Board Game Review – Space Base

In part two of our “Top Games of 2018” review series we take a look at Space Base, Two Board Meeples #1 game of 2018! While you may guess that it will get a pretty raving review, we invite you to read more to see what all our buzz was about!

Overview

We have made it to the final frontier! We have the technology and we’re moving onward and upward, literally! We’ve headed to space and we’re ready to colonize, but it’s a race to become the best and most efficient colony out there. Do you have what it takes? Will you become the most sought after colony?

Game play

Space Base is an engine-building game that uses a mechanism that others have described as “I roll, everyone gets something”. Each player starts with a tableau of 12 spaceship cards, fittingly numbered 1 through 12. These cards have a blue action section, and on the bottom, upside down, a red action section. Most of the actions in the game contain one or more of three symbols: a yellow circle for money, a greenish planet for income, and a rocket ship symbolizing points. There are other actions utilizing special effects described in textual form, and some actions that involve small squares that need to be charged up before they can be used.

On a player’s turn, they roll both of the dice. Then, they choose to either take the numbers separately, or take the sum of the numbers. For example, if I rolled a 3 and a 5, I could take either the 3 and 5 actions or the 8 action. On your turn, you take the blue action from your ship cards, gaining money, income, points, or using their special abilities. Then, after you’ve activated your card(s), you may use your available money to buy a new card from the available market rows. There are three market rows with cards getting more powerful and more expensive in each subsequent row. Each market card also has a number from 1 to 12 in its upper left corner, and the cost and its upper right. When you buy a new card, it replaces the existing card in your tableau for that number. The existing card then is turned upside down and tucked under the top edge of your board so that only the red action is visible. If there is already a card above your board in that slot, the new card gets tucked behind that one so that you can see all of the available red actions. On other players’ turns, you also get the option of taking the dice individually or taking the sum of the dice, activating all of the red actions above your board for those numbers. With this, you always have something to do, even on other players’ turns. Aside from the cards in the market row, there are also point cards available to be purchased. There is one of these cards for each value from 1 to 12, and they are all relatively expensive, going up to a maximum cost of 42 money.  These cards have a yellow background instead of a blue action, and give a one-time immediate payout of points when purchased. The drawback to these cards is that they “lock down” that numbered slot on your board, preventing you from buying any further cards for that slot. Also of note is that when you buy a new card, you reset your money down to your income level, no matter what the cost of the card because “there is no change in space”. After (optionally) purchasing a new card, you pass the dice to the next player because your turn is over.

As mentioned above, in addition to the basic actions granting money, income, or points, there are also some special actions. Some of these actions are as simple as “gain two level one cards” (for free), or “switch this card with another in your tableau” (which makes it easier to put higher valued cards in a more commonly rolled number). Other actions require you to “charge” them up, by putting a small clear cube on that power before it is activated. Some of the more powerful actions require multiple charges before they can be activated, indicated by several linked squares for the clear charge cubes to be placed. One of the more infamous cards in the game just has a power that says “You Win”. This card is placed in the 12 slot and requires three to five charges (based on player count) and when activated ends the game immediately with that player winning. It is difficult to pull off, but can be done. Otherwise, the goal of the game is to be the first player to get 40 points. When one player has 40 or more points, the endgame is triggered. The current round is finished, and at the end the player with the most points wins!

Components and Artwork

Amber’s Review

We encountered Space Base at a local con in 2018 and I immediately fell in love. I didn’t have the experience of playing Machi Koro, a game a lot of people compare this to, but I did have the experience playing Valeria: Card Kingdoms, which has similar elements. One thing I really loved about Valeria: Card Kingdoms was how other players’ turn benefited you as well, and how you really needed to pay attention during these turns to make sure you didn’t miss out something that could really help you. I always admit that I have a hard time paying attention between player turns, so games that have player interaction between turns really spark my interest.

The mechanics of this game keep this game really easy to learn. Simplistically, you really are only doing two things: rolling Dice and drawing cards. The skill in this game comes from learning how best to build your engine to make the numbers on your board most profitable. There is an advantage to knowing the cards in the deck, so newer players may have a disadvantage when playing with veteran players.  However, sometimes a win comes from a really good dice roll which nobody but the dice Gods can control.

