On our journey into deep space, Ganymede is a way station: the large settlers ships are launched from this moon of Jupiter, after settlers are shuttled from Earth, with a stopover on Mars. Recruit settlers with the right skills to fill the ship rosters and increase your corporation’s reputation in this race to the stars.
What Is Ganymede?
Ganymede is a tableau-building game from Sorry We Are French (which is the best publisher name ever) for 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 20 to 40 minutes to play. In Europe, it retails for €27.00 and can be ordered from Sorry We Are French. In the US and Canada, it retails for $39.99 and is currently available for pre-order from Lucky Duck Games (and is expected to ship at the end of February). Based on the theme, artwork, and rules, I feel that it may be accessible to players as young as 10, though there can be a bit of long-term planning required that less-experienced players may not fully grasp right away.
- 30 Settler tiles
- 90 Cards:
- 30 Earth Shuttle cards
- 30 Mars Shuttle cards
- 30 Settlers Ship cards
- 52 Settler meeples (13 each in 4 colors)
- 4 Player boards
- 4 Reputation markers (wooden cubes)
All of the cards are half-sized cards, and the meeples are a little smaller than standard, so the photos can be a little deceptive, and you might expect the game to be larger than it actually is. However, because of the limited amount of information required on each card and the board, there’s not really any reason for it to be larger—it just means that the cards can be a little trickier to shuffle.
The artwork in the game, by Oliver Mootoo, reminds me a bit of video games from the ’90s, when the polygon count on 3D models was still fairly low. It’s a cool aesthetic that fits the theme well, sort of a retro futuristic look. The illustrations depict various spaceships in transit, and the settlers ships cards in particular have otherworldly backgrounds, sometimes with animals or plants that you don’t realize are massive until you see the tiny ship flying past.
The game itself is language-independent, with icons for everything—that means you do need to use the rulebook to learn what everything means, but I did find that most of the iconography was fairly intuitive, and there were only a few things I needed to look up. After a couple plays, I can play it without referencing the rulebook at all. The various colors of settlers tiles and shuttle cards are distinguished by color and icon, which is handy for color blind players, but the meeples themselves (and the meeple icons on the cards) do not have any special indicators. The color selection (red, blue, yellow, purple) avoids the usual red-green problem, but if you have color blindness you may want to take a closer look first before you buy it.
The rulebook is in French, English, and Korean (in that order); I generally prefer when rulebooks are single-language so I can set aside the ones I’m not using. Despite the fairly compact size of the game (the largest thing aside from the rulebook are the player boards), the box is pretty big. I wish it were a little more compact, because then it would make a nice game to take on the go.
How to Play Ganymede
The goal of the game is to score the most points by launching settlers ships and increasing your reputation.
Set up the central supply by shuffling each of the decks independently. Lay out four Earth shuttles, four Mars shuttles, and three settlers ships next to their decks. Mix up the Settler tiles and form a draw pile, and set out the four starting tiles. (Note that they don’t have any special markings to indicate they are starting tiles, but they’re the four tiles that show a meeple icon next to a settlers ship icon.)
The number of settlers (meeples) depends on the number of players—if you have fewer than four players, you will remove some of each color.
Give each player a player board and a reputation cube, which is placed at the far left of the reputation track. Deal four settlers ships to each player. Everyone chooses 2 to keep, and shuffles the other 2 back into the deck. Place your chosen ships in the two spaces on the right side of your board.
You’re trying to fill your settlers ships with the right types of settlers: the top ship requires three of the same color, and the bottom ship requires one of each color. The ships and the planets all have limits on the number of settlers that may be placed there—any additional settlers sent to those locations are lost in space (and placed back into the supply).
On your turn, you will do one of the following:
- Take a settler tile
- Take a shuttle card
- Perform basic actions
Take a Settler Tile
Choose one of the face-up settler tiles from the supply and place it at the top of your player board, discarding a tile if you need to make room. If the tile type matches one or both of the other tiles on your board, you may use its effect twice or three times (respectively). For instance, in the photo above, if I just played the tile on the far right, I now have two “yellow gear” tiles, so I can use my new tile twice.
The tiles usually let you take settlers from the supply and place them on Earth, but there are also other effects that could be applied, like moving settlers around, increasing your reputation, and so on. Then replace the settler tile from the stack.
Take a Shuttle Card
Take a shuttle card from the supply. Earth shuttles move settlers from Earth to Mars, and Mars shuttles move settlers from Mars to the settlers ships. The icons at the top of the card indicate which color settlers will be moved (white is wild); some shuttles also show an X’d out settler tile, which means you must discard a tile in order to use that shuttle. You may only use a shuttle if you have the matching settlers to be moved (though they may be “lost in space” if there’s no room at the destination for them).
Place the shuttle in the matching column at the bottom of your player board. After moving the settlers, you may then use the effect at the bottom of the shuttle card once for each shuttle of that type. For instance, in the photo above, I’ve just played my third “yellow gear” shuttle. After moving the yellow, blue, and purple settlers, I may now use the effect at the bottom to increase my reputation. Since there are three yellow shuttles, I increase my reputation three times.
