The Tao of Gaming

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SpaceCorp review

I have now played a dozen games of SpaceCorp (one with four, four of them two-player with the TaoLing, the rest solitaire). In so doing, I have corrected a few rules mistakes I was making.

Any game I play that often isn’t a dog.

Game length isn’t as horrific as I’d thought. Multiplayer sets up & plays faster than the solitaire (if everyone knows it, assuming every is the same speed). You also go through the deck faster, that helps.

Another excellent point in SpaceCorp’s favor is that each number plays truly different. With four players you will be fighting to get six upgrade cards. With two players, getting ten is easy (a function of only seeing half as much of the deck). The contracts do scale based on number of players, but not as much. So again with a single player (or two) you often see five or six contracts finished each era, with four maybe only two or three get done.

The main downside? I stand behind my earlier criticism — the powerful ‘edge’ card feel too good. You make some easy decisions and some tough ones, certainly enough to keep my interest for 20 hours, but after that it’s basically “Oh, he played Great Card X and Great Card Y and got it.” I mean, you have a deck where ~60 cards are “Big points for one action” or “OK points for either of two actions” and some can be played once or you can take a turn to put them into your headquarters to re-use them again and again.  One action a turn. All good so far.

And then ~10 cards are “Points for one action OR Do this good thing and it doesn’t cost an action!

Some examples:

  1. Take an extra turn
  2. When someone else takes the first breakthrough (a card that lets you modify the rules or get a bonus), grab the other one of that name. (Earning a breakthrough requires three revelation points … cards with revelation points typically give one, but you can also earn a few on the board).
  3. Take all the cards a player used on his turn. In the late game, that can be a few great cards (like revelation) or 5+ cards to make a major build/move.
  4. When someone produces, just earn half of what they did, for free. (A big produce can be ~$10. I pulled off $18 in a solitaire game.  Players can earn $200 total, give or take. Much depends on how many contracts are awarded in the final era and how effectively the “produce” action is used).
  5. Name an action, nobody else can take it until your next turn.

In our last two-player game, I used the extra turn and the “Stop an action” to swing a $9 contract. I got into a position to claim the “sixteen points wroth of colonies” contract for $9, then blocked the TaoLing’s colony action, which would have put him over. I won $75-$74(ish). If I don’t have that card I’m losing $83-64. If the TaoLing draws it and can swing even $3 his way, that’s $86-$61. I also need the extra turn card, so I got pretty luck to draw them both. (Our three prior games were all runaways).

To be sure, there’s strategy on maximizing card flow and when to research (to draw cards), all of which may mitigate my criticism. And if you play poorly no card luck will save you. It’s in the nature of games with cards that among even-ish players luck decides. Some breakthroughs that help control card and tile luck. If a group thinks card/tile luck dominates, they’ll value those higher.  I just wish there were small granules of card luck. (To be fair, there are. You may random draw a “build” card right when you need it). Let’s just say the edges are a grain of sand that are irritating me.

The multiplayer game does contain the “claim-jumping” angles I had hoped for (in my last article). You may send a team to an opponents (unexplored) site, hoping that if they explore you build. This is a high-risk strategy (if they can take two turns in a row or block your build, you’ve wasted your time and will likely have to let them earn an additional card when you leave the site), but even in a two player game it’s an interesting choice. In a 3 and 4 player game I think it may be symbiotic. (I explore, get rewards, you claim jump me, I earn $2 compensation. I use your site to leave, you earn a card compensation).

And — of course — the multiplayer game is more interesting because (even assuming you card count) you don’t know what exactly your opponent can do. Do you need to jump to the Oort cloud this turn to get the “1st Beyond” marker, or do you have time to complete a contract first? You can also use your opponent’s headquarters (infrastructure cards) to give them a card draw, but if you save actions not building up your infrastructure, that can be a good deal. Time is valuable. Final scores seem to average around $100 (our last game was low scoring compared to early games), but you can spend money (in the second two eras) to boost effects, or for radiation shielding. Knowing when to spend $1-5 is a valuable skill.

