REVIEW: Space Explorers

Designer: Yuri Zhuravlev
Publisher: 25th Century Games
2-4 players, 30-45mins

Price: £30-45 approx.

I think it was a while ago now I mentioned receiving my KS-backed copy of Space Explorers (back in June, actually, see PERSONAL DIARY/UPDATE: Another month, a Kickstarter update, and no temptations at all? Wow!) and this is a game I’ve been playing a fair bit of these last few months… At least up until someone compared it to Splendor, at which point I think the shine started to wane a little, as I started looking at it with this skewed perspective in my head… 😦

As you can probably guess, I’m not a big fan of Splendor, and although perhaps not immediately obvious, this does have some claim to be a kind of ‘Splendor with knobs on‘… And while that is rather unfortunate, Space Explorers remains a cool, fun, and tidy package — it’s also pretty quick, mostly harmless, and doesn’t overstay its welcome!

I confess I had a last-minute change of heart with this project, and opted to upgrade my KS pledge and plump for the Deluxe Edition because I couldn’t resist the joint temptation of wooden resources, a quality playmat and a couple of late stretch goals that were achieved… none of which disappoint, it must be said. And if I’m being honest, I was kind of sold on this particular game as soon as the Solo Mission Flight Plan got included, anyway!  I’m a massive fan of the contemporary retro art style, as well, which made this doubly attractive to me, even though it’s now clear the art on each card type is the same image just zoomed into at different levels: full marks to the publisher for demonstrating such remarkable ingenuity, though!

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At heart, Space Explorers is a set-collection game (using similar principles to Splendor), and the more Specialists you collect in a particular field, the easier it becomes to recruit similar Specialists. What adds spice to the mix however, is that each of the 60 collectible Specialists (in five distinct colours: Engineers, Testers, Scientists, Builders, and Astronauts) provide some form of benefit that will likely aid you in recruiting and/or collecting other future Specialists, and in turn help you complete Space Projects and earn additional Progress Points (aka VPs).

What makes this game such an easy one to break out regularly, though, is the fast set-up and rules explanation…

You start with the same resources as everyone else (called Research Icons), you get a starting hand of just one Specialist card, and each turn you’ll do just one of two things:

(1)  You’ll add to your hand of cards by drawing another card from the Specialist Deck, or by taking one of the face-up cards from the shared pool of available Specialists (fancifully called the ‘Space Research Center’ by the rulebook) and putting that into your hand instead.

Or

(2)  You’ll recruit a Specialist into your R&D Hub (your personal ‘tableau’) from the aforementioned face-up cards forming the shared pool, or recruit one directly from your hand into your R&D Hub; both achieved by spending resources —sorry, Research Icons*— and/or possibly other Specialist cards to do so: Specialist cards in your hand can be discarded to the shared pool and utilised as any two Research Icons when recruiting other Specialists into your tableau.

*Incidentally, the physical Research Icons you use to pay for any cards, etc. are always passed to the player on your left, and any time a Specialist is removed from the shared pool, it gets replaced by one from the Specialist Deck if there are ever less than 6 Specialists available when that action is completed.

And that’s the sum total of the game rules, frankly, which continues going around the table until one player has recruited at least 12 Specialists to their tableau or all the Space Project tiles have been completed / claimed.

Ahhh yes, the Space Project tiles… these are drawn randomly at the start of the game (there are usually 2 + the number of players) and will likely influence the direction you might want to take in building your personal tableau, because the first player to claim each one will get additional VPs at the end of the game. All of the Project tiles have a specific set of skill requirements (designated by the matching symbol) and you need to have gathered the relevant Specialists / Skills into your R&D Hub to claim them, basically.

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There are also numerous benefits to be had by collecting selected Specialists that give you additional bonus abilities and actions, or some that could potentially provide you with extra VPs for collecting other Specialists into your tableau, etc.  And to be fair, this does serve to make every game unique, and thus far we’ve enjoyed exploring the myriad opportunities these cards provide and the various tangents they bring to the core collecting mechanic as players start to diverge into gathering the particular Specialists they need to maximise their final score, especially as the game gets closer to finishing.

There are 10 double-sided Project tiles in the base game (providing 20 different game objectives), and KS backers also got 2 bonus double-sided promo tiles, giving 24 possible Projects to aim for overall. Also included are large(-ish) Player Reference Sheets that explain the iconography of each individual Specialist’s bonus ability, and while for the most part these are clear once you understand how the iconography works, it does mean players spend a lot of time looking up individual card skills and bonuses throughout the game instead of paying full attention to what’s going on in the centre of the play area! And that’s kind of my only complaint about this, really: turns are so quick that they come back around soon enough, which could be frustrating for some if you’ve got players that are prone to the odd bout of AP now and again. That said, games don’t last long enough for it to matter too much, and oft-times you’ll feel you’ve only just got your engine going when the final few Space Projects get snapped up.

Overall, do I like this and enjoy playing Space Explorers?  You betcha: every game feels different, invariably plays comfortably within the allotted 45-min slot, and it’s also ridiculously easy to explain the rules and get things up and running.

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