Full disclosure: A review copy of Moon Base was provided by itten.
And one more one from itten — their latest game! Latest released, at least, since technically Stonehenge and the Sun has to get fulfilled. I really respect their commitment to thinking outside the box and games with some kind of stacking element. Technically, I still have Yeti in the House to review, but I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to do that yet, so I haven’t started on it as of when I’m writing this one. If it comes out at all, it’ll come out after Gen Con. Anyways, not super relevant, so let’s get down to talking about Moon Base.
In Moon Base, you’ve done it! You finally got a base on the moon. It’s yours now. Well, sort of yours. You and a rival have competing claims, but due to treaties and the fact that it’s offensive that someone could even claim to “own the Moon”, you have to somewhat work together to build out a Moon Base. There’s also another person, but y’all’s antipathy for each other is only exceeded by how much you dislike that person. You’ll need to be clever if you want to be the most successful lunar developer. Will you gibbous a reason to celebrate your success?
Setup is surprisingly involved. Easiest thing to do is to set out the board:
Now, shuffle the large rings and make four stacks of six rings:
Do the same with the small rings, but in separate stacks:
Set out the Settlements and Resource Bases in each color. The Resource Bases are the small hexes:
You can set out the Support Tokens, but you hopefully won’t need them. They’re six black circles, so they’re also uninteresting to photograph. Finally, get the Mobile Research Tower and the Earth Marker:
Set the Tower on any Large Crater on the board, and give the Earth Marker to the start player. The other player should now, with all the information available, choose which color they’d like to be (silver or gold). The navy blue rings are neutral. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So this is fun. A game of Moon Base is played over six rounds. Each round works the same, so I’ll detail all the steps.
First, the start player selects the top two large rings from any stack. Then the second player does the same. The start player then selects the top two small rings from any stack, and the second player again selects the top two small rings from any stack. Each player now has four rings, and should keep them displayed and visible to the opponent during the round. Note that each player may have silver, gold, or navy rings, regardless of what their chosen player color is.
Now, placement. Each player will alternate choosing any one of their rings and placing it on the moon. You cannot place a ring such that it touches the Research Tower.
You may place it on an empty crater that is the same size as the ring (even if it’s cut off by the edge of the moon slightly), or you may place it on top of two other rings, provided you follow these rules:
- If the bottom two rings are the same color, the ring placed on top must be the same color.
- You may stack rings on top of each other, regardless of size.
- You may only place a ring on top of two other rings.
- You may only place a ring if there is visible space between the ring underneath and the ring on top on both sides. This just means that they have to be relatively close together.
- If the two bottom rings are different colors and you place a large ring of the third color on top, you’ve created a Collabo Ring. When that happens, immediately move the Research Tower into that ring. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot place rings on the Collabo Ring while the Research Tower is there (since it would touch the Research Tower).
Once all the rings are placed, players may place Settlements or Resource Bases:
- For every open large ring on the second level or above with no rings on top of it, add a settlement. Each player adds settlements of their color to rings of their color. Navy does not participate. If you’re having trouble balancing the settlement inside of the ring, you may use one of the support pieces to help. Good luck with that.
- You may not place a settlement in the ring with the Research Tower. Hopefully it frees up later.
- If you placed no Settlements, add a Resource Base to any empty crater. A ring cannot be built on top of / around a Resource Base, and a Resource Base cannot be built on top of / inside a ring.
If you ever cannot place a ring legally, keep it off to the side and take a -1 point penalty at the game’s end.
After that, pass the Earth Marker to the other player; they will be the start player next round.
End of Game
Once the sixth round ends, the game is over. Score points for the following:
- Settlements: 2 points for each one placed.
- Resource Bases: 1 point for each one placed.
- Most connected rings: +2 points. This means the player with the most rings of their color touching.
- Highest ring: +2 points. This is awarded to the player with a ring at the highest level.
- Research Tower: +3 points. These points are awarded to whichever player’s ring is around the Research Tower.
Navy cannot score any of the points, but if it wins any of those categories neither player gets the bonus. If a player ties with Navy, they do get the bonus.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! Helpfully, only a two-player game. I review a lot of these, so this section is always super easy to write.
- Know when you should place your opponent’s pieces. That’s a particularly fun one. We had one round where all four of the large rings were my opponent’s color. We quickly made a structure where we placed all four of them such that only one was on top and uncovered. That was a potential 8-point opportunity reduced to two points, which was pretty awesome. It’s also good to take them early and place them all around the base so that your opponent can’t score anything for them. Either way is hilarious, if not a bit cruel. But again, with two-player games you sometimes have to be a bit cutthroat.
- Don’t place your large rings too quickly. Specifically for the reason I just mentioned, but if you place them too early in a round, your opponent can just cover them with small rings and prevent you from scoring Settlements. Naturally, Settlements are better than Resource Bases.
