Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser
PULSAR 2849 (Czech Games Edition, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 120 minutes; $59.95)
Set in the future at the advent of an energy boom, Pulsar 2849 casts players as owners of rival corporations vying to build massive generators to capture and transmit this newfound energy across the vast distances of space. Players will race across the galaxies in attempts to harness this energy and ultimately establish an intergalactic financial empire.
Pulsar 2849 is designed by experienced Czech designer Vladimir Suchy, who is known for such other titles as League of Six, (Winter 2008 Gamers Alliance Report), Shipyard (Spring 2010 GAR) and Last Will (Winter 2012 GAR). The game offers yet another twist on the popular “dice” assignment mechanism, wherein players select dice and then use them to perform various actions. There is a wide variety of actions from which to choose, which can make teaching and learning the game a bit formidable at first. However, once a turn or two is played, the mechanisms are really fairly easy to grasp and the game plays smoothly.
The circular board depicts an array of planetary systems and pulsars connected by travel routes. Discs depicting 1 – 3 planets are placed face-down on each planetary system and will be revealed when players travel there. Numerous other boards are places around this main board, each housing various markers, technologies, incentives and/or dice.
Each turn the silver dice (7 or 9, depending upon the number of players) are rolled and grouped by number on the dice board. The median number is determined and indicated by placing the median marker on this space. Next, the marker is moved one space to the left or right, depending upon which side of this median space has more dice. It is possible for the marker to remain in the same space if both sides have an equal number of dice. The location of the median marker is critical when selecting dice.
In turn order, players select one die from the dice board and adjust one of their markers on the Initiative or Engineer tracks based on the position of the taken die in relation to the median marker. If the selected die is to the left of the median marker—meaning it will have a lower value—they move one of their markers to the left on one of the tracks. The number of spaces the marker moves is based on the location of the chosen die. For example, if the median marker is on the “4” space and the player selects a die with a value of “2”, he moves one of his track markers two spaces to the left. If, however, a player selects a die that is to the right of the median marker, he must move one of his track markers in a similar fashion, but to the right on one of the tracks. Thus, to secure a higher-valued die, which is usually more beneficial and offers more options to the player, he must lose ground on one of the tracks. This could ultimately result in the loss of victory points if a marker moves too far to the right.
So just what are these tracks? The Initiative track determines turn order each turn, while the Engineer track determines which players receive engineering cubes at the end of the turn. Going early in turn order gives a player first crack at preferred dice, while those engineering cubes are extremely useful in gaining extra actions and/or achieving scoring bonuses. Thus, players have an incentive in choosing high-valued dice so they have more options on their turn, but choosing low-value dice gives them more preferential positioning on the tracks, which gives considerable rewards. This can result in some very tough choices.
Once players have selected two dice apiece, in turn order they utilize these dice to perform various actions. Many actions require using a die with a specific value, with more benefits usually being derived from dice with high values. Players can earn tokens which allow them to modify the value of a die, usually up or down one or two pips. Being able to modify a die’s value gives some flexibility, which is always beneficial.
Flying Survey Ship. A player may move his spaceship a number of spaces equal to the value of the die he uses. This is an “exact count” movement system, so the full value of the die must be used. Fortunately, the various movement routes intersect, usually giving the player several movement options.
A player’s main incentives are to establish a presence on planets and/or claim pulsars in order to construct generators. When a player reaches a planetary system, he reveals the face-down tile and, if just passing through, may establish a presence on a “lifeless” (brown) planet by placing a marker there. If a player ends his turn on a planetary system, he may place a marker on the life-sustaining blue planet, if it is still available. Doing so allows the player to claim the “Exploration Bonus” depicted on each tile. These bonuses are always worthwhile, and can be engineering cubes, die modifier tokens, victory points and more.
Establishing a presence on a planet is important as victory points are earned at game’s end for the number of planets on which a player has established a presence. These points can be substantial, earning a player 50 or more points. Ignoring this aspect of the game can be very costly.
When a player terminates his movement on a pulsar, he may claim it by placing one of his construction rings around it. Subsequently, the player may construct a Gyrodyne tile there, but he must first acquire these tiles by using a die to claim one. Let’s see how one does that.
