We live in an interesting age when it comes to RPGs, boardgames, etc. There is so much content out there that sometimes the really interesting stuff gets drowned out in the noise of other, more popular releases. I discovered this title from a YouTube play through, and I could not wait to give it a try. It’s the culmination of all the things I love about wargames and RPGs into one! Now get your crew together and fire up that FTL drive, as we chart the unknown spaces of Five Parsec From Home!
What is Five Parsecs from Home?
Five Parsecs from Home (2021) is a solo (or cooperative) science fiction themed adventure wargame created by Ivan Sorensen and published under Modiphius Entertainment. Much like Rangers of Shadowdeep (another Modiphius title), this is a tactical wargame with RPG elements. However, where the two diverge is in randomization. The entire story of Five Parsecs revolves around a crew of six plus characters with varying backgrounds and species. From the very first roll everything including the crew dynamic, the planets you land on, the hostiles you fight, to the story itself is going to be at the mercy of lady luck. Players familiar with games like Rangers of Shadowdeep, Warhammer Quest, or Necromunda/Mordheim will find a great deal of close and comfortable parallels. Five Parsecs uses charts to randomize each aspect of the game while providing a rigid framework from which to build a campaign.
The entire game of Five Parsecs is contained within 180 pages. Each section has been broken down into logical and easy to follow subsections that are all color coded for easy reference. This includes an Introduction, Character Creation, Main Rules, Campaigns, Battles, Post-Battle, Setting, along with a variety of helpful Appendices. Truly, the editors went the extra mile through the introduction of bold text and page number references for every important roll/chart, etc. Additionally, the artwork is vibrant with sharp colors and striking images of Fringe worlds and alien species. Not every type of creature is illustrated, which I would have liked, but they do not skimp on the visuals as a whole. Also, there are nice figure flats and crew sheets included toward the end of the book, which can provide a nice reference for play.
Solo, you say?
Back during the early days of the pandemic, I was introduced to the concept of a GM-less or solo RPG experience. It may seem like a strange concept for some, but to explain it simply, the game recreates the RPG experience through the previously mentioned randomization of elements while also dictating the behavior (or Artificial Intelligence) of enemies through various tags. During combat, a set AI (like aggressive) will move and attack and group in far different ways compared to a Tactical approach. Also, each adversary will have equipment befitting their status, keeping the encounters balanced and thematically appropriate. Basically, you won’t be encountering a street gang with plasma rifles and rocket launchers, but a group of mercenaries would likely have access to military grade weapons and the like.
It’s up to you as the player to put all these elements together and link them thematically in order to weave a greater narrative. By sticking to the defined structure, your crew will expand, contract, level up, explore strange planets, meet patrons, encounter rivals, all while embarking on interesting quests. The randomization also makes no two games of Five Parsec ever the same.
Every game of Five Parsecs begins with crew creation! Said crew will consist of about three humans, and a mix of another three Alien, bot (robot/android), or Strange characters who each have a unique backgrounds, motivations and classes. One of the crew must be elected the leader, but it generally does not matter which one it is, as it grants a luck bonus to said figure. Putting it all together, you could roll up something like a fame seeking bounty hunter from a mining colony, or a politically motivated artist just off a deep space mission. Said background elements add things like money (credits), patrons, rivals, starting XP, weapons, stat upgrades or gear. Again, it’s all random, and it makes for a truly diverse and interesting crew composition. There are no bad choices, and each option grants something positive for the character or crew.
It should also be noted that there are several flavors of alien, bots and “other” choices, with each one providing wildly different bonuses and drawback. For instance, my initial crew had a Hulker, this large Alien that is not so great at shooting but can ignore certain negative weapon penalties. Artificial constructs like bots (and their varieties) will often start with higher stats but may only upgrade via credits (essentially paying for upgraded parts, etc.), and can only be repaired if damaged. This is an interesting balancing act, as the random output of your crew means you will need to balance their roles.
Regardless of the type, every character is made up of the following stats:
- Reactions – Determines initiative
- Speed – How far the unit can move on the field
- Combat – The bonus to shoot or enter melee
- Toughness – What roll is needed to take them out of action
- Savvy – A measure of smarts, used for improvements, repairs and the like
Once the crew is created, several rolls are made for: gear, gadgets, weapons, ship & ship debt, along with background elements such as how the crew met and how said crew is characterized. Lastly, notes are made for preexisting Credits, Experience Points, and Quest Rumors, all of which are used as a different type of game currencies. With everything noted, you have enough existing threads to help begin building a new story!
Campaign play centers around a tight framework and before the game begins a difficulty mode (Easy, Normal, Challenging, Hardcore, Insanity) must be selected. Said mode will dictate how much experience is earned along with a variety of roll modifiers for certain types of checks. Easy mode provides extra bonuses and eases combat while Insanity mode restricts certain other in game aspects while putting the squeeze on the crew, and always keeping them on their toes.
Story Points are also granted as another form of in-game currency that can be used to provide powerful one-time bonuses such as escaping a fight, adding a new character, granting a free hit, extra money, etc. To use a story point is to alter the game ever so slightly, but also used to help move the game forward.
