Before I begin the preview. I received a prototype copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review.
If you would prefer to watch a video review of this game you can check it out below!
I am always super excited when I get the chance to preview a game prior to their kickstarter. I love the chance to see a game in its almost completed form, and have the chance to share it with folks before they even have a shot at backing it. Empty Space Explorers was no exception to this. I jumped at the chance to do a preview, though I had little idea what it was actually about, there was just a super cool 20-30 second promo video.
I am usually more of a fantasy guy, but this sci-fi themed game snagged my attention and I am super happy that it did. Eventually I learned that the game was designed by Peter Collins, with the help of his two daughters. Together, over a few years, they have developed a competitive space exploration game that is simple on the surface, but has a significant amount of strategy behind it. In other words, a game that young people can play as well as experienced gamers.
The goal of the game is to be the first player to colonize a new “Exoplanet”. In order to do this you must build a probe, send your probe across the universe to find your planet. Once you have done so you can build a rocket and send your rocket to the planet. The first player to do so is the winner.
At the top of the board are the four differently colored exoplanets, and everything is done via a deck of cards. Each player has the option each round to either draw cards (research), or move about the galaxy in search of the planet (explore). When a player researches they are able to draw more cards into their hand. These cards are one of four colors, a wild card, or a black hole.
In order to build the probe, or rocket, a player must exchange four cards of a single color, and once you select a color you are locked into that for the remainder of the game. Additionally you can exchange to cards to look at a face down card in the galaxy, or place a black hole.
When exploring you can move or free onto a space of your own color, and onto another color by turning in a card of that color. If you ever move onto a black hole or onto a card for which you do not have a card of the matching color your probe is destroyed.
Finally, if you have three cards of the same color you can turn those into “change the galaxy”, this means that you can change an existing card on the board for one of the cards you are turning in. In other words you can turn a black hole into a red card by turning in three red cards.
Through these mechanics you strive to be the first player to land your probe onto the matching color exoplanet, and then build and land your rocket there.
So what did I think?
I think that this game does realize its theme over all. You definitely feel like you are in a race to find an inhabitable planet, and then get there before your opponents. There are one or two things that are a little odd, but I will address those below. I also like that this game does EXACTLY what it sets you to do. This is a simple game, but like checkers, it is certainly hard to become a master at it.
I also think the components are good. (I am assuming that the retail/kickstarter version will have upgraded pawns.). I rarely think that a game needs square cards, in fact the only other game that I can think of where this works is Forbidden Desert. However, for this game the smaller square cards are just spot on. Additionally, each card in the universe has something real listed on it, and he image is of the actual astronomical object. That is SICK.
I love that this is a fast game. I did play one game that was about 30 minutes long, but that included teaching and our card draw wound up giving us black holes all over the map, and there was a lot of waiting until we could change the universe enough to proceed. However, the other games were under 20 minutes each. That is fantastic.
I also enjoy the mechanics of having to choose if you are going to research (draw cards), or explore (move). I feel like this adds a real weight to the game. On most of your turns it is really a question as to which action is more valuable. I think that is a good thing. It is only at the beginning of the game when you are trying to build your first probe, and at the end of the game if you are behind that there is really not choice as to what you are going to do.
I also really like the way black holes can be used to obstruct your opponents progress. The same is true with changing the universe. This adds a bit of player interaction that would not exist otherwise.
There are two minor mechanics that I think slightly miss the mark thematically. The first is that you can never end movement on the same location as an opponent. This is bizarre, since each card represents a galaxy or planet, yet somehow two space probes cannot be on the same space? That is odd, though I do understand why it is that way as far as gameplay goes. The other one has to do with the ability to “change the universe”. I just wish that there was a bit of an explanation of HOW THE CRAP THAT IS HAPPENING?! Again I think it is necessary for the gameplay, but I wish there was more explanation as to how that works, story wise.
There is a large element of luck to the game, as you are dependent on the luck of the draw when it comes to your hand of cards. I do not find this to be a bad thing, but I can see how some folks might not like that.
I think the game lacks complexity. It is extremely simple, and may, or may not have ultimate staying power. At this point I have played the game a few times and I would like to play more. However, I am not sure I will feel that way in another 10 plays. I think this game screams for some variants. This could be asynchronous powers associated with each color, or some kind of card, that when drawn does something to the board.
Bringing it all together
This is a fun game. It is a delightfully simple competitive strategy game that almost anyone can play. It is fast to learn and fast to play. While I would not classify this as a filler game, it is a LITTLE more complex than that, it is not a game that you will spend an entire game day playing. It mostly hits the nail on the head thematically, with only. few misses made in the name of gameplay. It is also a game that will only get better as expansions are introduced, which will add complexity and gameplay options.
Voyager got to Pluto faster than I could read all that
*This is a fun, simple game that almost all ages can play
*The components are well done with good components
*There is certainly a significant replay value, though it is simple enough that it may not have maximum replay value
*While there is a LOT of strategy, it is a highly luck based game
*This is a fast game to play