Designed by Austin Harrison & Max Anderson | Published by IV Games
1-5 Players | 60-120 Minutes
The era of Moonrakers began with The Cleanse – an act by the governing forces across the globe to remove the scourge from society. Exiled and finally together from out of the shadows, these resourceful criminals and the innocents caught up in the political upheaval worked together to build ships giving them new life as mercenaries. When the government finally caught wind, it was too late. This loosely formed alliance was able to defend themselves and escape with the means to spread to the far reaches of the galaxy in search of adventure and wealth.
In Moonrakers, a deck-building card game with a focus on negotiation, you take on the role of a ship’s captain looking to increase the strength of your own ship, gain prestige and secure credits through a series of contracts. The contracts take you on missions that fluctuate in benefits and difficulty. You’ll often have to call on other Moonrakers to provide additional support and resources for success. These alliances are usually temporary and nothing is off the table as you attempt to lure the necessary companions, while each trying to achieve their own personal glory.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Each captain begins with an identical Action Deck of 10 cards and a command terminal. The ultimate goal of each player is to achieve 10 Prestige points. These Prestige Points can be gained by successfully fulfilling available contracts. In order to fulfill these contracts, players will need to build their deck with valuable resource cards, gaining talented crew members, upgrading your ship and earning money. Players will also be given 2 initial objective cards that when achieved, will provide additional prestige points.
On each turn, players will draw 5 cards from their deck. You will initially be faced with 2 options: Choose a Contract or Stay at Base.
Choosing a contract consists of selecting one of the 8 face up contract cards on the table. Each contract card lists a series of requirements necessary to achieve that contract, rewards won when achieved and hazards faced. Players then have the opportunity to negotiate with other Moonrakers to help supply the required cards necessary for success or attempt it alone. Each card provides a number of prestige points, credits available and bonus cards won if the mission is successful. These are all up for grabs when it comes to negotiations. After a mission is finished (completed or failed) a certain number of hazard dice must be rolled (mission rarely comes without consequences). Certain cards will allow a player to deflect these hazards, but some might choose to risk the roll of the dice. Each hazard dice provides a variety of damage or, if you’re lucky, a blank side. Taking one hazard hit will cost you one Prestige point. These hazard dice are also up for negotiation.
Your Action Deck is initially made up of bare essentials, but these decks will grow over time. Initially a player can only play 1 card / take 1 action per turn. This will barely get you off the ground when trying to fulfill a contract. Players will have access to a variety of cards that will allow them to play additional actions, draw additional cards, protect themselves from hazards or inflict damage. For example, playing a Reactor card immediately allows you to play 2 additional cards. Playing a Thruster card allows you to draw 2 additional cards from your deck.
Players may also hire crew with credits. These crew cards go in their Action Deck and can be played along with their special abilities when drawn.
If a contract is successfully completed, the rewards and hazard dice are assigned as previously agreed upon. If the contact isn’t successful, the hazard dice are still assigned. Afterwards, the active player moves into the buying phase where they can hire additional crew or upgrade their ship. Upgrading your ship provides residual benefits to your hand as long as your ship is equipped with those benefits. A player’s ship can only hold 4 upgrades.
If a player chooses to Stay at Base, they collect a credit and move onto the buying phase.
Play continues with each player taking turns as the Mission Leader until one player has reached 10 Prestige Points.
Everything in Moonrakers is brilliantly produced. The various player and card boards all feature a mixture of matted and spot gloss finishes. They are all very sturdy, thick cardboard as well. The playing cards are all printed on linen card stock and have a quality feel. In addition, the game’s credits (or money) is represented by custom metal coins that, while completely unnecessary, really add to the high-end feel of the game. The only thing that doesn’t quite blow me away is the player ships. The only purpose of these ships is to mark your progress on the prestige track, but a couple of them look a little silly. Overall, a fantastic production that takes this game to the next level.
The art direction in Moonrakers is flat out amazing. The attention to detail in every facet of the graphic design and illustration is some of the best I can remember seeing. The game does a great job of not only defining a color pallet, but giving a purpose to each color that plays across the multiple decks of cards. Tons of thought went into carefully thinking through the application of each color and organizing the different benefits and values accordingly. I’ll talk more about this in my final thoughts, but suffice it to say, the visual communication here is masterpiece level. The boards and crew members are all incredibly unique. The graphic design is very techie, keeping with the theme and all very detailed. The illustrations have a strange dithered effect, but are all really unique and well done. The 25-card crew deck doesn’t feature a single duplicated character. The hazard dice are fit in well with the game’s theme. Overall, the artwork in Moonrakers tells a well thought-out and organized story of it’s own that really works for me.
Moonrakers was a huge hit on Kickstarter and I’m pleased it will be available in retail. I really liked the idea in theory and was hoping for something special. I did have the opportunity to review the Kickstarter version.
I want to start with the ridiculous amount of thought that went into crafting Moonrakers. It’s obvious a lot of time and energy went into building a game with this much synergy. The entire games seems to function in a connected way like a smooth oiled machine.
