Title: Space Explorers
Designed By: Yuri Zhuravlev
Art By: Alexey Kot
Published By: 25 Century Games
Player Count: 2-4
Time to Play: 20-40 Minutes
What do you do to make sure you have a great game night? You planet!
Want to know about a game that's out of this world? Let us introduce you to Space Explorers by 25th Century Games. Space Explorers is a 2-4 player card drafting, set collection game that plays in about 30 minutes and is designed for players ages 10 and up. In Space Explorers players take on the role of early space explorers and compete against other research and development hubs to complete the largest scale astronautic projects. Players work to recruit specialists and complete projects to score points. Whichever player has the most points after all available projects have been completed or someone has recruited as 12th specialist is the winner.
Specialists - shuffle the deck and reveal 6 cards
Project tiles - take tiles equal to the number of players plus two. These are random and you can use either side of the tile. Put any used tiles back in the box
What players need - the two pieces to make their Research and Development Hub, 1 research token of each color (5 total), and a player reference sheet. Also, deal each player one card from the specialist deck. Players should keep their hands secret.
First player - whoever most recently went to space goes first. Give this player the starting player marker. It will not be passed to other players but will remain with this person to ensure everyone has an equal number of turns.
How to Play:
On a player's turn, they can either take a specialist card or recruit a specialist to their hub. That's it. Two simple, straightforward actions. However, while your choices may be simple, the gameplay involves a lot of strategy.
If a player wishes to take a specialist card, they can either select from one of the faceup cards, or they may choose a random card from the top of the deck. The selected card gets added to the player's hand to be used on a later turn.
If a player wishes to recruit a specialist to their hub, they may choose from a specialist they have in their hand, or they may pick from one of the six face up specialist cards. Now you might be wondering, why someone would choose to take a specialist card from the center if they can also use those same cards when they wish to recruit a specialist. You may choose to do this for a few reasons.
Good labor isn't cheap and recruiting specialists is no exception. Each specialist has a recruitment cost that can be paid for in a number of ways but must be paid for before that specialist is able to be added to a player's hub. Specialists can only be recruited to a hub that matches their particular set of skills. Some specialists only have one skill and some have two. To cover the cost of recruiting a specialist, players can give the opponent on their left matching research tokens from their supply, return a specialist card from their hand to the middle (this will give a player two resources of their choice), or use a current specialists abilities to help cover the cost (when applicable).
The cost for recruiting a specialist can also be altered when they are being recruited into a division of your hub that has other specialists already employed there. For each specialist with a skill icon matching the icon for the division of the hub they were played in, adding a new specialist to that division costs one less resource.
At the end of a player's turn, they may choose to complete a project if they are able to. To complete a project players need to meet or exceed the skills required for that project. Only one project may be completed per turn, even if a player could complete more. However, specialists used to complete a project remain on a player's board and can be used again in future turns to complete more projects.
Once the last project is complete, or a 12th specialist is recruited to an individual players hub, the game ends. At this point, play continues until it hits the first player and then the game is over.
Scores are made up of two things: progress points from completed projects and progress points from all the specialists in your hub. Whoever has the highest score wins!
For a game with only two action choices on a player's turn, Space Explorers has a surprising amount of depth and complexity to the game. Every single one of the specialists has its own ability and unique cost. This leaves a lot of room for thinking about which cards to draft, which to play and in what order to play them.
We also enjoyed the different ways to pay for recruiting specialists. There are many interesting choices in Space Explorers need to decide whether the spent research tokens or cards they have drafted to pay for specialists they wish to add to their hub. Players need to weigh if the expensive specialist comes with a benefit that outweighs their cost. Players also need to consider if spending research tokens will help their opponent more than it will help them, as research tokens go to the player on the left after they are spent.
The order that specialist cards are played in is also another thing for players to think through. Cards that are on the top of their stack for each division are considered in play and players are able to take advantage of what that specialist can do. These can be things like, "after recruiting a specialist that costs 5 or 6 resources, draw a card", or "this specialist provides two extra resource icons of any type when recruiting a specialist with two skills". This can allow for players to make some thoughtful decisions about which specialists they want most where and at what time in the game. Through careful timing and placement, players can get a bit of an engine running, which will help them to get more resources or cards, making recruiting future specialists easier.
The reference sheets are super useful as they explain the iconography of the specialist cards before you have played enough times to memorize what the symbols mean. There is a lot of iconography on the cards, but once you learn what symbol is what it makes the cards a lot cleaner than if text had been used.
As with other 25th Century Games games that we have played, the components are really nicely made. We particularly enjoyed the player hubs. The art also goes really nicely with the theme. The muted colors bring a historic feel to the game, just as if you were looking at photos from back in the day. For fans of outer space, it is cool that all of the project tiles contain actual satellites that went into space.
One last thing that we appreciated about Space Explorers is the rulebook. The rulebook is broken down into sections that are highlighted on the right-hand page. It breaks the book down into game setup, how to play, game example, specialist abilities, and credits. The look is clean and it is easy to understand what you are looking at when reading the book. The game example is also super helpful as it covers a lot of questions someone might have the first time they play Space Explorers. The back page of the rules is also a handy reference guide for icons on specialist cards, what to do on a player's turn, how to recruit a specialist, and the end of the game. It pretty much covers anything you would need to reference quickly while learning how to play.
Overall, Space Explorers should receive a gold "star" for being a truly excellent game about space.
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