Acquiring a Gyrodine Tile. The player may spend one of his dice to acquire a Gyrodine tile. A player must use a die with a value of 1, 2 or 4, allowing him to take the corresponding token. These tiles have values of 1, 2 or 3 (depending upon the value of the die used) and are placed onto pulsars which the player has previously claimed (as described above). Later, the player must spend a die of the value depicted to flip the tile, thereby activating it. Activated gyrodines earn the player victory points each turn (1-3 points), so getting these constructed and activated early can yield a significant number of points throughout the course of the game.
Further, if a player is the first to construct two gyrodynes of the same type, he receives the matching bonus tile, which is worth 7 points. So, there is a bit of a race aspect.
Build an Energy Transmission Megastructure Array. Wow! That is a mouthful! Each turn there are three different transmitters available. These tiles generally give immediate and/or ongoing benefits. The player must expend one or more dice with the depicted values to acquire the tile. If the tile requires multiple dice, these can be assigned over multiple turns. Once the final die is allocated, the tile is inverted and the benefits depicted will be earned each turn. Further, these tiles can be aligned so that the die icons on the edges of the tiles form a complete die, thereby earning the player a “virtual” die that he can use immediately.
Patenting Technologies. Each game uses three “Technology” boards, each depicting several technologies. These become available as the game progresses. A player can allocate the required die to achieve the technology, which will grant immediate and/or ongoing benefits. Usually only one or two players can earn each technology, so there is a race to achieve these. The benefits derived can be quite useful, and properly integrating these into one’s strategies can prove formidable.
Buying a Die Modifier. As mentioned, these tokens can be used to increase or decrease the value of a die. These can be earned in a variety of fashions (bonuses, technologies, etc.), but one can also purchase them by allocating a die with a value of “1” or “2”.
Once all players have used their dice, the Production phase is conducted, wherein turn order is determined, engineering cubes earned, and points are earned for active Gyrodynes and certain technologies. Eight rounds are played in this fashion, after which final victory points are earned.
As mentioned, players earn points for having a presence on planets, the more the better. Points are also earned for certain technologies, engineering cubes, non-active gyrodynes and more. One of the main sources of end-game victory points are the three “Goal” tiles, which are known from the inception of the game. Each of these tiles provides a goal (five technologies, presence on nine planets, etc.). Further, players can spend engineering cubes to enhance the number of points earned, often tripling the number of points. So, earning and saving engineering cubes is a smart approach. Of course, the player with the most points not only wins the game, but gains renown for being the owner of a stellar intergalactic financial empire!
There are more aspects to the game, including the “Headquarters” aspect that is only recommended once players have a few games experience. This additional feature gives each player a headquarters board, whereupon they can place dice to earn bonuses and points, or do “game runs,” which provides incentives to move along certain paths. I am actually fine playing without this feature to be less cumbersome and just as much fun.
Pulsar 2849 is an intriguing game that gives players lots of options and forces them to make often tough decisions throughout its two hour duration. The choosing of the dice mechanism is very clever, as players would normally want to select dice with high values, but this usually causes them to regress on the Initiative and/or Engineering tracks. Regress too far and one will lose victory points and suffer the fate of either going last in turn order or receiving no engineering cubes – or both. Those engineering cubes can be used to use an extra die during a turn, or saved to enhance the end-game bonus points.
The choices one has regarding utilizing the dice are numerous, but not overwhelming. While at first glance some options seem more powerful, I have seen various approaches prove successful. I do think players must accumulate engineering cubes in order to double or triple the Goal card bonuses at game’s end, as failure to do this will likely lead to defeat. Other than this, it seems players have a variety of viable strategic paths that they can pursue.
My main concern is that the game does take a bit of time to explain. There are a lot of different facets, and each requires explaining and often demonstrating. It can be a bit of an information overload. As mentioned, however, once a turn or two is played, most of the rules are readily absorbed and the game proceeds at a nice pace with little consultation with the rulebook required.
Pulsar 2849 is an intriguing, challenging game that is fun two play. While I am not normally a fan of space themes, this one works well. The dice selection mechanism is clever, and the various choices and options plentiful, but not overwhelming. This is one of the better games to be released at the 2017 Spiel in Essen. – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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