Things are not going well on the International Space Station: meteor strikes have damaged critical modules, food stores are damaged, and you’ve just been alerted about an oxygen leak. You’ll need to work closely with your fellow astronauts to keep the station running long enough to finish your missions.
What Is Intrepid?
Intrepid is a cooperative dice game for 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 60–90 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $60 for a copy of the game—backers in the first 48 hours will get a free mini-expansion that will not be available to the public until a year after release. You may be able to play with experienced kids younger than 13, though the simultaneous play can make it a little harder to ensure that everyone is playing correctly unless you slow the game down significantly. Also, expect the learning game to go longer than the stated time—it took me about 2 hours to play a 2-player learning game.
Intrepid was designed by Jeff Beck and Jeff Krause and published by Uproarious Games, with illustrations by Gwalchmai Doran and interface design by Heiko Günther.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. Some of the nations included in my review are actually stretch goals, so they will only be included if the campaign reaches a certain funding level.
Here’s what comes in the game:
- Center Console board
- 4 Station boards
- Tile Tier mat
- Tile Tier token
- 4 Resource mats (climate, power, oxygen, and nutrition)
- 6 Nation mats
- 12 Resource tokens (3 tokens per player)
- 6 Mission cards
- 9 Emergency Resupply cards
- 21 Disaster cards (in 4 difficulty levels plus intro card)
- 113 Station tiles (divided into 6 nations)
- 60 Player dice (15 dice per player color)
- Disaster die (8-sided)
- 40 Disaster tokens
- 8 Disable tokens
- 16 Spent tokens
- 5 “-10 Drain” tokens
- 6 Unlock tokens (for Brazil)
As you can see, there are a lot of components in this game, in part because each of the 8 nations has its own set of around 18 module tiles. And it’s not just a lot of stuff in the box: this game takes up a lot of space on the table, especially in a 3- or 4-player game.
The resource mats are a pretty cool component. Each one has a semicircular gauge that tracks how much of that resource you produced in a round. It also tracks the resource “drain”—basically, how much your crew is using each round, indicating the minimum that you’ll need to produce—using a nifty dial system that starts filling up the gauge with red squares showing negative values.
Each of the nations is unique: the nation board and the modules are marked with its flag, and there are different restrictions on how the nation uses and manipulates dice. Each one has a complexity level as well, so players at different experience levels can still play together. I like the fact that the countries included in the game are all drawn from the list of those that have actually visited the ISS, and include some that you don’t often see in board games as player options, like Malaysia and Brazil. The portraits of the astronauts don’t appear to be based on specific astronauts, though, and I like that there’s a mix of genders and ethnicities represented there.
The mats present information as various switches and dials, which is a nice touch. They’re made to look utilitarian, not sleek and futuristic, which fits the theme of the International Space Station: it’s a little more old-school NASA than SpaceX. The final artwork (seen on the Kickstarter page) has some more details than the prototype version in my photos, and looks a bit more weathered.
The center console is a plus-shaped tile, which you place in between the large station mats to make the shape of the ISS. The station mats look like the large solar panel arrays, and are where you place the various module tiles that you’ve installed on the station.
How to Play Intrepid
You can download a draft of the rulebook here. It’s also available for free on Tabletopia if you want to try it out, though it does not include all of the nations. Note that you’ll still need to read the rulebook before playing on Tabletopia, because it provides the components but does not actually run the game for you.
The goal of the game is to complete a set number of missions (depending on difficulty level) before the disaster deck runs out, while generating enough resources to keep the ISS going each round.
Set up the ISS in the center of the table, with the center console in the center and station boards on either side, with the 1-4 sectors on one side and the 5-8 sectors on the other. (In a 2-player game, you only use 2 station boards.) Place the tile tier mat near the center console, with the token nearby.
Each player gets a nation mat and all associated tiles, sorted by tier type. Place your starting tiles onto the station mats. In a 2- or 3-player game, there are also some “boost” tiles that are used. (Each nation is marked A or B; you’ll need to split these up depending on the number of players.) All four resource mats are used (regardless of player count), split between the players based on the A and B nations. Turn the dial to -3 or -6 drain, depending on the player count. Your nation mat goes on the bottom half of a resource mat. Note that each resource mat has a special ability in the top left corner—this ability may be used once per round.
The resource tokens are placed on the resource track on the first space, on the capacity track on “0,” and on the first space of your nation board, indicating how many dice you get to use. Each player chooses a dice color and makes a supply of those dice, taking their starting dice according to their nation board.
