Publisher: AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Designer: John D. Clair
Artist: Chris Walton
Release Date: 2018
Time: 60 mins
Favouritefoe score: 9/10
* Fun * Strategic * Dice Rolling * Card Drafting * Engine Building * Resource Management * Race Game *
Elton John’s Rocket Man was obviously orbiting the wrong space station. Because, if he had been heading towards Space Base, then he most definitely wouldn’t have been singing the blues!
Designed by John D. Clair and published by AEG Games, Space Base is a fun tableau building, card drafting, resource management, engine building racing game set in, yep you guessed it, space!
And, although cards are the main trading mech here, they mean nothing without lots and lots of dice rolling. Blue, sparkly, rocket engraved dice rolling.
In my book, dice = fun! And in Space Base, dice = stuff!
Lots and lots and lots of stuff: credits, income, and victory points! Impressive for a game with only two die in total!
Coming Soon - video review of Space Base by AEG Games!
V minus 60 minutes……….
Simple to learn and playing in around an hour, the victorious space fleet Commodore (ooh er!) will be the first player to get to 40 victory points on their personal board.
But, like all great adventures, the real fun comes in the journey rather than the destination.
And this journey is all about decisions. Strategic decisions. Because dice can be fickle fellows.
So when lady luck isn’t shining down on you like a hot ball of glowing gases, your brain (and your nerve!) is your best defence!
Start Your Engines!
True to form, you need to feed your engine if you are going to succeed in Space Base .
Now, the 12 starting ships on your “command console” player board aren’t worthless – they will earn you a credit or two if and when their numbers come up on your turn – but they aren’t the greatest. Plus they don’t earn you anything on your opponents’ turns (I know, exciting right?! Fear not, more on this later!).
So you need to start upgrading as soon as you can. And the designer has kindly incorporated a ship enhancement from the get-go. Which means your engine is already revving gently when it comes to rolling those sparkly blue D6ers on your first turn and (yep, here I go again with the tease), that of your rival fleet commanders!
So, apart from the initial upgrades, how do you earn stuff and how do you get better ships?
Well, each turn you will be rolling the dice. And the numbers which come up are your pay days.
Rolled a 1 and a 4? That means you get whatever is shown in the blue “station reward” box on the cards sitting in slots 1 and 4 on your tableau of ships. Or, the numbers can be added together so that you can pick what the ship in slot 5 has to offer. Sometimes two ship bounties are better than one. Sometimes not.
Whatever goodies you get, you move the appropriate coloured cube(s) along the prescribed number of spaces on your board. Then, if you have enough credits in the bank, you can look to the pools of face up cards separated into piles numbered 1,2 and 3. If you can afford the cost (note level 1 ships are the cheapest and most likely to be your only option in the first few turns), then you can pay the price and take a ship and start upgrading your fleet with gusto.
Some of these cards will reward you with higher credits, income, or immediate victory points (if and when you roll their numbers of course). Others will grant special bonus powers which allow you to choose between rewards that you can use straight away or after being “charged”.
But here is the clever part.
When you buy a new ship, you replace the existing ship on the same numbered slot on your player board with your newest acquisition.
But you don’t discard the old card. Instead, you “deploy” it (i.e. you turn it upside down and slip it under your board so that just the red portion of the old card is sticking out above the ship’s slot). And that my friend, is the golden ticket. That action means a lot; every time an opponent rolls a dice matching that number on their turn, you get what is shown on the deployed ship i.e. the red section of that card.
Yep. You get stuff. On other players’ turns!
I am just going to let that sink in for a moment........
For anybody who has played Ganz Schӧn Clever (or any of the games in Wolfang Warsch’s series), you know how good that feels. But if this is your first time receiving something on a “passive” roll, then hold on to your helmets, my friends, because it is going to rock your world! Getting stuff for free on other players' turns feels uhhhmazing!
Now, with only a few deployed ships working for you in the first few turns, the double-down reward boon isn’t going to knock your space boots off just yet.