- That said, Resource Bases can block your opponent’s progress. If you play them right, you might be able to basically constrain your opponent’s construction and potentially force them into a situation where they can’t play anything. I haven’t seen someone take a negative yet, but it could happen. Or, if you don’t want your opponent building towards you, put a Resource Base between you two. That should slow them down.
- Collabo Rings are also a useful thing to go for if you want to block your opponent’s progress. You cannot build on a Collabo Ring, so if you create one then you’ve slowed down your opponent, especially if it’s a particularly high-up one. That’s never bad.
- Be careful with Collabo Rings, though; losing one means that your opponent might be able to block a settlement. Since it now opens up a ring that can be built on, usually another player can just build on it immediately. This might be good for you, though; if your opponent makes a new Collabo Ring, you may be able to build on the old one and block a settlement (as I mentioned) or, better yet, get your ring to be the highest.
- Try to build a focused area. If you do that, you have the best shot of getting that bonus for the most touching rings of the same color. Just make sure you leave yourself room to grow.
- You’re decently well-defended if you have two rings of the same color, provided they’re not too close together. One particularly nasty strategy is to build with the small ring specifically to block settlements. It’s a very good thing to do if you end up with your opponent’s rings. Just be careful if you see your opponent hoarding your rings.
- Going for the tallest ring is tough work, but decently necessary. A lot of games are decided by the bonus points; they can be close.
- Keep an eye on what your opponent took. This should inform how you play during the round. Don’t let them surprise you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The box looks great. The art direction for this game is super good, in my opinion. Itten’s games always look great but this one looks superb. Maybe it’s just that I’m a sucker for dark blues.
- Love the theme. I am wildly into games about space, which is good because there are always a lot of them. I think this is itten’s first foray into the final frontier, though, so, nice work on that.
- Such neat pieces! I hope y’all like rings, because the whole game is just tiny wooden rings and one plastic tower.
- The stacking element is super cool. I generally love stacking games anyways, but stacking as an abstract strategy element is something a really favorably associate with Santorini, and I’m glad to see that there can be two games that I associate with that mechanic.
- The game has an incredible table presence. It just looks super cool when you’re playing it and once you finish. There are so many rings and it gives off a very futuristic vibe. I really am super into it.
- Has a very peaceful atmosphere to it, despite being kind of cutthroat. It might just be a space game thing, because I think Sol: Last Days of a Star had this going for it, too. Definitely not all space games, for sure, but I think those two had some sort of serenity to them. Star Maps, too.
- “Longest” set of rings isn’t a particularly useful categorization. I’ve amended it here to be the most rings of one color touching in a sequence, but since there’s multiple levels to these bases, “longest” doesn’t quite cover the correct determination, I feel.
- Feels a smidge long. I’d be fine with the 15 – 30 minute range, but this is definitely more the 30 – 60 minute range, which feels long for a two-player abstract strategy game.
- It’s not the most stable structure. Sometimes the Settlements are extremely difficult to put on, which can be frustrating. The rings by themselves are fairly sturdy, but the game can definitely evolve in less-sturdy directions, which can be annoying.
- There definitely needs to be rules about how much you can touch / move the structure, but they’re basically unenforceable. The structure gets shifted by accident a bunch, and this occasionally makes legal moves illegal or illegal moves totally legal, which can mess with your strategy a bit if you’re not careful. That said, you shouldn’t just be allowed to push some rings so that you have a good play that your opponent couldn’t have noticed, either. The rules are surprisingly mum about this and what happens if the structure is knocked over.
- Can be pretty rough for players with analysis paralysis (AP). I think that it’s the spatial element of the game and the strategy; players will aggressively analyze decisions. Unfortunately, since the game isn’t always stable, if they attempt to do different types of moves, they will almost certainly knock over a chunk of the base. Just warn them ahead of time.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’m a pretty big fan of Moon Base! Generally speaking, I like all the different components that it’s bringing together: it’s got a fun theme; it combines stacking with abstract strategy; it’s got solid artwork. All of that is great, and when you combine it it becomes exceptional. The place where this kinda throws me off a bit is that it’s a bit longer than other entries in the space (specifically, Santorini casts a very long shadow, here), so that loses it some points in my book. With these kinds of games, you tend to have to be very cutthroat if you want to win (and you do, here; that board is not as big as it looks), and it’s hard for me to maintain that type of mindset for 30+ minutes to play the game. It’s possible that the games don’t take that long, but they certainly start to feel long because you’re spending a lot of time thinking about strategy. Naturally, this means that AP can start to filter in, and now you’re trying to analyze all your available decisions, making the game even longer. That’s unfortunate, but, I think there are going to be a lot of people who love this game because of that. It demands some strategic planning and foresight because it provides you with all the information at the start of the game, essentially. No surprises beyond who takes what in what order, and even that shouldn’t be terribly surprising. What you end up with, though, is a really cool little base on the moon. It looks great and getting there was fun, too. I love what people are doing in the stacking space, specifically with space stacking. Anyways, if you’re looking for a solid two-player abstract game, I’d recommend checking out Moon Base! You might end up thinking that it’s out of this world.