Full disclosure: A review copy of Home on Lagrange was provided by Grizzly Games.
I have a soft spot for two things, lately: space games, and good art. Naturally, since Home on Lagrange, a recent Kickstarter release from Grizzly Games, has both of them, I’m interested. It’s funny; I used to have the Kickstarter new releases page open and I would refresh it every day. Just to see what was up. Now, I don’t, and I miss it, but it’s nice to still get to check out games as they come out. Let’s dive in a bit more and see how Home on Lagrange plays.
In Home on Lagrange, we are in the far future of the 1970s and we need to get into space. We’ve targeted one of the 5 Lagrange Points relative to the Earth, moon, and sun (essentially places where we won’t slowly drift into the sun [or quickly] and die). As Admirals, our goal is to build out stations that can sustain life and figure out how to get our people there (and whatever other weird stuff ends up on our stations). If you can build the best one, you’ll win the space race! Can you triumph in your astronomical intentions?
Not much going on, which is nice. Shuffle the Module Cards:
Deal X cards face-up in a line in the middle of the table. X is the number of players, plus two. Give each player five Resource Cards, as well:
…That’s kind of it. You’ll want to set this Admiral’s Log aside, as well; more on that later.
Pick a player and they’ll start the game!
Like I said, in Home on Lagrange, you’re trying to build the best space station in town. Or, well, space. You do this by attaching modules to your space station, which provide some functionality and add value / aesthetic contribution. Plus some of them are very funny. Regardless, you also need to add resources to make sure that people have things to do, eat, or fight. Once everyone’s built up their station, the best one wins!
On your turn, you must do one of four things:
Purchase a Module
Here’s the crux of the game; buying modules! You spend resource cards from your hand whose value is equal to or greater than the module you want to buy. Few things worth noting:
- You can buy multiple modules of the same type. There are five types; mix-and-match as you like.
- They get progressively more expensive. You have to pay the value next to the number of modules you currently have (0 – 3). That means that they’ll start costing a lot more towards the end of the game.
- No change is given. Don’t overpay, friends.
- If you pay with a resource card with a matching background to the module you buy, you can immediately play it on the module. You play these face-up, rather than face-down.
Note that modules are really easy to buy, but pretty difficult to remove; be careful with those.
If you gain two modules of the same type, you get an Admiral’s Bonus! You can get more than one if you have two pairs of two modules. They provide extra advantages in a variety of different ways.
Play a Black or White Resource Card
You may play any black or white resource card for its effect. Generally speaking, black resource cards are aggressive towards another player; white resource cards help you (sometimes by hurting all other players). Up to you what you want to do with that knowledge.
Play a Resource Card on a Module
If you have a Resource Card in your hand that has a background (in the circle) matching the color of one of your module, you may play that Resource Card face-down to that module. It’ll increase that Module’s value, but be careful! You’ll likely attract the attention of other, more nefarious players.
Discard a Card and Draw Another
If you can’t do anything else (or choose not to), you must take this action. Discard a Resource Card and then draw a replacement. That’s about it.
End of Turn
At the end of your turn, draw a card from the Resource Deck. Then, discard the Module furthest to the right. Move all Modules to fill in the empty spot(s), and then draw one or two cards to replace the ones that were discarded this turn. Play continues with the player on the left.
End of Game and More
Once every player has all four modules in their space station, the game immediately ends! When that happens, you’re not quite done; total up your scores, sure, but once you’ve determined a winner, consult the Admiral’s Log to figure out the final fate of your space station! Honestly, whoever has the best story should still win.
Player Count Differences
Not really all that many; the game just takes longer with more players since every player has to finish up in order to complete the game. Since there are more players, there’s potentially more attack vectors, as well. Could be a lot more take-that happening, if that’s what you’re into.
Personally, I think I like it a bit more at lower player counts, as there’s more ability to shape your space station without too much outside interference (and it’s easier to convince players to collectively not use it). Plus, at higher player counts you have to balance the conflict of who to attack, which can also be a bit irritating and encourage players to pile on to the winner (and it slows the game down). Either way, like I said, lower player counts.
- Generally speaking you want to either rush a complete station or go for four different Modules. After much consideration I’ve come down on the four complete modules team; I think this might be one of the issues I have with the game. Sure, you don’t get quite as many bonus actions from getting four different modules (you get none, specifically), but you do get a bunch more points and more flexibility on what resources you can attach to those modules (especially for modules you end up attaching during the purchase process). This ends up delivering a lot more points in the long run, since players tend to finish their space stations at about the same time if they’re not attacking each other.
- There are a few cards that can zero out your modules; be careful. Those are particularly nasty ones; they can make your module worthless (usually minus about 800+ points), they can make your Resources worthless (about the same penalty), or a variety of other nasty business. If you want to live your take-that lifestyle, that’s definitely the way to do it. It helps if you have defensive cards at the ready.
- There is a particularly good dunk you can make on a player that’s stalling. There’s a card called Compulsory Purchase Order that forces a player to buy a Module (or take the cheapest one). If you have it, save it; towards the end of the game you might be able to just cross-court dunk a player going for four different modules by forcing them to pick a module they don’t want (or, worse yet, a cheap one). Don’t forget that the game ends immediately when the last player completes their station; there’s not a whole lot of ways to counter that specific flourish. It’s rude, but, effective.
