have a peek inside any Arks or Stasis Pod to see if there’s any loot tucked away inside. Players can only carry as much loot as they can fit in the Loot Tray on their Character Dashboard. Stasis Pods also contain Lieges – unpleasant enemies you’ll have to face off against. If you perform a Search action on a Stasis Pod before the Liege has emerged, the stasis field is considered switched off and the Liege cannot awaken.

There is no set order players have to follow when activating their Traders. You and your friends can co-ordinate for maximum effect.

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The How to Play mission sees the Traders looting a Rock Worm Larva – a horrible little monster that bites the Trader and inflicts a single point of damage. How mean!

That you are able to perform the same action more than once is a boon to traders: one can be covering a retreat whilst another sneaks off for some loot. Limiting Traders to only performing an action only once would likely lead to them being overwhelmed very quickly.

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It also helps diversify your playing style. if you are the sort of player who likes to get really stuck in and do some damage, being able to shoot twice or make a close-quarters attack allows you to do this. Or, perhaps you’re in a tight spot and just need to run for it, being able to double your movement distance will allow you to do this, too.

It’s also very useful if you’re like Jordan, whose dice rolling remained cursed (just as it was in our Horizon Zero Dawn game), and frequently found himself needing to have extra goes at shooting stuff.

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Players can also perform a single Effortless Action each round. These can include moving a single additional square into cover – representing sprinting just a little further or knee-sliding into cover – or throwing an item, such as a knife or a grenade.

III – The First Born Phase

In response to the players doing stuff, the First Born get to move and attack. The number of First Born that arrive each First Born Phase is dictated by the number of pegs on the Hostility Tracker.

Core Space Review Playtesting 1

The icons represent each type of enemy that arrives throughout the hostility banding. Drones – those little flying robot chappies – only arrive in rounds where the highest peg is next to a marked line, such as in the Patrol bracket (see the image above). Also, if there is a small green die icon on the Hostility Tracker next to an enemy, you have to roll a green die to see if that enemy turns up.

Once you know which enemies are due to turn up, you roll the purple Knowledge Die. This determines on which Entry Point or Patrol Point the enemies arrive on (Entry Points for First Born, Patrol Points for Drones) and in which direction they move, as each side has an arrow on it. This is a nice touch that ensures you can never be certain of where a Drone might move, and whether or not you’re definitely out of its sight.

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The First Born are controlled by the game. As such, there are some steps that need to be followed each round.

Once the First Born have all arrived, they all begin to take their actions – starting with the highest-ranking and moving downward. At first, when the Hostility Tracker is no higher than Patrol, all that happens is that Drones appear at their Patrol Points, scan the environment, and retreat again. If Traders are out of Line of Sight, the Drones remain unalerted.

If the Drones see one of your Traders during the Patrol hostility bracket, the hostility level on the Tracker is immediately moved to Inspection.

Once the Hostility Tracker moves to Inspection, the First Born are aware of you. The aliens begin to appear, and players will be attacked. In order to resolve attacks made by the First Born against the player characters, players must follow the flow diagram on page 34 of the Rulebook and consult the stats on the First Born Board.

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During our tutorial mission, one of the Lieges popped out of his stasis tank and made a play for Wade. Wade, who does not start with a close-combat weapon, was at a disadvantage, until…

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…an Event Card knocked him three squares away, meaning he could shoot in his next turn!

IV – The NPC Phase

The NPC Phase isn’t covered in the How to Play booklet as you don’t have any NPCs in your party. In order to learn more about NPCs, we need to consult pages 40-42 in the Rulebook.

Some NPCs – called Game Hunters – are useful to have in your party. They can move and fight, and players can take advantage of their extra pockets to stash more loot away.

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However, not all NPCs are friendly. Core Space: First Born also adds Rock Worms to the game. These are wild creatures that have escaped from First Born laboratories. Some missions in the Rulebook will direct you to place Rock Worm Hole tokens on the map. Should you draw the Rock Worm Event Card, the Rock Worm – or Rock Worms – then emerge.

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Luckily, the aforementioned Game Hunters that come with Core Space: First Born have a very particular set of skills. These Traders specialise in killing beasties like Rock Worms and extracting their various reagents to sell on the black market. If you have a Game Hunter in your party and a Rock Worm decides to pop up, the Game Hunter prioritises killing the Rock Worm over any of the First Born.

