Welcome to our latest review of Chip Theory Games Burncycle! If you haven’t heard of this game, it’s a good mix of “dungeon crawler” meets Sci/Fi future where robots rule the world. Come check out what we think of it in this review!
So many scenario-based games use medieval and fantasy (swords, dwarves, and fantastical creatures) work to build out their scenarios.
BurnCycle is different. It is set in the sci-fi future instead of the fantasy past. It’s the year 3000, and humanity has gone extinct, but not before creating AI-driven robots with superior intelligence. These robots did not kill off humanity as you would think. Instead, they decided to form a society after humans left the earth. It was a perfect society. During this time of peace and tranquility, the robot scientists discovered they could bring back humanity. So, they uploaded the consciousness’ of great societal leaders into these new humans. Unfortunately for the robots, the new cyber humans reverted to their old ways and prejudices. This meant they decided to form large corporations to control the robot population. For the most part, this worked. However, the 404th division of robots decided to take it upon themselves to rescue their captured robot compatriots.
This is the game. Each scenario you play of Burncycle has you tackling one of the corporate faction headquarters to complete an overall objective. You will face a CEO and a Captain trying to hunt you down.
Each scenario consists of 1-3 floors, with each floor having an objective you must complete and a “safe location” on the floor you must reach before you can move to the next floor. The game board is modular so that you will add and remove rooms as necessary. Rooms have enemies, computer terminals, and items to pick up. The hallways between rooms have patrolling enemies to make the game more challenging.
You are also logged into the corporation’s network along with the “office crawler” type scenario. This mini-game is sometimes just as important as the main game. On each turn, you move on a separate board towards the center where the CEO is, and you try to avoid their “pings” on the network. If you successfully reach the CEO on the network, you can cause havoc. If their pings find you instead, you are immediately identified on the main office crawler board, and the enemies move toward you. It’s really one big game of cat and mouse.
Okay, so Chip Theory Games has a novelty about all their games. There is no traditional cardboard board or cardboard in any of their games other than the game box. They use neoprene mats with high-quality stitched edges. All their cards are also made of plastic and are waterproof, which is an exciting choice. The game markers for items, terminals, and enemies are also plastic poker-style chips.
Everything is of high quality. The “board” consists of a neoprene mat with spaces in a grid. BurnCycle is played in the headquarters of a faction corporation that rules the planet. Each game is a specific scenario and starts on a different office floor layout with different rooms made up of additional neoprene mats that fit on the board.
The poker chips are of different colors used to represent everything from the burn cycle, to the captain and CEO you are facing in your game.
The cards in the game are in our opinion a bit of an overkill use of plastic. They are fascinating in their design but is it necessary to make them plastic?
Burncycle is straightforward in its setup. The first choice the players make is which mission they want to go up against in the game. Missions are divided by corporation. This determines the CEO that is used, along with the office configuration of the board.
The Network board is setup next. This board is used every round of the game and represents the CEO hunting you down on the internal network. So not only will you be moving your bot within the office structure, but you will be moving your IP ping on the network board. The network board has a space for the CEO’s network red die and dice for each of the four player colors. The players place only those dice needed for the game.
After this is setup, the players choose which “Captain” they want to go up against. The captain usually comes onto the board on the last floor of the game. However, their chip is placed in the initial chip bag, and when selected for the burn cycle – their chip represents the enemy bots’ turn.
Finally, players choose their Agent Robot (which is who they will play during the game) along with an additional robot to serve as the command module. This second robot does not have a brain of its own and can only do the player’s actions sent from the other agent robots. This robot, however, does control the BurnCycle and can take its own turn each round. Should the command module ever be destroyed? It’s game over. It is in the best interest of each player to reserve some of their round actions for the command module.
Okay – a quick aside – we’ve mentioned BurnCycle a few times already. what is it?
At the beginning of the game, several chips are placed in a row on the command module board. Each chip grants the player an action they can take, or if the captain’s chip is present, the enemies can take during your turn. At the end of the office movement and action phase, the player again uses the burn cycle chip order to determine what actions are taken on the internal network. Finally, they must roll the burn cycle die after moving their ping through the network. Whatever number comes up is the chip they have to “degrade” (flip over). If the chip at the numbered position is already burned, the player burns the next in the row, looping back to the beginning if needed. Any action that has been burned can not be taken by the players, or if the captain’s chip is burned, by the enemy. Players can swap out chips in their supply or in the command module’s supply with the burned chips. Ok – understand the burn cycle? if not, we’ll talk about it more during the gameplay section
Back to the setup…
The player then opens the floorplan book to the mission and lays out the neoprene rooms on the board’s corresponding locations. Players also grab the correct number of terminal and cache chips and place one on each terminal or cache icon on the room tile. Finally, they grab a surveillance bead for any room with one or more white dots next to the room name’s info bar. Finally, the enemies are placed both in the hallways and in rooms. Rooms have a brown shield with a star in it. This is the location where the player randomly selects an enemy of the same level number as the floor number. Also each floor will show three hallway posts (1,2,3). The security detail section of the captain’s card determines the enemy’s level and whether an enemy is placed at all. Each row in the grid is for the current floor.
