Full Campaign Review by Tomas

ISS Vanguard Review by Tomas

After finishing the full campaign, I’d like to share my thoughts about the game. I would like to apologize for any mistakes, English is not my native language. I also would like to share some tips and strategies we used during our gameplay. I will avoid major spoilers but will include minor ones (such as the equipment we used).


We played as a 2 player game, but typically included all four Sections on the Away Teams. I played Recon and Engineering and my friend played Security and Science. It took us 15 sessions, about 5 hours each, to finish the campaign. We found 31/32 storable unique discoveries and visited every planet except the Lonewolf mission. The story is well-written and makes sense. I hadn’t played Mass Effect nor read a lot of sci-fi novels, so for me there were some ideas and concepts that were new. Overall the story makes sense, and more often than not, if you study the pictures carefully and understand at least basic physics it can be easier to make some decisions. Example: if a picture shows that planet is looking like living hell you can expect volcanic activity there and act accordingly. Or if you know that lead blocks radiation and the sun is emitting radiation. Compared to Tainted Grail, I like the story more and the game flow also was much better. The main difference between them is that I’m willing to play the ISS Vanguard campaign again, which is not the case with Tainted Grail.


I have seen better, but I have seen worse. Rules are a constant struggle for Awaken Realms and I don’t think they fixed it here. We started with the tutorial and even after 4 planetary explorations we still were not sure if we were playing dice checks correctly. Not to mention that for some equipment we are still not sure. Example: there is one that says that you may ignore any Wounded and Critically Wounded effects. What does it mean? Can you ignore the effect that would give you such injury or you get the injury and when you roll injury dice you may ignore card text on wounded/ critically wounded card? I don’t know, we didn’t use it anyway:)


When we started our first mission after the tutorial, we really felt like newbies. We didn’t know where to go, what to do first. As the game progressed, we changed to a band of experienced explorers, ready for anything. Each planet shares the same mechanics, yet there is still something that makes each planet unique. For me there is enough gameplay in exploration. You must make decisions about who goes where. Do you want to split the party or not? And which and how many dice you want to use. 


At the beginning there are a lot of decisions you must make. Especially when you don’t have a lot of command tokens. You must select the crew, decide which dice to buy for each section, what Section cards to select before each exploration. But after six sessions we had enough command tokens to do everything we wanted. At this point I realized that I would like to have a ship book as it was in Prototype 2. More gamey. I liked the idea of rolling dice during the ship phase. I liked how situations progressed in a similar way as production. I respect the designer’s decision to shorten the ship phase, but I would like to have more gameplay in the ship phase. 


Here it is worth mentioning that during the whole campaign we never failed a mission and lost only 1 crew member until the final part of the game when we lost 2 more. It was never during exploration or as the result of exploration, but because of some special rules. During the whole campaign we never lost morale (there may be one part where you have to lose morale, but if it was the case, we quickly recovered to high morale).

TIP 1 – Always keep morale High and avoid decisions that will decrease your morale, unless you have a quick way to recover it. (There are some, but not many. We almost always include all 4 Sections on an Away Team. But once two of our crew members were rank 3 in each Section, only 2 sections were important. Science for gaining a lot of discoveries and regaining supplies by eating some of them. Recon to quickly explore the planet and help other sections to get into place.

TIP 2 – With a rank 3 Recon I used a 10 card deck, 3 cards have an option to draw 3 cards and 3 card allow me to not progress time track either by not drawing event (Hideout) or by completely ignoring text of the event (Grand Discovery)

From our experience, Security is only good if there is a significant threat and even then, it usually could be avoided if you use a stealthy approach. If you have only Science and Recon and using Early warning equipment to not progress a time track, you are safe. Early in the campaign, Engineering was totally useless since many of its cards depend on a mission equipment token in the sector. However, later in the game it provided complete support.

TIP 3 – In the later stages of the game we had Engineering stay in the starting location to build the outpost and was the only one to rest. (Recovers 2 more dice due to the outpost). Then he uses Automation Droid (equipment that allows you to spend 1 die to recover any die of other player in any sector)

TIP 4 – If you are rank 3, always use a Stubborn card. It will allow you to remove 2 dice from the check and one die to the side that has brackets. Stubborn + Wild dice means you always have 2 Vanguard symbols (using the side with two wild icons).

TIP 5 – Character skills matter a lot. In my opinion 2 of the best skills are Alertness (spend charge to ignore danger die) and Adaptive (spend charge to turn die to any side). Place crew with the Adaptive skill in a section with more Wild dice. I prefer skills that won’t become less effective as the game goes by. Example: not spending a supply during resting is fine at the beginning of the campaign, but later you will be able to replenish dice via equipment or Section cards.

TIP 6 – Buy new dice as soon as you can – they will increase how effectively you rest. Don’t forget that you can use rank 2 or 3 crew to get a discount.


Here I’d like to summarize pros and cons and also add some suggestions. Overall, I enjoyed every hour of gameplay. The game has its flaws, but I really like it and gave it a 10 on BGG.


  • Good story
  • Good gameplay
  • Unique experience
  • I want to replay campaign at least once
  • It is not mandatory to visit every planet, once you feel ready and have proper research you can go for the final mission.
  • The App provides great story immersion


  • I really miss the country of origin for crew members, and it would be nice after you complete the personnel file if that character received some nickname or callsign. [Len’s Note: The full list of countries for each of the 90 crewmembers is available in this article=> Countries of Origin — so you can write them on the back of your crew cards if you wish!]
  • Rules could be more clear
  • Unbalanced character skills
  • Some glitches with app
  • Lots of lander mods you will not use, because there is not enough space for them:) My friend suggested it would be great if some research will upgrade a current mod to fit your play style, rather than provide a new mod. Same goes for some equipment.
  • After you buy all the dice there is not much to do with them (or the success tokens) during ship phase. We use a house rule, that during barracks action for each success you spend you can draw one additional card from available crew members. We linked this with Morale allowing more but never more than 6 additional cards.

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