Create the disaster deck—you use a certain number from each difficulty level, with the easier cards on the top of the deck. The intro disaster card is flipped face-up to explain how disasters work.
Shuffle the emergency resupply cards and set them face down nearby. Shuffle the mission cards and make a deck of 2 to 6 cards, depending on the difficulty level, and return the rest to the box. Place this deck face-up.
Each round, you’ll follow these phases:
- Roll and Place Dice
- Count Resources
- Flip a Disaster Card
- Spend Capacity
- Reset the Round
Roll and Place Dice
Everyone rolls a number of dice according to their nation board, and then places dice onto tiles to activate them. You may not place dice on modules belonging to other players, but you may place them on your own modules, the center console, the tile tier mat, mission cards, and disaster cards. This phase is done simultaneously—everyone plays at the same time until everyone is finished placing their dice.
Some modules require multiple dice to be placed together, and some have multiple separate dice that can be filled one at a time. The modules also state what dice values may be placed in each slot. When you place dice on a tile, you immediately get the benefit printed on the bottom left of the tile. These effects usually let you get new dice from your supply or manipulate dice.
The center console has four docking modules, which may be used to share dice with other players. If you place a die on the docking module, another player may take a die of the same value from their supply.
Most modules produce resources, either a flat amount or based on the die value placed there. Count up all the resources generated and move the tokens on the resource tracks that amount. Tiles that have hit tokens on them will produce 1 fewer resource for each hit token.
If there are any mission cards with dice on them, you must pay the resource cost shown on the mission card, and then increment the die by one. If the die reaches “4,” then the mission is completed and the card is discarded. If you cannot pay the cost of a mission card, then the players lose the game.
Then, each die in the habitation module generates 1 point of resource; these must all be assigned to the same resource mat.
If any resource is still in the red zone (meaning you didn’t generate enough to cover the drain), then there aren’t enough resources to sustain life on the ISS and the players lose.
Finally, check which resource has the lowest total. Each player gains that much capacity, marking it on their resource board. Capacity is the currency used to install new modules, repair old modules, and so on.
Each resource mat has bonuses at 14, 18, 24, and 32. If you’ve generated at least that many resources, then you trigger that bonus, and then cover it with a “spent” token.
Flip a Disaster Card
Flip over the top card of the disaster deck and follow its instructions. Some disasters are momentary: you follow the instructions and then discard them. Others are persistent: they will continue to have effects every round, but you can spend dice during the dice placement phase to prevent them, and you can also follow the “resolve” effects to discard them.
Many of the disasters will involve rolling the 8-sided disaster die, and will place hit tokens on modules in the sector matching the die. Each hit token reduces that tiles resource production. When a tile has 4 hit tokens on it, it is disabled and cannot be used. (Some disasters will also place disabled tokens on tiles with fewer than 4 hits.) If a tile has 5 hits on it, it is destroyed and removed from the game.
If you generate fewer than 5 capacity, you may draw an emergency supply card from the deck. These will provide capacity to some players, but there is also a cost: each one has a a disaster icon at the bottom. If you flip a disaster card that matches a revealed emergency resupply card, then the effect is triggered (and then the resupply card is discarded).
Now, players may spend capacity. You may upgrade your own tiles for 5 capacity, flipping them over. You may also install new modules by paying the capacity cost show in the top left corner. Each new tile also has a drain cost, so it will increase drain on a resource.
On your nation board, there are capacity costs printed in between the dice spaces; you may pay this cost to increase the number of dice you roll each round.
Finally, you may spend 5 capacity to remove a disabled token from a tile, or to repair a hit token from a tile.
Reset the Round
At the end of the round (if you haven’t lost yet!), remove all of the dice, and reset the resource tokens back to the first square of the resource tracks. Resources don’t carry over from round to round!
As with most cooperative games, there are a few ways to lose, and one way to win.
You lose if:
- You cannot pay the cost of a mission card that has been activated
- You did not generate enough resources to cover the drain
- You cannot flip a disaster card because the deck ran out
You win if you successfully discard the last mission card and generate enough resources that round to cover the drain. (You do not have to flip a disaster card on the turn that you complete the last mission.)
Why You Should Play Intrepid
A few weeks ago, SpaceX launched its first crewed rocket into space, taking two astronauts to the International Space Station in the middle of pandemic lockdowns and the beginning of tense protests all over the nation. I saw remarks on social media that it seemed like a good time to get off the planet for a while (though, of course, if you thought being stuck in your house was bad, I’m not sure you’d like it in a small capsule either!). Well, Intrepid does not portray life aboard the ISS as a pleasant getaway—it’s a bit more like that film Gravity, where meteors strike and everything goes wrong. Hope you brought your duct tape.
