Circadians: First Light
You play as a group of human explorers in deep space, who have made contact with alien life. Now you must do your best to survive and work with the indigenous life forms, while trying to grow your base and get the most points at the end of 8 rounds.
The Circadians are famed space explorers from Earth; lightyears from home they find the planet Ryh full of alien tribes and decide to put down roots. Players will lead their team of researchers as they build, trade, farm, and interact with locals. To the stars we go!
Circadians: First Light is a dice-rolling worker-placement game that sees players trying to get the most points from researching, harvesting, and expanding their base. It isn’t a 4X game due to the lack of combat and, though a case could be made for the “Harvest” phase being somewhat like exploration, I would disagree. Players draft dice from a) farms, to get resources, or b) their garage, to place them on different boards that advance their game objectives.
Each of the eight rounds starts with the top Event card being flipped over. Whether good or bad, the effects of an Event can drastically change a player’s strategy for that round, from making it hard or impossible to use certain stations to making the costs dramatically lower. Then players will roll their dice behind their screens, and assign them. (I really liked that the player screens looked like you were looking out the windshield of your rover on the planet’s surface.) Once everyone has assigned their dice, players take turns moving their dice that were in the Garage out to other places on the board, where they can take actions.
The Negotiation board is one of the best ways to get more points, and can have positive or negative side effects. Dice do not come back from this board, or from the Depository. Playing dice at the Depository lets you spend resources to play a card from your hand. Headquarters lets you “action” your die first in the next round. The Mining camp lets you harvest gems, but makes you do Algebra to do it (least favorite action space). Placing a matched pair of dice at the Laboratory will let players purchase new farms, and actioning dice at the Foundry will earn you upgrades for your garage. Placing dice at the Control Room is how you move your harvester – the number of the die determines direction. In addition, the Market lets you trade resources with the supply, and the Academy is the easiest way to get new dice. If it seems like there are a LOT of possible actions each round, then you are correct.
Now for the downside – my biggest beef is with the art. I feel like it inhabits the uncanny valley. It isn’t as realistic as, say Terraforming Mars, but it isn’t quite as cartoony as Space Base. It’s not too jarring when looking at the bases or components, but the humans and aliens look like they’re starring in someone’s first web comic. There’s something to be said for style but I felt like the cartoon feel clashed with the heavier game play. However, on the component side, I really liked the little wooden pieces for algae, power, water, and gems. They could have easily gone with wood cubes and just make the players know by color but by having distinct shapes, they make it easier to distinguish.
The theme and the endgame also don’t really jive for me – if we’re really a group of explorers all from the same group and planet Earth, why are we competing and not cooperating? In Terraforming Mars you’re playing as different corporations, who want the same end goal but also want to see their brand come out on top, so that makes complete sense. Other than “because people are greedy,” I’m not sure why the humans of Circadians are not working together. It ends up feeling like you’re just working to get the most points because it’s a game.
There are a lot of things Circadians does right, but too often it feels like one step forward, two steps back (plus your die roll minus three water). Unless you’re looking for a crunchy game with long, slow turns while everyone pores over their options, I would probably recommend Alien Frontiers or Lords of Waterdeep. Both do a much better job in my opinion of giving players options without overwhelming them.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
+ High replayability
+ Many paths to victory
+ Able to manipulate dice
- Artwork doesn't fit the difficulty
- Setup described as "easy" then takes 19 steps
- Almost too many options; AP is a real possibility
- Mining Camp station makes you do basic Algebra