The conquest of space was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.
In 1957, the first satellite - named Sputnik 1- was launched into orbit. Just four years later, Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space, aboard the spaceship Vostok 1.
This game is dedicated to the early space explorers: all the outstanding people who worked to make space travel possible. As Yuri Gagarin said at the moment of his launch: “Let's go!”
You are the head of a Research & Development Hub in a Space Research Center, competing with other such Hubs in the spirit of the Golden Age of Astronautics. Your goal is to complete large- scale space projects by gathering the best and brightest minds humanity has to offer.
Thanks to your efforts, satellites, manned spaceships, and orbital stations will be launched into space!
You score Progress points by recruiting Specialists and completing Projects. The game ends when all available Projects are completed, or you have recruited 12 Specialists to your Hub. The player who made the most Progress is the winner!
Card drafting, Tableau building
Space Explorers is a game of card drafting and tableau building that takes place in the golden age of astronautics. It is quick-playing, clocking in at around 10 minutes per player, and it has strategic nuances that make the experience deeper than one might expect.
Space Explorers looks pretty unassuming. It comes in a smallish box which, though beautifully illustrated with an evocative 1960’s aesthetic, contains little more than a deck of cards and a handful of tokens.
In this game, players represent teams of researchers in the Space Race era. They take turns gaining and playing scientist cards, and in doing so, they build up an engine that makes their tableau stronger, and other scientists more affordable.
At the start of the game, 6 scientist cards are dealt to the center to form a card market.
Each card bears a point value, a skill (colored circle icon), and a recruitment cost (series of colored square icons). Players begin with 1 card in hand, as well as a set of 5 colored tokens, 1 in each of the game’s 5 colors. These tokens are the game’s “currency.”
The goal of Space Explorers is to earn the most points. A player’s turn consists of either:
- Taking a card from the market or deck and adding it to his/her hand, or
- Playing a card from the market or his/her hand to his/her tableau.
There is no cost to take a card, but playing it requires the tokens shown on its lower-left side. In the example card market shown above, the cards range in price from a single green and a single purple token to a whopping 3 blue and 3 red tokens. (Notice, however, that the more expensive card is worth 4 points, and the less expensive is worth 0.) Interestingly, when a player purchases a card, the tokens used to buy it are passed to the neighboring player, rather than being returned to a central “bank” as they would be in many other games.
The circular skill icon(s) indicates the column in which the card must be placed. Each successive card in a column is placed on top of the previous one. This means that, after a while, players’ tableaus will start to look like this:
Whenever a player adds a scientist card to his/her tableau, each card already in its column subtracts 1 token from its cost. Starting with the bottom-most icon and moving upwards, each existing card negates an icon, meaning that that token does not need to be spent. As an example, if a player already had 3 cards in a column and then took a card of the same color that cost 3 tokens, the card would be free, since each icon would be paid for by an earlier card.
Additionally, a player can discard a card, returning it to the center, in place of any 2 tokens when purchasing a scientist. Essentially, each discarded card is worth 2 “wild” tokens.
Many cards offer special abilities, as well, which are shown in the bottom-right corner. A card’s ability becomes active when it is first placed in a player’s tableau, and remains in effect as long as it stays the topmost card in that column. However, if the player should ever add another card to the column, such that the ability gets covered up, it is no longer available to be used.
At some point in the game, a player may possess enough cards to take a tile from the middle.
Every tile bears a point value and a skill requirement to take it. As an example, the Gemini IV, shown above, costs 2 blue, 2 green, 2 yellow, and 2 red skill icons in order to earn it. If a player has the requisite skills, he/she may take a tile for free, once per turn.
The game end is triggered either when a player has 12 cards in his/her tableau, or when all the vessel tiles have been claimed from the center. At this time, the player with most points wins!
When my group first tried Space Explorers, we were unsure how we felt about it. We recognized that it was well-designed, but we didn’t know if we actually liked it or not. During our next couple plays, we started to explore its metagame a bit more, and its underlying strategies became more apparent.
As an example, the cards that offer extra resources are hugely helpful in building up a tableau, but ultimately, it tends to be the cards with high point values that actually win someone the game. Also, it can be very hard to begin a new column in the tableau, since the first card placed will have no discounts. Starting a new column often requires spending a bunch of tokens, and since the game has a closed economy, all these tokens get handed to an opponent, making them that much richer! For being as minimalistic as it is, Space Explorers has some interesting facets to it.
The aesthetics are nice, though the symbology can get a little wonky. Thankfully, the game comes with player aids that detail every card ability. The cards themselves look great, with a period-appropriate, retro art style. The astronautics theme works fine, but for all intents and purposes, Space Explorers is an abstract game whose theme could be anything.
It’s hard to review Space Explorers without at least mentioning the hit game Splendor. These titles are similar in many respects, and it seems clear that the former was inspired by the latter. Mind you, I don’t see this as a bad thing – every game draws inspiration from somewhere, and Space Explorers is certainly its own game with its own unique ideas – but these play experiences occupy a similar genre space.
As such, my overall recommendation depends largely upon players’ opinions about Splendor. Simply put, Space Explorers is more strategic, so for folks who find Splendor okay, but lacking in depth, this is definitely a game I would recommend. On the other hand, for folks who like Splendor because of its simplicity, the extra layers of strategy in Space Explorers may lessen the overall enjoyment. For those people, I would say try before you buy. Either way, Space Explorers is worth a play.
A review copy was provided by 25th Century Games.
+ Unique theme, if lightly implemented
+ Offers greater depth of strategy than Splendor
+ Lovely, stylized artwork and aesthetic
- Copious symbology that is not always intuitive
- Theme is incredibly thin