Perform Basic Actions
Instead of taking a settler tile or shuttle, you may discard 1 to 3 of your settler tiles to take that many basic actions. Basic actions include:
- Recruit: Take a settler of any color from the supply and place it on Earth.
- Adapt: Trade a settler on your player board with any settler in the supply.
- Move: Move one settler along an arrow (from Earth to Mars, from Mars to a settlers ship, or between two settlers ships).
- Reputation: Increase your reputation one step.
- Draw: Take a settlers ship from the supply or off the top of the deck and add it to your hand.
At the end of your turn, if any of your settlers ships are filled with the required types of settlers, then it launches. Return the settlers to the supply and place the ship card face-up next to your board. Then, take a new settlers ship from the supply (either from the face-up row or the top card of the deck), and then play a settlers ship from your hand into the empty space. Some settlers ships award bonus actions after they’re launched, and some require fewer settlers to complete.
On the reputation track, there are several spaces with gear icons, representing a basic action. If you choose to stop on a gear icon (rather than passing through it), you get to take one free basic action.
The last space of the reputation track shows a launch icon—if your reputation reaches this space, you may immediately launch a settlers ship even if it is not filled.
Finally, each time you complete a full row (one of each color) of shuttle cards, you may immediately launch a settlers ship even if it isn’t filled—there’s a small launch icon at the far right of the shuttle cards area as a reminder.
If a player launches their 4th settlers ship or one of the two shuttle draw decks runs out, then finish the current round (so that everyone has had the same number of total turns).
You score points for settlers ships that you launched, settlers left on your incomplete settlers ships, and your reputation track.
Settlers ships have various scoring types: some are simply worth a certain number of points, and others will score based on particular criteria such as how many purple shuttles you have, or the number of settler tiles you have at the end of the game, and so on.
Why You Should Play Ganymede
Hope S. Hwang is also the designer of Guildhall, a card game from 2012 that has a very different theme, but you can see a little bit of the same DNA. Both games include a way to make abilities more effective by playing more of the same thing, and also a way that those reset again. In Ganymede, the settler tiles are most effective if you keep taking the same type, and you’ll get to trigger it three times at the most. However, if you spend any of those tiles to take basic actions, you lose the bonus for the next time you take a new tile. Also, taking the same color may be great for activating it multiple times, but it also may mean that you’re loading up on the same color of settler, which can be of limited use depending on which settlers ship you’re trying to fill.
The shuttles, on the other hand, are engines that build up bonus actions but don’t reset. If you keep playing the same color ship, you’ll get more and more bonus actions each time you do. Counteracting that, however, is the fact that you get a launch bonus for playing one of each color. You’ll have to decide which is more advantageous: more bonus actions, or launching an extra ship for free?
Each of the settler colors represents a type of job, as explained in the rulebook, though I always forget their actual names once I’m playing: blue is marketing and communication, red is management, yellow is engineering, and purple is social and healthcare. What that translates to is that the tiles and shuttles of those colors tend to have a particular type of action. Blue helps you get more settlers; red lets you trade settlers; yellow lets you move settlers; purple increases your reputation. That’s not true of every single tile and shuttle, but it does loosely tie the settler colors to particular types of actions, which can help drive your strategy.
I like the way that you have to chain together tiles, and shuttles. Settlers tiles put people onto Earth, and then you use shuttles to move them along—but you always have to have the right people available. Often you’ll work backward from your settlers ships: “I need a yellow settler here, so I need to get a Mars shuttle that will transport a yellow person, which means I need to get an Earth shuttle that transports a yellow person, which means I need a yellow settler tile.” But I may be able to get that yellow settler another way, either by using an “adapt” action to trade for a yellow, or by using “move” actions to transfer a yellow settler without using shuttles. And those actions could come either from tiles or shuttles that are also moving other people along, or from discarding my existing settlers tiles.
I also like the way that the settlers ships will drive your choice of shuttles and other actions. If you have a settlers ship that gives you one point per red shuttle, then you’ll probably be taking a lot of red settlers so that you can take more red shuttles. On the other hand, if you get the settlers ship that gives you 6 points per complete set of shuttles, then you’ll be diversifying as much as possible.
Despite the fact that the goal in Ganymede seems heavily tied to launching your settlers ships, the scoring is dependent on other factors, which means that there are a lot of ways to approach it. You can score up to 6 points for your reputation alone, which is worth more than most settlers ships. You can decide if it’s better to go for lower-value ships that offer other bonuses or make it easier to launch, and try to end the game early, or if it’s better to pursue more valuable ships that require a lot of additional actions to score. One of my gamers likes to take the strategy of hoarding as many of a single color as possible: it doesn’t generally get him a lot of points, but it makes it quite difficult for other players to launch their bottom ship.
The game plays pretty quickly; four settlers ships isn’t a lot, and the end can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention to other players, particularly if they manage to use some of the bonus launch actions. But within that short time frame, there’s some really great engine-building and action management. I really enjoy Ganymede, and if you’re looking for a small, space-themed game with several paths to victory, I recommend checking it out!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.