Reviewed by Herb Levy

SPACE BASE (Alderac Entertainment Group [AEG], 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; $39.99)


In the future when space travel becomes a recognized part of our lives, cargo ships, transporting valuable and needed goods throughout the planetary systems, will be critical. In this new game from designer John D. Clair, players command a fleet of those cargo ships to generate money, build colonies and expand influence in a race to be the “commanding commander” (with at least 40 Victory Points) in Space Base.

All players begin with an individual “Command Console” (playing board) with 12 slots or “sectors” (numbered 1 through 12) for ships and three scoring tracks: one for “credits” (money), one for minimum income and one for Victory Points. There are also three decks of “ship upgrades”, Levels 1, 2 and 3, and six from each deck placed in separate displays in the play area. There are also 12 Colony cards, arranged in their own display. Everyone starts with the same basic set of 12 ships which are numbered and placed in the matching slots on their Command Console. 

Cubes are put on each scoring track: gold (on the credits track) on space 5 with green (noted by a planet) on the minimum income track and blue (rockets) to chart accumulated Victory Points starting at 0. All players randomly draw a Level 1 card, pay its specified cost (lowering the money cube accordingly) and add it to their display. The player who drew the highest sector card becomes the first player.  The 2nd player now adds 1 credit to their total, the 3rd gets 2 credits with the 4th and 5th player gaining 1 planet (upping their minimum income).

All fleet cards have certain shared characteristics: a price (found in the upper left in a gold circle) and a number (upper right) which indicates which sector that ship must occupy once bought. All ships will produce a benefit or ability: blue (available only on the active player’s turn), red (available only on ANOTHER player’s turn) or green (indicating an ability that may be used on ANY turn). On a turn, the active player rolls two six sided dice.  The numbers rolled determine which sectors will generate benefits. 

Numbers rolled may be used in one of two ways: as separate numbers OR as the total. (For example, if 3 and 4 are rolled, a player may collect the benefits found in slots 3 AND 4 OR the benefits bestowed by slot 7. Generally, higher numbered cards offer better rewards although numbers from 1 to 6 will come up more frequently when rolling two six sided dice. ) Benefits may be additional credits to spend or a bump in your minimum income, some Victory Points and more. After gathering benefits, a player may buy 1 card.

Players may purchase any card on the board they can afford. Bought cards replace the card occupying the denoted slot. The card displaced is then rotated 180 degrees and slipped UNDERNEATH its slot on the board so that only the red portion of the card is visible. That card is considered “deployed”. From that point on, if ANOTHER player rolls that number, the player receives the benefits shown on the red portion of that card. Only one card may occupy a slot on that player’s console but there is no limit as to how many cards may be deployed in a slot.  (Cards are replaced but not eliminated. Although the red effects are generally less than their blue effects, red effects accumulate.)

At the start of the game, generating income can be slow but, as cards are purchased and deployed, credits start to be earned and better cards bought. No matter how much a card costs, making a buy means spending ALL of your credits. The gold cube goes all the way down to the level of the green cube which is why raising your minimum income is so important. It is the equivalent of earning a discount on your purchase and also makes buying more expensive (and more powerful) cards easier. Now what about those green effects?

Unlike “rewards” (such as more credits, a bump in minimum income, additional VPs), green effects are “abilities” that can be extremely useful. They (as well as some of the attributes of the other colors) require a “charge” to make them usable, a charge indicated by placing a clear cube on the denoted space when that particular number is rolled. When a card is fully “charged” (a condition that may require one or more clear cubes), the ability of the card may be used without the necessity of rolling a specific number with the stipulation already mentioned: blue effects can only be done when you are the active player, red effects only when another player is the active player and green effects no matter whose turn it is.

There are many different types of abilities. Some charged cards allow you to claim more than 1 card on a turn and add it to your board. Others allow you to modify a dice roll to claim bigger and better benefits. There is even a card that will give a player an automatic win – IF you manage to charge it sufficiently AND roll the appropriate number! (Not an easy task but not impossible either. In a recent and closely contested game, one player attempted to get as many cards as possible that lavished credits and VPs when triggered. Another sought to maximize minimum income to make more and more valuable purchases. Yet a third built an engine of abilities that enabled charges to be gotten, deployed AND modify dice rolls to make that automatic win happen – and it did just before the other two were about to claim victory!)

As the game progresses, players will start to buy the expensive Colonies. These cards offer a nice chunk of Victory Points but they cover their specified slot so that that particular slot will no longer generate benefits for the active player. The red part of that slot, however, does still generate. For this reason, timing your Colony purchases is yet one more critical decision to make.

In Space Base, every dice roll means different things to each player.  As you deploy more and more cards to their red side, you have a vested interest in EVERY turn and start “rooting” for your opponents to roll the numbers that best benefit you! This keeps everyone constantly engaged and virtually eliminates any down time. 

Play continues until one player meets or exceeds 40 VPs. That round is finished which means even inactive players may end up earning additional VPs as the round winds down. At that point, the player with the most VPs is the victor. 

Although an ample number of cards and abilities can be found in the base game, an expansion: Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto ($29.99) has been released. This expansion is done in a narrative form (a sort of “legacy” style of play) in which items are “revealed” as the story unfolds so players are gradually introduced to new cards that may be added to the base game. 

Clair has also designed the well regarded Mystic Vale (featured in the Summer 2016 Gamers Alliance Report) and although the themes are vastly different (fantasy vs. science fiction), Space Base and Mystic Vale share some elements. You have a limited amount of cards/slots to deal with. (In Mystic Vale, your deck size never exceeds 20; in Space Base, only 12 sectors are available for additional ships). You are enhancing rather than replacing cards. No “trashing” of cards in either game. And, of course, both games have no “take that” as they encourage (actually, demand) the focus be on you creating your own engine (rather than disabling someone else’s) to power your way to victory. 

For those looking for a game that combines a fresh and exciting way to roll dice, engine build and explore multiple viable strategies to victory while still managing to scale well with any number of players, Space Base is the place! Highly recommended! – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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