But, very quickly, something starts to change. With more and more upgrades resulting in more and more deployments, those extra rewards are going to start piling up. Added to the rewards at your disposal on your own next active turns, your upgrade capacity then increases even further……and so the cycle feeds itself.
Basically, at some point relatively early on the game, your engine is going to start to feel like it is travelling at the speed of light.
And that is what is one of the most exciting things about Space Base for me – it is an engine builder with momentum. Almost from the very beginning, you are able to do stuff. Buy stuff. Get stuff. Which, compared to some other engine builders I have played which take an age to crank up, is much more enjoyable! It truly does feel like a race.
And, with no credits being carried over to your next turn (although any income you earn will give you a higher starting credit level each time), the game encourages you to spend, spend, spend. Which means impressive cruising speed is maintained.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!
But, as I hinted in my intro, the oodles of space bounty you are hopefully collecting on every turn needs to be converted into victory points as the first player to 40 VPs wins.
And how you do that is by implementing strategic decision making. You don’t just let the fate of the dice decide what you do. Your first decision each turn – split or combine numbers – will set the ball rolling for the rest of the actions you take as well as their knock on effects.
That is because, everything you then choose to do also means that you are choosing not to do about 5 other possible actions.
Upgrades could mean better space station rewards on later rolls (if those numbers come up again!) but it could also mean that you miss out on a better deployed action elsewhere. Or the chance to charge a delayed reward. Or the chance to buy a colony for an instant VP boost…..you see where this is going…….
And I love it.
I love it even though I am an analysis paralysis (AP) sufferer. Which, if you aren’t familiar with the term, means that I tend to sit and ponder all available options and consequences almost to the point where I can’t commit to anything at all. But most of the time, I actually like that predicament. To be in the “best-worst-case-scenario” or “best problem” zones is tense but in a good way.
Bearded Moon also dabbles in a little do-I-don’t-I, and is very patient with me when I squirm in my seat with my head in my hands. And we get a little of that in Space Base . Not every turn – some choices are either limited or obvious. But, having so many potential ways to score points (and not just once but over and over again every time the dice shines upon it), particularly as the game goes on, is fab and it triggers the greedy guts portion of our respective brains.
With each of us wanting more and getting more, deeper decision trees form in our minds. And so, other sneaky tricks also have to be implemented to counter the others' plans. Charge cubes, colonies, and hate drafting ships are now becoming our strategic specialities. Particularly so as the fate of the dice plays a big hand in determining who gets what initially (unless of course you have upgraded a ship that lets you manipulate them or the rewards they trigger!).
Plus, unlike AP scenarios in many games, the passive rolls in Space Base also reduce down time. Because of the rewards players receive on other turns, if one person stalls, there is always something going on – something to be planned, considered, or calculated. Unfairly, I am impatient, and I don’t like a lot of down time (unless it is me causing it! Haha) - in fact, patience (or the lack of) is what usually eventually forces me to commit to something and snap out of AP mode.
As with all games where what you get is triggered by dice, Space Base is a probability game – some dice will always come up more than others. As such, some slots on your player board are going to be producing more than others (and if you’re into the mathematics behind it, the rule book does explain the spread).
But, whilst numbers usually strike fear into my soul, I don’t need a degree in mathematics to have fun playing Space Base . Luck of the draw, strategy, and nerve combined will ultimately win the race.
Plus the designer has mitigated some of the probability effects by loading up the rewards on the less common combinations (11,12) in order to maximise payloads when that risks pay off (as well as increasing the cost for the better ships (hello stack 3!)).
There are a few cards which seem a bit surprisingly power-heavy lower down the slots, but I think this is also balanced by the fact that some of the cheaper ships in stacks 1 and 2 have useful powers. We also had a few rounds where the ships on offer weren’t overly enticing or different enough (in either the active or future deployed rewards) to make us want to upgrade. This then felt like we were wasting credits because just losing them is worse! - but that is the luck of the draw sometimes. Maybe one of the expansions helps a little with that. I hesitate to mention expansions (especially un-played ones) now because I do not want to be misunderstood. I think the Space Base base game is brilliant, and more ships aren't needed in order to “fix” anything. But if there is more Space Base of any kind available out there allowing me to play even more of this game, then it is definitely going on my wish list!
