(Edit: This is one of my Top 25 Games Played of all Time, as of February 2019 anyway. Check out the other games as well!)
When I watch science fiction films, with spaceships dashing hither and yon (I think yon is about 100 parsecs from hither, but I’m not sure), I don’t really identify with the brave, handsome captain who’s saving the universe once again from the dreaded alien menace.
No, I identify with the fleet admiral who’s giving the orders to the heroic captain that he then later ignores (Editor – that could be because your interns talk back to you almost as much as the captains do).
I want to be the guy who’s putting together that fleet (that was then destroyed at Wolf 359, but that wasn’t my fault). I want to be the guy who decides what ships to bring in, what to build, which ones are cooler. Maybe watching one of them in action on my office view screen and making “pew pew pew” noises as it goes into combat.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, fleet admirals.
Fleet admirals, for the most part, leave the logistics to the underlings (if you want something done, everybody knows to talk to the supply officer). I just want to choose ships.
Funnily enough, that’s exactly what Space Base does! It leaves the logistics to the underlings and is just about acquiring ships.
Maybe that’s why I love it?
Space Base is a dice-rolling game designed by John D. Clair with art by Chris Walton. It was published in 2018 by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG).
It plays with 2-5 players, and scales remarkably well.
I know I said as much in my earlier First Impressions post last year, but the feeling that this not only kills Machi Koro, but mutilates it and then dances on its corpse is only heightened by my subsequent plays.
How does it play?
Let’s take a look.
All players take a command console and all 12 starting ships of one colour, placing the ships in their sectors based on the number in the top right corner. Each player then draws a Level 1 card, placing it on their command console and putting the replaced ship under their board as shown below.
On the command console, there is a sector for each number. As new ships are placed in a sector, the old one is “deployed” (I guess each home sector is only big enough for one ship). Deploying just means that you turn it around so the red part is showing and then slip it under your console.
The ships that will be available for purchase are set out in rows of six each. These are ships that you will purchase during your turn and place on your console, again deploying the ship that it’s replacing.
When a ship is deployed, it will no longer activate on your turn. However, it will activate on every other player’s turn if that number is rolled.
And deployed ships stack, which means you’ll get all of their benefits.
On a player’s turn, they will roll the two dice. They can then choose to activate the ships on their command console either using each individual die or the combined total of the dice.
For example, given the picture above, if they rolled a 5 and a 2, they could either activate the 7 ship (giving them 3 money) or they can activate the 5 and the 2 individually (the 5 would charge that card, which gives them a special ability and the 2 would give them something not pictured).
Each other player can do the same thing if they have deployed ships. If somebody else rolled the 5 and 2, I would choose the 5 and 2 because the 5 gives me 2 money. The 7 gives me nothing (since I don’t have a ship deployed in that spot).
Activated ships can give you money (the yellow cube), income (the green cube) or victory points (the blue cube). They can also be various abilities that are charged, like the ability to manipulate the dice rolls or shift them to get better stuff.
Once all adjustments have been made, the active player can then use their money to buy exactly one ship (unless one of their activated ships gives them the option of buying another one) from the Shipyard.
They are arranged in ranks from 1-3. The first rank generally costs 5 or less money. The second generally 6-10, and the third from 11-15.
Once you buy a ship and add it to your console, your money goes down to zero, even if you have some left.
However, at the end of your turn, it’s bumped back up to your income level (the middle green cube) so you will start with some money already.
You can also not buy anything and save all of your money. This is pretty much how you’ll have to purchase these victory point cards (colonies).
These colonies will give you immediate victory points however they cannot be activated and they can never be deployed.
Any deployed ships in that sector will still activate on other players’ turns, however, so keep that in mind.
This keeps going around the table until somebody hits 40 points. When that happens, finish the round (getting back to the first player) and then whoever has the most points wins!
Is Space Base full of majestic, graceful ships that glide among the stars, or is it full of junk haulers with peeling paint that can barely reach light speed?
The fact that Space Base is in my Top 25 games played of all time should tell you that I really love this game.
I will make two more references to Machi Koro and then leave that point alone.
The fact that you start out with a ship deployed makes a huge difference as you begin. From the first turn, there’s an opportunity for you to do something on somebody else’s turn rather than just ignore it and look at your phone.
Sure, maybe you drew an 11 ship and so it’s very unlikely that somebody else will roll that, but the early turns go so quickly that it’s not a big deal. You are still paying attention to the turns as they go by.
Secondly, unlike Machi Koro where you have to specifically buy buildings that will activate on other players’ turns, Space Base does this automatically as you buy your ships. When you buy a ship, the old one is deployed. No muss, no fuss.