The players then choose which character (agent) they want to play. Each agent is suited to a different play style, so choosing one with the skills to complete the goal is vital. As well as choosing your agents, you also need to choose one additional character to act as your team’s command module.
Players then get their character sheet, character chip, awareness chip, colored neoprene player mat overlay, colored plastic pegs, and their starting reserve allotment upgrade chips. Each character’s starting chips are different, and the number you get is based on player count. The command module also gets its own pegs and chips. Instead of the neoprene player mat, they get the command module mat.
Each player starts by placing a colored peg into their player mat in their power bank’s ’10’ spot. Now, each player simultaneously “routes power.” Which is to spend power until they are either at or below their agent’s power bank limit. Each agent has upgrades that can be purchased using power. This can be more action dice, more chips in reserve allotment, or increased agent abilities, or even increased slots in the burn cycle. The idea is to lower your power from 10 to your agent’s limit. This process repeats for the command module.
Finally place your agent’s chip on one of the outdoor starting spaces for the mission. Each player collects their agent’s starting reserve as indicated on their card and one imperative card. Then you are ready to play!
The key to burncycle is planning ahead based on the current chip order. As a group, you are working together, and you need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses along with those of the enemies on the board. Enemies move in predictable ways, so figuring out how an enemy will react is part of the strategy.
An essential concept of the game is awareness. Each agent and command module has an awareness chip. This is used when you move too close to an enemy. Whenever this happens, you place your awareness chip down and keep moving until you are either no longer in direct line of sight or have moved out of their peripheral range. The awareness chip then becomes where the enemy heads towards on their turn/ “The last place they saw the bot.”
One of the interesting things about the game is how a player’s turn can affect how other bots play their turns. On a player’s turn, they start by routing power. Routing power simply means upgrading the bot.
Then, they build their dice pool. The game has many color dice. Blue is the common dice, but you may add yellow or red dice to the dice pool depending on how you’ve upgraded your character.
One caveat: your action dice pool is all the dice you have for the round, so you will need to spread them out amongst all your actions. Also, remember the command module. Your action points can be spent to have them perform actions as well. It is your job to move the command module and, depending on the situation, perform other actions but also keep it safe from harm throughout the game.
Finally, each player refers to the burncycle chips and completes one action for each “non-degraded” chip from left to right. A degraded chip is one that is burned each turn until there are no usable chips, providing the next player with one less action they can perform. How, as a group, you manage the burncycle chips is key to the overall strategy. Each player has chips in their possession that they can swap into the burncycle to remove those “degraded chips”.
Below are some of the actions you can take on your turn:
These actions when a purple physical chip is the current action chip are “optimized”
Move – The player decides how many dice they want to roll from their pool. The agent can move that number of spaces for each Action Point (AP) on their dice. They can collect an equipment card if they pass over a cache chip. If agents move into a room with a surveillance bead, they pause and roll one or two surveillance dice. If they do this action and it is optimized, they add two extra AP
Strike a wall – The player can choose any number of dice in their pool to roll. They must be next to a wall, and if they roll an AP of 10 or greater, they can destroy the wall. This results in a broken wall chip being placed along with the player’s awareness chip since striking a wall is loud. Again, optimized actions give you two extra APs.
Strike a security guard – The player can choose any number of dice in their pool to roll. They must be next to an enemy bot. If that bot is level 1 – 10 AP, level 2 – 15 AP, and level 3 – 20 AP are needed to shut the bot down. Captains have specific requirements outlined on their card. As a result, the player has to place their awareness chip and add one to the threat track board. If they are successful, they remove the security unit, gain a power, and take a key if it has a key. If they are unsuccessful but within 5 AP of what was needed, they stun the bot; if it has a key, the player gets it. Again, add two APs to this if it is optimized.
These actions when a light blue utility chip is the current action chip are “optimized”
Keypad – All doors in and out of a room start locked. The player draws a keypad card if an agent or command module wishes to do a keypad action. Each card has a column for 1, 2, and 3; these represent the current floor. Each action under the column means a chip that needs to be spent, a red keypad die that needs to be rolled, or if the icon is an unlocked lock, a player may skip this entirely. If they can not or choose not to complete the required steps, they can always “brute force” it by choosing dice to roll and spending dice to match the AP listed under the floor. If they do this action while “optimized,” they must complete one less action to unlock the door.
These actions when a green tech chip is the current action chip are “optimized”
Terminal – A player may, when next to a computer terminal, draw a terminal card and choose one option on the card to complete. They roll as many dice as they want, and each option on the card shows how many APs are needed. If this is performed while optimized, the player can choose two options and complete one of them. If they are successful, they serve the action on the card and then discard the terminal chip, or they discard the terminal chip.
Network – A player may draw a network card. Nothing happens during this current phase, but these cards give the player an objective during the Network Phase. If this is optimized, a player can draw an extra card and take any other optimized action fo their choice.
