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Onward to Venus

Reviewed by: Chris Kovac

(Treefrog/Asmodee, 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 90-120 minutes; $49.99)

onward1Onward to Venus (the full name being Dr. Grordbort’s Onward to Venus) is a two to five player light area control gamers’ game designed by veteran game designer Martin Wallace and put out by Treefrog Games. The game has a steam punk fantasy theme based on Greg Broadmores fantasy world of 19th century colonial empires setting out on steam powered atomic spaceships armed with ray guns to conquer the various inhabitable planets of the solar system (think John Carter Warlord of Mars meets Queen Victoria).

To set up the game, you first have to lay out the inhabitable moons and planets of the solar system in order: Mercury, Venus, Earth-Moon, Mars, Ganymede, Titan and the Kuiper Belt. Each planet has two or three sets of victory points to be awarded at the end of the game and a possible event activated by crisis tiles (more on both later). Each player will choose one of the five empires (Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the United States) and get $12 in starting cash, a set of empire pieces of the relevant color which include Infantry, Tank, spaceship, factory and mine tiles and finally four starting cards of the relevant empire (plus two randomly dealt cards from the general card deck). Each player then puts two spaceships and four troops in orbit around Earth as well as one factory on Earth. Finally, you randomly determine the start player and give him the first player marker. You can now start the game.

The game will be played over three periods with each period having six phases:

In phase one, you put pass cubes on the pass card equal to the number of players plus two. Any cubes you take from the card during a period using the pass action are returned to the card for the next period.

In phase two, you seed the planets with a number of game tiles drawn randomly from the game bag and placed face up on the planet. The number drawn depends on the planet and number of players in the game.

In phase three, actions are performed, one at a time starting with the start player. Most can usually be supplemented by cards from a player’s hand. Cards are either action cards, benefit cards (cards which augment an action like extra moves) or combat cards which add to your strength in claiming certain tiles (see action 2). These actions are:

1. Move military units (which can be any combination of infantry and spaceships) from orbit around one planet up to two planets away. You cannot add or drop off units along the way. Also you cannot move tanks between planets unless you play a “move tanks” card. If you move only one space, you can perform the claim tile action.

2. Claim a tile on a planet. There are seven types of tiles: factory, mine, tension, crises, big game, get two cards and get three money. Factory, big game, get cards and get money tiles are undefended tiles and you can get them by simply landing a single unit on the planet from orbit (landed units cannot be used for the rest of the turn except in defense). You get the money and cards right away, discarding the tile while with the factory tile you simply put one of your factories on the planet you took the tile from. Mine, tension and crisis tiles are defended tiles. Mine and crisis tiles have a grey defense number on them. You roll the three dice and keep the highest and lowest dice (the skull and crossbones is worth zero). The difference between these two dice is then added to the defense of the tile. Furthermore, for every skull and crossbones rolled, you have to take a casualty from the units involved in the assault. You then have to land a number of units from orbit onto the planet equal to or greater than this strength (tanks are worth two strength points, infantry one strength point) supplemented by any combat related cards you have in your hand to take the tile. Mine tiles you replace with one of your mines and crisis tiles are worth one point at the end of the game. Tension tiles allow you take a mine or factory of an existing player. However the base defense number for tiles is equal to the strength of the units the opposing player has both in orbit and on the planet (spaceships/troops worth one defense point and tanks two defense points) plus the usual roll of the dice. The attacker as with the other defended tiles can use cards to supplement his attack.

onward23. Perform an action on a card if the card is an action card. Free action cards can be played along with a regular action.

4. Build up to two military units in orbit around any planet you have a factory and/or Earth. Spaceships cost four dollars, tanks three dollars and infantry two dollars. You can build tanks and spaceships around any planet with a factory but infantry only around earth.

5. Take a pass where you remove a black cube from the pass card and take a card from the deck. The person who takes the last cube from the pass card ends the action phase of this period and takes the starting player marker for the next period.

In phase four you have crisis resolution. You roll the three dice and keep any which come up with the death’s head on it. You then add one die to any crisis tile with a skull and crossbones starting with Mercury and ending with the Kuiper Belt. You keep doing this until all the dice are used. You then check the crisis level of each planet (number of crisis tiles plus crisis dice) and see if any planetary event occurs (listed on the planet) and how strong the events effect is. A level one event usually has few if any effects while level three and four events can eliminate units or even, in the case of the Earth event, make players lose the game.

In phase five, you collect money: $2 for every factory and $3 for every mine.

In phase six, you reset the military pieces by moving them all into orbit around there respective planets. You then start a new period.

At the end of three periods, the game ends and you score the planets. Starting with Mercury and ending with the Kuiper Belt, you add up all your factories and mines. The person with the highest economic total (factories worth two and mines worth three) gets the highest number of economic points on the planet, the second most the second highest number, etc. Ties drop the score one level lower (I.e. if tied for first place, the two tied players both get the second place score). You add any big game and crisis tiles you have won during the course of the game to these points and the player with the highest total wins the game. Ties are resolved through a series of tie breakers.

In order to win Onward to Venus, you have make sure you spread out your forces yet try and make sure at the end of the game you are in at least first or second place for planet points on at least one or more planets. You need to balance the crises to some degree as well because if they build up to much they can lead to serious negative consequences on some planets. However the game does have some flaws which prevent me from calling it a great game.

First, the pass action which ends the round is fairly weak. Most of the time, this is only taken when no more tiles can possibly be taken off a planet resulting in some period’s action phases going on longer than necessary as the players try to get every last scoring tile. Also, at the end of the game in the last period, you often do not have much to do after all point tiles have been taken. All the military units count for no points at the end which is a bit odd (you kind of expect some points for all that building of military units).

Onward to Venus is a good game with well written rules and good solid game play. I would suggest this game if you are interested in a moderate complexity gamers’ game for players who like Ameritrash-Euro hybrids. A 7.5 out of ten.


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