A to Z Gaming: Pulsar 2849

Pulsar 2849 pulsar and system map

We exploited pulsars for power while developing technology and exploring the galaxy in Pulsar 2849, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Pulsar 2849 box cover

Basic Info: Pulsar 2849
Players: 2-4
Time: 60-90 Minutes
Designers: Vladimír Suchý
Artists: Sören Meding
Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Pulsar 2849 is a dice drafting and action selection game where players take on the role of a future society that has harnessed the power of pulsars. Players complete projects on their HQ board, patent technologies, construct transmitters (for the pulsar power), and explore the universe to claim pulsars and discover star systems. Whoever can build the best power distribution network will dominate the game.

Pulsar 2849 set-up

The game is set up with the exploration board in the middle of the table with the dice drafting, die modifier and gyrodyne boards placed around it. The transmitters are shuffled by letter, with the “D”s on the bottom, A”s” on top, and three turned face-up near the play area. Three goal tiles are chosen at random, as are a set of technology boards, and both are placed around the board. Nine or seven gray dice (depending on player count) are placed nearby, and the red die is placed on the black hole at the center of the board.

Each player takes an HQ board and the rockets, disks and rings associated with their color. One set of rockets for each player marks the player turn order on the turn track. A second set of rockets for each player is placed out in the starting positions on the exploration board. Then a set of disks goes on each of the engineering and initiative tracks.

The game is played over eight rounds. At the beginning of the round, the start player rolls the dice and then places them on the dice drafting board, determines the mean, and places the median marker appropriately. Then in turn order, as marked by the turn track, players draft dice. If they pull a die from values higher than the median marker, they must move either their engineering track or initiative track marker down; if they pull a lower die, then can move one of those tracks up. After drafting one die, players draft a second in reverse turn order.

Pulsar 2849 dice track

Then players take their turns, using their drafted dice to take actions. Players may also have access to the red die through projects they complete, transmitters, or by paying engineering cubes. Actions include flying their ship around the exploration board, completing a project on their HQ board, patenting a technology, working on a transmitter, buying or spinning up a gyrodyne, or buying a die modifier. And all of that probably sounds like a lot of jargon!

Flying around the exploration board allows the player to claim pulsars, if they end their movement on one. Once a player has claimed a pulsar, they can spin up a gyrodyne on it, if they have a gyrodyne and the right die to spin it up. The gyrodynes will get the player points each round. They can also place stations on the star systems on the board, if they pass through or end their movement on one. Claiming these will get the player points at the end of the game.

Completing projects on the player’s HQ board and patenting technologies will get the player various benefits which could trigger immediately, when they take certain actions, during round-end storing, or at the end of the game. Completing a transmitter will similarly gain the player benefits, but can also give the player access to the bonus red die, if they have connected up two completed transmitters with the dice symbol. And the die modifiers are probably self-explanatory.

Pulsar 2849 player HQ board

After all players have taken their actions, then there is some end-of-round housekeeping, including updating the player order, awarding bonuses and/or penalties for their position on the engineering track, and gaining points for claimed/completed technologies, transmitters and online gyrodynes. The technology track marker (which is also a timer in the game) moves up to the next level, and the unclaimed transmitters are discarded and three new ones laid out. Then players are ready for the next round.

At the end of the eighth round players do some game-end scoring, with points for certain patented technologies, the goal tiles, claimed pulsars without active gyrodynes, gyrodynes not attached to a pulsar, leftover engineering cubes, final positions on the turn order track, and the number of explored planet systems. Player with the most points, wins.

Pulsar 2849 tech tree

We picked up this game a few years ago when I was trying to get in a few more space-themed games before the Space on the Table panel I was part of at Pax Unplugged in 2018. Oof, and I’m glad I did. Pulsar 2849 is right up my alley.

With just two actions per round, there’s never enough time to do everything I want in this game, which makes every decision important. But it’s always a game where there are several valid paths to victory from focusing on gyrodynes to exploring as many star systems as possible. There’s usually ways to get the dice I need each round, but I might need to pay a price in initiative or engineering bonuses. I usually feel like I’m bumbling around for the first few rounds, but then figure out what I’m doing, and just don’t have enough time to get it all done by the end of the game.

Pulsar 2849 exploration map with pulsars and systems revealed and developed

How is it as a 2-player game? Pulsar 2849 works well as a 2-player game. Each player has two disks on each of the engineering and initiative tracks and two rockets on the turn order track. This means that each round isn’t a strict snake draft, but instead goes in order of the rockets. Otherwise the game plays pretty much the same.

How about the art and component quality? The components are good quality — the cardboard is fairly chunky and the disks and rockets are pretty, marbled plastic. The exploration board and star system tokens look nice, as do the characters on the goal tokens and the various transmitters.

Will this stay in my collection? Yes. This is exactly my kind of game. I like tight games where you don’t have enough actions to do everything you want, but you can still get to the end of the game and feel like you’ve accomplished something.

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