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Scorpius Freighter Review



Quick Look: Scorpius Freighter

Designer: Matthew Dunstan, David Short
Artists: Víctor Pérez Corbella, Jay Epperson, Matt Paquette
PublisherAlderac Entertainment Group
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 45-75 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Review:
I’m a sucker for science-fiction themed games. There’s just something about new worlds, creatures, tech, and the like that fascinates me. The heroics of interplanetary pilots fighting off rogue agents, evil empires, and space pirates is always exciting. Blasters and proton torpedoes and space explosions (because who needs realism?) and fancy ships and…well, you get the idea. All of that resonates with me in a way nothing else can.

However, Scorpius Freighter isn’t your typical space opera, Star Wars-esque adventure where good guys blast bad guys. Rather, it’s about smuggling much-needed goods to the locals of a system stuck under an oppressive thumb. While there may not be explosions or fancy maneuvers, I still really like Scorpius Freighter’s theme. It’s about cargo ships making their usual runs, while dropping off a few “off-the-ledger” shipments as well. Building up your ship to maximize efficiency, upgrading crew for better results, and managing resources is what you’d expect from such a theme. And it works.

Is this the perfect sci-fi game? Is the theme all it’s cracked up to be? Do the mechanics work? Find out the answers to these questions—and more—in today’s review of Scorpius Freighter!

Setup:

Setup for two players.
Setup isn’t complicated. Basically, set up the board as per the rule book, placing upgrade tiles, storage tiles, contracts, and side deals in their appropriate places. One thing I will say about this part of setup is that shuffling the various tiles is necessary to get a good spread, but can be a rather difficult task to accomplish. Due to there being so many tiles, the regular tile-shuffle method is sloppy, and it's hard to hold on to all the tiles. The best way we’ve found to shuffle them is to place them on the table and mix them around, then stack them back up. It takes a bit more time, but worth it to get tiles randomly allocated. Despite the awkwardness of shuffling tiles, it is by no means a deal breaker.

Each mother ship is placed on its starting position on one of the planet’s rondel tracks. Each player takes a cockpit tile and places it in the set-aside location on their ship’s board. Before playing, you may decide together as to whether you will use the generic side of the ship/player board, or use the advanced side with restricted spaces (i.e. spaces in which you may not build new storage compartments or upgrades). You can start with the cockpit tile stated on your board, or deal one randomly. One great thing about Scorpius Freighter is the many different cockpit abilities that can come your way. It makes you tweak your strategy every game.

Another strategy-tweaking aspect is the draft before play starts. For beginners, it’s recommended that each player takes a set of four crew cards of the same race. For advanced players, shuffle all the crew together, each player draws six, and then they each draft four crew to their ship. With the draft, you can hand pick your crew to work together as a super team, with the potential for some good combos. 

Each player gets their cockpit tile and then two starting tiles, one for money and one for goods. These tiles must be placed next to the cockpit or an already existing tile. Then place one green good and one orange good on their respective storage tiles. Once you’ve got everything set up, you’re ready to start smuggling!

Gameplay:


Players take turns activating one or two crew cards. For each crew card activated, that player then moves one of the three motherships one space ahead on its rondel track. When a mothership passes its starting spot, the player that moved the ship must surrender one of their cubes as a form of tax (the evil empire senses something is amiss, and while they can’t prove you’re a smuggler helping the beleaguered poor, they can still take your stuff). Once any one mothership has acquired the needed amount of goods as determined by player count (2 players: 4 cubes; 3 players: 5 cubes; 4 players: 6 cubes), the end of the game is triggered. Players get one more round of play, and then final scoring is calculated.

I like how the rondel mechanic works here. In games like Trajan or Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, there is one rondel for each player—each on individual player boards—that players must manage alone. In Scorpius Freighter, however, there are three rondels, and everyone gets to have a say in their movement. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, players move a mothership the numbers of spaces as activated crew (from that turn). Whatever space that mothership lands on is the action they will take.


However, there’s more to it than simply moving and taking an action. Each crew member expended to move uses up their skill, and skill is what gives you power to actually take actions. The less skill you have to use, the less you can do. So, you’re trying to manage your activated crew to maximize your actions, while still taking movement around a planet. It can be tricky at times, and sometimes you simply get stuck with something less than ideal. Planning ahead is crucial.

