Have you ever wanted to be Han Solo? Maybe you see yourself as more of a Kaylee Frye, or perhaps even a Mr. Scott. Whatever your specific fandom, chances are if you’re into sci-fi you’ve entertained your own daydreams of epic outer space adventure. If you indeed find yourself among that multitude, Space Movers, a new Kickstarter project from North Carolina’s KnA Games, is the game for you.
[Ed. Note: the Space Movers project was a previous sponsor. Their original Kickstarter did not meet its goal, so they’ve re-worked the project (incl. getting the price down) and have re-launched. We think the game looks great, and we’re happy to re-run this promotion for it gratis in the hopes we can get another great, geeky game made and played.]
At its core, Space Movers is a cooperative tabletop title that’s part resource management, part madcap RPG dice-roller and all charmingly stylized game night fodder for geeks of all ages. Supplemented by a comic book that sets the stage and establishes our colorful cast of characters, Space Movers comes out of the gate with a clear vision of its science fiction environment. Two to seven players take on the roles of crewmembers aboard the spaceship Liberty – from its dashing captain to its alien co-pilot to its medical droid – on a mission to deliver somewhat less-than legal cargo without catching the eye of continually overreaching interplanetary governing body the Universal Oversight. Each character is pictured on a crew card that describes special actions or modifiers available to that character, not to mention which color die represents them in the game’s frequent skill rolls.
All this action takes place on an expansive board littered with planetary destinations. On one end, a monitor ticks off Liberty’s constantly dwindling resources; on the other, a slowly rising meter marks the current level of Universal Oversight alert. The game’s story, and Space Movers truly is a story game, unfolds as your crew makes its way through five double-sided Objective cards, the completion of which results in a win for all players involved. Each objective must be successfully completed before the next can begin, and this clever little mechanic means that future expansions need only be limited to further five-card packs. An additional 60 cards make up the Game Deck, including highly variable secondary Events, UO Pursuit cards (which puts the Universal Oversight’s scout ship on your trail), Cargo cards (which, when completed, help restore Liberty’s resources) and Reaction cards that generally serve to supplement failed skill rolls.
Each turn begins with a Draw phase, wherein the active player takes the top card from the Draw Deck. Up to five cards can be retained in each player’s hand, but the fast-paced nature of the game and multitude of card types meant that players in my demo sessions rarely had a full hand. Phase two, Movement, allows the player to move both his Character Token within the map of the Liberty (located in the lower right corner of the board) and the Liberty itself to an adjacent space on the planetary map. The Action phase then allows the player to perform a single action, either as his character above the ship or as the Liberty; this includes everything from attempting Objectives or initiating/completing Cargo missions to immediate Actions like Events or UO Pursuits.
Generally, these Actions require a skill check, and this is where things get really interesting. Actions are described via flavor text, with success criteria displayed as colored icons. These icons correspond to the 10-sided dice connected to each character, with additional multicolored icons representing Strength and Intelligence, wild cards that any other character may attempt. Why involve additional players in a skill check? Because the dice are the thing!
Perhaps a skill check requires the black die (Captain), the green die (Navigator) and an additional intelligence roll, for which you choose the yellow die (Engineer). Rather than roll all three at once, players instead take turns making their appropriate rolls within the confines of the elevated game box itself. Any roll over five is considered successful, while a roll of zero, which will be marked with a medical cross in the retail version, indicates not only failure but injury. More importantly, all die rolls must succeed to positively resolve the Action.
So let’s say that Eli, our captain, rolls first and succeeds with a seven. Navigator Neleh goes next and rolls a zero. Engineer Lucas can then roll in such a way as to try and bump Neleh’s die in hopes of changing the outcome. Before the final tally, however, the active player himself gets to roll a blank “bumper die” as a last-ditch effort to avoid failure.
This leads to alternately hilarious and nail-biting rolls, and manages to engage every player at the table, especially when attempting to decide which combination of player Action and single Reaction card (from a fellow crewmember) would make for the most advantageous outcome. Should someone play a special Reaction that allows the physical card itself to be set in the die-rolling area, granting automatic success to any dice that land directly on said card? Should the active player move to the Cargo Bay, allowing him to search the Game Deck for a new Cargo card, or move to the Communications room and burn additional resource points to eliminate a UO eye marker, an on-planet icon resulting from a UO pursuit, thereby reducing the Universal Oversight’s presence?
With all the hard decisions made and the dice cast, the turn ends in Clean Up, wherein the Resource Pawn moves down to the next resource level, the player discards any extraneous cards and the UO scout ship, if active, moves one planet closer to the Liberty and our hapless heroes. It’s a great big turn sequence in a great big game that, while a bit cumbersome for newbies, quickly becomes great big fun.
More to the point, it becomes a different kind of fun each time you play, and even deliberate pre-planning can come undone with the draw of a card or the tumble of a die. In my last game, for example, I drew nothing but UO Pursuit cards, and our Engineer became injured on approximately half her rolls. Yet still we persevered, mostly by relying on the Liberty’s Kitchen, which allows the active player to give his Action to another crewmember – a process we quickly began to term “kitchening.”
Cleverly conceived and skillfully designed, Space Movers is a cooperative game for people who don’t play coop games; it’s an RPG for gamers reluctant to roll-up a character or make a saving throw. At its heart, Space Movers is a sci-fi adventure, and like the long-lived genre itself, it’s easy to love if hard to predict.