Reviewed by Herb Levy
SPACE EXPLORERS (25th Century Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 20-40 minutes; $30)
In 1957, in the middle of the Cold War, the Soviet Union shocked the world with the launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. The ripples from this scientific achievement were astounding and the race for space was launched. It is this race that players will become a part of as they head a Research and Development Hub in a Space Research Center competing with others to complete the most projects and recruit the most effective team of scientists in Yuri Zhuravlev’s Space Explorers.
Each player has a “Hub board” (a two piece cardboard strip which, when connected, shows the colors and symbols of the five types of Specialists in the game). The deck of 60 Specialist cards is shuffled with six laid out in the center of the table to form a pool with one dealt to each player as a starting hand. Project tiles, one for each player plus 2, are randomly placed in a display next to the play area. Players also receive a set of “research tokens” (one in each of the five game colors) and a player aid sheet.
On a turn, one of two things may be done:
Take a Specialist into your hand – A player may choose one of the face up cards in the display OR draw the top card from the Specialist deck and add it to their hand. (There is no hand limit.) If at any time less than six cards are in the display area, a new card is immediately drawn to bring the display back to six.
Recruit a Specialist into your Hub – Specialist cards have a cost in skills (noted at the bottom left of a card) as well as a “specialty” (one or more of the five suits of the game). Some cards also have “powers” that can enhance your abilities.
When paying for a Specialist, you may use research tokens displayed on cards already in your Hub. Tokens held by a player may be used as well but when any are used, they are passed to the player on their left! If you still can’t meet the cost, you can always discard a card from your hand into the pool and receive 2 virtual tokens of any kind that must be immediately used in this recruitment. (No saving virtual tokens for later use allowed!) And the cost of a Specialist can diminish: you need one less skill, counting from the bottom of the card, for each Specialist of the same suit already in your hub. As the game progresses, it is possible to recruit additional Specialists at no cost at all! After drawing or recruiting, a player may purchase a Project.
From the array of Projects, a player may buy ONE on a turn. Projects cost a number of specific skills. A player’s Hub must contain those skills in order to claim it (and its Victory Points). Skills are not spent or lost, just used.
Play continues until either someone has 12 Specialists in his/her Hub OR all Projects have been purchased. That round is finished (so all have the same number of turns) and points, from purchased Projects and Specialist cards (including those with special, end of game, scoring abilities) are tallied. The player with the highest total of VPs wins! Tie? Then the most completed Projects held by a player determines the winner.
This is not the first design by Yuri Zhuravlev to make it to our pages as his Viceroy, another game of resource management, appeared in our Winter 2016 issue. But here, his background appears to have been an inspiration.
Zhuravlev was born in Ukraine and emigrated to Russia at age 6 and the Russian influence is evident in the game with its Soviet neo-realism style of art found on the cards. The artwork is certainly atmospheric of the Cold War competition for space dominance but the drab colors (another reference to Soviet lifestyle?) make determining blue from green more difficult than it should be, despite using different icons for each color.
Despite a very different theme, Space Explorers shows some resemblance to other recent releases including Splendor (Summer 2014 Gamers Alliance Report) as cards are bought to generate the “currency” to buy “Projects” (“Nobles” in Splendor). The key mechanism of a lessening of cost if you have cards of the same type in your holdings (found in other games such as this issues’s Hadara) is another element seen before. But it also shares an easy to understand character. Cards are numbered and a full player aid detailing each card’s powers are on hand for every player, a wonderful addition making easy reference as to what special power or ability a card may have. With every player having one, there is no need to constantly reference the rulebook for clarifications, the bane of many games. This keeps everything moving.
In weight and accessibility, Space Explorers fits comfortably into the same niche as Splendor which is a good space to fill making for a game well worth exploring. – – – – – – Herb Levy
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Other Winter 2020 GA Report articles