Full disclosure: A review copy of GPS was provided by Board Game Tables.
Time for the final game in the series! I had a chance to play all three of the small-box games from Board Game Tables (Loot of Lima will happen in the future, once I can get a few more players). My reviews for Sequoia and Mountain Goats are already up, so, I figured, why not get to GPS, as well? And here we are. No sense in further delay; let’s see how GPS measures up!
In GPS, your goal is, as you might guess, a functional global positioning system that can triangulate anyone’s position on Earth. Problem is, you need a few satellites to make that happen, and you need them in the right order. You have decided that sweet spot is 12 satellites, so all that remains is to get them launched! Unfortunately, you seem to have dropped them and lost the ordering, and the launch is happening now, so you’re going to have to think fast and maybe relaunch some to move them around if they’re not right! Thankfully, your rivals are under similar pressure, so you may be able to luck out. Will you successfully complete your satellite configuration before your opponents? Or will you end up getting eclipsed?
First, construct that spinner:
Each player should take their satellites and flip them face-down. Then, shuffle and randomize them!
Once you’ve done that, you’re essentially ready to start!
GPS is a fairly simple game of satellite placement. If you can successfully place your satellites in increasing order (starting with 1, from the Start Line), then you win! But placing satellites in orbit isn’t always that easy. Ultimately, the game takes place over two major phases.
Phase 1 – Placement
Each turn, one player spins the spinner. The spinner will point to a space (or a line, in which case … fudge it?), and all players must choose one of their face-up satellites and place it on that space. If a player already has a satellite on that space, they must place their satellite in the next available space to the left or the right.
After that happens, each player flips a face-down satellite face-up. Repeat this phase until every player has placed all 12 of their satellites, and then move to Phase 2.
Phase 2 – Movement
After all satellites have been placed (12 turns), the game shifts to its second phase. That proceeds much the same as the first phase, but after the spinner is spun, players don’t place a new satellite on the space (as they have none left). Instead, they move an existing satellite from a different space to the chosen space.
If the spinner lands on a space that the player already has a satellite in, like Phase 1, they can place the moved satellite in the next available left or right space.
Again, as soon as any player has all 12 satellites in increasing order, starting from the Start Line and progressing clockwise, they win! If multiple players achieve this at the same time, they both win.
The game notes that for a longer game, you can play until any player wins twice, but … that’s just more games, rather than a longer one.
Player Count Differences
None really! There’s not much in the way of player interaction. Placing your tokens doesn’t meaningfully affect other players’ token placement, and it all happens roughly simultaneously. This has the added benefit of making the game take roughly the same amount of time, no matter how many additional players you add. While that can be a bit of a bummer for folks who like highly interactive games, it also means that you don’t have to worry about various players interacting with each other until basically the game’s over. There will be some interesting shake-ups depending on what satellites players reveal (since players may place different satellite tokens on the chosen space), but that doesn’t change things up too much until you get to the second phase of the game. Once players can start moving their satellites around, suddenly, those placements matter a lot more. Still no real effect with additional players, though, so I don’t have much in the way of a player count recommendation for this one. It plays basically the same with any number of players.
- This one’s pretty random, so you’re not going to be able to have a full “strategy” each game. Instead, focus on playing tactically. You can’t really rely on a spinner to do what you want; it’s very much a probability engine. You could imagine just replacing the spinner with a die and numbering all the spaces, for instance. The spinner is more fun, but you really can’t usefully predict where your tokens are going to be placed. Additionally, you are going to have a random sampling of tokens available at the start, so you may not be able to fully determine where tokens go beyond “I have to place what’s available”. To that end, try to be a bit strategic in Phase 1 (if you can), but understand that it’s going to be pretty much randomized. Just try to make sure that you’re tactically placing those initial tokens so that you don’t end up with a fully-jumbled sequence of satellites.
- You don’t need to have 1 right by the start and 12 right by the finish; you just need them to be in order. Naturally, placing 1 to the immediate right of the Start Line and 12 to the immediate left is ideal, but a highly-compressed sequence in clockwise order will still win you the game, if you can land them that way. The key thing to keep in mind is that having a highly-compressed sequence means that there are fewer valid spaces between satellites for placement, so your odds are better if your satellites are farther apart.
- Don’t rush to place tokens just because they all need to get placed! You need to make sure that your placements make sense. If you’ve got a 1, don’t place it quickly just because everything needs to get placed; try to hold on to those until you can get a favorable placement. Just remember that the spinner is randomized, so that may mean that the “favorable placement” you’re looking for might never come!
- Eventually, you’ll start moving satellites, rather than placing them; move your satellites strategically. Consider moving your satellites into a relatively beneficial placement rather than an absolutely beneficial placement; if your 3-4-5 are close to the Start Line, it may be better to move the 6 after the 5, rather than moving the 3 so that you give yourself more room for 1 and 2 to be placed. This is situational, so, keep an eye on the state of your satellites. You don’t need a “perfect” placement; you just need to have the satellites in order, starting at the start line.
- Naturally, landing on the same spot twice is only helpful if you’ve either moved on to the “moving tokens” phase or you’ve gotten lucky with the satellites you have available. If you can place adjacent and have the right satellites for it, that’s amazing! It just doesn’t happen all the time. I usually just place my “most problematic” satellite when that happens and make a note to move it to a more favorable position later.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Nice art, as always! I really like the look of this one. I tend to like space games a lot, but I haven’t played enough games about satellites, so it’s been cool to see them. I particularly like that each color of satellite has a different shape; it’s a fun little add.