While I’m not typically a fan of space-themed games, this one surprisingly caught my attention right away. I think that maybe because the theme doesn’t really matter in this game. This game could have had many different other themes and it would not have changed the way the game was played. This is fine and not a big deal but worth mentioning for the people who really get attached to certain themes.  You won’t necessarily get immersed in the feeling of colonizing space for the first time, but it definitely works. I’m interested in seeing if the new expansion coming out in 2019 will change any of that.

Overall, Space Base is a great light game that is easy to teach to new players with enough strategy to interest veteran players.

Pros:

  • Easy to teach, approachable
  • Keeps players engaged between turns

Cons:

  • Theme is sort of just there, not really important
  • Veteran players may have an advantage with knowing card combinations

Ethan’s Review

Space Base is a game that everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed.  I think there’s no greater endorsement for a game than people wanting to play it again right away, or deciding to buy their own copies immediately after playing it for the first time.  Let’s explore what has made Space Base so beloved within our gaming groups.

At its core, Space Base is a pretty simple game.  On your turn, roll the dice and activate one or two of your cards, depending on whether you use the dice separately or use the combined sum.  Then, optionally buy a card and add it to your board, resetting your money to zero (plus any income you receive). Finally, pass the dice because your turn is done.  Of course it can get more complex with the cards’ special powers, but it’s generally a few rounds before you can but the higher-level cards, so it starts off with a slow burn and players are mostly just getting money, income, and occasionally points.  That makes the game pretty beginner-friendly, as it introduces the dice-rolling and card activation slowly before you get into the more complex actions. I’ve taught this game to some folks newer to board games and they picked it up quickly, and were some of the ones who requested to play a second game right after finishing the first!  Don’t let the ease of learning and playing fool you, though; Space Base has also been heartily enjoyed by seasoned gamers also.

Where I think Space Base really shines is in the breadth of viable strategies.  Do you want to buy a bunch of cards in the 1-6 range, since those could come up on each die, or do you want to pile a bunch of cards on the 7 since it’s the most likely outcome when combining the two dice?  For that matter, do you want to invest a lot of cards in one number and get a big payout when it comes up, or have something on every number so that you’re at least getting something, no matter how small, on every turn?  Or, do you want to go for the special powers that can be charged up, letting you do lots of cool things on your turn, maybe even the “You Win” card, hoping to charge it up enough to just automatically win the game? In the dozen or so plays I’ve had of Space Base so far, I’ve seen all of those strategies and more, to varying degrees of success.  The great thing is that there doesn’t appear to be one dominant strategy that always wins, partially due to luck of the draw in what cards are available for purchase and partially due to how the dice come up throughout the course of the game. When three people roll 12 in a row, the person who risked putting several very powerful cards in that slot is going to do very well, but that strategy isn’t always going to pay off.  I feel like there may be a point when the available strategies and cards get played out, but there is at least one expansion coming out, with I believe several more planned, so there should be a lot of variety and innovation to come.

Of course, no game is perfect, and Space Base does have some drawbacks.  One of the more nit-picky things I can bring up is that the game takes up a lot of table space, especially as a mostly card-driven game with very skinny cards.  But, when you have to have out three rows of six cards for the market, plus the available point cards, plus give all players room for their board and tableau of cards, it eats up a lot of the available “space” quickly.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but is something to be aware of before trying to set up the game. The more serious critique is that the game is definitely luck-driven, as you can probably tell, with the inclusion of card draw-piles and dice, and I know there are people out there who dislike games so heavily luck based.  I talked at length about the various different strategies you can take, but really the reason they’re all potentially viable is that how the dice come up and the cards available for purchase can change things from game to game. While there is some skill in knowing which cards synergize and how to build a good engine, it is possible to luck into victory, and while that doesn’t bother me that much, I know there are people who refuse to play that kind of game.

Ultimately, Space Base is a fun lighter game that I’ve enjoyed each time I’ve played it.  If you enjoy Machi Koro or Valeria: Card Kingdoms, Space Base will feel very familiar to you (while I’ve never played Machi Koro, it seems to be a universal sentiment from everyone who has that Space Base is a better implementation of that game’s mechanics).  If you like other engine-building games and don’t mind a bit of luck, give Space Base a try; it just might an out of this world experience!

Pros:

  • Easy to learn, even for less experienced gamers.
  • Many viable strategic paths to victory.

Cons:

  • Surprisingly large table footprint for the small-ish box size and relatively light game play.
  • Double luck factor with both what comes up in the cards available for purchase and what comes up on the dice, so people who dislike luck in games might not enjoy that.

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