In sector 2, the U.E.S. Swigert 2715-C, a Harryhausen-class mining ship, is in dock. It has been lying there for a long time and has not brought me any closer to my goal of finally being promoted. I would love to send it on a mission, but unfortunately I can’t find any other ship that could take its place in the dock. I can’t afford an empty place, because that would look more than bad in my evaluation. Commodore Brown is my fiercest competitor and somehow he manages to make everything seem to work much better with him. He has already sent a ship on a mission in sector 2 and at my space base this must finally work out.
Space Base by John D. Clair is in our good books before it came on the table. This is mainly because it shares many mechanisms with another dice game we like very much: Machi Koro. In both games, cards are triggered by dice and you buy more cards to get better and better rewards from more dice rolls. We’ve had Space Base on the table many times in different line-ups and now we want to capture our gaming experience in this review.
One space base doesn’t make an admiral
In Space Base, we as commodore each build our own space base, which consists of a total of 12 docks. Our goal is the promotion and that will be given to the one who has first collected 40 influence points. So it is a tough race. Every spaceship in the game fits exactly into one of these 12 docks of our space base. In practical terms, this means that they are numbered between 1 and 12, which determines where a card can be placed. At the start of the game you already have a spaceship at each dock. And now you can already start hunting for the coveted promotion.
Dice also roll in space
In space, every decision is made with dice. The actual decision only begins with the roll of the dice. You have exactly two dice in Space Base, which you let roll over the table at the beginning of your turn after shaking them hard. Now the first decision comes up: You can either use each die separately or the sum of both dice. If you roll a 2 and a 6, you will either get the proceeds from both docks or you decide to take the profits from dock 8. The lower numbers give you less reward, the higher the numbers, the more tempting the rewards. This is where Space Base differs from Machi Koro, where you had to decide whether to roll one or two dice before your roll. In Space Base the game gives you more freedom and at the same time a decision that takes away a little from the luck factor, since you already know the dice values before you make your choice.
Where there is a mission, there is a gain.
At the beginning money is important, because you can buy a new spaceship card from the display during your turn. You can buy cheap level 1 ships, medium level 2 ships, and the very expensive level 3 ships. Depending on your wealth, you can buy exactly one of them and place it on the dock of the given number. It will replace the ship that was docked there before. Send the old ship on a mission to the corresponding space sector by rotating it 180° and place it under the tableau. You are now better positioned for future moves. In your own turn you will only get the reward of the new ship in your dock.
But the spaceships you sent out are not worthless to you. As an anticipatory Commodore you know that it can be of value to have your own people in foreign sectors. When one of the other players rolls the dice, don’t use the sonic screwdriver to pick up the dirt under your fingernails, just pay attention. As with your own dice, you can get earnings for the individual values or the sum, provided that you have already sent a spaceship out at this number (sector). The flipped cards, which are stuck under the tableau, bring lower returns than if they were in your dock, but they give them to you when it’s not your turn. Everything that is highlighted in red is automatically triggered on your opponent’s turn. This is also different from Machi Koro, where only certain cards can be used when you are not the active player. Space Base gives you more freedom here.
No change for space ship purchases
Somewhat unintuitive is the fact that you always drop to zero money when you buy a ship or colony from the display. Even if you have 6 money and buy a ship that only costs 3, you will have zero afterwards. The only thing that saves you from this is income. The green marker on your bar indicates how much your money will be raised again after your turn. A high income can make you less dependent on money income. However, you are most likely to receive income from the higher cards, which are less likely to be triggered.
The dice are broken…
Nevertheless, Space Base feels like gambling in large parts. Although the numbers between 1 and 6 are thrown much more often, there are not such attractive rewards. In the rules booklet there is even a distribution table and an extract about probabilities. But somehow our dice never stick to it. Jan has cursed more than once the dice that leave out his lucrative fields and bring the really big profits to the others. You can set up a wide range and try to buy cards everywhere, but whether this is possible depends on the display. There are so many cards with spaceships in the game that you will never see them all in one game. So you can’t really rely on the fact that certain cards are in the game. Even some sectors are rare in some games.
What does this ship do again?
What we really like about this is that there are many ways to get the necessary amount of influence points. You can simply collect cards that give you money or even direct victory points and try to use them and the colonies that give you one-time victory points but permanently block the field in your dock to get the necessary influence. You can also bet on mass and get cards that will give you more cards, which will give you a lot of money in your opponent’s turn. Or you can use the abilities of cards to move cards with a high value further forward and trigger them more often. There are so many ships and so many possibilities that this choice brings us to another problem of Space Base.
In Machi Koro the choice of different cards is very limited. In Space Base there are some cards that do very similar things. But there are also a lot of cards that have very different functions. And the decision which card you buy for your base will affect the rest of the game. There are many synergies to discover and there is a lot to think about. So it can take a while for a player who likes to work things out to choose a card. Ideally, you should only play Space Base with people who already know the game. That shortens this thinking phase extremely. With new players it can be a bit tricky. The more often you play Space Base, the cooler it gets.
About instructions and allusions
In the rule book there are still whole passages that were copied into other parts with copy & paste, although they did not fit where they were copied. Such blunders should actually not happen. In the rule booklet itself all mechanics and the iconography are explained in detail. However, it is so voluminous that Space Base looks very complicated, which it actually is not. Once you have learned the colours of the fields and the difference between yield and ability, everything becomes quite simple.
I also think it’s very cool that every spaceship has its own name. The spaceship classes are named after famous Sci-Fi authors and directors, among others. There is for example the Asimov class or the Cameron class. The names of the ships themselves are names of astronauts of different nationalities. I think this homage to space travel is very well realized and more than once it made me smile when I bought a ship.
Space Base is the cooler Machi Koro
You might already read it: Space Base has given us very different gaming experiences. While I usually get along quite well and my engine from ships just works, with Jan mostly nothing works at all. Nevertheless, he hasn’t given up yet and we will definitely play a few more games. Similar to Machi Koro it creates a huge replay attraction. But where the simple town planning was still relatively simple and also suitable for few players, Space Base goes a step further and picks up even the veteran players. For my part, I’m happy about every game and I haven’t tried everything I can think of in terms of combos. I’m also excited about the expansion that has already been released in English. There’s still enough space in the box and that would be a game where I’d put down my general unwillingness to play expansions.