Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

SCORPIUS FREIGHTER (Alderac Entertainment Group [AEG], 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 45-75 minutes; $59.99)


It’s been almost 100 years since the Scorpius system was settled. Sentients came from everywhere to start a new life, following their dreams of prosperity and adventure. The truth was less idyllic since the Government controls almost everything. A few bold freighter pilots use the system against itself, fueling the revolution. This is the world created by Matthew Dunstan and David Short, designers with several other games in the top 2000 of BGG including Elysium,  Relic Runners and Pioneer Days (featured last issue) so I was quite interested to see what they have done with Scorpius Freighter

Every player, using his crew and freighter, is trying to get “reputation points” smuggling, passing information and helping people until at least one of the three government’s motherships has confiscated enough amount of cargo to trigger the end game. During the game you will upgrade your freighter with new technologies or extra storage spaces, load cargo and deliver it to complete contracts and side deals and improve your crew members’ abilities.

The main board displays three planets surrounded by six spaces, each one with a different action. Each planet has a mothership moving around it in a clockwise direction. Moving a mothership on an action box activates the specific action. When a mothership makes a full round,  a cargo cube is confiscated, approaching the end game. You have to think along the lines of the rondel engine popularized by Mac Gerdts: the innovative element here is that you have to choose which one of the 3 different motherships to move so you are actually playing on three different rondels at the same time. There are also spaces for various tiles: storage, equipment, side deals and contracts.

Every player will start with a crew of four member (cards), a freighter board and three tiles on it: a Cockpit, a Lock Box and a Hidden Compartment. There are seven different crews to choose from. How to choose tiles and crews can vary from standard to advanced game rules.

The game is played in rounds and each round, every player takes turns in clockwise order.

During your turn, you have to assign (use) one or two crew members and than move one mothership clockwise that number of spaces around a planet, performing the action displayed on the space where the ship is ending the move. The assigned members are not available in the following turn. If you have one or fewer crew members still available, you “refresh”,  getting all four members available again for your next turn.

When choosing your action, you have to consider many factors. First of all, which action do you want to activate? The three planets are different: the first one mainly involves improving your freighter with increased storage capacity or upgrades; the second one is about operating and loading cargo; the third one, getting side deals and contracts. The second thing you have to consider is which crew cards to use since you will perform the chosen action using only the skill of the crew members still available (usually just one skill for each crew) or on upgrade tiles on your freighter. Since you can only move a mothership just one or two steps, not all the actions are always available on your turn. Think wisely on what other players are doing to plan a good long-term strategy. Last but not least, you have to be aware that being the one to complete a mothership’s circuit around a planet will cost you a cube of cargo (confiscated by the government).

Contracts or Side Deals are your main sources for reputation points and you need cargo cubes to do that. Cargo cubes come in four different type (colors): data (grey), meds (pink), goods (green) and credits (orange) and require different storage facilities on your ship. You have to build up your freighter by loading the right cargo to complete deals and contracts.

There are always four upgrade tiles, four storage tiles, four contracts tiles and four deals available and which and how many you can choose is related to the skill point you have for the action. The different cockpit tiles and crew cards will shape a different strategy each game. At the end of the turn, all the tiles are replenished back to four. 

There are different actions available. Make a Side Deal lets you complete from one to four side deals with everyone requesting one or two cargo cubes. Fulfill a Contract is a bit more complicated but more remunerative. You can have only one active contract. Every contract has three sections, each one requesting two or three cargo cubes. Once completed, a contract will give you some special benefit. Pick Up Cargo lets you get one cargo cube for each tile in a storage area on your freighter. A storage area is a number of adjacent storage tiles of the same type. You can load a number of different storage areas up to your skill value.  How to build up your freighter is a big part of the game and you can do it with the Expand Storage action: making big storage areas can optimize your “picking up” performance. Upgrading Freighter lets you improve your ship with an Equipment tile that can give you permanent benefits or be activated via the Operate Freighter action. Finally, you can improve your crew with the Meet Informant action using credits (orange cubes).  Every crew card has a reverse, “experienced”, side with a different ability that will be available when promoting the crew with this action.

The end game is triggered when one of the three motherships has confiscated enough goods (four for a two player game, five with three players and six with four players). Then, a final round is played and the game is over. Reputation points are gotten for Side Deals, Completed Contracts and cargo cubes on your freighter (1 point for cube). High score wins!

This game is simple but challenging. You have to consider many factors to develop your strategy and there is no real randomness. The game works well with two and three players. With four players, the game still works but you get a bit less control because, from one turn to another,  three players are acting and the map (motherships’ positions and available tiles) can change a lot. The turns are always quick so downtime is not a problem. In the advanced game you can create the crews with a draft system and use the other side of the freighter board with some “restricted access” spaces where building is not possible.

Despite the barely themed introduction, Scorpius Freighter is a well-done resource management game where the space theme is present and enhanced by the materials and illustrations. This game deserves attention from the gamers’ community and I’m sure it will continue to hit my table many more times.  – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

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

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