Edit (4/1/19) – My full review is now up! Check that out if you want my opinion of this game after 5 plays rather than this quick and dirty one.
Original post below:
What if you could play the good parts of Machi Koro without all of the annoying things about it? What if a game came out that doubled down on those positive aspects of the game, and added some interesting mechanisms to make the game actually fun?
If you were thinking of an idea for that, too bad. AEG and designer John D. Clair have already beaten you to it.
At this weekend’s Terminal City Tabletop Convention, I finally got the chance to check out the new game from Alderac Entertainment Group called Space Base.
I have to say that this game really dazzled me, at least in my first play.
You start out with a base and twelve ships on it numbered from one to twelve.
Your home base has three tracks: (from top to bottom, yellow/green/blue) Money, Income, and Points.
You will then draw a Level 1 ship from the deck of ships and pay the cost of that ship, replacing one of your starting ships. You will “deploy” the ship you replaced under the board with just the red face showing. In the picture above, the #6 ship was replaced with a new ship, so it was put under the board with just the “one money” part showing.
This will become important later.
On your turn, you will roll two dice. You can then either use both dice separately, activating (for example) the #4 and the #5 ships or you can add them together and activate the #9 ship. This will give you resources or other effects.
Once you have activated your ships, you can then buy ships from the market, with whatever money you have.
When you buy a ship, you look at the number in the top right and place the ship in your base on that number. You will “deploy” the ship that’s already there, placing it under your board, red part visible. If you’ve done this before, those red abilities stack.
Why is that important?
You didn’t think you’d be sitting there on other players turns doing nothing, maybe looking at your phone, did you?
If you were doing that, you’d be playing Machi Koro (ok, there are some exceptions to that). (Editor: That was kinda cruel)
No, you can get stuff on other players turns too!
Remember those deployed ships showing all red and stuff?
When somebody else rolls the dice, you get to make the exact same decision they are making, but only with your deployed ships.
Early in the game, there may not be much. But as you grow your base and deploy your ships, you will most likely be getting something on their turn.
See? There is no real downtime whatsoever in Space Base. Maybe just when the other player is agonizing over what ship to buy.
Because you can only buy one, unless one or more of your ships lets you buy another one.
As in some societies that I’m not sure I’d want to live in, no matter how much the ship costs and how much money you have, you lose all of your money. Yes, that yellow money cube goes down to zero, but will then be adjusted upward based on your income.
Fitting that this game comes out in April, eh?
But I digress.
Play continues in this way until somebody reaches 40 points. That triggers the game end, and the game continues until everybody has had the same number of turns.
Whoever is winning at that point is the winner!
Is Space Base a powerful star fleet or is it lost in space?
This is obviously not a full review, as I’ve only played it once. However, the impression I received from that play is that it is a lot of fun, a great game, but it is a dice game. You have to keep that in mind.
As much as you are able to mitigate dice rolls with some ship effects, people are rolling dice and using those dice to get stuff.
If that does nothing for you, then Space Base will not change your mind.
The decisions you have to make are not that challenging, but they’re enough that the game isn’t boring except to the hardcore gamers who insist on difficult decisions on every turn.
If you don’t mind that, especially if you started out liking Machi Koro but then decided after a couple of plays that there is just as much frustration as there is fun, then this is the game for you!
It’s really hard not to compare the two when you have played both, as Space Base removes most of the negative things about the other game and doubles the really cool stuff (like dice chucking…who doesn’t like chucking dice?).
In Space Base, you already start out with a tableau. You’re not building it from scratch. Even on your first turn, you will be able to get something for your dice rolls. You won’t be rolling the dice and saying “ok, I have no money, so I can’t buy anything. Your turn.” You will always have at least some money.
Just the fact that you can either use the dice total or use each one individually adds to your options. You’re never stuck with having rolled something you can’t use.
The market is divided into three tiers. The cheap ships (2-5 cost), the middle ships, and the expensive ships.
As I said in the play explanation, deployed ships are used on other players’ rolls, so you don’t have any downtime when it’s not your turn. The more ships you buy, forcing you to deploy others, the more stuff you can potentially get on other players’ turns.
In fact, as the game goes on, you’ll be getting most of your money on other turns and will be doing other things on yours.
How can you go wrong with a game that has virtually no downtime? The choices of which card(s) to activate are not that hard, so play should flow pretty quickly. Just a little downtime while the current player is thinking about what ship to buy. Even that choice isn’t that hard.
There are also some other nice additions as well.
There are victory point ships that you can buy, of increasing points and cost. These give you a one-time points boost but then will clog up your base. You can never replace them and they don’t activate when you roll them.
However, any deployed ships you have on those numbers will still activate on other players’ turns.
While the game does have the potential to drag with the wrong players, that will mainly only happen if they don’t start building up towards victory points. We finished our 3-player game in about an hour, and it was pretty fun the whole time. For our first game, I’m sure we didn’t necessarily start the points transition as soon as we could have.
I also have to comment on the components. There really isn’t anything wrong with the quality of them, though you will sometimes find it difficult to deploy ships under your board after you’ve done the first one or two. Picking up the cards can be a bit tricky, and they’re not the highest quality. They are thin and narrow, which can be difficult at times.
The artwork, however, is wonderful. Cartoony and spacey, as you can see above. The ships are interesting and fun. The cards are easy to read once you know what everything means. The iconography is pretty simple to grasp, though there is also a reference sheet in the rulebook.
The colours are vibrant, and also very clear as far as their function. When something is in blue, it happens on your turn. When it’s in red, it happens on everybody else’s turn. If it’s green, it doesn’t matter whose turn it is. The yellow on the VP ships clearly says “I’m different! Treat me differently!”
See? Easy peasy (Editor: Man, you are really dating yourself).
I really want to get Space Base to the table again.
But I’m scared.
Machi Koro was a lot of fun the first couple of times I played, but the stagnant market and too many turns without being able to do anything wore it down quickly until it was almost a soul-crushing experience.
Will that happen with Space Base?
Knowing the signs now, with some experience, I’m guessing no. All of the negative aspects of the former game are not in Space Base.
I am looking forward to testing out that hypothesis.
Because I really want to play this again. In fact, I almost did ask to play it again right after we finished, but realized that there were other games I wanted to get to the table too.
Besides, waiting will make the next play all the sweeter.
Space Base will be coming out in April, so check your local game store soon!