Reviewed by: Pevans

(Asmadi Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 13 and up, 15-20 minutes per player; $30)

“The impulse is an only child, he’s waiting in the park…” I don’t know what it is, but the title of this game starts Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” running through my head… just me, then. I’d better tell you about the game.

Impulse is designed by Carl Chudyk – the man behind Glory to Rome and Innovation – which was enough for me to grab a copy. It’s published by Asmadi Games, who also did Innovation, so there’s a good pedigree on this side too.

impulse1Impulse comes in the same smallish rectangular box as Innovation and is essentially a double-size deck of cards plus some neat rocket-ship playing pieces. This is the Carl Chudyk take on space empires: exploring space, developing planets and coming into conflict with the other players. This being a Carl Chudyk game, each player gets their own little board (“Command Center”) with positions around this for cards that are performing specific functions. And, of course, each card can be several different things depending on where it’s placed or how it’s used.

To start with, both sides of every card show six “connectors”: two on each long side and one on the short sides. Adjacent connectors on two cards form a gate, allowing spaceships to move between the cards (= star systems). The first use of (some) cards, then, is face down as the sector of space the players will be exploring and fighting over. The cards are laid out in the equivalent of a hexagonal grid with a special card, the sector core, face-up in the centre.

Players start with a “home” system (a face-up card) at a corner of the laid out cards, the precise positions depending on the number of players. They pick up the face-down card at their starting position and add it to their hand. Then they chose a card from their hand and play it face up in the vacated space. This is a neat way of reducing the amount of luck involved in who gets what card as their home system. The same mechanism is used when exploring the sector. Rather than just turning over the card they’ve moved onto, players add the card to their hand and then fill the space with a card from their hand. This way, players have some control, but are still limited by the cards available to them.

When face up, each card has a colour, a size (1-3 “gem” icons) and, independently, an action type (such as “Build”, allowing a player to build ships). The precise effect of the action is given by a text box at the bottom of the card: “Build 1 [spaceship] at home”, for example. Cards with a larger size are more powerful, such as: “Build 1 [spaceship] at a location you occupy”.

The rocket pieces can be used as two types of spaceship. “Transports” are unarmed, stand on their tails and move from the centre of a card through a gate to the centre of an adjacent card. When a player’s Transports land on a card, they activate the action shown, and then “occupy” that card. Rockets lying on their side are “Cruisers”. These are warships and are always positioned on a gate, moving from gate to gate across a card. From here they “patrol” both cards connected by the gate and prevent other players’ transports from entering. Cruisers moving across a card patrolled by another player’s cruisers must move to the other player’s gate and start a battle.

impulse2Combat is resolved by drawing cards – one for each cruiser in the battle – and adding up the gem icons on the cards. Players may also use cards from their hands, as long as they match (in size and colour) a card in the player’s display or the “Impulse” (which I’ll come back to). This is one of the many things to keep an eye on during the game: do you have any cards in hand that you could use in a fight? The loser of the battle loses all their ships involved and both sides discard the cards they used.

Having mentioned the Impulse, I’d better explain it. This is a row of cards showing the actions players will get to perform in their turn and the order in which they do them. The first thing you do in your turn is add a card to the end of the Impulse. Then you carry out – if you can – each action shown, ending with the card you just played. At the end of your turn, you reduce the Impulse row to three cards by discarding the oldest.

Since you know your opponents will also get the chance to use the action you play, choosing a card to play requires some thought. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the others can’t take advantage of the card. Or can they? The other thing to note is that, in a three-player game, you’ll get the use of the card twice, while the others can only use it once. (With four players everybody uses each card once, of course.) This is another clever mechanism. You want actions that you can use to your advantage, but you need to be careful about setting up a strong sequence of actions for the next player. I have to say that I don’t bother analysing this too far, concentrating mainly on what I can make good use of.

I’ve already mentioned the Build action type. The other obvious one is “ommand”, which lets players move ship(s), potentially exploring new cards or starting a fight! “Draw” lets you add cards to your hand (to the maximum of ten). “Execute” lets players use the action on a card as a one-off. “Sabotage” destroys other players’ spaceships without the risks of a fight.

“Mine” turns cards into “Minerals”. The cards are tucked under the left hand side of your Command Center board so that the gem icons are visible. Minerals give a boost to any card of the same colour whose action you use. Thus a “Move 1 ship” card might become “Move 2 ships”. Alternatively, Minerals can be converted to victory points using the “Refine” action while the “Trade” action lets you convert cards direct from your hand into points. And then there is “Plan”.

The Plan action lets you place cards in a row on the right hand side of your board – your plan. After carrying out the actions in the Impulse on your turn, you may (must if there are four cards in it) carry out the actions in your plan. In effect, this gives you a additional series of actions – like the Impulse – but that are only available to you. Given the vagaries of what turns up in the Impulse, this can be really powerful. However, it’s not something you’ll get to do too often in a game.

Having mentioned victory points, I’d better explain how to win. A separate board tracks players’ “prestige” points and the first to 20 wins the game immediately. Actually collecting points is a bit harder. To start with, you score one point each turn for each gate at the sector core that is occupied by your cruisers. This makes moving a cruiser to the core a useful early move. It may only be one point a round, but it quickly provides a lead over those who haven’t done this.

I’ve already mentioned that the refine and trade actions convert cards into points. However, most points are likely to come from blowing up other players’ spaceships! It’s one point per ship destroyed (and transports are dead meat once any defending cruisers have been dealt with) plus a point for winning a battle. This makes sabotage doubly useful. Not only does it clear other players’ ships out of the way, but you get points for them as well!

There is one action that I haven’t mentioned yet and that is “Research”. Each Command Center board has two “Techs” printed at its bottom corners – in effect, additional actions. Before activating the Impulse each turn, players get the free use of one of their Techs. And Research lets you replace these with cards, depending on just which Research card you’re using.

Phew! There is a lot going on in this game and it’s not at all clear what the strategy should be. There are certainly plenty of points to be gained by winning battles. Doing this requires plenty of cruisers, command actions to move them and the right cards in hand to win the fights. So you’ll also need ways of getting these. Alternatively, mining cards boosts the power of your actions, letting you make more of the cards you have. Refine or trade will convert cards to points. And then there are those sabotage cards…

However, there’s a limit to how much planning you can do. You are always limited by what the cards in the Impulse and your Techs let you do – though this may involve getting additional actions from cards you move transports onto, your hand and, of course, your Plan. Hence, Impulse is a much more tactical game than strategic. It’s about making the best use of the cards available to you each turn, something you don’t know exactly until the start of your turn. Building a plan adds a more strategic element, but depends on getting “Plan” actions to do this.

I find Impulse an odd mixture. On the one hand, it’s a card game so there is the inherent chaos of drawing cards randomly from the deck. On the other, the designer’s intent seems to be to provide a more measured, strategic game, one where players carefully analyze the opportunities provided by the Impulse and studiously plan what they’re going to do. For me, it’s much more about taking advantage of the cards available turn by turn than trying to plan for the whole game.

Having said that, it’s taking me some time to get to grips with Impulse – just as I initially found Glory to Rome hard work. So far, I have played the game with 3-4 players and this seems to provide a decent game. I’m not sure I’d want to play with 5-6. The playing area is the same size, so conflict will start much more quickly as players have very little neutral ground to expand into. The rules do provide for playing in teams, which might well be the way to go with a large number of players. All in all, I expect to be playing Impulse quite a bit more and give it 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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