Full disclosure: A review copy of Space Base was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
Another good week for some Gen Con games (or, at least, games I got at Gen Con), so let’s look at Space Base, a recent(ish) release from Alderac Entertainment Group. I’ve only looked at a few of their games in the past (Mystic Vale and Lost Legacy [when they had the license, since I assume that’s gone with Love Letter to Z-Man]), so excited to check out more in the future.
In Space Base, you play as a bunch of space captains trying to make a brave foray into the unknown. You’ll purchase and deploy ships to explore and gain rewards in the hopes of eventually getting promoted to Admiral, as one does. Will you be able to shoot for the moon? Or will another player ultimately eclipse you?
So, for setup, you’re gonna want to give each player a player board:
There are also starting cards in each player color:
Have each player take one set and place the cards in their corresponding sectors (1 – 12; check the number in the top-right). Now, set out the Colony Cards:
More on these later. Also, set out the Level 1, 2, and 3 cards:
You’ll want to make three rows of 6 cards, each.
Give each player some cubes — yellow is money (put that on 5), green is Income (put that on 0), and blue is points (put that on 0, also).
Set the clear cubes aside — you’ll need those later:
Also, get out the dice! Mine are a bit malformed, so I’m going to be using some other dice in this review (happens, sometimes; thankfully I have multiple d6 laying around the house):
You should be all ready to start! You’ll need to determine starting player, now. Have everyone take the top card from the Level 1 deck. In the top-left corner, there’s a cost. Decrease your money by that amount and add the card to the correct sector. The card already in that sector should be flipped around and slid behind the player board in that sector. Whichever player drew the highest-numbered sector is the starting player, and other players gain resources to compensate:
- Player 2: Gain 1 money.
- Player 3: Gain 2 money.
- Player 4: Gain 1 income.
- Player 5: Gain 1 income.
After you’ve done this, you’re ready to roll!
A game of Space Base is actually … relatively straightforward? Basically, it’s played over a series of turns. On a turn, the Active Player rolls the two dice, and then chooses:
- Allocate dice individually: Choose the sectors indicated by each of the dice and activate their abilities. You may activate a sector twice, if you rolled doubles.
- Allocate the dice as a unit: Choose the sector whose value is equal to the sum of the dice. Activate its ability.
The interesting thing is that at the same time, all other players also make the same choice, but for sectors on their boards! The key insight is that only red abilities on deployed sectors activate when you’re not the active player (and you only start with one deployed ship, as that’s the card tucked behind your player board). Also, all red abilities in a sector activate. Blue abilities, on the other hand, activate only on your turn. Green abilities can be used whenever, to be honest.
Some cards have empty boxes on them; these require charges to activate. When you roll that number, you add a charge there, and then can activate the ability depending on a few things:
- If there are links between the boxes, all required boxes must be full to activate it. It’s expensive but useful. Note that the number of boxes required changes based on player count.
- If there are no links, you only need to spend one charge to activate it. This just lets you store more, which is better.
- Otherwise, you can only activate blue and green abilities on your turn and red and green abilities on another player’s turn. Just like the normal tableau abilities; no surprise.
I’m not explaining all of the abilities, but there are many. Consult a reference guide or something. One card is an instant-win card, provided you can get enough charges for it.
So, once you’ve activated a die, you can (optionally) buy one card from the tableau. Any ship you buy, you add to the corresponding sector and deploy the one already there by flipping it around and putting it behind the board (so only the number is showing). When you buy something, set your money to zero. Yup! The cost is a thresholding thing; you spend all your money on whatever it is. If you have 33 money and buy a 3-cost ship, still costs all your money. Why? Who knows.
Instead of buying a ship, you can also buy a colony — those cards with the yellow fronts and the rockets on them. When you buy one, it immediately goes in the corresponding sector (and you deploy the ship that was there). Instead of having a certain effect that only activates when rolled, these colonies have a one-time effect: gain points! Once you’ve done that, you cannot buy ships and place them there. You did all that work building the colony! It’ll be there until the end of the game. Lucky you. Note that deployed ships in that sector will still activate, even if you have a colony.
At the end of your turn, if your money is below your Income level, set your money to your Income level. That’s always fun.
The game continues until one player has scored 40 points, at which point the endgame is set off. Play continues until the Starting Player’s turn. Before they roll, the game ends (everyone gets the same number of turns). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The game mostly takes longer at higher player counts, being honest. The game has a bit of a cold start problem (it takes a while to get going) and since players can’t buy much when it’s not their turn (and it’s not their turn a lot), you’re gonna need to wait a bit for things to start to pick up. That said, generally, when it moves it’s moving, no matter what player count you’re hitting.
A wise man told me not to play your first game at 5 players, and I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment. Beyond that, I’d still play it at 5, just not for the first time with everyone.
- Find something that works for you. Honestly, there are a lot of different strategies. Some give you extra abilities, some let you swap cards around, some let you buy extra cards, all kinds of stuff. Figure out your playstyle over a few games and then try to settle in, but also keep an eye on what’s actually in the market. This game requires you to be a bit tactical.
- Decide if you want certain cards to stay in their slots or get deployed. There are some cards that are definitely worth more to you in their slots (undeployed) than they are flipped. Know which ones you want to save and try to make the other slots work for you.
