Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
KEPLER-3042 (Placentia Games, 1-4 players, ages 14 and up, 60-120 minutes; $89.99)
Kepler-3042 is a Kickstarter project that has, as most successful Kickstarter games do, stepped into the normal boardgame market as well. It is from Placentia Games, a publisher of some really good games (starting with Florenza in 2010). The designer, Simone Cerruti Sola, is a new name for the games market. I’m always been thrilled by 4X games. Actually I am also thrilled by 3X, 2X, X or, in general, space-themed games so I was happy to try the prototype and, after the release, play the full game.
The year is 3042 and the humanity is read to explore the stars. The most interesting celestial bodies nearby have been studied for centuries, and the best candidates for exploration and colonization have been identified. […] A peaceful competition has begun as they send their starships in the cosmos. […] Kepler is a game of exploration and colonization,
Manage limited resources with everchanging strategies in this game where space discovery and future meet real science.
These few sentences, taken from the rulebook and Kickstarter page, form the basis of the game: resource management, exploration and colonization with no strong player vs player interaction. Kepler-3042 is about space exploration and in this game, you have to try to get points by sending your ships exploring the galaxy and colonizing new planets.
Kepler-3042 is a 16 turn game and you can colonize at most 5 planets and have, at most, 3 ships in play. It is a tight game where all decisions are important and you need to plan your strategies carefully. Points are also earned for terraforming your planets from antimatter resources, from colonial and technological leadership, for discovered techs and, finally for fulfilling the requirements of a secret objective card.
The hex-gridded map displays the sun, a black hole and 20 stars. Most of the hexes in the map, like in the real world, are empty space and reaching them and the nearest stars quite time consuming. At the bottom of the map are Colonial and Technology leaderships tracks. In the beginning, an amount of face-down celestial bodies are placed near the stars hexes almost randomly. This is enough to offer something different from game to game preventing the developing of a “perfect” strategy.
Every player starts the game with 3 “matters” and 3 energy cubes. Resources are the engine needed for almost everything and are mostly collected from your planets. During the game you can get more, get antimatter cubes, spend and burn them. Resources are limited so managing them to your best advantage is important.
Turns are divided into 3 phases: reveal a Progress Card, the individual player turn and end phase. The revealed Progress Card will affect the end phase of the turn. You have a full turn to deal with the card requirements: sometimes enough to react, sometimes just a matter of luck. You can’t really depend too much on Progress Cards. Since there are 18 in the deck and only 16 are used, you can’t know if and when a specific card will be revealed. This is actually the only random thing in the game.
During your turn, you can take one main action (from the 9 possible) and you can burn 1-2 resources to take one or two of the corresponding bonus actions. Finally, you will move your ships. Typical actions include mapping the galaxy, building ships, getting resources, developing new technologies, colonizing and terraforming planets.
In the beginning, the galaxy is almost unknown. During the game, face-down hexes are revealed which can be planets (most), mines or colonial targets. Planets can be colonized (every planet will offer a different amount of points/resources/colony bonuses) and mines can be mined. Almost all planets (apart for the four alien ones) can be colonized but you need the right knowledge in terraforming technology to terraform most of them.
A different action must be chosen each turn. That means you can’t do the same action two turns in a row. Most of the actions, including developing, can be performed multiple times in the same turn so you need to plan your actions well to make sure needed resources are at hand. Possible actions are displayed on the player board in a 3 x 3 grid. Every action belongs to a specific column and row which determines the two bonus actions you can perform: Space Missions is in the Space Logistics column and Civil Modernity row so “Space Logistic” and “Civil Modernity” are the two bonus actions you can choose. The right choice between technologies developing and the other actions is another interesting feature of the game.
Research is a central part of Kepler-3042. You can’t win without researching. What and when is a matter of strategy. You can research in 5 different fields and each field has 5 levels. Getting level 5 in one field will offer you points in the end of the game. Research will cost you resources (energy, material and anti-matter) that you can acquire from colonies and planets or by actions.
Space Travels (to be able to reach distant stars before your opponents) or terraforimng (being able to colonize important planets) are abilities worth getting as soon as you can. You need to research antimatter science, to have access to this important resource or Quantum Physics, to be able to change energy to matter and vice-versa. How resources actually work is another good idea of this game.
You have a fixed limited number of resources you can produce. Every time you spend resources, they are again available to get produced. Using bonus actions will burn resources that will be not available any more for production (you have just 1-2 possibilities to get back these burned resources during the game but it is not easy). On the other hand, bonus actions are helpful in quick development. How much and how often to use bonus actions and burning resources are yet other difficult choices.
Colonization of planets is the most important road to get resources and points. Every planet will offer some resources you can get with the Planetary Exploitation action. Terraformed planets use resources and an action but then will produce more resources and points.
The Colonial and Technological tracks are the last core mechanism of this game. Player are racing in these tracks using actions (and bonus actions) to advance. Some progress cards also affect these tracks. Being the first to reach some level in these tracks will offer medals (points) and some levels will offer extra resources. You have to keep an eye on these tracks to be able to get points/resources. Letting a single player achieve total dominance is risky.
I have enjoyed all my Kepler-3042 sessions. The game has a solid design that offers a lot of choices with almost no randomness. This game demands a long-time planned strategy and, apart for the race in the technological and colonial tracks and the colonization of a few planets, it lacks player interaction.
The different positions of the planets and the appearance of the Progress cards (which and when) will offer enough variety and replayability to a game focused on long time planning. The objective card you get in the beginning will also impact upon your strategy. Despite the science fiction theme, this is a German style game with few concessions to the American style of play. Mechanisms win against theme in Kepler-3042 but the mechanisms fit well with the theme and the overall production (including arts and materials) is great. Kepler-3042 is another hit from Placentia Games – – – – – – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
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