One thing I will mention is regarding skill. If you only have one skill remaining from your crew, and you land on the gear-works action space that lets you operate your freighter (i.e. use your upgrades), you can only activate one upgrade. For the best combos, landing on that space with three (or more, thanks to some crew members) skill allows you to activate three (or however much skill you have) upgrades. Many times you can get upgrades to work off each other, creating some fun combos. Even some crew cards can help with the combos. But, if you’ve exhausted all of your skill and then land on this space, there is absolutely nothing you can do. So plan wisely! Likewise, the more skill you have, the more options you have for obtaining storage tiles or upgrade tiles.


The pilot has been exhausted, so he's pretty much useless when it comes to performing actions.
Actions include acquiring new storage compartments or upgrades, completing side deals or contracts, upgrading crew members, using upgrades (this is both the literal and figurative engine-building part of the game), and picking up cargo. As the game progresses, certain actions won’t be as appealing, such as meeting with informants to upgrade crew. Once you have all four crew members upgraded—and thereby able to perform their special abilities—there really is no need to visit an informant again (unless you’re trying to inch closer to another action on a specific track).

The game continues in this manner—with each player activating one or two crew cards, moving a ship, and taking an action—until the game ends. Points are given for each cube on your ship, contracts finished, side deals completed, and any bonuses granted by upgraded crew members. The player with the most points it the best smuggler in the Outer Rim Scorpius system.

Theme and Mechanics:


The theme of sci-fi smugglers delivering goods and medicine to the poor, helpless citizens of a system is nothing new. Captain Hera Syndulla (of Star Wars: Rebels fame) was also about much good during a similar closed-fist rule of an empire. But, the implementation in Scorpius Freighter is well done, and the varying crew and upgrades really help add to the overall feel.

As I mentioned above, the rondel mechanic is fun, since everyone is manipulating them for their own gains and purposes.

There’s also an engine-building aspect to the game as you obtain upgrades that build off each other and your crew members. While you don’t necessarily need an all-powerful engine to win, it certainly adds to the fun and excitement (or worry, if it's another playing with the super engine).
The upgrades work with the storage compartments to maximize efficiency.
Set collection and resource management also have their place in Scorpius Freighter, and it’s all connected in a way that you don’t feel like you’re simply collecting sets and whatnot. The mechanics and the theme interact well with each other, and for me, that’s a big win.

Artwork and Components:


I like the artwork. The main board looks great, and the characters definitely add life and flavor to the universe.

The components themselves are made of nice, thick cardboard and wooden cubes. The motherships are nice and solid, too, and hold the cargo with ease. The cards are what you’d expect. I will mention again that because there are so many tiles, shuffling them at the setup phase can be a proper task, but again, it doesn’t affect the gameplay any.

The Good:
  • Variable player powers
  • Fun mechanic of three community rondels
  • Double-sided player board (beginner/advanced)
  • SPACE!
  • Engine building can produce big combos
  • Rule book is clear and easy to understand
  • Scales well with varying player counts
The Other:
One thing we noticed over our plays is that sometimes the upgrade tiles in the market could become stagnant, in that no one wanted any, so nobody bought any. This isn’t always the case, but it can happen frequently, especially if you don’t get the tiles shuffled well enough. We discussed a house rule to refresh the upgrade market if there are doubles or other tiles players don’t want. I’ll clarify that this was discussed only, and not actually put into practice. 

Again, the shuffling of tiles is difficult, but will never stop me from playing.

Final Thoughts:

Scorpius Freighter Board Game Review and Image by Benjamin Kocher

All in all, Scorpius Freighter is a solid game with lots of meaningful choices. Sure, it has its flaws, but for me, the good definitely outweighs the other. I like that if someone takes a contract you were eying, or some other tile for that matter, your plans aren’t hopelessly lost to the eternal darkness of space. Rather, there are always other options to pursue. I recall one game in which a good amount of my next moves were thwarted (due to the tiles being gone or the action space being used before my turn), but I still pulled ahead for the win. I think there’s a good balance to the game. However, if you’re drafting crew and you fail to capitalize on the best crew for you, that can end up hurting you (so choose wisely).

Scorpius Freighter may not have received a lot of buzz when it was first released (at least, I didn't hear much about it), but I think it should have received a lot more. It’s a good, solid game. Scorpius Freighter will fit in well on my sci-fi shelf of games, and I will enjoy it for a long time to come.

Players Who Like:
If you like engine building, rondel mechanics, and the ability to draft a custom crew (each with variable powers), I have a sneaky suspicion you’ll really like Scorpius Freighter. If you simply like all things sci-fi (like me), then this is still a solid option as well. It’s on the mid-weight range as far as difficulty goes, so it’s a good one to play with both new gamers and seasoned veterans.



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Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
Scorpius Freighter Review Scorpius Freighter Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on October 17, 2019 Rating: 5

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