V – The Assessment Phase

The Assessment Phase is when the board is tied up for the following round. Activation counters are removed and the effects that take place at the end of the round happen. That’s all!

Playing the Game – The Tutorial

So, the sequence set out above is how the How to Play book introduces you to the game. You go through the whole sequence twice with slightly different things happening each time, as dictated by the book.

The first two rounds of the How to Play example are, therefore, very hand-holdy. Players will follow the exact steps set out in the booklet, taking baby steps through core concepts and key ideas. Drones appear and disappear, and the Hostility Tracker is slowly filled up. Then, the hostility level reaches Inspection and suddenly a the First Born appear and the drones begin actively hunting you. Guns start blasting, enemies close in, and all of a sudden things begin to look a little dicey.

And it’s at this point, the training wheels are ripped off.

The How to Play book, having set you up in these ruins now crawling with drones and First Born, encourages players to try and complete the encounter from where they’ve been left. ‘Don’t worry,’ the book says, ‘you probably won’t manage it. If you aren’t successful, have another go and try again.’

See, Jordan and I, we took that personally.

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Let us set the scene. Jordan, playing Cassie, is running for the objective – which we knew was in an Ark in the top-left corner of the map. There’s a drone closing in on him, and his ammo is running low from an earlier scuffle. I, playing a wounded and low-ammo Wade (thanks to a Rock Worm Larva hidden in an Ark as part of the tutorial, and an event card that saw me wasting ammo, again as part of the tutorial), am trying to cover his escape and keep the First Born and drones now piling down the corridor from cutting off our escape. Our time is also limited. If the Hostility Tracker reaches “Aware”, we fail the mission. This meant we had about four turns. It was at this point, like a deadbeat parent at a birthday party, the How to Play up and left us with a backwards wave and the promise it’d see us again soon.

What followed were some of the most exciting turns of a game I’ve ever played.

Jordan closed in on the Ark whilst the Drone behind him continued to shoot him. Snapping off pot-shots at it as he ran, the one point of damage he managed to roll was immediately negated by the low cover the drone was behind.

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Realising there was no way he could secure the objective, kill the drone, and escape, he made a run for the point.

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Recognising the danger he was in, I, as Wade, abandoned the Drones massing in the corridor and dashed up to clear his exit.

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“Behind you!”

Rolling an awesome three hits, the drone went down. The drones I had abandoned chased me and knocked another point of health off poor Wade. With only two turns left, I had no choice but to run back to the safety of the Eidolon’s cargo bay and leave Jordan to flee alone at the start of my next turn.

But things got worse when another drone spawned behind him!

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Over the course of his remaining turns, Jordan managed to escape – and kill one of the Drones pursuing him! Shots from all the drones on the board whizzed past him all the while, his single point of armour saving him from taking damage on two occasions.

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Jordan meticulously plans his escape – and a wild dash past two Drones.

With everyone safely back in the Eidolon’s cargo bay, the mission is considered completed. We had retrieved our objective and had got back to our ship, escaping the ruins by the skin of our teeth.

However, after that, the How to Play book recommends playing the mission set up again to keep familiarising yourself with the rules.

Playing the Game – A Mission

Having mucked our way through the Tutorial Mission, we reset the board and decided to play a “full” mission within the confines of the tutorial mission map. We re-stocked our ammo, reset our health counters, re-shuffled the Event deck, and added some random loot to the containers.

The following game was totally different to the one we had played previously.

Thanks to fortuitous dice rolls, for the first handful of turns, no Drones appeared to scan the ruins. As such, I was able to loot the first Ark and Jordan, following the pattern from the previous game, went straight for the Ark containing the objective.

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When a Drone did arrive, we were both well out of sight. It floated around a little and promptly vanished, none the wiser to our presence.

On our next turn, Jordan grabbed the objective (and a nice new knife for himself). I looted the stasis pod, ensuring no pesky Lieges would appear to ruin our day.

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Once again, we were uninterrupted by Drones – but the Hostility tracker was still going up, so we knew our luck surely wouldn’t hold out forever.

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With nothing being rolled on the green First Born dice, no Drones appeared to accost us.

