Review: SPANC

by Frances Moritz

SPANC, which stands for Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls, is one of the newest card games from Steve Jackson Games. It is, as their website says, "lovingly illustrated by Phil Foglio, which generally translates to "the artwork is too risquι to take this game to work." The 21 Crew cards – all Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls - are very definitely drawn to be sexy; as are their appearances on the 54 Challenge cards and the 33 Toy cards. And in the interest of fairness, the Poolboys, who appear in the Toy deck, are decidedly underdressed and quite sexy as well.

The game play for SPANC is very different than other Steve Jackson games. At any given point in the game, most of the cards you have are face-up; you have a maximum of two cards (unassigned Toys) in hand, and a maximum of one Toy assigned to each Catgirl, except for the Captain, who may have two. Each of the two to four players starts with four Crew cards, a Toy and two Loot tokens. The goal is to acquire ten Loot, which can be split between Loot tokens and Poolboys; Poolboys count as one Loot each.

The Crew cards have four basic skills – Space Pirate, Amazon, Ninja, and Catgirl – each with an assigned score. The total skill points for each Catgirl range between 18 and 21, with a mix of balanced characters (skills all in the 4-6 range) and characters with clear specialties (a 7 or 8 in a skill). For example, Dread Pirate Roberta has a Space Pirate skill of 7; Hera, an Amazon skill of 7; and Carries Deadly Yarn, a Ninja skill of 8. Phil Foglio's illustrations clearly support the dominant skill of each crew member.

The Toy deck consists mainly of items that add bonuses to specific skills and are assigned to Catgirls. Some of the items balance out by subtracting from another skill, such as the Bow and Ribbons, which adds 2 points to the Catgirl skill, but subtracts 1 from Amazon. Poolboys are particularly useful; they add 1 point to each of the Catgirl's skills. Toys can be transferred between Catgirls at any point other than when the Catgirl is knocked out or the Toy is the target of a Catfight. There are also a few Special cards in the Toy deck, which are usable only once, varying from reviving a knocked-out Catgirl to skipping one Challenge.

The game is played in Capers consisting of four Challenges each. All the crews compete to complete the Capers; once a crew has completed the Caper, the other crews have one more turn to catch up. This is particularly daunting when someone is rolling well and finishes the Caper on their first turn through. The four Challenges are played face down, and the crew with the least Loot leads the charge. This can be considered a disadvantage, since you don't know what you're getting into and which skills you'll want available for the later Challenges. Players that follow have more opportunity to plan which crew members to assign, based on what skill checks they see coming.

Each Challenge card specifies what skill check is needed to complete it and what rewards and restrictions (if any) apply. A Challenge can reward Loot, Toys or nothing at all; it may also restrict you from using Toys to accomplish the Challenge. The actual Challenge is a skill roll against the specified skill. You decide which of your Catgirls will be attempting the Challenge and attempt to roll the skill or less, with any modifiers from the Challenge or Toys, on two dice. If you fail, there are a number of options for Salvaging Failure; if none of these work – or don't apply to that Catgirl – she is knocked out for the rest of the Caper. Any Toys she has assigned remain with her for the rest of the caper. On the next turn, you pick a different Catgirl to try the Challenge, with a bonus to your die roll for the experience of having failed it already. As you move through the Challenges, you may choose to pass on a Challenge, ending your turn, and allowing you to pick a different Crew member to try that Challenge on your next turn.

If more than one player's crew completes the same Caper, they have the option of having a Catfight. Catfights are vicious; you either steal Loot, Toys, or Poolboys from the other crews, or knock out an opposing crew member, removing them from the game. Each crew has the option of one attack using one Catgirl during a Catfight; knocked out Catgirls being unable to participate. The Catgirl specifies which skill is being used to attack which opposing crew member; the skill used determines what the Catgirls are fighting over. Each Catgirl rolls a skill check against that particular skill; the results varying depending on if they both succeed, only one succeeds, or if they both fail. For all of the skill checks, both Catgirls failing is unpleasant: on an Amazon skill check, both Catgirls are removed from the game, along with any Toys they had assigned; all other skill checks destroy the item – Loot, Toy, or Poolboy – that the Catgirls were fighting over.

All in all, SPANC is a delightful game. Everything you need to play - cards, dice, and tokens - is included, and it comes in a standard box size that fits nicely on the shelf with my other Steve Jackson games. My main complaint is the four-player limit; I'd like to see an expansion to push that to a six or eight player game. The only other drawback, from the perspective of those of us that play other games from Steve Jackson Games, is the lack of munchkinly behavior allowed by the game play - the only real interaction with the other crews is during a Catfight; the rest of the time, you can only sit there and whimper as you watch the other players roll well time after time when you've yet to complete a single Caper. And if you don't complete a Caper, you can't participate in the Catfight.

As to the artwork not being work-friendly... that's my coworkers' loss. I guess they'll have to go to a convention or come over for a game day.

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