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I played the Mass Effect board game - here’s how it works

At UKGE, I got the chance to play the Mass Effect board game preview, and interview its designer about its tactical gameplay and branching choices.

Mass Effect board game cover showing Shephard

At UKGE, I had the chance to play the much-anticipated Mass Effect board game, coming from Modiphius later in 2024, as well as chat to its lead designer Eric M. Lang. This cooperative tactics game, in which fans can embody Shepard and her most popular alien companions, is all about choice and replayability, allowing players to loop 45 minute missions into a branching campaign.

Taking place during Mass Effect 3, on a crashed Cerberus spaceship, the Mass Effect board game sees players combining their characters’ unique abilities to fight pitched battles. What we played was an incomplete version of the game, so bear in mind that the visuals may be subject to change.

Anyone who’s played a dungeon crawler or skirmish game will be familiar with the basic feel of Mass Effect. Each turn you’ll be blasting baddies, reviving allies, and getting into just the right position to make the most of your character’s special powers.

Mass Effect board game board and all minis

In between turns, cards make enemies respawn, attack, or cause other ‘bad stuff’ happen – so you’re never fighting to clear the map, instead seeking to clear a space so you can achieve your mission objectives.

As the designer running our demo put it, your spacefaring heroes are “assumed to be competent”. When taking shots you always hit and always do the same amount of damage, allowing you to make informed decisions and plan ahead.

Lead designer Lang explains that the game still “simulates the chaos of real-time combat” through its resolution mechanic: a dice chucking system that determines what actions you have access to.

This uses a shared dice pool, meaning the first player to act on a turn has a wealth of options available to them, but the dice they use are then removed from the equation. Each player can also choose to reserve a die result, and pass it on to another player. This helps make Mass Effect a true co-op board game, as you’ll need to decide what actions your squad wants to prioritize.

Mass Effect board game table

Lang explains that the Mass Effect board game aims to be accessible, but still provide a satisfying experience for strategy board game fans. “We want to make a really engaging tactics game for a broad audience that doesn’t necessarily have all the gaming literacy,” he says. “But don’t skimp on strategy, don’t skimp on emergent complexity.”

In my short demo, we did not get to experience a key part of Mass Effect’s appeal – and that’s its campaign system.
“The reason why, in my opinion, Mass Effect was so iconic is it was the single game that introduced the idea of ‘your choices matter’. That was the game that started it,” Lang says,

He argues that it really brought the idea of branching paths into the public consciousness. “For most players that was a veil-piercing moment to them. It expanded what narrative in games could actually mean.”

In the Mass Effect board game, “the campaign structure is branching path storyline – but 100% visual, we don’t have to explain in the rulebook, you can just look at it and go ‘oh, I understand how the campaign works’”.

Mass Effect board game Wrax mini

Just like the video game, in the Mass Effect board game, “Your choices matter. Are you going to go for the paragon ending? Are you going for the renegade ending? Which mission are you going to take?”

You can also only experience a portion of the content, from character upgrades to mission choices, in one playthrough, encouraging you to replay the game and explore different combinations.

In the particular demo mission I played, there were two ways to win – planting explosives in particular areas was the Paragon victory condition, while beating up a boss monster was the Renegade choice. Whichever one we chose would unlock different missions for us to play in the future.

Simulating the much-lauded loyalty missions in the series, each of the board game characters also have their own bonus story missions you can complete. But we’re sorry to say that none of them unlock kissy cutscenes.

I also had a quick look at the Don’t Starve and Mutant Year Zero board games while at UKGE. For more content, check out our guide to the best space board games, and our coveted list of the best board games on the market.