‘Space Base’: Never Tell Me the Odds

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Space Base cover

Send your ships to far-flung sectors, build up your economies and establish valuable colonies. Who will earn the most influence to become the next admiral of the Space Base?

What Is Space Base?

Space Base is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about an hour to play. It will hit store shelves on April 25, with a retail price of $39.99—you can also order from Amazon or directly from AEG. Although the age rating on the box says 14+, there’s nothing inappropriate in the thematic content for younger players, and I think kids as young as 10 or so (particularly those who have played Machi Koro or Valeria: Card Kingdoms) wouldn’t have too much difficulty learning to play Space Base.

GeekDad Approved Tabletop Game 2018

Space Base is GeekDad Approved!

Despite a few gripes about some of the components (see below), the gameplay is solid and I’m happy to give this our seal of approval.

Space Base Components

Space Base components
Space Base components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Here’s what’s in the box:

  • 5 Command Consoles
  • 60 Starting Ship cards (12 each for 5 players)
  • 132 Ship cards
    • 48 Level 1
    • 48 Level 2
    • 36 Level 3
  • 12 Colony cards
  • 1 Starting Player card
  • 30 Charge tokens
  • 5 Credit tokens
  • 5 Income tokens
  • 5 Victory Point tokens
  • 2 dice

The components are a pretty nice quality, though I do have some nitpicky complaints here and there. The card quality is nice but they are narrow, like a bridge card cut in half lengthwise. That makes sense for a tableau-building game, because it reduces the width of your tableau significantly, but the narrow cards can be a little weird to shuffle.

It seems a little strange that some of the starting ship cards have similar colors on the card backs as the others. For instance, the Level 1 cards are green, and there’s a set of starting ship cards that is a slightly different green; same for Level 2, which is yellow. While it’s easy to sort the cards if you see the entire back (a number vs. a rocket ship), if you’re just fanning the cards and looking at the edges, it’s not immediately obvious when a starting card gets mixed in.

The game is very colorful, with a nebula in the background on the command console that is matched by the ship cards as they’re placed onto the board, and there are a lot of fun ship designs. The ships all have names and starship classes, too, and while I recognize some of them as sci-fi references, there are a lot that I don’t recognize. It’s interesting to have so many different names and classes even though the names and ship designs don’t have any specific gameplay value. The rulebook even includes a couple little sidebars with stories about particular ships.

Space Base player board
Your command console begins with these 12 starting ships, 5 credit, and no income or VP. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The command console—the player board—has 12 slots for cards, and is a nice way to keep your tableau organized. Neither Machi Koro and Valeria: Card Kingdoms have a specific way to arrange your player tableaus. The tracks on the bottom half of the board also let you track your credit, income, and VP with one token each, which is efficient, though you’ll want to be careful not to bump the little plastic cubes as you play. A double-thickness mat with sunken wells for the cubes would have been a nice touch, but also would have increased the price significantly. I’ll also note that the boards are tri-fold and should be folded like a Z, not a U, or they won’t sit flat. (Just about every new player tries to fold it like a U the first time.)

Most of the card effects are easy to read, and although there are some more complex effects that you’ll have to look up in the rulebook the first time you play, they’ll start to make sense pretty quickly. My only complaint is that the text is small—particularly at the top of the card where it shows the price of the card and the slot that it goes in. When you’re looking at the market from across the table, it would be nice to be able to read those from farther away. The font is also not the greatest for legibility, in my opinion.

Space Base dice
Shiny dice! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The dice are cute: standard-sized six-sided dice, but with a rocket in place of the 1. The dice are a translucent light blue, with specks of glitter in them.

Space Base insert
The insert holds everything nicely, with a little extra room (for expansion?). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The plastic insert has three deck spaces under the player boards, which work well for separating out the ship cards, and then there are two wells for all of the other cards, which you can divvy up as you see fit. The player boards hold the ship cards in place for the most part but the other two card wells aren’t covered by anything. The entire thing fits in a 9″ square box.

How to Play Space Base

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most VP by the end of the game, which is triggered when any player reaches 40 VP.

Space Base 2-player setup
Setup for a 2-player game, showing the shipyard and colony cards in the center. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Give each player a player board, a set of starting ship cards, and one each of the credit, income, and VP trackers (yellow, green, and blue, respectively). Each player starts with 5 credit and 0 income and VP. Shuffle the ship card decks separately, and then lay out a “shipyard” of six cards of each level. Lay out all 12 of the Colony cards face-up as well.