There’s enough to hold interest; I’m disappointed because I hoped for more. I’m left with a decent game that I feel has too much luck for what it is. I think you need the “extra turn” or “block some actions” because otherwise you can plot out the timing due to an Igo-Ugo lockstep. The multiplayer game does help with the Time Card. You can either double the values of your move/explore/build, or you can use the value twice (for two different teams). It would have been nice if there were more ways to explode with extra actions that were another resource you built up, instead of just a few cards that give the action. Deciding when (and how) to spend your time card is a critical decision. In the three or four player game there are also some “time” cards (a mechanism I enjoy) shuffled into the deck, whereas with two players you only get the one you start with each era.

I’ll take it, overall. Our games are under 2 hours (instead of three) which helps greatly. There are enough edge cards that with a “fair-ish” distribution there’s room for skill to matter.  I am looking forward to more three and four player games. I’ll get another dozen games or so out of this, at least (probably not at the breakneck pace).

Rating — Suggest

Solitaire Rating — Suggest

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Written by taogaming

December 18, 2018 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Reviews

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Very rough thoughts on SpaceCorp

This is based on two solo plays (with some rules wrong, tainting my victories) and one two player game vs the TaoLing.

This is a race game. You do build an engine, but you are racing for contracts (“First to do X get $y”), and upgrades (“Adaptations and Breakthroughs”), which let you break rules (and earn some $ if you get them first). The board is just the focus. I must admit I was hoping for a more interesting free form game (ala … well, I’m not sure what … ) but you just spend cards for values (move, build, explore, rarely produce, genetics, etc) and sometimes you put the card on your HQ to re-use it (and — in multiplayer — let others use it, with you getting a reward). The mechanics are dead simple, but there is a fair chunk of variety. For example, when you build, do you want a spaceport to make movement cheaper, a refinery to maybe earn some money, a research to grab a card, etc.

There’s always a tendency to be emotionally attached in a new game. It’s new, and I spent money (and P500’ed it). And I want to play it a few more times right away, but my suspicion is indifferent (maybe Indifferent-plus) as a multiplayer game, but playable solitaire (once I fix rules). It’s too long. 2.5h solo and 3-ish 2 player. I suspect each player adds 30minutes. And fixed fun applies.

Worse, after all that you may find “Oh, hey, he drew three great planets that provide a discount for a big VP colony and I drew three mediocre ones.” Worse yet, one tile (an alien race) kicks you out, after you spent one turn going to a system and 3 turns waiting to get there. (Adaptations and Breakthroughs can mitigate, but one of the mitigating ones is arguably the best multi-player adaptation in the game, so if you get shut out of that, you are extra boned if you get them). And to be fair, there’s a stack of aliens and only 2(?) tiles that say “Draw an alien.”

None of which is a deal breaker, but at the 3 hour mark … it’s annoying. This gets back to my “I’m not sure what this wants to be.”

SpaceCorp is long enough to be an experience game, but its not, really. It’s a race game, but for the most part there’s no fluidity to the initiative. I go, you go, (he goes, she goes). Actually, in thinking about it, I suspect there’s some fluidity because if you go to X adn then I go to X, if you explore I can claim jump. (You get $2 for your troubles). So I’m hoping to be proven wrong on this. But if we’re not in a position to claim jump, if you are one step ahead in the base building process, there’s nothing I can do to catch up.

Except for — you know — the “Take an extra turn card,” or the “Name an action, nobody can take that until the start of your next turn.” And again, do I want a 3h game decided on a few take that cards?

