A to Z Gaming: Space Explorers

We built up our aerospace capabilities in Space Explorers, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Space Explorers
Players: 2-4
Time: 20-40Minutes
Designers: Yuri Zhuravljov
Artists: Alexey Kot
Publisher: 25th Century Games

Space Explorers is a card-driven game that has players building out a tableau representing different capabilities in their space research facility. The game is a race to build up expertise to complete different space mission projects. Whoever builds up the best facility will win.

Game play

The game is set up by shuffling the specialist cards and laying out a market of six. The project tiles are shuffled, and a number are chosen based on the player count. Then each player gets a research hub board, one of each type of research token, and a starting hand of one card.

On their turn, players can either take a specialist into their hand or they can play a specialist into their research hub. To take a specialist, the player simply choses one of the specialists from the display or takes the top card of the deck.

Players can play a specialist into their hub either from their hand or from the display. They’ll first need to choose the division of their hub the specialist will go to — this is indicated by the symbols in the upper left of the card, and some specialists can only go into one division, while others may have a choice. Then they need to determine the cost of the card, which is displayed at the bottom left of the card and will be in the form of research icons. Each specialist already in that division reduces the cost of a new specialist. Any remaining cost will need to be paid in a combination of three ways. First, the player can give one of their research tokens to the player on their left. Second, they can discard a card from their hand into the display for any two symbols. Finally they can use abilities visible on specialists in their hub. Once the cost is paid, they place the newly-recruited specialist into their research hub under the appropriate division, covering the bottom portion of any previously-played specialists in that division.

If the player has the required symbols to claim a project, they may do so at the end of their turn. However, they may only claim one project per turn.

Players continue taking turns until either all of the projects have been claimed or a single player has recruited 12 specialists into their hub. Then, play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns. Players then tally up their score from completed projects and specialists. Whoever has the most points wins.

My Thoughts

I backed this game on Kickstarter based almost entirely on the theme. Even though we haven’t gotten this to the table many times, I do like it. Space Explorers has a bit of the feel of Splendor to it, where it gets easier and easier to recruit more specialists to a division where you have already built up expertise. At the same time, you often need to be spreading out your expertise over several divisions in order to claim the project cards. I also like the mechanism of simply discarding cards from your hand to substitute for any two symbols in the cost of a card — it’s doubly interesting that those cards go into the display for other players to take. Often I want all of the cards in my hand, but I know that I’ll have a chance of getting it back if my opponents don’t want the card.

I also like the addition of the research tokens that get passed around the table. It means that you find yourself thinking twice about using them, because do you really want to give your opponent that symbol? On the other hand, you might not want to wait another turn to recruit a specialist that will give you a great ability.

One barrier to this game for us has been the number of different symbols and icons that can appear on the cards. There is a great reference for each player, but we find ourselves constantly looking up the cards, which slows down the game. I think this is what has kept us from pulling this game out more often. And, of course, the less often we play it, the more opaque the symbols are with each play, and if we could get ourselves to play more often, this would probably be less of a problem!

Three Quick Questions

How is it as a 2-player game? Space Explorers works fine at two. The only difference in the game is in the number of projects that go out, which depends on player count.

How about the art and component quality? I really like the retro-style of the art in this game. However, one barrier for us getting this to the table more often is the sheer number of different icons and symbols in the game. And despite the great player reference, it still tends to slow down our game.

Will this stay in my collection? For now, Space Explorers will stay, but I fear that it will be a candidate for culling if we don’t get it to the table more often soon.

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