Intrepid can feel like a really rough game: when you get bombarded by meteors and a bunch of your modules are damaged, you’ll feel like things are futile. I’ve played just a few times so far on an easy difficulty level, and I have to put an asterisk next to our wins because I realized afterward that we had gotten a couple of rules wrong and made it a little easier than it should have been. And even then, most of those wins were just barely scraping by. In one game, after we completed our last mission, the next disaster card would have left us with two damaged modules and three disabled modules. We were like renters who threw a huge party and trashed the place the night before we moved out. I did finally achieve an actual, bonafide win in a 4-player game this weekend—we managed to hit several of the resource bonuses, including a 32-resource bonus that let us skip past 2 rounds of mission card costs. It may seem strange to say that the game is hard even if we’ve kept winning (sort of), but those were all on the starting difficulty level, and I can definitely see it getting significantly more challenging if we needed to complete more missions.
I haven’t played enough yet to really feel like I’ve figured out the best approach. We’re completing missions, but then not generating enough capacity to buy better modules. We’ve rarely hit those higher resource bonuses, and although we’ve been able to unlock higher tier modules, those tier 3 and 4 prices seem way out of reach. Clearly, I need a bit more training before I’m ready to be an astronaut.
Each nation has different rules for manipulating dice, which are linked to the way that their modules work, and these present some fascinating puzzles. Depending on your experience level, you may find the less-complex nations a little boring, so it’s good that there’s a range of them to choose from (and potentially even more coming, depending on stretch goals). For instance, the USA, which is one of the easier ones, has a lot of tiles that require pairs of dice. Many of their modules allow you to increase or decrease an unplaced die, helping you get those matching pairs. Germany, on the other hand, starts with more dice but they’re locked in “storage” when you first roll them. You must discard dice from storage in order to unlock an equivalent number of pips and pull those dice out of storage to use. Most of Germany’s tiles involve the storage: putting new dice into storage, re-rolling dice in storage, or pulling dice out of storage. Japan’s is one of the stranger dice manipulation rules, one that is less commonly used in dice games: after you roll dice and line them up, you cannot change their orientation. Japan’s modules allow you to tip dice to the left or right, changing it to whatever value is now showing, and many of Japan’s modules require the number “3” so you need to figure out how to get that by tilting left or right.
That’s your personal puzzle. But there’s also a group puzzle: how do you, as a team, generate enough resources to sustain the ISS, plus whatever is needed for your mission, plus additional resources so that you have capacity to install even better modules? (Seriously: I’m asking here, because I don’t know the answer yet.) Each nation has the ability to generate 2 of the 4 resources, and typically installing new modules will increase drain on the other resources. So there’s a delicate balancing act: I want to produce more nutrition, but that will cut into our climate or power. So then another player increases climate, which drains nutrition. Ideally, the new amounts you’re producing will be more than the increased drain, but then you also need more dice. Since capacity is determined by the lowest resource produced, it means that everyone has to be increasing their potential production, or you won’t have anything to spend. (And don’t get me started on those emergency resupply cards! It’s always tricky deciding whether it’s worth the risk to get a little more capacity for a round.)
Because the dice placement phase is simultaneous, that helps ameliorate the alpha player problem, where one player takes over and tells everyone what to do in a cooperative game. You get to place your dice however you want—though there is often some discussion about whether somebody needs to share a particular number with somebody else, or figuring out who has extra dice to prevent a recurring disaster. (Since I received the prototype during quarantine, my first play was over videochat so I had to place all of the dice and we talked through each nation in turn. It was fun, but it made the game 3 times longer than usual.)
The disasters are rough. You’ll be feeling pretty good about your production for a round, imagining how you’ll be spending all that capacity you just generated, and then flip a disaster card and—oh, guess what? The disaster is hitting 3 sectors and also destroying one active tile that was just hit. Looks like you’ll be spending your capacity just to patch things up this round. The disasters keep the tension ratcheted up, which is exactly what I want in a cooperative game set on a space station, but I know not everyone enjoys that sort of stress.
Although I’ve only gotten to play Intrepid an handful of times right now (in a limited fashion, either via the Tabletopia demo or over videochat), I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m excited for the day when I’ll get to play a finished copy with other players sitting at the same table. I think it’s a spectacular game: fascinating puzzles to solve, a great theme (if a bit more catastrophic than the real-life ISS), and a good cooperative system that relies on everyone working together. If you’re looking for an engaging cooperative game, don’t miss this launch!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Intrepid Kickstarter page!
To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.