1-4 players, Competitive, Card Driven Action Selection
Designer: John H. Butterfield
Artwork: Chad Jensen, Kurt Miller
Publisher: GMT Games
Overview of Gameplay
In SpaceCorp you and up to 4 players will be exploring space in an effort to attain that ever elusive and rare material…the VP (victory points). The game is played out over 3 completely different game boards and with each new one there will be new rule additions. Starting out you will be moving your little cube to different planets and asteroids in our solar system, exploring them, possibly slapping a base down on one to lay claim to it and collecting those precious VP’s or other benefits. Now to do all these actions players will be drawing from a deck of cards that have specific actions listed on them such as Move or Explore, etc. Everything has a cost in space and these costs can get high, but in space no one can hear you scream about them….bad joke.
ANYWAY, so on your turn let’s say you want to move over to Saturn to pillage….erm I mean explore. Well depending on where you are located on the board this will incur a movement cost. Normally it costs 1 to lift off then you add the travel distance (there are lines on the board showing numbered distances) Then 1 more to land. Unless of course the planets have a gravitational pull then it costs even more. So let’s say you add that movement up to be 8, you would discard at least an 8 total movement from your hand of cards and take the action. It basically works much the same with all the other actions, on the board it has written how much it costs for everything and you discard that amount on your cards and boom.
Once either the draw pile runs out and no one can take an action or 6 of the 7 contracts (super duper special achievements like slapping 4 bases down first etc) have been fulfilled, then the era ends and you setup the next board to continue your journey. The game does get more complicated at this point having to deal with space radiation and the costs for everything has increased. However the new deck of cards, which is a little thicker now, compensates for the increase. There are also more things to explore and more bases to be slapped. At the end of the 3rd and final era/board you calculate the final points which is just the newly added colonies to the board. Whoever has the most points wins.
The components are pretty ehhhh. The card stock is super slick and thin and the player manuals look like they were printed on my $50 home printer. The cardboard tokens are pretty light weight as well and all over the place. My actual least favorite part of setup is sorting out all the tokens to the specific spots on the player board. The player boards are ok, thicker and more durable than the tokens and they have a nice turn reference written right on them which is awesome. The game boards themselves are nice, much smaller than I originally thought they would be but it quickly became obvious why that is.
You see in the first era you just have 1 board and a side board to monitor those sweet sweet contracts. However once you move into the second era, you will flip that first board over and it becomes a new board holding some new upgrade cards that you can collect. Then place a second board next to it to continue your game. SO from the second era onward you will need double the table space than during the first era. Which honestly is about the same amount of space as any modern game anymore.
I’ll tell you what though, the game boards are what drew me to the game. To have three completely different game boards that are all used as you progress through the game is an awesome idea. The fact that they ramp up in difficulty by adding new rules to each new board is pretty neat as well. Also the draw decks get fatter and fatter as you go too so each new era will take progressively longer to play. That part actually kinda stinks. I would prefer the opposite, the decks starting thick and getting smaller towards the end. The game kinda drags in the 3rd era.
The box is rather small when compared to most but everything fits in just fine. There is no insert so you will want to bag up everything. Also, and this is important for organization, when you first open this game up separate everything. Then figure out what pieces and tokens are needed for each era and separate all those into their own “era” bags. This will make the game so much easier to setup and play going forward, ESPECIALLY if you haven’t played it in awhile and forget these things. What I did was bag up the Era 1 tokens in a bag, the cards in a diff bag and the players pieces in individual bags and then take all that and put it into a bigger bag and then did the same thing for the 2nd and 3rd eras. That sounds like a lot but the next time I open my game I can easily grab the first era bag and open it and have everything I need to start play without having to figure out what goes with what era. Because a lot of those tokens and cards are ONLY used for specific eras.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I mentioned earlier how the game boards drew me to the game. Part of that was the fact that there are three completely different boards to play on and the other part is the artwork on them. I really love the way the first board looks with some of the planets decorated on them and at the same time it looks highly technical with all the lines and numbers all about. It looks more complex than it really is though so don’t let that scare you away. The numbers and lines only increase as you progress through the boards with the final board resembling something that a 1st grader did in art class on “draw circles and squares day”. I mean after playing the game I SEE why it looks like it does for the gameplay benefit but looking at it before that…man, it’s for sure not the prettiest of the three boards.