  • I generally like the components, but the colony’s “# of players” markers are small enough even the TaoLing had trouble reading them. There is a key on the back of the rule book, but it’s annoying. There are two rule books, one for solitaire and one for MP, so if you only play one way, that’s great.
  • The rules are mostly there, but not as clear in some edge cases and vague wordings abound. Some of the rules I missed are fairly subtle, and having two distinct rulebooks threw me (since I was worried they varied more between MP and solitaire).
  • At least in the 1-2 player game, some of the contracts (“First person to do this gets $x”) seem nigh impossible. Like “Hey, get 4 asteroids” in the Planeteer (2nd) era.
  • It’s always rough to talk “broken” after a single play, but I was shocked at how good one adaptation was (that wasn’t used in solo game). But we’ll see.
  • This game cries out for an app that handles the AI card deck. That would shave 20 minutes off the solitaire game (not flipping the cards, but having to build the deck for each phase and then tear it down is 5+ minutes an era).
  • The solitaire AI is reasonable. Most cards list a place and the AI moves a team there. If it hits again they grab it, but they also cycle your deck and earn points for what you leave lying around in the draw offer. And there are a few variants (using the backs of the cards that you pull from the game).
  • Even in the solitaire game, there are a few key cards. If the AI gets a “Two turns in a row card” or you do. The “Leak” card in solo basically steals a breakthrough from the AI. Getting that early (versus late) is huge.
  • Once people know the game, I think player the 2nd and 3rd era only will be fairly popular.

I suspect I’ll still play this 5+ times over the holidays. Plenty of time for that, after all, so I’ll get my value. And hopefully the game will reveal more depths.

Written by taogaming

December 13, 2018 at 11:09 pm

Posted in Reviews

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Gaming A to Z with a quick stop at U

Some Quick thoughts:

Azul — The Stained Glass of Sintra — I was not a huge Azul fan. I’m not a fan of this variant. I think it doesn’t help that I played both games (once each) with the max number of players. Indifferent.

AuZtralia — I’m kind of a Wallace anti-fan, such that I often turn down his games (although I’d play Age of Steam again and wouldn’t mind getting Struggle of Empires back to the table) and so when this was pulled out I got a somewhat deranged “glance around the room and check the exits” vibe. And honestly, by the end of the rules I would have happily jumped out if someone else wanted to play. And during the early part of the game … I felt nothing. This is one of those “Whoever has spent the last time goes next” but unlike the more interesting games, as soon as you are out of last you are done. So it often goes A-B-C-D-D-B-C-A but sometimes you spend 2-3 time and it goes A-B (spend 2)-C-D-D-C (spend 2)-A-A-D-D-A-B….

And you pay a penalty for taking the same action multiple times before you “sweep your board clean” of action markers (at the cost of a time), which frankly makes me think Wallace is going soft. It’s like a non-crippling loan — totally out of place in his work.

And frankly I’m not wild about the thematic mixing of Age of Industry with Cthulhu. (Really all Lovecraftian stuff is done to death). But I admit that once we hit the part where the monsters started activating, it became more interesting. We all lost (rather quickly) to C, but I’d give it another try or two. Tentatively Indifferent plus.

My copy of SpaceCorp arrived, sadly lacking in either the letter ‘Z’ or ‘U’. Haven’t played it, but some quick thoughts:

  • No inserts, and a box big enough to support the punched game. Nice heft.
  • Having totally distinct rulebook for Multiplayer and Solo (even though 80% of the rules are the same) is an … interesting decision. I do worry that I’ve only skimmed the solo and would miss out a subtle different, but it does really look like it’s just a cut and paste. If you only play one way or the other, that’s no doubt better. But if you play both (which I intend to) … I’m not sure how I feel about it.
  • In order to get a feel I quickly (well, punching and reading rules was slow) set up a 2 player game (to avoid the whole “automated opponent” rules) and played out a fair chunk of the first map and … it seems easy enough. Maybe too easy. Frankly that may be a function of comparison to High Frontier, where getting to the moon is an hour or two of assembling various parts and here its. “Oh, I need to have 4 points of move and I start with 2 move cards already.” Everything is easy but its a race. But by the second map it starts to add more rules and bigger numbers and rule-breaker cards…
  • But since I got it for solo games, we’ll have to wait until I have a chance to play that a bit.
  • Update — The components are mostly good and readable, but the colonies have a small legend like “124” indicating it is used for 1,2 or 4 players, and I really had to get out my jeweler’s loupe to read them. I posted a solitaire game session to BGG.

Unrelated Update — Looks like the Root balance fixes are posted.

Written by taogaming

December 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Session Reports

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