- Plays pretty quickly. 10 – 15 minutes is about the sweet spot for this one, though an unfriendly spinner or poor tactical planning may still extend the game time.
- I do like the idea of a spinner. It’s relatively novel. I know they were pretty common in classic games, but I haven’t seen one since Montana, and that was years ago. Now, spinners are novel in a fun, hipster-y way. I was pleased to see them and I’m excited that spinners seem to be coming back, sometimes.
- This particular spinner is entertaining, as well. It’s a rocket! It’s very cute, even if it has flown apart at least once because I spun it too hard. I think there are a few things that could make it easier to use (a better grip and a more solid locking mechanism for the components), but it’s very cute.
- Plus, I like circular movement a lot, as well. I find things that move in circles relaxing, so, spinners are definitely my kind of randomizer. I do like a die every now and then, but spinners are weirdly calming! And placing your satellites in a circle still nicely fits into that calming bit, as well.
- I appreciate how the initial 12 turns are about randomization of your own tokens; it makes the game a bit interesting. I like that players do it differently based on which tokens that they have available, as well; it means that the initial loadout is pretty wildly different for each player, and I think that’s cool. I think the most interesting part of the game is the Phase 2 movement, but you can definitely get a leg up on other players with good luck, even during Phase 1.
- The box is pretty portable, which is nice. The whole series is, and I’m a fan of that. They’re not the smallest boxes, but they’re decently-sized. It should be easy to carry them with you in a bag or backpack or something.
- The game’s a bit unclear about what happens if the spinner lands between two spaces, and I don’t know if that’s just how I spin, but it happens surprisingly frequently. I think this is because the game was originally based on a game where you rolled a die for placement, rather than spun a spinner, so they didn’t have to deal with ambiguity. This seems like it didn’t make it into the rulebook, but I generally encourage a re-spin if it lands on a line, rather than a concrete location.
- Also, given the spinner, I’m surprised there’s no rule about the spinner needing to make at least X full rotations or something to be valid. I haven’t played with anyone who has been trying to lowball the spinner and just try to partially-rotate it, but it’s generally helpful when these things are specifically outlined in the rules. It would be easy enough to have 2 – 3 rotations as a soft requirement.
- The “for a longer game, play until someone wins twice!” isn’t the … most ambitious variant. I actually don’t … like it, since it adds no additional value for players beyond just yelling “best two out of three” or whatever, essentially. When you’re extending a game, there should be something more to it, otherwise there’s no distinction between a long game and playing several distinct short games. As someone who counts their plays, I would then never technically play a long game.
- Pretty much zero player interaction until someone wins and ends the game. That’s not always a problem, but it is a thing that some players are looking for (and, indeed, this is a stark contrast to Sequoia and Mountain Goats). This is mostly just to let you know that this is not a highly interactive gameplay experience.
- The spinner is extremely finicky, to the point that spinning it can cause the entire game board to shift. Given that the space between spaces is very small, a board shift can cause problems (especially because the satellites are sitting on the table). A few friends had expressed functional problems with the spinner, to me, but I haven’t experienced them. Might be worth watching out for them, but I mostly avoided any issues by just making sure that the spinner was fully out of the board inset before spinning. Instead, I need to be careful about the spinner pieces coming out (which can happen) or the board shifting. The spinner can be deconstructed since the box is so small, but it seems that that has caused some downstream utility problems.
- Thankfully, this is a pretty light game, because otherwise it’s going to be far too random for a lot of players’ tolerances. There’s some tactical play, but it’s hard to make a ton of progress since the spinner is randomized. If you’re looking for a quick and purely random game, it’s not bad! It just might be more random than you’re looking for.
- Might just be my copy or the fact that it was printed on different tiles, but the Blue 10 / 11 / 12 are slightly lighter than the other Blue satellites, which isn’t great for random chance. Seems to be that they were printed on a different cardboard thing than the other satellites, which might just mean that the color scheme was slightly inconsistent. My only real problem with this is that I can, with some effort, notice the difference, which makes it hard to keep these hidden during play.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I had fun with GPS! I think, of the three small-box games in this series, I definitely prefer Sequoia and Mountain Goats, but this was still fun, as well. I’m not totally sure about the longevity of the title, which is harder to analyze in some of these quick reviews, but I think GPS still may meet the needs of a “right now” kind of game. I think my major concerns are around the construction of the game and the randomness. On the construction side, I’m surprised that I didn’t see anything in the rules about the spinner landing between two spaces, and I think the spinner is finicky enough to cause problems. The board shifts occasionally when I spin it, and I’m playing on a cloth tabletop. On a slicker surface, I imagine the board would be moving much more frequently, but I haven’t observed it, so I can’t necessarily say for sure. I haven’t had a ton of problems with the board, personally, otherwise. The randomness of the board can be a bit frustrating, but I generally don’t mind it too much because the game is relatively short. This just feels less deterministic than, say, Sequoia or Mountain Goats, so I tend to prefer those games. GPS is quick, though, and it’s hard to not appreciate the game, aesthetically. The game’s super cute and it has great art, and I do kind of love the rocket-as-spinner concept, even if it is sometimes a bit wobbly. I think I’d like a bit more interaction in this title, so, that also falls a bit short for me. All that said, if you’re a die-hard fan of spinners, you’re looking for a game with low interaction, or you just like the idea of satellites in orbit, you may like GPS! I enjoyed playing it, but I may opt for other titles in the collection instead.
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