And true to the name this game is set in space. Where you and other players are colonizing and slapping bases around all over the galaxy and other galaxies. However nothing really stands out here in addition to the generic space theme, it’s pretty straightforward.
I’ve heard whispers of how GMT’s rulebooks are really good but I struggled with this one a bit. I think it may be due to the way it’s written. The first read through took a couple tries to process and put the game into action. However after finally getting it, it was super easy to go back and reference. There is also a completely separate solo rulebook if you ever plan on playing the solo game. I tried this one out as well and it raised more questions for me than the multiplayer version did. The words they used to describe the AI opponent where rather confusing and the fact that you use multiple colored tokens and yet colors don’t matter took me a bit to process as well.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
The turns are super-fast since each player only gets one action at a time. The downtime isn’t much of an issue starting out since you can only really do whatever cards you have. This increases the fun factor as people always feel engaged and have time to purvey the game board when it’s not their turn. The game will generate some chatter as well. It’s not a cut throat game by any means but more of a race. Luckily there are tons of stuff in space to explore and settle so even if someone beats you to a particular planet, there are others to investigate…..but are those on the way to greater things or completely out of the way wasting precious movement and time?
For me the fun did begin to wane during the 3rd era. The first era was super fun and fast and even the second era with it’s beautiful board and newly added radiation problem and the new upgrade cards was outstanding. The 3rd era added even more upgrades and tokens but it just didn’t hit the spot like the first 2 eras. It dragged the game on longer than I felt was fun and the additions like colonies were kinda boring and even the new upgrades didn’t really impress. At first I did like the mechanic of when you first move your cube to a new star it moves down a track before it reaches it. That was kinda neat but then I realized that basically the first person to reach a star WILL get it. And for the 3rd era that basically means when they explore they get ALL the exploration tokens surrounding it. That can lead to a big point bonus but of course everyone has (mostly) these same opportunities. Not only that, but the 3rd era deck is twice as thick as the 1st era deck so ending the game just drags.
The next time I play I’m going to just play the first two boards/eras and end the game and see how it goes. There is a bit of a point variable at the end of the 3rd era based around how many colonies you have built but taking those out and you are just left with whatever you have attained normally through the game. Ending at the end of the second era would be no different in that regard. Not only that, but from the games I have played the scores have always been very close……until the 3rd era when scores can dramatically change. Again ending with the 2nd era should make the game more tense and exciting.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Replayability comes in the form of varying exploration tokens. Each progressing era has more and more of these to uncover and flip. There are quite a few different kinds of tiles as well and each one will determine what kind of base you are allowed to build upon it, which will further determine the shape of how you grow. I would also say that although your hand of cards depends on what actions you can take, this is a minor note as you can often do what you are needing to do. There will be times you don’t have the required amount of cards to make a move or to build a base but take the Research action and you can draw from the available cards displayed on the board or directly from the deck. In any case this does make the game replayable to some degree as you will have to alter your strategy somewhat to accommodate what cards you have in hand.
The fact that there is a fully fleshed out solo mode is awesome. I love games that take the time and care to implement a good AI solo mode and this one does not disappoint. There are specific spots on the game boards and on the cards themselves dedicated to just solo play and besides the bit of confusing wordage in the solo rules, the solo mode is really good! Two players also plays really well with very fast turns and a decent overall game length. I have yet to play the game with a full batch of four players but fear for the length if playing all three game boards (a full game). So for me I would say optimal player count would be 1-3 players for a fast paced, brisk game.
Positive Final Thoughts
I love the exploration aspect in the game of discovering tiles and those can be big point makers. However JUST exploring for the points will not win you the game most times. You need to do other things like build bases or colonies or work towards contracts if you hope to win. In other words the game almost forces you to take part in all of its parts and I love this. Everyone interacts with everything and this creates a real sense of accomplishment. The progressive board system is cool and the card play is fun. Overall it’s pretty good space themed exploration and building game.
Negative Final Thoughts
The fun for me dropped significantly during the 3rd era when stuff just got a little too mathy for my tastes. Numbers for movement and exploring grew to the triple digits and you weren’t just adding up numbers anymore, you were multiplying them. The board art style of the 3rd era also leaves something to be desired even though I can see why it’s designed like it is. Perhaps if the 3rd era was a little more fast paced I would enjoy it more but as it stands it drags the game on long past its welcome.