Repair – These are actions that a player can take on their turn. If they have upgraded to the Repair action, they can repair a fellow bot, by spending their power.
Other actions are available on a mission to mission basis.
Trade – if a player is adjacent to another bot, they can trade anything they have, such as keys, equipment, and mods.
Alter the Burncycle – If a player wants to replace a chip, either degraded or not, they can swap it with a chip in their or the command module’s reserve allotment.
After you’ve taken all the steps you can in the burncycle, the game moves to the network step. This is where things get interesting. Not only do you have to move around the main board, avoiding enemy bots to achieve your mission’s goal, but you also have to move around the online network (represented by another physical board) and try not to get caught by the CEO of the corporation.
Again, the players use the burncycle and start from left to right. On the network board, each player has a peg called an IP. They may move their IP one node space clockwise on the network board if they currently perform a general (black) chip or captain chip action. If they are on a physical, utility, or tech chip, they move their IP clockwise until they reach a node space occupied by another ping, a hub (red node), or a node matching that color. Now, there are four layers of concentric rings, and the player may move between these rings once per turn at a transfer point. The goal of this board is to get your ping to the center of the concentric rings and knock the CEO offline.
If the player ends their turn on a hub different things happen based on the ring they are currently in:
Layer 1: They increase their network dice by 1
Layer 2: Reduce overall game Threat by 1
Layer 3: Gain a power
Layer 4: gain everything above and then return to your original starting point.
If a player ends their turn on one of the CEO’s pings, they compare their network dice value to the CEO’s network dice, and whoever is lower is removed from the network. If it is the player, their awareness token is immediately placed on their player’s chip on the main board (They’ve been found). If it is the CEO’s ping, the red ping is removed, the player’s IP is placed there, and then the CEO decreases their network dice by 1.
If a player lands on an action node (physical, utility, or tech) – nothing specific happens unless they have a network card they can complete. Network cards can be picked up using a tech turn.
The Corporation’s Turn (Enemy’s Turn)
When you reach the captain’s chip in the burncycle, it is the Corporation’s turn.
The corporation will start by activating its security units. Remembering how units move is very important to successfully completing the game. The security units will do one of three things when they activate.
They will pursue any agent or command module with an awareness token within their range of awareness. The bots will move toward the original awareness even if the agent has moved away (“Did you hear something?”). If, during their movement, they are now aware of an agent who has moved, the awareness token is now moved to where the agent is located.
If there are no awareness chips within their awareness number of spaces, the bot then does a patrol. Each bot type has a different kind of patrol. If a security bot ends its turn next to an agent or command module, it reduces its power by the security unit’s level.
After each bot’s turn moves, the corporation activates its Pings on the network. The pings either try to land on another player or move to a hub. If they get to the hub, the players roll the ping die and determine if the threat increases, another ping is added, or the network level increases. If a ping makes it to the outer layer and past where the players start (and the player’s IP is not there), that player is banned from the network. In this instance, they can only do the Network step once the burncycle is rebooted. Finally, the corporation increases the threat level based on the number of players.
Rebooting the Burncycle
At the start of any player’s turn, that player can reboot the BurnCycle. This is not done frequently, as it will make it harder for the team to complete their mission.
All chips on the burncycle are returned to the supply. The captain’s chip and enough general chips (for open action slots) are added to the bag. And one by one, they are drawn and placed on the BurnCycle. For each room with a bot, place the specialty chips from the room into the team’s reserve allotment next to the command module. Each player may take the chips necessary to make up their personal reserve. Then, the threat advances by one, and any IPs previously banned are returned to their starting positions on the network board.
After this has happened, play continues with the current player taking their turn with the overall threat increased.
Each scenario is set in the headquarters of a corporation. Each HQ has multiple floors. After the players complete the floor’s main task, they must each reach a safe zone marked in yellow outline. Once all players and the command module reach a safe zone, the floor layout is cleared and the next floor is laid out per the map in the instructions.
End the game
Once the players reach the final floor of the scenario, they must complete the task set out for that floor and then make their way to a safe zone on the board. The added challenge for the final floor is that the Captain will be added as a physical enemy you must take offline.
What did we think of it?
Well, as you can tell, there are many rules and things to remember. Does this help create a good game, though? yes and no. On the one hand, it’s quite varied and interesting, but sometimes it’s a bit tedious. For instance, having to remember to save some of your actions so you can move the command module is difficult. There’s also a ton of custom dice that each represent very specific things. We feel like there is a way to streamline this game, but it seems overly and unnecessarily complex.
That said, the physical game looks great and we love the use of poker chips. We think the neoprene game mats with holes for pegs is a very novel idea and for the most part it works and looks great!
We have some of the expansions from the Kickstarter that we haven’t opened yet, and hopefully, we can come back to this review and provide an update!
If this sounds like a game, you want to try out. Let us know. We are working to get ahold of a copy. Meanwhile, you can buy it from here!