Let me break that down a bit: A standard card in your deck is defined by a benefit and a color. The specific benefits and colors are carried throughout the entire game – be it a crew member who specializes in providing additional Thruster actions or a ship part that adds an additional Reactor to your turn. The crew member in this case would be yellow (to match the color assigned to the Thruster cards) and the ship part would be blue to match the Reactors. This thoughtful integration carries over to the contracts. Delivery Contract cards are typically going to require a more extensive number of Thruster cards to accomplish the task. While the contract may require 3 different resources in various amounts, you can immediately identify the primary resource necessary to satisfy that contract by the color as well as if it plays to your personal deck’s strengths. The game is incredibly intuitive in this way. I often found myself “specializing” (or rich) in a particular resource and these visual cues really helped with my contract selection as well as knowing when to provide assistance to other commanders on their missions. This may seem like a standard application to any board game, but Moonrakers takes this to another level – one done with thoughtfulness and care.
The additional crew members you can add to your deck and ship part upgrades all carry a brief explanation of their ability and benefit. But again, this is all enhanced by the color coding making the game that much easier to grasp and engage with.
The overall production of Moonrakers is top notch. Everything is done right. The heavy-duty box container highlighted by the gold foil “Moonrakers” logo instantly gives you the impression of a higher-end game. The well organized and labeled container has a place to store everything. Nothing here is cheap or overlooked. You’re instantly drawn in by the thought put into every corner of the game.
Ok… so I’ve gushed over the ascetics long enough. I like the visual communication and the components. But we’ve all played games that favor style over substance. How does the gameplay in this game stack up to the presentation?
I’m pleased to say Moonrakers is a hit. The interesting mix of mechanics and theme amount to a really immersive experience.
I am a sucker for a good deck-builder, but where Moonrakers evolves from its Dominion roots is in the negotiating aspect. You’ll face a number of delicious contract cards offering tons of prestige, credits and bonuses… but the requirements are nearly impossible. This forces you to negotiate with your opponents. It’s the only way to satisfy certain requirements – especially for the big rewards.
Negotiation in Moonrakers is its own animal. Everything is on the table. You might bring in 2 other commanders to achieve a contract, but those commands are going to want their sweet piece of the pie as well. A contract with 5 Prestige points can easily be whittled down when you have to share. On top of that, the question regarding Hazard dice always comes up as well. Who’s going to roll them? 2 Prestige points can quickly become 1 or none if you have to share and don’t have the necessary Shields to defend yourself. Rolling hazard dice can be mitigated with Shield cards to defend yourself or you can just push your luck by hoping for an empty Hazard dice roll. If you’re willing to take more risk and absorb the Hazard dice on a contract, maybe you can negotiate a few more credits or additional Prestige.
It’s really a game of diplomacy. While you need your opponents help to achieve certain contacts, you always have one eye on the Prestige track. Players moving too far ahead can quickly be blacklisted until the rest of the players catch up. The rhythmic tides of negotiation are always fluid and swaying back and forth providing an ever-changing landscape.
While there are opportunities to stick it to an opponent or screw them over, those problems appear to have a short shelf life. You’ll quickly see a need to partner with certain players you swore off as recently as the turn before.
The other element that stood out to me was your ability to build sweet combos though the ship upgrades. These are typically ongoing benefits that trigger when you meet certain criteria. I really loved how pairing the right upgrades together can turbo-charge your game. In one game a player had a ship upgrade that when activated produced a “Miss” card (essentially a dead card in your hand). But that same player also had an upgrade turning any Miss cards into wild cards. This proved to be a seriously dangerous combination. You’re only given 4 ship upgrades to use at a time, but these can by cycled out throughout the game.
The deck building portion is fun as well. It’s cool how you can start by only being allowed to play a single card on your turn and end up playing 6, 7 or more. While it’s necessary to equip your deck with Reactor cards that turn one play into 2, you can also purchase additional crew and take advantage of upgrades all allowing you more freedom and more power each turn.
- The game’s production is fantastic.
- The negotiating element transcends a game of strategy and luck to a game of diplomacy and compromise
- There is a certain level of engine building that can really make gameplay fun
- The rulebook is very clear and easy to read
WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT?
- Game length can be a bit longer than it should
- It could take a minute for some to grasp the card playing process
Moonrakers draws you in with it’s beauty and visual communication, but keeps you with its unique and engaging gameplay. Once you figure out the hierarchy of playing your hand, this is a fairly easy game to teach. The setup is quick thanks to the abundance of visual cues and direction on the board.
Overall, it’s a highly accessible game. If you’re a fan of deck-builders, you owe it to yourself to try this out. If you’re not a fan of deck-builders – try it anyways. The semi-cooperative nature of the negotiating aspect draws everyone in even when it’s not your turn – i.e downtime is really limited. The only downside is the game can run a bit long, especially during the first game or two. Overall, Moonrakers is real crowd pleaser that perfectly ties together strategy, planning, interaction and a little luck in a beautiful package.