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Space Race: The Board Game Kickstarter Pre-Review

Quick Look: Space Race: The Board Game

Designers: Marek Loskot, Michal Mikeš, and Jan Soukal
Artist: Dalibor Krch
Publisher: Boardcubator
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-4 (5 with deluxe version)
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 45-90 min.

From the publisher:

The world struggles in the Cold War, and many see the sky as the next battlefield. A new chapter of extraterrestrial exploration is about to begin. The technological boundaries will be pushed further than the humanity has ever imagined. Do you have what it takes to lead a daring space agency into a new age of human achievement?

Space Race is a unique engine-building strategy game for 1-4 players (5 with the Deluxe Bundle). You become a director of a newly formed Space Agency and your mission is simple: lead your country onto the pages of history as the nation that has conquered the Universe!

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Space Race: The Board Game. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

I was provided with a prototype copy of the game for the purposes of this review. The following article is a pre-review of Space Race: The Board Game running during their the Kickstarter campaign and is a review sharing my own opinions of the game, not a paid "Kickstarter preview" advertisement of the game.

Review: Space Race: The Board Game

Overview and Theme:
For any amateur space geek (I saved up my babysitting money in high school to buy a telescope!), Space Race: The Board Game is an enticingly detailed dip into the history of space programs, and a chance to make decisions that could let history unfold in a brand new way.

Space Race: The Board Game sets players up as directors of various real-world space agencies during the Cold War, hoping to advance their technology through Propaganda, Technology, Space Programs, and Breakthroughs, trying to get the farthest along the Progress Tracker by the end of seven rounds to be the primary space agency in the new world. It has elements of engine building and card drafting, and includes a massive deck of cards that illustrate actual events, missions, and pioneers in space science.

Components and Setup:
Space Race: The Board Game takes up plenty of space of its own! The box is larger than the typical square box size for a game (bigger than Ticket to Ride) and the board is a six-fold instead of four, so it has a dominating table presence. When we played it on our table, we had to be a little creative with where we put our personal card tableaux (the Lab, Control Deck, and Agency), and it certainly wasn't conducive to taking good pictures of the box or components. Luckily we had a snippet of nice weather this week, so I headed out to the park to grab some pictures to share.

The blueprint-style board has several important areas--the Progress tracker, the Breakthrough Tracker, and the Universe, as well as others, and it's helpful to learn your way around the board before you begin.

The Round Structure rocket was definitely the part of the board that impressed me the most. It's a very clever way to remind players of a somewhat complicated process that happens to end one round and begin another. The end-of-round steps, including tiles for scoring after each specific round, are listed in the bottom half of the rocket, and you can read them--right from the board, without having to open the rules again--moving up one layer as you complete each step.

Continue your journey towards the top of the rocket, and the steps for beginning a new round, including the card drafting steps, are included there. Play in the next phase follows the arrows down the other side of the rocket to remind you how to explore the Universe. I found this exceptionally handy, as I would otherwise have had a very hard time remembering the precise order of steps especially while I was learning the game.

Do you see the small arrowheads? They direct you through the steps of the game!

The other main components are the decks of cards--my prototype had a huge, meaty deck of 162 Space Race cards, and 4 individual decks of 12 (+2 extra) cards. We also had meeples to stand in for the astronauts (one goal of the Kickstarter is to have unique astronaut meeples for each agency), a few large Project cards, player aids, and the plastic rockets, specifically designed from each agency.

Setup isn't hard once you're familiar with the various components, and setup is also helpfully explained on the board in the Deck section (where you'll place the face down deck of Space Race cards when you're done with setup). Each player chooses an agency--NASA, ESA, China, Soviet, or Private Sector--and takes the Control cards, meeples, and rocket to match their agency, as well as a certain number of Space Race cards depending on turn order. Set out the Mission Progress tokens on the bottom part of the Round Structure rocket, flip over the first Project card, add a few cards face up into the Universe, and you're ready to go.

Game Play and Mechanics:
The first time we played, I didn't have a good sense for how the cards were going to flow--or maybe, more specifically, how they weren't going to flow, and it turns out to be an integral part of how the game works, so let's start with how the cards move in the game.

In Space Race: The Board Game, you have a hand of cards drawn from the deck, and your basic control cards allow you to take cards from the Universe (the face up cards on the board). The rulebook explains an interesting 3-symbol system that shows that most card actions involve taking a card of a specific type (or a specific number of cards) from one place (your Hand, the Universe, the Deck, or your Lab) and moving it to another place (your Hand, your Lab, your Agency).

Your Lab is a pile of cards turned at 90 degrees which you may occasionally be able to pull cards out of, but primarily serves to help earn you Progress points at the end of specific rounds (#4 and 7), when you get 1 point per Lab card.

Your Agency is your engine-building tableau, where you'll be able to chain actions of certain colors in the coming rounds. If you want to have more than the single action printed on your Control Card, you'll need to have a well-built Agency.

My misunderstanding was that cards almost never go from your Hand directly into your Agency, which is what I was expecting based on the way other games have worked. Cards primarily go from the Universe into your Agency, so you actually are adding a layer to the idea of card drafting by choosing cards from your Hand to put into the Universe at the beginning of each round.

We didn't understand that strategy at first, and so we were being stingy with our cards, keeping the best ones in our hands, hoping for a card to turn up that would let us play cards from our Hand to our Agency. Eventually we realized how the majority of the cards worked, and we started adding our best cards to the Universe, hoping to then be able to use a card to take it back from the Universe to our Agency.

