Space Base, originally released back in 2018, is a dice rolling and tableau building board game from publisher AEG. Designed by John D. Clair, featuring artwork from Chris Walton, the game sees 2 – 5 players upgrade their fleet and roll their way to victory. Featuring simultaneous play, multiple ways to use the dice and a huge amount of potential ships for your fleet, the game lasts around 60 minutes. However, will players want to blast off into space or not? Let’s find out!
Each player starts the game with an identical player board, filled with the same set of 12 ships along the numbered spaces. Starting with 5 credits players randomly draw a ship from level one deck. Paying the cards cost the will add it to their player board, with the player that spent most becoming the starting player. Players then receive credits or income based on their place in the turn order. With a market of available level 1 – 3 ship cards and colony cards built, in the middle of the table, the game is ready to play.
Each turn the active player rolls the dice, though everyone will get a chance to use the result. The active player gets to activate the main abilities of their ship cards, either the blue or green boxes. Which is activated depends on the dice roll. There is a choice here though, as the player can either combine the two dice or activate the two separately. For example rolling a 6 and a 1 could be used to activate 7 or 6 and 1. The other players also get this choice, completely independent of the active player’s choice. However, they can only activate tucked under cards, using their red or green boxes.
Activating cards often sees one of three things gained; credits, income or victory points. Each is tracked at the bottom of the player board, though note that the top of the tracks “40” is not a hard limit. Once this is done the active player may purchase any one card from the market that they can afford. The twist is that whatever you buy costs all of your credits, effectively forcing players to make a real choice between saving up credits for more expensive higher level cards or splurging on cheap cards. Whenever a card is brought it will replace one of your 12 cards – based on the slot number on the top of the card. The card in the slot being replaced isn’t discarded. Instead, it is tucked underneath so the red box shows for triggering on other players’ turns.
Play then moves onto the next player, with them becoming the active player. Some players take a couple of rounds to fall into the rhythm of the game. Keeping in mind on your turn you activate the blue boxes on your fleet cards and on other players’ turns the red boxes of tucked under cards then things go smoothly. The game continues until someone amasses 40 victory points. At this point the current round is finished, so all players have had the same number of active turns, with the player with the most points then crowned the winner.
To make things interesting cards don’t just give the basic credits, income or victory points. Some feature arrows, while others can be charged for later. The arrow cards really boost Space Base without making the experience any more complicated. Rolling a number which triggers a card with a left / right arrow gives players a choice, whether to instead activate the card to the left or right to that card. Not only is this a bit of mitigation from the luck factor of the dice, it adds in the feeling of comboing towards a bigger turn.
The concepts of the charged powers also add to this feeling of bigger than normal turns, perhaps doubling your reward or taking free ships from the market. These charge cards do add a little complexity to what is otherwise a family weight game. This isn’t enough to mean that Space Base cannot be played as a gateway game but you may have to help first time players with them a little bit. To negate this it would have been nice to see an easy mode where these charged cards are removed from play – just to make sure that the first play was a smooth one, before adding them back in.
Another aspect that might put new players off is the daunting display of cards. There is simply a huge amount of cards on show at all times in the market. Combining the ship cards with the colony cards there are 30 on show at the beginning of the game. This vast market means there is a wide variety to choose from, something great when up to speed as the available choices make every turn feel important. To remove that daunting spread of cards though the level 2 and 3 market rows and the colony cards can probably be ignored for the first few rounds of the game, with players not having enough credits to purchase from them anyway.
Space Base has rather stunning player boards, featuring a colourful depiction of space. Impressively the ship cards that then sit on top seamlessly fit into the artwork, thanks to each card having a determined numbered position to be placed on the boards. While most of the charge ability ship cards feature some text the remaining feature easy to read iconography. Combining these icons with the blue, green and red boxes makes knowing what triggers and when a breeze from the first roll of the game.
Nicknamed by some as a “Machi Koro Killer”, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Players are building up a tableau of cards, though starting with a card for every value means as the active player you are guaranteed at least something. The biggest improvement from other games of the genre is the ability to choose how to spend the dice, regardless of whose turn it is. It’s an easy but effective way to mitigate a lot of the dice based luck, and stops everyone complaining when they lose. The strive towards 40 points is the aim but players still get a sense of progression and some success regardless, with a range of ships and possibly colony cards purchased throughout the game. It’s not necessarily different enough from Machi Koro to sit alongside it on a shelf, thankfully it is good enough to replace it!
(Editor’s Note: Space Base was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)