What’s In A Game: Space Exploration/Colonization Games

February 13, 2017

Welcome back to What’s In A Game, where I pick a genre and look at some examples of games in that genre. This month, I’m going with one of my very favorites, Space Exploration Games. There’s a lot of variety here, from games that take over most of a table and require hours upon hours of playing time to games that only require a handful of cards and a much shorter playing time.

GF9_STARTREK_Game_Box_MFirst, we’ll start off by boldly going right to Star Trek Ascendancy from Gale Force 9. Released last year, Ascendancy puts you in the role of the leader of one of three Star Trek factions – the Klingons, the Federation, or the Romulans. From there, your goal is to explore the universe, finding planets, discovering new technologies, and resolving conflicts with civilizations and other players in the game. What’s so unique about this compared to similar games is that all you start out with is one home planet, a few ships and some technology. You actually build the board as you play the game instead of having everything laid out ahead of time. Moving from sector to sector, you find and colonize planets to use for resources to build more ships and learn new technologies. Each faction also has unique abilities that stay true to the theme of Star Trek – for instance, if the Federation discovers a planet with a flourishing civilization on it, it has to negotiate a treaty with that civilization instead of simply conquering it. The real fun begins when you finally encounter one of the other player’s civilization. Do you decide to go to war or try to negotiate peacefully? It’s up to you, but neither way is a bad choice, it all depends on your playing style. This game is a true treat for diehard Trek fans as well, with every planet to be discovered or event card to be resolved pulled right from the shows. The base game allows for only 3 players but GF9 is releasing Ferengi and Cardassian faction packs in the coming months, and the game itself looks like it could support even more in the future.

Next up is Eminent Do71kV1Y6OydL._SY450_main by Tasty Minstrel Games. A deckbuilding game. In your typical deckbuilding game, every player starts out with the same cards in hand. Eminent Domain is no different. The neat twist here is that when the leader – the player whose turn it is – chooses a role and gains its leader effect, the other players can choose to either follow along by playing cards matching that role for a lesser effect, or dissent , allowing them to draw a card from their deck. The decks are built by the role the leader chooses, as the leader will add that card to their deck. Each card can also be played for its action ability, which can help you draw more cards, colonize planets, or gain resources and influence. There’s also technology cards you can gain through the Research role that act as action cards in your deck, giving you more powerful options as you build up your deck. There are also many expansions for this game, which add more planets, more technology, alien races and even more cards to allow for a fifth player.pic236327

Moving on, we’ll go to another card game, Race For The Galaxy from Rio Grande Games. A card game, but not a deckbuilder, each player has 7 role cards to choose from, and each turn they secretly pick one. Whichever roles are picked are the roles that get used that turn. Everyone can use that role in a turn, but whoever picked it gets an added bonus for doing so. Your goal is to build the largest space empire, through exploration and colonization. Starting with their home world, they’ll carve out territory through drawing and playing cards depending on which roles are available to them each turn. Unlike most space exploration games, Race For The Galaxy has no direct conflict until you start adding expansions, which also add more planets, more home worlds and additional cards for added players.

To wrap things up for this month, we’llterraforming_mars_2_ take a look at Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games. Now, Terraforming Mars doesn’t involve any space exploration, instead focusing solely on the colonization aspect. But I couldn’t go without giving it a mention. Each player represents a different corporation looking to profit by helping in the terraforming process. To do this, everyone will work towards raising the oxygen level and temperature enough to sustain life, while also producing water on the surface to create oceans. All three of those – oxygen, temperature and oceans – are referred to in-game as global parameters. Raising them increases your terraforming rating, which is how you gain profit. And that extra money allows you to do more things in future turns, like setting up mining facilities, producing plants to create green spaces on the surface, or build cities. When all three global parameters reach a certain point, the game will end, and players will score points based on how much they contributed to the terraforming of Mars. An interesting aspect of this game is that some things can’t be done until certain other things happen in the game. For example, you can’t create an ocean without water, and you can’t have water until the temperature is high enough to melt ice. So early on, an ocean-creating card might not do so well for you, so you can discard it in exchange for more money. I also want to mention the board itself, which is an accurate representation of the surface of Mars, specifically the Tharsis region. The ocean spaces are lower elevation, and the map also has other interesting sites noted, such as where the Viking lander touched down. It really adds a neat element to the game and captures the feeling of building a colony in a unique way not seen often in board games.

So that’s some space exploration/colonization games for you to check out. Some others to take a look at would be the Firefly Board Game, also by Gale Force 9, in which you can revisit characters, locations and events found in the short-lived tv series, while exploration space and completing jobs. There’s also Tiny Epic Galaxies by Gamelyn Games, a dice-rolling game where the number of dice you have is determined by how strong your empire is. And I would be insane not to mention the granddaddy of them all, Twilight Imperium by Fantasy Flight Games, where you play as one of a number of alien races vying for domination of the galaxy through either open warfare or political maneuvering (or both!) Until next time, may you find joy in exploration.


Dave D

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  • Nate Smars

    So is the board-building in Ascendancy similar to Eclipse? (which I see didn’t make your list)

    • Dave D

      The Ascendancy board-building is similar to Eclipse in that the board is grown over the course of the game. The difference is that instead of placing planet tiles adjacent to other planet tiles, Ascendancy uses warp lane tiles of random size (chosen by die roll) to represent travel distance between planets, and the only constraint of placement in Ascendancy is the size of the map space. Also, so long as a planet other than a homeworld is only connected to one warp lane, that warp lane can be rotated in position. Once it has two or more, it’s fixed in place, and when a planet has a certain amount of warp lanes, it can’t gain more. It’s also possible (but difficult) in Ascendancy to create your own private hub of planets that other players can’t reach.

      I will admit that Eclipse is a game I was not familiar with when I wrote this, but it definitely would’ve been mentioned if I had been.