Review: Space Mission

Posted by James (admin) on September 25th, 2012

Space Mission is a simple, space-themed game of planetary exploration, but there’s more to it than it first sounds.  The goal is to score as many victory points (VPs) as possible which are scored by collecting sets of tiles from the planets and some other ways.  On the table are 8 planets each with 8 face-down tiles, and a warp gate in the centre.  Each player has a spaceship and starts with a hand of 5 cards.  Each card has two numbers on it from 1 to 4  (or a ? which counts as any value) and each number is either green, orange or blue.  On their turn, a player can carry out 2 actions (including the same one twice).  The 6 actions are:

  • Jump: Discard a card with a blue number and move your spaceship directly to a planet with the same blue number.  Place one of your coloured markers on the warp gate.
  • Scan: When at an undeveloped planet, discard a card with a green number that matches the planet’s green number to look at that planet’s tiles and reserve one (which you get if the planet gets developed)
  • Develop: When at an undeveloped planet, discard two cards with orange numbers that match the planet’s two orange numbers to develop it.  Anyone who has scanned and reserved tiles at that planet now receives them, and the developing player takes a tile from the stack too.
  • Discover: At any developed planet, take one of the tiles. This action doesn’t cost any cards.
  • Fly: Move your spaceship to one of the two planets neighbouring your current location.  This action doesn’t cost any cards.
  • Draw cards: Discard any cards you want and draw back up to 5 cards.  This is the only way to get new cards.

If at any time, the stack of tiles at a planet contains only worthless space tiles (which make up 1/4 of all tiles), these get revealed.  The game ends when enough space tiles have been revealed in total (based on the number of players).

When the game ends, points are scored for sets of tiles and most are scored in different ways.  The more water tiles you have the more points they are worth; each alien tile is worth VPs equal to the number of one type in which you have the most; minerals are the same as aliens (but there are more types); matter is worth 9VP for each pair of blue and green but only 2VP for a single; and, there are some tiles that simply give 3VP each.  Players also score 3VP for each planet they developed.  Finally, players get points based on how many tokens they have on the warp gate with 9VP for 1st, 6VP for 2nd, 3VP for 3rd, and 1VP for 4th.

Overall, Space Mission is a neat eurogame that requires you to work out the best combination of your cards which will allow you to get tiles as well as use the jump gate and develop planets.  This is made more interesting as other players are doing the same so there is a competitive element and you try to do what you want before someone else gets in your way.

I like games where each player has a slightly different view of the same situation.  Space Mission delivers this because each player has different cards – so they each have limits on their next move(s) – plus, the tiles a player has already picked up means tiles at a planet may be more or less valuable to players.

It is funny to watch how a planet gets completely looted once it gets developed because everyone likes free stuff so they jump on the planet and take everything that’s not nailed down.  We didn’t call that action ‘Discover’, instead it was called the Loot, Pillage, or Ransack action.

I like the game mechanic where scanned tiles are only received if a planet is developed, but they are lost if the game ends and the planet they are on is not developed.  This is a nice risk-taking mechanic, plus it means if you scan a planet lots and lots then you’d better have the cards to develop it too as it’s unlikely anyone else will do so just to see you walk away with most of the tiles.

Just because developing a planet is a way to score 3VP and get a free tile, it can feel like you should be developing planets as much as possible; however, I think there is some deeper play too where you may want to hold off developing a planet.  For example, if you scan a planet and see there’re lots of tiles you want, you may be better off scanning and reserving tiles before developing it – this requires the right cards for scanning, but it means other players need those too, so you can get the tiles you want before others take them if it was a developed planet.  Also, it may be better to wait and develop at the start of your turn (not the end) so you can make a discover action too, but at the risk that someone else develops it or reserves tiles.  Plus, developing a planet takes the game further towards the end because the space tiles get revealed – so you may not want to develop a planet if you’re not leading in case it ends the game.

There is some luck involved in the drawing of the cards as some players can draw cards that make it easy to gain tiles and develop planets, whereas, others may find their cards don’t match quite so well; however, you can always use a single action to ditch all your cards for new ones.  Also, there is also some luck in the tile types you have access to – collecting sets to maximise your VP is very important but the game moves quickly so it’s not likely you’ll get to move around lots to try to find exactly what you want.  As a result, the luck factor of what tiles are at the planets you visit can play a part in your score.  This just means you need to adjust your plans based on what you see when you scan planets.  I’m not a fan of games with too much luck; however, neither of these factors feel like a major issue in Space Mission because this is a relatively light and quick game.

Each game uses 8 of the 12 planets but this purely alters the numbers required for jumping, scanning and developing (so that not every mix of cards is usable).  I would have liked a little bit of difference in some of the planets, but that’s my preference rather than a criticism.

The game feels like a very fast land grab (I found myself wanting it to last just a bit longer so I coudl get a few more tiles) and there’s little down time between turns.  I think Space Mission plays well with various numbers of players, but I think it is better with more players (it plays 2 to 5) because there are more mixtures of players involved at each planet.

In the end, Space Mission is a simple, short, light eurogame with some good decisions, light interaction, and its own identity.  Great for lighter gamers as well as a light game for experienced gamers.  It would have suited a Star Trek licence very well (by rephrasing the taking of minerals, matter, etc. to being scientific discoveries).


[Played with 3 and 4 players]

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