With everything decided and in place, the game will move into the cycle of campaign play known as the Campaign Turn:
- Travel – Fleeing planetary invasions, voluntary space travel, travel events, new world arrival
- World – Upkeep crew/ship, exploring, trading, finding jobs, evading enemies, resolving rumors, and choosing battles.
- Tabletop battle – Fighting chosen or forced encounters
- Post-Battle Sequence – Resolving rival or patron statues, improving quest progress, getting paid, finding loot, determining injuries, experience, advanced training, obtaining items, determining campaign & character events and checking on galactic war progress.
This may sound like a lot, but every section is broken into a logical flow. Also, some elements may not be used. For instance, if your group doesn’t want or have to travel, you can skip that section. Additionally, if a battle is won without any crew taken out of action, you don’t need to resolve injuries. I particularly like campaign events as they are truly wild. For example, in my first mission I was awarded four credits after winning a battle but lost six credits due to a “tax man” event… damn tax man.
Normally, certain figures will be affected by the events you choose them to undertake. A crew member could be absent during a battle because they were lost wandering around a planet, or you could find a cool thing, XP or quest rumor. It’s truly random and fun to see what might happen next!
Most battles are jobs either granted by patrons, as part of a quest, resolution of rivals or as part of a planetary invasion! The battlefield conditions, rewards, danger pay, random loot, rivals and objectives are all randomized. This could lead to some really cool combinations like:
- A foggy forested area where the crew must fend off wild beasts
- A toxic industrial zone where the crew must defend an area while fighting elite mercenaries.
- A residential block covered in ice wherein the crew must reach a drop point.
Random elements can alter approach. For instance, fog in the first example will curb long distance shots, allowing the enemy to close in quick! The enemies themselves could also have specialists, lieutenants or unique figures that only heighten the danger of the battle.
Fighting the battle is based on the stats and gear of each model along with a tight and easily understandable rules set. All rolls use a single D6 (sometimes more) and dictates everything from initiative, to saves, attacks and damage. Fighting from range is dictated by the range of the weapon, along with the cover of the weapon and combat score of the figure.
For instance, if you need a 6 to hit someone behind cover you roll a D6, add your combat bonus and any modifiers and compare the result. Damage is modified by the weapon, so you roll and try to meet or beat the toughness of the target. Failure means a stun, and success means the target is out of action! Taking out every model (or forcing some to flee) means that the crew held the battlefield but does not guarantee the objective is met. Sometimes the crew can hold the field and lose the objective or vice versa.
A crew member’s stats and equipment can alter the gameplay such as giving a slower crew member with a high combat score with a long-range weapon, while a faster unit might be suited with a pistol and blade to help rush the enemy. With only a D6, combat is chaotic and reminded me of playing Necromunda. Unlike Necromunda, this game helps keep the pace going by adding a limit to the stuns. A unit can only take so many stuns at a time before they are taken out, thus preventing said unit from taking 4-5 hits in a turn and shaking it off like the terminator. A viable tactic could be to take out a target with concentrated fire, especially if they are really tough.
Everything about the randomization makes combat feel fresh and exciting!
So, what is the story, you may ask? At the beginning of the game, a winning condition is set based on any number of parameters you want (quests completed, battles won, etc.). Aside from that, the rest of the game revolves around your crew taking jobs, completing quests, modifying your ship, exploring planets and/or space all while trying to outrun both rivals and a potential interplanetary invasion force.
The rest of the random elements only serve to heighten the tension, or give out random rewards. That one crew member who was lost exploring the marketplace may have been the reason you lost the following battle. Having an injured crew member could mean having to find another to replace them, but also means paying higher upkeep. The more risks you take, the higher the reward! Inversely, this also means that high risk could lead to a cascade of failure (which are what story points are for). Regardless, the choice of actions is yours, and the story that you weave, although random, will be truly unique and memorable.
The second to last section of the book covers the lore of Five Parsec. There is a very Firefly meets Mass Effect and Star Wars feel to everything. There are lawless planets on the fringe of the galaxy, faster than light travel, many varieties of aliens, constructs, and mutants. Interplanetary governments reach out for control, while a looming threat of invasion and intergalactic war are always on the horizon. The lore is a fun read and helps establish both a theme and flavor to the setting.
Want to See it in action?
As mentioned above, there is an awesome playthrough of Five Parsecs on Me, Myself and Die! This is part of a larger series led by a voice actor, and long-time gamer, Trevor Duvall. He makes the whole campaign exciting and adds some dramatic flair. It’s a good way to introduce yourself to the game!
Five Parsecs from Home draws on every positive aspect from its predecessors (Necromunda, Warhammer Quest, etc.) while refining the experience into this wonderfully chaotic story of a crew trying to make their way in a lawless universe. It’s got something for the fan of tactical games, and for those creative types wanting to weave a narrative.
Solo games are not for everyone, and without another player there is no real RP in this game. The chaotic nature of each element is certainly fun for me but may not be fun for those who want more narrative freedom.
Modiphius did it again! They took everything that I loved about Rangers of Shadowdeep and expanded it into a Firefly like sci-fi setting! If you like tactical games, or sci-fi or just want to try the solo RPG experience, please give it a try!
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