Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Designed by Janice Turner and Stu Turner, and published by Wren Games, Assembly is a neat little co-operative puzzle game for two players, with an option for solitaire play.
The titular ‘Assembly’ is an orbital assembly platform in the business of constructing luxury spacecraft. After being hit by micrometeorites there has been a deadly virus outbreak killing all the crew but for you and your partner. You will need to build yourselves a spacecraft to escape the station but the AI, intent on keeping you quarantined, is now venting oxygen and actively hindering your ability to communicate. The premise strikes me as a little convoluted for what amounts to an essentially abstract puzzle game but, beneath the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme, the core game is stimulating, satisfying and very replayable.
Assembly comes in a pleasingly small box – perfect for tossing in a bag and killing some time in an airport – tho', be warned, the game does require a fair amount of table space to set up: you won't be playing it on the pulldown tray on your airplane seat! The station itself is represented by twelve blueprint cards arranged in a clock face and your object is to deploy and then lock into position each of the 12 spaceship module tokens in their corresponding blueprint bays. The action card deck pulls double duty as both your set of available actions and your remaining oxygen – creating a strong incentive to solve the puzzle efficiently, as wasting action cards is wasting air. Each action, such as 'rotate all modules in a clockwise direction' or 'swap the position of two modules', requires your partner to confirm that they have the same card. If they do not, then they’ll have to discard a card from their hand – which will in turn reduce their options on their turn and also bring you one step closer to mutual asphyxiation.
So Assembly is about trying to figure out what is in your partner’s hand and if they don’t have what you need you’ll need to try to figure out a next-best action. The rules include a few different variants of communication restrictions as well as number of other levers you can pull to modify the difficulty. These include tinkering with what is in the action deck and a few different malfunctions, each of which makes locking in the correct module just a little more challenging. You can ramp up the difficulty level and shake the game up still further by adding in the small expansion packs: Glitches, Re-Sequence and Overdrive. These introduce, for example, robots that unhelpfully interfere with your plans to get your space station shipshape...
Inspired by modern videogame trophy systems, the Assembly rulebook lists a number of ‘Achievements’ to check off as you play. This is a simple but effective device to further promote replayability. Achievements range from things you’re likely to accomplish through the natural course of play to alternate ways of playing the game.
Unlike Matt Leacock's Pandemic (Z-Man Games), Assembly doesn’t really have a sense of rising tension. In fact, if anything, the tasks usually get a little easier as you progress, making the overall experience feel more meditative and methodical, like a well-played game of Solitaire. Once you’ve grasped it, the base game isn’t unduly challenging, even when playing with the toughest malfunctions and communications restrictions: by our 10th game, my wife and I were able to make our escape without uttering a word to one another. It was great then to be able to turn to the expansions that incrementally add complexity and challenge to proceedings.
(Review by Edmund Ward)