- At higher player counts, most good cards are worth more to you deployed. Generally as you increase player count, there are more other players’ turns than there are your turns (as that is how math works). To that end, you’re often better off trying to deploy cards (especially in slots where your opponents have big combo plays, as it makes them more likely to use reroll abilities to try and hit those) so that you can take advantage of other players’ turns. This means that cards that let you take cards from the market for free are a bit more useful at higher player counts, imo.
- Manage your charges efficiently. You don’t want to run completely out. You’ll need to occasionally use your turn to get more; make sure you’re accruing enough money from your deployments that missing a few coins on your turn won’t sink you.
- Multi-buy cards are pretty useful. As you go, you may end up with a lot of money. It’s a bummer to lose all of that in one turn, so being able to buy more than one card is usually a pretty big help. Or, you can use it to buy a lot of Level 1 Cards and get your current cards deployed so that they can help you more quickly. Again, up to you.
- If you get the “you win instantly” card, pour all your energy into getting cards that let you freely place charges. You need to get that thing charged. Getting cards deployed that let you add charges anywhere is essentially critical to winning, once that’s in your tableau. Also, cards that let you swap positions; try to use that to move it to a place where you’re more likely to hit it than 1 / 36. If you can move it to a 1 – 6 sector, you’ve got a 11 / 36 chance of hitting it at least once on every two-die roll.
- Keep an eye on other players’ points. Don’t get too excited about your economy and let your opponent outpace you without you even realizing. That’s what I did my first game, and it was a bummer. Don’t be like me, kids.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Honestly, it’s just fun. Rolling dice to collect resources is good; collecting resources on other players’ turns is just … better. It’s a good system, and I consistently enjoy playing it.
- Great table presence. It’s super bright and colorful, and it’s a game that takes up a fair bit of space (but not too much), so I think you’ll find it prominently on a lot of people’s tables at conventions and such. It really makes people want to stop by and ask what you’re playing, which is always a great thing for a game to do. Playing it on a spacey playmat sounds like the ultimate way to play.
- There are so many cards. This allows for a variety of strategies and interesting plays (since it’s rare for you to see the same card in every game), so you can try new things each time and see where it gets you. I’ve messed with charges, messed with sector swaps, and focused on just gaining as much income as possible, all to various levels of success.
- Income is an interesting thing to have. The whole economy in this game is weird, but getting income to set where you bottom out is pretty neat. Makes up for the weirdness around spending money costing everything you have (unless you buy via a card action, in which case you don’t have to do that).
- Great game for those who love comboing. It’s nice having a bunch of cards all activate in a chain because you have the right cards in the right places. Genuinely satisfying.
- Good amount of luck mitigation. There are plenty of things you can do (using the sum instead of each die / certain card effects) to ignore a bad roll. Early on, most of your rolls will be bad, but by the end of the game you’re going to be either having only good rolls or being able to manipulate the dice and guarantee good rolls, so that’s fun.
- Seems very expandable. To the point where I’ve already heard rumors of expansions (and the box has space for more cards), so, looking forward to that. I’d love for some of the cards to address some of the places where the game rubs me slightly the wrong way, but that might be aggressively wishful thinking. Who knows?
- It sounds like “space space” when you say it out loud. We’ve been amused about this for a while, now.
- The nittiest of nitpicks, but the mini-width cards are mildly annoying. I’m just whining, but, it’s a Real Problem I Have.
- Actual complaint, though; it’s difficult to slide the cards under the player boards without messing everything up. I have mild perfectionist inclinations (who could have guessed) and so trying to arrange everything and then lift it up to slide a card in is vaguely frustrating.
- The theme is kinda … there. No real connection between the theme and the gameplay. It could be some sort of high-fantasy village-building game or a Japanese market-construction game and it would still have a pretty similar feeling, if I were to speculate.
- You can safely get rid of the “all opponents lose 4VPs card”. The one time I played with it I felt bad every time I used it, but buying extra cards was so helpful. My opponent was pretty frustrated. It’s the … only take-that in a relatively light engine-building game. I could a hundred percent do without it and be totally fine.
- The cold start problem is pretty rough. The players tend to take a fair bit of time understanding what cards do, and compounding that by having them gain money (and cards) very slowly doesn’t really do much more than make the game take longer. I think it might not have been a bad idea to have some starter deployed cards, as well, to help speed the game up. Ultimately, the game feels long for what it is, and I think some initial nitro to get the game moving might be enough to mitigate that.
- The rulebook could use some streamlining. There are a lot of interactions that aren’t super clear (and a couple bad typos, if I’m being honest) that aren’t great. To be fair, there are very few rulebooks that I would specifically point to as being excellent (Favelas and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival spring to mind), but how charges work and activation versus allocation need to be a bit more straightforward.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with Space Base! I generally really like dice-chucking and tableau building, as mechanics, so we’ve got both, here, and I think that there’s so many interesting cards and effects and combinations and ramifications that there’s always more to do. Sure, there are two cards I’d probably remove (the “You Win” card is … amusing, but probably needs another charge or two, and the take-that card is just frustrating), but there are so many cards that hopefully they’ll just both start at the bottom of their decks. Either way, I think it’s a super neat concept that will almost certainly get a bunch of expansions (similar to Mystic Vale, which I kind of need to get back into, at some point), so I’m looking forward to trying more Space Base in the future. And if you’re into throwing dice and gaining resources and just, generally expansive tableau building, you might enjoy Space Base as well!