In 2017, No One Can Hear You Scream For More Cardboard
2017 was an amazing year for board games. We explored themes like running a psuedo-Jurassic Park, or creating and recalling vivid dreams. It’s probably fair to say, 2017 was also a great year for the restoration of forgotten games, or the remastering of already excellent, but long out of print titles.
I’ve already written exhaustively on my obsession with space exploration and the vastness of our ever-expanding universe, so it only felt natural to lead the rest of you down the rabbit hole with me.
Today we explore the very best 2017 had to offer in space-themed gaming.
Buckle up and ready yourselves for an intrepid journey across the stars.
Designer: Jonathan Ying
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price: $68.57 Amazon
Technically a very late 2016 release, and arguably more Mars sci-fi than space-themed, DOOM: The Board Game is a re-imagining of the Fantasy Flight dungeon crawler model. Interestingly enough, the first in the line of this series was based off the 2004 release of Doom 3, followed by Descent, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and a few others.
DOOM is by no means a masterpiece of game design. It suffers from lengthy gaming sessions, being cursed by unfortunate card drawing and dice rolling, and not enough variability in scenario design. Grab a double-barrel shotgun and shove it in a demon’s mouth though, because DOOM makes up for personal shortcomings with some of the most climatic and immersive gameplay I’ve ever seen in a dungeon crawler.
Marine players can feel sure they are a turn from victory, only to suddenly face down an army of possessed soldiers, cacodemons, and a Baron of Hell. In a last ditch effort of desperation, the invader controller can rally the forces of hell to burn down the marines, blasting the team with powerful abilities and huge amounts of dice. Sure, the marines can pull a dodge card to subvert the assault, but not if they don’t topdeck it, and definitely not if their character has been pinned down.
DOOM: The Board Game closely emulates the ferocity and action of its digital counterpart (my favorite FPS of the last few years). This is done by including tons of thematic card art and weaponry, extremely-detailed miniatures, the fury of chaining glory kills, tiles, and more.
We likely won’t see it, but a sequel to DOOM would probably bring this game closer to a 10 for me. Imagine additional demons, like the summoner and hell knights. Visualize additional map tiles with new scenarios like killing off a certain number of demons, a commanding invader player with special units cooperating with the ground forces player, or even a campaign mode with consequences for winning and losing.
As it stands, even though the game can be randomly swingy, most I’ve played with can recall pivotal moments in our games and still want to return to it occasionally. This is a big win in my book.
Designer: Martin Boisselle
Publisher: Osprey Games
Price: $26.69 Amazon
Star Cartel continues the line of high quality productions from Osprey Games. We’ve reviewed plenty of games from Osprey, and even if the game design isn’t clicking (which is astonishingly rare) the game always looks and feels beautiful.
In Star Cartel, players are smugglers, raising and lowering the value of various goods, medical supplies, rare jewels, and so on. Cards sit on a 3×3 player controlled grid and drop into place—almost like a manually arranged game of Connect Four. As players take cards, their lore-filled space vessels fill up, eventually hitting an exact number, which causes that player to ship his goods. On shipping, players might keep some cargo for themselves to score at the end of the game. The rest of the cards are used to modify the value of the specified goods on a track. Whichever good the player has the most of increases the value by two, and the good the player has the least of decreases that value by one. If a good passes the highest value, that good crashes and is only worth a single point.
At the end of the game, players get points for each of their cards based on comparing their value on the track. This means a set of medical supplies could have once been worth 34 points, and is now worth only four points. This makes each game of Star Cartel significantly different than the last. It’s fast-paced, attractive, and funky.
I describe Star Cartel as one of the best introductory commodity/stock speculation titles. Players who don’t know a lick about the possibility of unstable end-game scoring can play Star Cartel or Paris Connection. These games can bridge the gap between light fare and heavier games, but luckily they are still great on their own.
The aesthetic of Star Cartel is enthralling. Silly-looking space vessels that would make Han Solo proud. Couple this with various abilities on most ships, and the race to grab extra end-game points by having a valuable ship, and you have a tightly-designed space race with players’ hopes and dreams gambled on a wager.
Designer: Nick Sibicky
Publisher: Game Salute
Price: $42.95 Amazon
If Star Cartel has become an instant classic for teaching stock speculation, then Farlight is one of the best games for teaching the basics of bluffing and betting.
I was sent a copy of Farlight, without much research or knowledge about the game. When it arrived, a quick glance at the rules and production quality left me ecstatic. Luckily, the gameplay followed through, as well.