This means that turns where you have nothing to do, or at least nothing to pay attention to, are few and far between as the game goes on.
Let’s go to the components first, as those are the main issues I have with the game.
First, the rulebook that’s in the box (or at least that’s in my box) isn’t the greatest. Some of the rules don’t make a lot of sense until you read them over a few times and try to parse out what they’re saying. Some of the examples aren’t very clear either.
AEG has a new rulebook on their web site that is so much better. Hopefully, copies of this game that are currently for sale (or at least the next printing) will have this new rulebook and it won’t be an issue.
If you do get a copy and you can’t make heads or tails of the rules, try online. As with so many questions (such as whether or not you should take pictures of your cat), enlightenment can be found online.
Secondly, the cards are a bit flimsy. While it makes total sense as far as gameplay goes, having these thin, narrow cards can get really irritating. They’re hard to pick up from the table and they’re hard to slide underneath your command console.
I realize that having a base full of “regular” cards would make this even more of a table hog than it already is, so I understand why they’re this way, but that doesn’t help the practicality aspect.
Not that I would necessarily want to, but do they even have sleeves for this size card?
The rest of the components are fine. Nice little plastic cubes for tracking your various stats and also for use when charging cards. The dice are decent and I do like that there’s a space ship instead of a #1 on the dice (though that did cause a few questions when new players were being brought in).
The command consoles are nice too, and the insert fits everything perfectly (until you get the expansion of course).
As for the gameplay, there is one great thing in Space Base that Machi Koro doesn’t have, other than maybe one or two cards (ok, I lied…one more mention): dice mitigation.
In the above picture, if you roll an 8 you can actually choose to get the rewards in either the #7 or #9 sector. This means that if you set up something cool in the #9 sector, you would get it when you roll either an 8 or a 9.
Alternatively, there could be cards that charge when you roll that number. Then (since it is green and not blue), on anybody’s turn you can spend that charge to move the total of the pair of dice one sector to the right. This can be anywhere. So if you have something cool on your #11 sector and you roll a 10 (or if you have cool deployed ships on the #11 sector and an opponent rolls a 10), you could spend the charge to make that roll an 11 and get the benefits.
There are many ships with these various types of dice mitigation, and it makes this game much more fun. It’s very unlikely for people to roll a 12, but if you can get a cool set of #12 ships and then some mitigation charges to move the dice to value 12, you can benefit from it a lot.
Thus, while it’s a dice game, there are lots of ways to try and make sure you get what you want.
That being said, it is a dice game, so if you don’t want any luck in your games, stay well clear of Space Base.
The game is easy to learn and easy to teach, with only the cards that charge or mitigate dice rolls that may be difficult for some non-gamers to pick up. Even then, with a little bit of help they won’t have too much trouble. Gamers who are used to game mechanics will have no problem whatsoever.
In fact, they’ll probably be expecting it!
I also like how the dice can be used in any way you want, and those non-active players aren’t tied to what the active player is doing.
The active player may choose to use the 7 rather than the 2 & 5, but that doesn’t tie the other players down. They can choose either one for themselves, whatever works best.
Essentially, the game is an engine builder using dice. As you acquire more ships, you’ll be able to do more stuff on other players’ turns. When it gets to your turn, you may have 15 or even more money available even before you roll your dice.
The trick is to get more ships and deploy more ships. You do need to spread it out some (I can’t count the number of times I’ve had nothing to do because I’ve neglected to get a new #6 or #7 ship out and deploy the one in my base), but the game also benefits you greatly if you can get multiple ships of the same type deployed.
Nothing’s more satisfying then having your opponent roll an 8 and you get 5 money, 2 VP and an income just on that person’s turn.
All in all, Space Base is a wonderful dice game that gives me a lot of satisfaction. Dice mitigation solves the problem that many dice games have (I’m looking at you, Machi Koro, and I promise that’s the last time!). Players are involved even when it’s not their turn (more so later in the game, but still when it’s early) and it’s fun how it becomes a tight race to 40 points.
It can start with a slow build, and you really start thinking “how is this only going to take 60 minutes?” But then the VPs start ramping up and players start getting the colony cards and getting a huge boost and suddenly your done and it’s only been 60, maybe 65 minutes.
It doesn’t outstay its welcome, though that does depend a little bit on the players. In my first couple of games, players didn’t build very efficiently and it did take a bit longer.
That doesn’t happen too often, though.
Give Space Base a try, and you might learn that you’re a better fleet admiral than this guy.
Really, Wolf 359 was a major boo-boo.
(This review was written after 5 plays)