I should also mention that the components in my copy are great – the cubes, boards, and long slender glossy cards have a lovely feel. I never knew how much I liked long slender cards until I had Space Base (although I do need more practice sliding the deployed cards in and out without the whole column disappearing under my payer board)! The rule book can look and feel a little intimidating – there is a lot of information in it and I get that the details are to help strengthen the theme of the game. But it can feel a little overwhelming, initially at least, for what is a simple game to grasp. And so I think that is the only thing that doesn’t shine as brightly as the rest. For example, the explanation of how charge cubes works took a couple of re-readings and a skip over to the BGG forum for clarification. But once it clicks, their potential shines like the crystal cubes that they are!
Out of this World!
As I may have mentioned, I think Space Base is a super game. It is clever. It is engaging. It is fun. There is so much to do and yet it isn’t complicated to learn. And whilst the core mechanic means players repeat the same roll-die-spend resources-get stuff resolve mechanic every round, it never feels boring because the effects of each consequential decision are always so different.
As a result, for me, turns feel action packed and pretty quick. It is a game that makes me want to get it to the table, pull the lid off, tip the bits out, and start playing. It’s a race that I want to start. I want to be getting stuff on my turn. I want to be getting stuff on other people’s turns. I want to be torn between doing this-or-doing that. I am actually quite sad when Space Base ends suddenly because I love the feel of the race. Each time we have all been so tantalisingly close until someone plays the final move and steals the win.
I am conscious that some gamers may find that Space Base starts slowly – it is an engine builder after all – especially at lower player counts. You always need to get something before an EB starts to shine. But 5 plays in, I can honestly say that our 2 player and 3 player games have lasted around the hour mark (maybe a tad less) and for this kind of game that is about right for me.
Maybe it is the way we play it, but I want those slower early turns to get my head in the game. I want to feel that build up and then the sudden gear shift. The acceleration about half way though when the work I have been putting into my fleet starts paying off in big ways. And boy does it suddenly speed up! In fact, some may experience games where one player pulls ahead so far that catching them is unlikely. But, in reality, that is likely to be their reward for successful engine building - with perhaps a little bit of luck thrown in! And I always have to go big or go home in the end-stages of the game, because my husband is very good at amassing heaps of deployed rewards, so his own engine speed goes from 0-100 in the blink of an eye! Thinking about it, I actually become the engineer of his victory!
And that is the cleverest part of all – the fact that I often get more excited about my opponents' turns, and what I will get as a result of them, than what my own space stations produce on my active turn! That is an intergalactic flip-reverse!
If speed is a concern or you just want a faster game when time is shorter, however, the rule book contains a “Light Speed Variant” which gives more credits, income, and better upgrades at the beginning of the game so that players hit the ground running.
Simultaneously thinking about the short game i.e. the instant rewards offered by an upgrade and the long game i.e. the future potential rewards on the deployment is also crunch that quickly creeps up on you as the stakes get higher and higher later in the game. And being able to use single or combined dice values boosts the tricky trade-off tension even higher.
Guaranteed, both in game and during the post-mortem stage, if you are like me, you will repeatedly reconsider your decisions. “Should I have spread deployment thinly across the whole of my command player board, or vice-versa, should I have gone hard on certain numbers? Colonies with their instant one time VP hit also seemed like a good idea at the time. But now with them blocking repeat station rewards…….eeep.” You see where I am going with this…….
Because your strategy will have to change and evolve every time depending on the cards you get, the cards your opponents get, and how those D6ers are treating you that day! And as a result, Space Base is rocketing high on replayability.
Of course there are heavier, more strategic, complex engine builders and drafters out there. Some of them even space themed. And some gamers may find their turn time is impacted by AP.
But Space Base is a great shining star in my gaming galaxy. And on our plays so far, it has been the right combination of luck and strategy with a really fun racing element woven into the game play. I can’t wait for my next chance to play Space Commander of my own favouritefoe fleet!
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]