In Farlight, players are attempting to assemble ships and explore Sol, our local galaxy. Players use face-down betting chips to attempt ownership of ship parts, engineers, precedence on missions, and more. After chips are revealed, players “ooh” and “ahh,” while voicing frustration and panic. Wise players bluff well and take the valuable things they need. In other betting games, players are still punished for wagering on something and losing it. Here, players only miss out on the chance of having taken the action. This is extremely forgiving, compared to something like Modern Art or Amun-Re. I recommend games of Farlight to prepare for deeper auction titles.
Players will scramble together ships with barely the necessary parts (think Galaxy Trucker) in order to explore mission cards. Players can generate science or even grind up engineers for bio-fuel to accomplish their goals. While fighting for valuable mission points, players might also gain points from end-game goals, requiring obscure spaceship designs or giant engines.
Because of so many ship parts, different missions, and the mess of bidding, each game of Farlight feels sufficiently different and enticing than the previous game. For me, this makes Farlight replayable and constantly variable, while sticking to the formula that makes it successful. Under the radar, Farlight is easily one of my favorites from 2017.
Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Price: $13.79 Amazon
I didn’t play Terraforming Mars more than once in 2016. I was initially unimpressed and didn’t understand the hype. After getting over myself, I now own it and both released expansions. I wanted to force Terraforming Mars into my 2017 list, but because that doesn’t make any sense, I’ve instead included the expansion, because it’s just as good.
I need to review it, but I can sing the praises of Terraforming Mars forever. Terraforming Mars has some weird art problems. This barely matters because once you’ve played a couple times, you’ll understand every icon, and all you want to do is play again and try yet another strategy. I’ll have to harp on the base game at some point, but I should gab on the expansion.
Terraforming Mars: Hellas and Elysium is a new double-sided map where players can terraform the southern pole and opposite equator of Mars. The game also has new milestones and awards, some reliant on map and tile placement.
I’ve heard reviewers clamor about Hellas and Elysium not being essential and probably only worthwhile once you’ve played the base game several times—I disagree. It’s such a cheap expansion that broadens the scope of end-game awards and map layout. I think even new players can hop in on these map variations and still enjoy the experience. This expansion begs players to play three games in succession, adding the score of the three, and finally determining an overall terraforming rating from their three scores. You could even average these scores to make it fair.
Look, what I’m getting at is if you are buying the base game, and you’ve already played it once and know you like it, go ahead and pick up this expansion. You’ve nothing to lose, and everything to gain. As if the base game didn’t already have more replayability than most games I play, this ups the ante.
Designer: Vladimír Suchý
Price: $49.00 Amazon
I’ve been anticipating Pulsar 2849 since I heard of it mid-2017. I’ve also played a lot of different games in the last few years, and most of them take a couple plays to make a good opinion on.
About halfway through my first game of Pulsar, something deep in my bones told me this game would stay on my shelf and come to the table many, many times in future years.
A little bit of Castles of Burgundy and a little bit of Alien Frontiers, Pulsar puts players in charge of establishing energy rings around deep space pulsars. The goal is to gain as many victory points as possible. This is done in Feldian fashion by grabbing as many points from different sources as possible. Players can get points each round by activating gyrodynes on pulsars, establish transmitters for bonuses and points, collect cubes and try to fulfill end-game goals, patent technologies, and more.
Players don’t simply roll their dice and choose actions. One player rolls nine dice, a median is determined based on dice values, and then players snake draft dice from the pool. Depending on the modified median, the value of their chosen die will either bump them up or down on two important tracks (turn order and engineering). This means players are desperate for specific die values to take actions they need, but they have to take both tracks into consideration. Players can snag a bonus action on their turns if they play their dice right, but assuming players never get one, they will have exactly 16 turns in a game. This means each action has to be meaningful and move them closer to victory, otherwise their opponents can take the lead.
Blend engine-building with 4x, because players are not only taking actions to build points, but sending their space vessels to explore planetary systems to claim exploration points and pulsars. Patenting technologies and building up personal HQ trees are also critical. Players have a myriad of options available to them each round, no matter the die they’ve chosen.
As if each game didn’t already have enough exciting options and routes to victory, Pulsar provides countless options for variability. Basically every tableau, map, end-game tile, and tech tree has a backside, or unused tiles in the box. This means players can choose a variety of different avenues for gameplay. This can make individuals focus less on engineering cube production, and more on exploration. Or choose to travel to certain sides of the map instead of others.
I’m so impressed with Pulsar and if it’s not in heavy game of the year discussion for 2018, I’ll be supremely let down.
Thanks for tagging along with us through the vast reaches of unknown space.
Let us know in the comments below if you’ve enjoyed any of these games, or if you have a space title you wish was on the list!