Designed by Yuri Zhuravlev | Published by 25th Century Games
2-4 Players | 20-40 Minutes
It’s the golden age of space exploration and the world is captivated with reaching for the stars. You’re the head of a space research hub. Compete against other hubs to hire the scientists, engineers and astronauts to complete large-scale space projects in this retro-style game dedicated to some of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century.
Players will take turns hiring experts with research tokens to build their team as they pursue a variety of projects, each with different objective requirements. As experts are hired they bring unique abilities to help accelerate the hiring and building process. Once players achieve a project’s research goals they earn possession of that project. Once the end game objectives are met the player with the most progress points is declared the winner.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Players begin the game with a personal Hub with 5 distinct areas of research: Engineering, Testing, Science, Construction and Space Flight. Players each receive a single research token for each area of research that serves as capital toward recruiting specialists. A field of 6 specialists cards are dealt in the center of the table along with 5 project tiles.
On a player’s turn they may choose to take a specialist card from the center or draw a card from the specialist deck. They can then choose to hold onto that specialist or purchase the specialist if they have enough research tokens. When purchasing a specialist, the player pays the necessary research tokens by passing them on to the next player to use. That specialist is then placed in that player’s personal hub under their matching area of research.
Specialists offer additional reoccurring research tokens to help spark the growth of your hub. Many also feature a variety of unique abilities including end game scoring bonuses or discounts on specific categories of researchers. These unique abilities are typically only available to the player as long as they sit on the top of that hub’s research area. Continuing to build your hub will give you easier access to more expensive and powerful specialists.
The game’s project tiles feature real-world, historical space achievements such as Sputnik, Apollo and Voyager. Each project requires a unique set of research token goals. Once players match a project’s specific set of research goals they earn that projects progress points. The game ends when a player achieves 12 progress points or each of the 5 project tiles have been fulfilled. Bonuses are tallied and the winner of the space race is crowned.
COMPONENTS & ARTWORK
Space Explorers has a cool, retro vibe to it. The illustrations throwback to a thriving space program in the 50’s and 60’s as if they were taken directly from a vintage NASA poster. The muted color palette does a great job of supporting the theme and artwork. The specialist cards have a cool linen texture and the tiles, tokens and hub pieces all have a good feel and quality to them.
If Space Explorers does one thing right it’s killing it with the theme. Artist Aleksei Kot shows a true love of the source material, embracing a throwback vibe that really brings the game to life. Fortunately for Space Explorers, that’s not the only thing they get right.
I’m a huge fan of engine builders such as Wingspan, It’s a Wonderful World and Splendor. Maybe I just haven’t played enough, but there always seems room in my collection for another engine builder. If you’ve played any of those titles you’ll likely know immediately if Space Explorers is right for you. Like most engine builders you begin working with very little resources that slowly build until you hit a certain point in the game… afterwards it’s an exhilarating race to the finish.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the managing of the research tokens. The tokens are spent to recruit specialists into your hub. But unlike most games, that payment goes directly to your neighboring opponent creating a rub when it comes to shelling out for your next specialist card. The push and pull of propelling your own hub while simultaneously giving a new advantage to your opponent is very real with each decision. This really takes the game to a new level.
The game does feature an extensive set of iconography that can come across as overwhelming to some. While it all eventually makes sense, it does take time to wrap your mind around all of it. Fortunately, there is a comprehensive, handy-dandy reference sheet provided for each player.
The rulebook is also extensive… almost to a fault. It reads more like a technical manual for building the actual Lunar Orbiter than a fun, family-friendly guild to the game. Going back over the rulebook now makes perfect sense, but it did require some serious initial study. The funny part of that is that this isn’t a complicated game. Once you get a handle on the iconography, the game play is fun and challenging.
I’ve played the game a half-dozen times and there doesn’t seem to be one favorable pathway to victory. The specialist supply really dictates your approach and can easily steer you away from certain project goals. I can also attest that the game does not play nicely with the indecisive. While a razor focus on your project goals doesn’t guarantee victory, wavering on those goals will almost guarantee defeat.
• The theme is awesome. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi/space themed games, but I really appreciate the celebration of history.
• The components all feel amazing. From a tangible angle, this is a high-quality production.
• The token system creates some fun, challenging decisions.
WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT?
• The iconography does go on and on.
• The rulebook is a little intense for me.
• This is small, but a lot of a particular research group’s specialist images are duplicated through the deck – using re-cropped versions of one single image. It would have been fun to have more completely original illustrations.
I highly recommend Space Explorers with a couple caveats: if the theme doesn’t get you excited, the game most likely won’t set off any rockets. If the idea of playing 2 or 3 games while still regularly referencing the rulebook doesn’t appeal to you… it probably isn’t for you. For everyone who’s left – Space Explorers is a beautifully produced engine-builder/set collection game with a bit of a mature/serious tone full of challenging decisions, a celebration of our space accomplishments and ultimately a great time.