Sometimes life really sucks.
I’m talking about Grade A disasters like missing the last bus of the night and having to find some place to stay because your stupid friend passed out right after you left and he’s not answering the door to let you back in.
(Not that I speak from experience…of being that friend)
Anyway, when things get you down, you can always bring yourself up a bit by thinking it could be worse.
You could be stuck in a gravity well on a ship with no fuel and no prospects of getting out of this mess until you all run out of food.
Or somebody comes up with the bright idea of using repulsors and attractors with all of the other ships also stuck there to try and slingshot your way out.
Not the reaction you want to hear from your Chief Engineer.
However, it does work!
And that’s the premise behind Gravwell, the game where all of the players are trying to step on top of each other to get out of trouble first.
Cooperation is not a thing here.
Players take control of ships (each one with special powers, though some are repeated on other ships) that are using various elements to use anything but their engines to get out of the warp gate and back to freedom.
The first one to do so wins.
No word on whether the others ever get out or are lost to time and space after you leave.
Wow, that’s cold, bro.
How does all this work?
Let’s take a look.
The board represents the space between the Inner Warp Gate and the Outer Warp Gate. There are 54 spaces in total between them.
The original game was only a 4-player game, but new cards and a few new rules extends the player count out to 6.
The trick is that for 4 players and under, all ships start on the Inner Gate and are trying to get to the Outer Gate.
For 5-6 players, a maximum of 3 ships can be in the Inner Gate and the others start on the Outer Gate, trying to go the opposite way.
Does that make sense?
For the game, yes!
For reality? Well…give me a minute.
Anyway, the game consists of 6 rounds in which there will be 6 turns. Each player is dealt 6 fuel cards (I’m sensing a pattern here) and these will be played one at a time to fling your ship to freedom! Or, maybe, if you’re unlucky, back into the depths of Hell.
These cards come in four types (though only three types if you are playing with 1-4 players, as one of the types is in the group of cards that are taken out at the smaller player counts).
The blue cards (Standard Tractor Beams) will pull you towards the nearest object, moving the number of spaces on the card. Just like in an airplane though, be aware that the closest exit (or object, in this case) may be behind you.
That’s bad, unless it’s going to fuel a power move later.
The red cards (Standard Repulsor Beams) will repel you from the nearest object, again the number of spaces on the card. In that case, you do want the nearest object to be behind you.
The purple cards (Multipoint Tractor Beams) will draw every object on the board (including the space debris) toward you the number of spaces on the card.
Finally, the orange cards (Multipoint Repulsor Beams) will repel every object from you, again the number of spaces on the card. This is the one that isn’t used in 1-4 player games.
What’s the trick?
Each round, players play the card they want to play face down. Once all are ready, flip them over and the cards are executed in alphabetical order (So Argon will go before Thorium, for example).
Thus it’s possible that you are leading and want to repel yourself from the nearest object, pushing you forward! But somebody goes before you and gets one space ahead of you. Suddenly, you are going backwards.
Each ship has an Emergency Stop card that can be used once per round to keep yourself from doing something really bad.
Ships also have three other special abilities that can be charged up and used, and these are different (though there is some duplication).
Amplifier, for example, doubles the value of a fuel card that has a power of 3 or less. Ramming Speed makes it so *you* don’t go backwards all the way. The object that you hit goes backwards instead!
Each card has a method of charging it up. “Exploit Momentum” just requires you to drift over some Space Junk (“Drifting” means that you would have landed in that space, but since two objects can’t be in the same space you just keep going into the next space in the same direction).
If you don’t use your Emergency Stop in a round, you can charge up one of your other cards. If you do use it, then you just power it up instead.
Sometimes you drift a lot.
Once the round is over, assuming nobody has won the game, all of the fuel cards are shuffled and players will “mine” for another hand.
There will be a series of three cards dealt out, equal to the number of players times 2. One of these cards will be face down while the other two are face up.
The player closest to the Merton Cloud will choose one trio first, and then choose what direction subsequent drafts are made. It goes around the table twice, so all players will have 6 cards again.
Then continue playing until somebody gets to the Gate they are trying to get to.
If nobody does in 6 rounds (so 36 turns, essentially), whoever is closest to where they are trying to go is the winner.