This mechanic has given us as players a lot to think about, because you want to add your good cards to the Universe, but you're not guaranteed to be the one to get them back. Each round, players will simultaneously choose one from their deck of 12 Control cards that they will execute on their turn. The Control cards allow you to choose from one of the four types of Space Race cards in the Universe--Propaganda, Technology, Space Programs, or Breakthroughs--and then to go on to activate the cards in your Agency that have actions matching the section of the Universe on your Control card.

Playing a Technology Control card, for example, allows you to take a Technology card from the face up Universe and add it into your Agency, and then to use any actions on the cards in your Agency (including the one you just added) that are Technology actions. If two (or more) players choose Technology, you'll use the numbers on your Control cards to determine order of play, and the order of meeples on the board if that's still a tie.

Cards are color coded, but also use symbols and positioning: all Technology cards are teal, but have a satellite dish icon, and Technology actions and points are in teal bands, but always in the 2nd position on the card, so that if you line the cards up, Technology actions will all be in a row. This seems like a very workable solution for colorblind players, and I'm always pleased to see that level of care in a game's design.

Knowing how cards are drafted and how your engine works is the main basis of the game. There are a few other details about the cards that you'll learn when you play, including that some cards have perpetual actions (down the left column) and other actions are one-time-use (down the right column). Cards also give you points in the various sections, and at the end of each round, you'll score the points for the section you used that round for all the cards in your Agency.

There's also the Breakthrough Tracker section of the board, where you will use your meeples to show your level of dominance in four areas of breakthroughs (Reaching for the Stars, Man in Space, Planet Exploration, and Search for Extraterrestrial Life). If you have more meeples in one sector than everyone else, then when it's time to score Breakthroughs at the end of rounds 2, 4, 6, and 7, you'll score points. There are Projects, too, where you can score points for being able to add certain types of cards to your Agency.

There are a lot of little rules here, and some of them--like understanding the draft-into-the-Universe mechanic or the Breakthrough Tracker--are unusual enough that even experienced gamers were a little unsure about how to use them at first. After repeated plays, though, it was this breadth of mechanics that really made the game captivating.

The game continues, following the arrows and the steps on the board, until you've completed the 7th round. Remember that each round scores a little differently, and that's explained on the Mission Progress Tokens on the bottom half of the Round Structure rocket.

The agency that finds itself the farthest along the timeline of Progress points (from 1950 to 2020) is the clear winner of the current Space Race! Will you succeed by sending Yuri Gagarin to Mars with the Rovers following research at the LHC? Mix and match past and present real-life space successes to create the world-wide, all-time best space agency.

The Good:
I happen to love this theme! As I said earlier, I have been a space junkie since I was a kid, and I was fascinated by the many missions over the years. I really appreciate the level of detail in this game and the many, many real-life ships, programs, breakthroughs, ideas, and pioneers that are represented on the cards.

As a gameschooling mom, I absolutely see Space Race: The Board Game as a unit study in a box! There is so much to spark interest here for kids from about middle school on up, and it would be easy and eye-opening to play Space Race, then research two or three of the cards after each game, looking for books, documentaries, and articles to flesh out what you're seeing on the cards.

The strategy of Space Race is very intriguing to me and will keep me coming back for more. It has a bit of a learning curve because there are so many different things going on, but that same level of complexity adds a lot of replayability as you're working to master all the moving parts.

The Bad:
Although my husband and I are space nuts, my teenage son isn't, and he was not drawn into the theme of the game and had a hard time relating to the events and items on the cards, and he said that he found the complicated mechanics off-putting when he wasn't engaged with the theme. Space Race may not be the game for you if you're not interested in the theme.

It definitely has a learning curve, too. Even though we had the mechanics down the first time we played, we definitely didn't understand that you needed to add cards from your hand to the Universe at the beginning of each round. If you're in love with the theme, hang in there, and the intriguing mechanics will grow on you.

Players Who Like:
Space Race: The Board Game will be a treat for anyone who already enjoys the history of space exploration. Folks who like the original Space Race (card game) and other space-themed games will enjoy it, and it's on the heavier side, so good for gamers who like slightly more complex games like Champions of Midgard or Euphoria, or drafting games like 7 Wonders and Terraforming Mars should give it a try.

Final Thoughts:
From the moment I unfolded the blueprint-blue board and gently unpacked the plastic rockets, I was drawn into the theme of Space Race. It's on the heavier end of games that our family plays and definitely had a learning curve, but I enjoyed the theme so much that it gave the unusual mechanics time to grow on me, and now I'm hooked on the unusual mechanics and thoroughly impressed by the amount of detail and care that went into the cards and the extremely helpful game board. I wish the creators all the best luck on their Kickstarter journey!

Check out Space Race: The Board Game on:


On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends May 23, 2019

Alexa Chaplin- Reviewer

My name is Alexa: I'm a life-long game player and homeschooling mom to two awesome kids. I've loved board games since my early days playing Scrabble and Gin Rummy with my grandmother, and life only got more interesting when I married a Battletech enthusiast and fellow game lover. We've played games with our kids since they were small, and I helped start a thriving homeschool co-op where we have weekly sessions of board games with kids.  In a family with kids raised on Catan and Pandemic, life is sure to be fun! You may run into me on Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and other social media as MamaGames. Be sure to say hi!

See Alexa's reviews HERE.
Space Race: The Board Game Kickstarter Pre-Review Space Race: The Board Game Kickstarter Pre-Review Reviewed by MamaGames - Alexa C. on May 21, 2019 Rating: 5

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