- If you would like to rain pain on your friends, double Defense modules is the way to go. The problem is that certain cards (Asteroids) destroy modules and that just slows the game down. You need to make sure you’re depleting their hands of cards and making their modules and resources worth nothing, rather than removing the modules entirely. You also want to make sure you wait until they finish their station to do this; otherwise, they might slow down the game trying to get the cards they need to undo your nastiness.
- There are a few jettison cards in the game; don’t rely on them, though. One nice thing that they can do is remove a module that’s been zeroed out or is not useful, but, that’s not necessarily beneficial (either this gives your opponent a free turn to attack you or it lets them have a free turn to add more Resources to their modules). Either way, it’s kind of a waste of time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s really the art. The art quality is very good for this game; they went for a particular full-bleed aesthetic that’s reminiscent of old safety manuals and it looks phenomenal. It’s out of this world, pun intended. I wish it were a bit more saturated, but that also makes it look a bit more old-timey, so it does work for it. I just tend to like saturation.
- Thematically, it’s pretty good too. All the cards have at least one (usually more than one) sci-fi / fantasy reference. I’ve seen at least Alien, 2001, Interstellar, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Futurama, Stargate, Hitchhiker’s Guide; there are a bunch, suffice to say. If you have even a passing interest in sci-fi it’s worth looking at the art.
- The end-game booklet is a very nice touch. I wish there were more stories, actually; or that attaching a module gave you an Above and Below / Near and Far-type miniepisode. I think those things would immerse me a bit more in the game while I’m playing it.
- Very basic setup. There are only four things in the box: Module Cards, Resource Cards, Admiral’s Log, and the rulebook. That’s a pretty light setup, even by my “I prefer light setups” standards.
- The conveyor belt for the modules can get kind of annoying if the game runs a bit long. It’s just an irritating thing that everyone has to remember to do; it makes you wish it were automated, somehow.
- 25m – 1 hour is a pretty wide range of playtimes. The lower end is a quick, light lunch game; the higher end is certainly not. Be careful if you’re breaking into this with your lunch group or something.
- We didn’t see a lot of Admiral’s Abilities. Like I said, players ended up pretty frequently opting for the four different modules, and even then players tended to finish within a few turns of each other, depending on how good their hands of cards were.
- I can only imagine it takes a while to write the Admiral’s Log stories for each combination, but only having the one story for each combination makes choosing that combination in the future kind of a letdown. You always want to get unique stories, so you’re almost taking a metagame penalty whenever you hear one, because now you have to balance the desire to hear a new story with the desire to win.
- It’s got a lot of take-that. I’m not a huge fan of that, especially as player counts increase, since it means you’re going to have to decide who attacks whom and players can gang up on each other in ways that I don’t think are terribly interesting. Plus, that sort of thing slows the game down, because it forces players to play more defensively, which is never incredibly fun for me.
- A lot is determined by luck of the draw. Did you draw the cards you needed? Good! Do they happen to synergize with the Module you wanted to buy? Even better! Did the previous player reveal the perfect Module for your hand at the end of their turn? Of course they did. That’s all pretty outside of your control. You still have decisions, but whether or not they’re the right decisions isn’t as within my control as I would like.
- There’s usually a slump in the middle of the game. Usually, when players get down to one card, they have to work their way back up and it takes a few rounds. This is where you start to notice the conveyor belt mechanic for the Module Cards getting a bit grating and also not much happens beyond the occasional take-that, and even then it might not be worth it; that uses up valuable cards that you could spend.
- It doesn’t terribly interest me, mechanically. The game is fundamentally “play cards to buy big cards and hope you draw the right cards to buy those big cards, and maybe mess up other players’ space stations, too.” I think I was hoping for something a bit more Above and Below / Near and Far in space? I may have gotten too into the idea of the Admiral’s Log. That’s not my way of saying it’s a bad game; I think it’s just not as complex as I was hoping to be; it’s definitely on the much much lighter side.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
Alright, overall, I have a fair number of thoughts about Home on Lagrange. The core thesis of this is the difference between what makes a game mechanically interesting and what makes a game experience enjoyable. I’ll be upfront: mechanically, not my favorite time. I think it relies a lot on luck of the draw, lacks solid ways to mitigate that luck for other players, and quite often slumps in the middle because players race to buy their first few modules before they have the hands necessary to buy their later ones. Also, the value of resource cards are wildly different, which makes some draws much, much more useful than others.
Got all that out of the way.
You’re probably wondering why I rated it a 6.5 / 10 (somewhere in the “fine to good” range), given that. It’s because I think that the folks at Grizzly Games have really managed to capture what makes a game experience fun. I played this with two friends the other night and we all agreed on the mechanical stuff; we still laughed quite a bit at some of the ridiculous cards we drew or came up with metafiction around which Modules we were looking at or schemed to create a weird hybrid space station with too many pets and guns next to the retirement homes. Giving players space to have that fun is a very smart and skillful design move, and it’s something I don’t get in a lot of games. A really good metric for whether or not I’m going to like a game that tries to be silly or fun is asking how much I laughed while I played, and we laughed quite a bit.
To that end, I think that the game’s got some places where it could use more polish, sure, but I think that this shows encouraging signs that they’ve got a sense of the kinds of game experiences they want to create, and that’s already a good step forward. It makes me want to play their next game, frankly, and that’s a hard thing to get with your first game. That said, I don’t speak for everyone, so if you like games that are on the lighter end and play fast and loose with sci-fi references, or you’re looking for a game with impeccable art to inspire your next space station RPG setting (I bet you could make something out of this for Dialect), Home on Lagrange might be right up your alley! I’d say it’s at least worth checking out.