Is Gravwell 2nd Edition a luxury cruise seeing the stars? Or is it life on an ore freighter where you’re stuck in the bowels of the ship cleaning the heads?
Gravwell is one chaotic game.
I haven’t played Robo Rally before, but it does remind me of what I’ve heard about that game. You can program your movement but the end results of what you put forward may not actually match what you were trying to do.
It’s a really intriguing concept.
The fact that everybody plays a card but nobody knows in what order they will be executed is genius. That can lead to a lot of laughs (and groans if you find yourself going backwards 10 spaces and you have already used your Emergency Stop card).
Being in the lead in this game, especially early, can be a really bad thing because there are a lot more cards that attract you to the nearest object than there are that repel you from it. If you’re in the lead, attracting to the nearest object will always make you go backwards.
It’s really annoying!
I’m sure there are play balance reasons behind it, or maybe these cards weren’t in the original version of the game, but I was disappointed when I discovered that the Multipoint Repulsor Beams (the ones that make every object move away from you) aren’t in the game unless you are playing 5-6 players. There are a bunch of cards that are only used at that player count, and all of those cards are in that group.
At 1-4 players, you don’t use any of those cards at all.
Not necessarily a bad thing, just something I noticed and was a bit disappointed in.
However, I do have to say that the 5-6 player level is the most fun.
In this mode, 3 players start on the inner gate and 2-3 players start on the outer gate. The ones on the outer gate are trying to go inward and vice versa for those on the inner gate.
Thus, the definition of “nearest object” is quite fluid as the ships intermingle.
Everything comes together like me and a plate of nachos: quick and messy.
And a lot more fun.
I was actually prepared to write a fairly lukewarm review after our first play where we had 4 players.
When all players are going the same direction, it just seemed like everything was a bit too random.
If you are leading, there’s no way you can use an attractor card and move forward, unless the second place person is close enough and happens to play a card that goes before you which does the same thing.
It was chaotic and it just wasn’t that fun.
But then we played a 6-player game.
While I still don’t think Gravwell is a game that I would play that often, the 6-player game where players are meeting in the middle and using those oncoming ships as focal points for their gravity beams was really a lot of fun!
Sure, players still found themselves going backwards a bit too often.
But there was more laughter and less frustration with the higher player count.
That could be because one of the players in our 4-player game who really didn’t like the game wasn’t involved in the 6-player game, but I think even those who were involved in both had a lot more fun with more players.
I also like the concept of the unique (well, sort of) player powers. I enjoyed the Ramming Speed card that let me avoid going back as far as I might have otherwise, for example.
In a game as chaotic as Gravwell, you need a way to mitigate things when it goes really bad.
I keep using that word, “chaotic.” That’s because it really fits.
On a given turn, you don’t really know what will happen because the cards are fine-tuned for that. You may play a card that will do something really cool for you. But it’s lower down in the alphabet so there’s an equally good chance that it will do something bad instead by the time it’s your turn.
Other cards may not do much, but they also won’t hurt you much.
If you’re not a fan of chaos, then you will not like Gravwell (presumably either edition, but again this is a review of the 2nd edition). Chaos is your friend. Or perhaps your enemy.
Or maybe just something that you have to deal with.
If you are leading, you are not safe. Leads change quickly in Gravwell and being in the lead early in the game is quite dangerous.
Being in the lead when you’re all near your destination can be cool, but only if you have some good cards.
Or the 2nd place player helps you by jumping in front of you by one space, just as you would have been heading backwards instead.
Gravwell 2nd Edition is not a game that I would necessarily play often, but it is a game that adds a sense of random fun to a good 45 minutes of your game day. It’s a pretty good game to begin or end your day with.
At my request (I needed to play this again so I could do this review), the six of us played Gravwell before going on to the Main Event (which for me was Ark Nova and oh my god is that a wonderful game!) and it fit in the time slot perfectly.
Both games ended during the 3rd round, so I guess it could become a slog if it continued much past that.
I think the six round limit may put the game beyond its natural end point. If it continued to that point, I think I would get really tired of it.
But for what it is, Gravwell is a fun game with lots of chaos and it brings a lot of laughs.
Not much more that can be said about it.
(This review was written after 2 plays. Thanks to Renegade Game Studios for the free review copy in exchange for an honest review)