I originally posted this on Dakka, but I was told that there's an active Mantic Forum here, so I thought I'd share my mini-review of Project Pandora:
I picked up a copy of Project Pandora: Grim Cargo while I was at a Adepticon. I wanted to see the new Corporation models, and I'd been looking for a good two player game for my girlfriend and I to try.
On the whole, the packaging, models, rulebook, and tiles are all slighly underwhelming. Everything seems slightly shoddier than I'd expect. There are no clips or tabs to hold the room tiles together, and the rule book requires several read throughs to really understand the game. As for the models, they are nicely cast with minimal mold lines or flash, but the level of detail on the corporation is slighly lacking. the Vermyn are incredibly annoying to assemble. Even after cleaning them with soap and water, superglue would not bond very well. It took several tries to glue arms on. Most annoying is that with only two different basic bodies per side, the models end up looking pretty homogenous anyway. I would have greatly perfered black reach style mono-pose models to the false freedom of these multi-part models.
I've primed the models, and I hope to paint them up, at least to a table top standard to show off.
Mantic seems very proud of the materials in Project Pandora (tiles, models), while doing little to push the game mechanics. This is a shame, as after running the starter mission I find the game itself to be nicely balanced with surprising tactical depth.
The game is surprisingly symmetrical at first glance, with the only real difference in stats between the marines and rats being higher armor for the humans and higher speed for the rats. But, and this is a huge but, both sides get rules to make the forces incredibly distinct. The marines get a bonus to their shooting, and also get to (essentially) shoot twice per Vermyn turn. The Vermyn, instead, get to scurry, where they move every model one square at the end of every turn that didn't otherwise act.
Why wouldn't a Vermyn model act? Because unlike a lot of I go, you go, style games, you do not move every model, shoot every model, assault with every model in each turn. Instead, each side gets a pool of tiles that allow a certain number of actions. One tile allows four models to move, another three to shoot, etc. You play one tile per turn, and thus can only perform limited actions in each turn. You can give up your turn to get back all of the used tiles. The Marines "reaction fire" is also a tile, which means that while the marines get to shoot more, they also have fewer turns before they need to restock.
The game becomes very tactical, waiting to use the better tiles, setting up big charges or fire fights. You have decisions to make beyond "what enemy do I shoot."
My girlfriend found the game slighly more confusing than she would like, while I felt its a solid beer and pretzels tactical game. Later missions include more complex rules, maps, and objectives, so I hope that they also provide a fun, balanced challenge.
I posted this later:
I played the second mission last night, and I have say... I'm really impressed by the tension the game creates. The rules are actually more complex than I realized, with some very fiddly aspects. But... these pay off.
The concept of lighting seems simple. Rooms are normally lit, corridors are normally dark. Rats ignore dark, while marines get -1 dice when shooting into the dark, and -1 dice when fighting in the dark. Rats can start missions with a certain number of dark tiles, and either side can use their speical action token to make a room dark/lit.
Where things get really interesting is that any rat killed in the dark returns as a reinforcement. Only a rat killed in light stays dead.
Playing the second mission with the dark rules, the rat player quickly learned to stay in the shadows, set up flank assaults, and try to lure the marines away from the objective.
Likewise, I found myself setting lone marines as bait to kill rats in the light, or to flush the rats out with shooting.
All in all, it plays very atmospherically.