Space Base card slot
This ship has a “5” in the top corner, so it goes in the “5” slot. The previous card is now tucked, so the red banner shows above the new ship. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

To complete setup and determine the starting player, each player draws one Level 1 ship card at random and pays its cost by spending credit. The card is then placed on the board in its appropriate sector (according to the small square at the top right of the card), displacing the card that is there. The displaced card is turned upside down and tucked under the board in that same slot, so that only the red portion of the card is showing. So every player will have one “deployed” ship at the beginning of the game.

The player whose card cost the most is the starting player and gets the starting player card. The second player gets 1 more credit, third player gets 2 more credit, and the fourth and fifth players get 1 income.

Gameplay

On your turn, the active player rolls both dice. Then every player is allowed to allocate the dice results to use ship effects. Finally, the active player may buy 1 card, and then the shipyard is refilled if necessary.

Space Base board and cards
As you buy more cards, you will end up with more and more cards tucked under your board. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Your player board has 12 numbered sectors. Each sector will have one ship in it, but there may be any number of ships “deployed” above it—turned upside down and tucked underneath. When you allocate dice, you may choose either the two individual dice results, or the sum. So if a player rolled a 4 and 5, I could use both 4 and 5, or 9 by itself. If you’re the active player, you get results in the blue boxes—typically, the ones on the ships in your sectors. If you’re not the active player, you get the results in the red boxes from deployed ships. If you don’t have any deployed ships for a particular sector, you won’t gain any effect when that number is rolled by another player.

Card effects may give you credits, income, or points. There are also many that have small squares, and the effect is that you get to place a charge (a small clear cube) on the square. Once the effect has been charged, you may spend the charges to gain the effect listed—the color of the effect shows whether it may be used on your own turn or during another player’s turn. Green means it may be used on anyone’s turn.

Space Base shipyard
The shipyard contains a market of ships available to purchase. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Once everyone has allocated dice and used effects, the active player may buy one card, either from the shipyard or a colony card. The shipyard is divided into three levels, which correspond to the price ranges of the cards.If you purchase a card, you must have enough credit to afford it—but you then spend all of your credit when you purchase the card, not just the price. The card is placed on your board in the designated sector, which then deploys the card that was there previously.

Space Base colony cards
There is one colony card available per sector. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The 12 colony cards correspond to the 12 sectors—one per sector. These are fairly expensive, and show a yellow banner with a rocketship (which indicates VP). When you buy one of these, you put it into the corresponding sector as usual, but then you score the VP immediately. The colony card may never be bumped and deployed, and you will not get anything for allocating dice to that sector anymore.

At the end of your turn, you refill the shipyard if necessary. Then, if your credits are lower than your income, you increase your credits until they equal your income. Pass the dice to the next player clockwise.

Game End

The game ends when any player reaches 40 VP or more. (If you wrap around, place a charge token on the 40 space to indicate it.) The game continues until each player has had the same number of turns, and then the game ends. The player with the highest score wins.

Space Base and Hardback
During GameStorm, I ran several games of Space Base, including one with a game of Hardback being played simultaneously on the same table. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Space Base

Space Base is, as I mentioned earlier, somewhat reminiscent of Machi Koro and Valeria: Card Kingdoms, two other tableau-building games in which you earn resources and bonuses based on the dice roll, both yours and other players. All of the games have a similar structure and you try to fill your tableau so that you’ll gain good benefits—and you may have to decide whether to go for small benefits on a wide range of dice results, or big benefits on just a few results.

Space Base even uses the same color scheme as Machi Koro—blue for your turn, red for somebody else’s turn, and green for anyone’s turn. But there are several key differences, too, and ultimately they give Space Base its own unique flavor.

In Space Base, you’ll always get to choose how to allocate the dice for yourself (whether you rolled them or not): as two single dice, or as the sum. Sometimes the choice will be very obvious—for instance, you might get a credit each from 2 and 3, or a single credit from 5, so taking the two individual dice is a better option. But what about the choice between credits and income? Or points? Or, as you start introducing more complex effects, the options open up even more.

The credit/income feature is also unique to Space Base, and it’s one that I got wrong the first time I played, so it bears repeating here. When you buy a card, you spend all of your credits, regardless of the card’s price, and then you’ll reset your credits to your current income level. You do not simply gain your income level at the end of each round, so if you don’t spend any credits you won’t suddenly have a big bump in credits. But if you manage to build up your income, that can give you a tremendous advantage in buying more expensive cards more often, because you don’t have to spend as long building up credit each round.