With everything looted, we booked it for the exit. It was on our penultimate turn, just as we were about to step onto the ship, we drew this event card…

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“Choose a Trader. A portal appears two squares away from them.” We were faced with a choice: step into the Portal and be scattered (knocked back in a random direction determined by dice) five times, or ignore it and allow a Drone to appear.

With us so close to the Cargo Hold, we decided we couldn’t risk being knocked back and potentially ambushed by First Born at the start of the next phase. We took our chances with the Drone – and immediately fled at the start of our next turn.

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Once again, we were successful – but this time via a very different type of game. The memories of the by-the-seat-of-our-pants, Mass Effect 2 Suicide Mission-style end run that the How to Play guide had thrust us into were so far removed from the experience we had just had that it was hard to believe that we were playing the same game. Instead, we had played a tense, stealthy game that saw us carefully considering every step to as to preserve our cover and remain undetected.

It was a totally different experience – but still great fun.

Playtesting: Round Up

Even though we only played two games within the set up of the same mission, we feel that our experience perfectly illustrates the ingenuity of Core Space’s system.

The tutorial mission, when following the How to Play rules, is an exciting, chaotic affair that begins by gently guiding players through the core concepts of the game – before suddenly hurling you in at the deep end to fend for yourself.

Playing with the full rules illustrates part of the beauty of this game. Things could have gone either way: we could have had another all-guns-blazing shoot-out, but instead we had a tense, stealthy creep through the nearly-abandoned catacombs of an ancient alien crypt. Every draw of an Event card and roll of the First Born dice was tense: what would happen next? Would something appear, or would our luck hold out? Would our flawless mission complete without a shot fired, or would we suddenly be pinned down under a deluge of gunfire as Drones – or worse – poured onto the map?

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It’s a wondrously intuitive system that is infinitely re-playable, as our games show. Maps may be set up the same and objectives put in the same boxes, but there are so many variables to how each game can play out that you’re unlikely to ever have the same scenario play out twice.

When you start playing campaigns, dipping into specialities and talents, and more carefully considering your loot, the game has the potential to become a full-blown RPG. There’s a huge amount of potential in this (very reasonably priced) box.

For all the other details and a closer look at everything in the box, take am look at our Core Space: First Born review.

How to Play Core Space: First Born – Final Thoughts

Core Space: First Born is a huge amount of fun.

When we first cracked the box open we were initially a little concerned we might find ourselves overwhelmed by brand new rules and an avalanche of gaming components. There’s a vast amount of stuff required to play a game of Core Space: First Born, but it all makes sense. Things are easily identifiable and clearly labelled. Even the tiniest loot tokens are easy to figure out with the help of the Rulebook.

Speaking of the Rulebook, the game’s How to Play booklet and its Rulebook are intuitive and clearly written. That its tutorial is so hand-holdy for the first part is good, as it forces you to engage with how the game should be played. It is like watching a real-time demonstration of what to do in each phase. The Rulebook is also written and formatted in a very similar fashion to the How to Play booklet, so there’s no a dramatic learning curve going from one to the other (as there may be going from, say, a Warhammer 40,000 Starter Set to the Warhammer 40,000 Core Rules).

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But Core Space: First Born’s biggest selling point is its unpredictability. No two missions are the same, and this encourages players to get really into the game and consider what they’re doing with their characters. Do you stick together for safety, or split up for speed? Does one of you make a dash for some – or just any – loot, or do you both risk wasting time filling up your bags with stuff?

Additional – or, perhaps, more “advanced” – rules slot in seamlessly, and make players invest in their characters further. The game becomes a full-blown RPG, suddenly, with players carefully tending their own bespoke take on one of the Eidolon’s crew.

A simple-to-understand, yet quite sophisticated and extremely rewarding system, Core Space: First Born brings the darkest and most dangerous corners of the galaxy to your tabletop – and makes them seriously good fun to explore and plunder!

If you haven’t done so already, make sure you take a look at our Core Space: First Born full product review. We take a full, close-up look at all the stuff in the box there and provide an overall round-up for this awesome game!

Click this link & buy your hobby stuff from Element Games for the UK & Europe to support FauxHammer.com – Use Code “FAUX2768” at the checkout for double reward points.

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Author

  • Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

About VoltorRWH 114 Articles
Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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