I have had quite a bit of fun messing around with Level 7 lately. It’s been an interesting series of games. At first I was turned off, not because it didn’t look like fun, but because I had grown used to Privateer Press’ being synonymous with Warmachine and Hordes, and I felt like any attention they would give to their other projects was attention that could have been spent on my beloved war game. Since then, however, I have had the opportunity to play and enjoy most of the games (though not Omega Protocol – despite my owning it for almost a year now), and have grown rather attached to them. They incorporate elements of video games, for one thing, and are as such part of what I’ve been calling the board game renaissance – an amazing new swathe of board games that have been quietly flooding the market with mechanics inspired in my opinion by video games. For another, they’re really quite elegant. The story is simple enough, though I have to admit, I was getting to be a little boggled by the time Invasion was rolling around. I’m one of those people who has to experience the whole story, not look it up on Wikipedia, so I’m a little behind. I caught up quickly, though, and in no small part this was due to Nathan E. Meyer’s Danger Close, a fun little novella released in anticipation of the game on which it is based, Level 7: Invasion.
Immediately I was struck by the romance. For one, the novella reads like the opening to a film adaptation of a Tom Clancy book, with somewhat faceless government and military cogs attempting to react to the sudden assault of the alien Hydra. Certainly it captured the atmosphere, at least how one would picture it. The night-fighting the soldiers engaged in lent further meaning to the title – a term used by bombardment spotters (air, naval, artillery, etc.) to denote close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Can’t always see the targets in the dark, as I’m sure you can imagine. I think the theory of the title is two parts cool and one part commenting on the skill of artillerists hitting their targets despite friendly fire. This does actually happen in the novella, and like the swansong of American exceptionalism, gunner Thomas Rubio is lauded for it.
This is actually something that comes up a lot for me.
I can’t get over the “man alone” romanticism of the American soldier. Meyer is, himself, a military man–a field medic, in fact. Soldiers are trained to depend on one another in a culture that glorifies the individual significantly more than the group. It’s almost a contradiction in terms, but ends up fusing into a kind of “each soldier doing their own thing really well” and magically they align in the novella with this Rambo-esque ease.
The main character, former marine Michael Kingsolver, is kitted out with a suit of future tech powered armour which turns him into a one-man army (fun times) strong enough to somehow endure a snapped femur when a huge alien Hydra soldier falls on it. It’s positively super-human. The novella was a little fast-paced, so I might have missed it, in fact, if he started with a squad, but it certainly didn’t appear so by the end of it. Kingsolver is on his own, suffering biblically and trying to survive the New Mexico night assault, blowing things apart in the process.
The novella really brought home for me the kind of tragic way that soldiers are trained to have a kind of a split mentality, where they’re supposed to operate as part of a unit, but be superheroes and act as men and women alone. It ends up lending itself to this kind of flat, gritty gallows-humour-image of the characters that to me seems so sealed off from the horrifying reality of warfare. These people are alone together. It’s very sad and very scary.
I found myself really kind of gravitating towards the Hydra, actually. At the same time that I felt so profoundly alienated from the soldiers on the ground, the Hydra felt, in context, organized, adaptable, and as a result, actually quite communicative. It may have been in part because I understood the context – that these guys are after Dr. Cronos, the anti-hero and primary objective of Level 7: Invasion (and series antagonist) because he is trying to re-enslave them, but they really seemed to me like Fidelistas on the Cuban shore, awaiting the invasion in the Bay of Pigs – inspired revolutionaries, defending new found freedom. I think that may have been just me, though… I do like the “proud warrior race” thing.
Overall, I found the novella to be fun, atmospheric, and despite it’s aspirations of being simply a kind of an action story, a haunting reminder of the mentality that is drilled into the American soldiery, transmitted to me because I am a weirdo literary and history buff that sees these kinds of things like people see St. Mary on a piece of toast. It also does a great job of getting you into the mad and exciting scramble that is the first few rounds of Level 7: Invasion! Give this one a read if you’ve got a commute on public transit – perfect for that.