Space Base ship cards
Two controversial cards: “other players lose points” and “You Win.” Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The card effects typically do not affect other players directly: when you gain credits or income or points, you just gain those yourself. There is only one card I’ve seen that will cause other players to lose VP, and it’s one that most players have been somewhat hesitant to use, because it’s the only “take that” effect in the game, so it makes it feel particularly mean. I know that designer John D. Clair had told me before, in reference to his game Mystic Vale, that he actually liked the so-called “multiplayer solitaire” feel of certain deck-building games and intentionally designed Mystic Vale to have no cross-player interference. The primary source of player interaction is the rotating market, where you can prevent another player from buying something by getting it first. Space Base is similar, other than that one card. You don’t ever have to worry about somebody else destroying what you’ve built up, but you still do need to pay attention to what other players are doing, so that you know how close other players are to victory or whether they’ve loaded up a particular sector with a lot of benefits.

The other card that has been somewhat controversial is the “You Win” card, pictured above. It takes several charges to activate it (more in a 2- or 3-player game), and it charges when you roll a 12, but if you activate it, you automatically win the game, regardless of score. Because there are cards that can let you manipulate the dice results or take adjacent effects or move charges around, it’s actually quite possible to do, especially if you’ve been building toward it. There are even some card effects that let you swap the locations of cards in your tableau—so you might be able to move this card to a lower, more commonly rolled number.

Some players feel that it’s a bit of a cheat—that winning with this card isn’t a true win. On the other hand, it’s a card that you can only use if you don’t buy anything else that goes in that sector (because the card flips over and no longer has the “You Win” effect), and chances are if you’re setting up for the results-manipulation, you aren’t scoring as many points otherwise. I’ve thought about it a bit, and I think I like it, because it can drive everyone toward the end-game. If everyone is just building up income and buying more and more cards but nobody is working on actually earning points, the appearance of this card sets up a sort of countdown. It can keep the game from going too long. (However, the “everyone loses points” cards extends the game, which feels more unwelcome.)

Space Base tucked cards
The more cards you have tucked in a sector, the more you can earn when other players roll your number. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are a number of other card effects that I haven’t detailed here, but there’s enough variety that it gives you a lot of choices in how to pursue victory. You could focus on cards that earn a few points, forgoing wealth in exchange for a slow, steady crawl to the top. Or you could build up your income so that you can buy expensive cards every turn, eventually buying colony cards to push you over the finish line. You can look for effects to manipulate the dice results, or move cards around on your tableau because the higher sector cards usually have better rewards. There are a lot of ways to play the game, but there’s always the chance that the sectors you invested in don’t get rolled, and nothing pays off.

Luck, of course, is a factor in the game. The rulebook helpfully provides a chart of the odds of rolling particular results on two dice (in case you weren’t already familiar with that), but, as with any dice game, just because 7 is the most probable sum doesn’t mean that it will be the most commonly rolled sum every time you play. That is what makes dice games so great for some people and so terrible for others—the stubborn refusal of the physical dice to adhere strictly to the laws of probability. Personally, I’m a fan: you gamble on how you think the dice will turn up, and then you play the odds. It means that somebody can win by betting on the bell curve in one game, and the next time somebody else wins with a total long shot. I’ve played games where I had a great plan all lined up, but then never managed to roll a 9 for the rest of the game.

I’ll admit that the game’s theme is fairly secondary to the gameplay—it reminds me of Machi Koro in that sense, because you don’t really care so much about what the cards are, just what benefits they give you. Valeria: Card Kingdoms felt like it had a little more ties between the theme and the card effects. But that’s okay: even without relying heavily on the theme, it’s a lot of fun to play. Because you always have only a single ship in each slot, but the number of deployed (tucked) cards increases, eventually you might be earning more on another player’s turn than on your own. Those colony cards seem like a bad deal at first, because they lock down your sectors and prevent you from gaining anything on your own turn—but later in the game, you realize that you might earn just as much in between your own turns.

I took Space Base with me to GameStorm, a local game convention, and it was definitely one of the hits. I taught it several times over the course of the weekend, and several times players came back and asked to borrow it when I was running other games. Despite the 14+ age rating, I think it’s perfectly fine for kids, too (I’ve played with my 11-year-old), and I foresee it becoming another GeekDad favorite.

If you’re a Facebook user, AEG is providing an opportunity to win a copy before its official release on Wednesday. Visit this link to leave a comment by 11am Eastern on Wednesday, and you just might get a copy for free!

Look for Space Base in stores or online this week!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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