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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Periorbis rss

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David McMillan
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When the alarm of his watch started going off unexpectedly, Tibault Thierreaux almost had a heart attack. He’d been out here by himself for so long without any sound that he’d almost forgotten what sound… well… sounded like. He straightened from his labor and took a moment to arch his back. The tension that had built up there over the last few hours released itself with a satisfying crack. Twisting from side to side, Tibault began to work out the kinks from his muscles and to get some blood flowing. That alarm meant one thing. It was almost time to go home.

Shielding his eyes with his hand, Tibault squinted and stared off into space scanning the ever present darkness for any sight of the ship that he knew must soon be approaching. There! A momentary darkness where a star should be; that could only be the transport ship coming to retrieve him along with the load of perihelium he’d managed to dig out of this godforsaken rock over the past few weeks. Those weeks felt like years and for the first time in quite awhile, Tibault allowed himself the momentary pleasure of daydreaming. It was the same daydream that it always was. He could see her clearly in his mind’s eye. Katrine Simmons… her jet black hair done up in a no nonsense, businesslike pony tail… her knowing eyes gazing deep into his soul… and that quirky smile of hers like she knew something that you didn’t. He could see her standing there in her cute little blue and white jacket that fit her like a glove, tapping her foot impatiently as she always did while she spoke to him. She was a busy woman, but she always made time for Tibault which he was eternally grateful for. When she spoke, her voice was like music. When she walked by, her scent was the scent of spring blossoming flowers. Maybe one of these days he’d work up the nerve to ask her to join him for a drink.

For now, though, there was work yet to be done. This asteroid wasn’t going to mine itself and his transport wouldn’t be here for another eight or nine hours. Sighing to nobody in particular, Tibault leaned down and flicked on the power to the hydrajack and started chipping away at the edges of the perihelium deposit in front of him. When they’d hired him on, nobody had told him just how much work this was going to be! But, he figured, what doesn’t kill you…

This is the world of Periorbis. In this game, the players will take on the roles of competing interstellar mining companies who are trying to mine, transport, and sell more precious ore than their competitors. This is accomplished through a mixture of worker placement, resource management, and strategic planning. Each turn, players will vie to build bases on the asteroids, fulfill contracts, and attract new, highly skilled employees to make their mining operations more efficient. In the end, though, only one mining company will come out on top. Will it be yours? Do you have what it takes to run a profitable mining company? There’s only one way to find out.

Now, before I delve too much further into this review, I’d like to take a moment to thank the individuals over at Perihelion Games and, more specifically, Gareth Newton-Williams, for taking the time to fly all the way from another continent to demonstrate their game for my local gaming club and myself. When I wrote to them to solicit a prototype for this review, I never expected that I would get to meet them in person. It was a very pleasant experience all around. Their willingness to fly halfway around the world to allow me the opportunity to get some hands on experience with their game notwithstanding, their generosity had not influenced my opinion of this game in any way. Rest assured that if this game is terrible, I will tell you so.

COMPONENTS

Before I go much further, I want to preface this section and all of the following with a reminder that this review is based upon a prototype copy of this game. This review does not take into account any changes that may be made during the course of the Kickstarter campaign nor does it take into account any stretch goals that may be unlocked.

Periorbis comes packaged in a rectangular box that is approximately a foot in height and a foot and a half in width. On the front of the box, we can see a scene much like the one that I described above. A solitary man in a spacesuit stands on the rocky surface of an asteroid. All around him, promontories jut up like jagged spikes. An ethereal blue light emanates from the cracks in the asteroid’s surface. Hovering in the distance, we can see a very large planet, its features clouded by a combination of its own atmosphere and the very thin atmosphere on the asteroid itself. Between the man and the planet floats a very long ship. Judging by its positioning in the sky, it seems okay to assume that the man in the suit is not so much wistfully watching his transport drift away as he is longingly watching its approach. Hovering above all of this, in the left hand corner of the image is the title of the game. The image on the cover brings to mind scenes from the video game Dead Space sans the menace and terror. On the backside of the box is the game itself laid out in all of its glory along with a brief description of the game and its mechanics.

But, like any game, it’s not the image on the box that really matters so much as what lies inside of the box. Inside of this box, there are a myriad of components and most of them come in six different colors (orange, cyan, purple, magenta, green, and yellow) and each of these colors represents one player. So, we’ll begin there with the pieces that each player will receive.

Each player will receive seven circular discs that are crafted out of thick wood and each of these discs is labeled with a number ranging from 1 to 7. These discs are used to represent workers during the course of the game. In addition to these discs, each player will also receive a pile of small, square resource cubes in their respective colors. Additionally, each player will also receive a complement of six square ‘base’ tiles which are used to represent the bases that players will be constructing on the various asteroids within the game space. These tiles are double-sided and feature the image of a building that resembles a cross between some kind of tent and the dwellings that the farmers on Tatooine lived within in the Star Wars films.

Lastly, each player will receive a player board. The player board is roughly divided into two sections. The top section is subdivided into seven different areas. Each of these areas resembles an overhead of a room replete with furniture, monitor screens, and various pieces of equipment. Each of these areas corresponds with an action or actions that assigned workers can perform during a player’s turn and each of these areas will be discussed in greater detail later on in this review.

The bottom half of the player board is also divided into seven sections, but these seven sections are all identical. Like the areas at the top of the player board, each of these sections is an overhead of a room filled with furniture and equipment, but all of these rooms contain the same amenities. These are the dormitory rooms where each of a player’s workers resides. There’s nothing incredibly special about these rooms. They’re just a decorative, thematic place where a player will store their employee cards. In addition to the player boards, each player will also receive a player quick reference card that contains useful information about the various elements of the game upon it.

The employee card deck is just one of three different decks of cards. Each employee card features a number in its upper left hand corner and a number in its upper right hand corner. The number in its upper left hand corner is that employee’s ‘Employee Number’. The number in the upper right hand corner denotes which type of game this employee should be used in (i.e. – a two player game, three player game, etc.). Beneath these numbers and taking up the largest amount of space on the card is an illustration of the employee in question. The generic cadets (a sort of jack of all trades) are mostly black and white in nature, but the more specialized workers are more colorful. According to the game designer, the illustrations are inspired by the classic anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and, indeed, there is a definite anime feel to them.

Directly beneath the illustrations are a collection of icons with numbers directly beneath each one. The first icon which resembles a crane with a claw at the end that is preparing to pick up some cargo crates represents the worker’s Building skill. The number beneath this denotes the amount that the cost for building various things in the game will be reduced by if this worker is used to build it. The next icon which resembles a collection of gears represents a worker’s Upgrade skill. The number beneath this denotes the amount that the cost for upgrading various things in the game will be reduced by if this worker is used to upgrade them. These two actions are collectively referred to as ‘Engineer’ actions.

The next two actions are the ‘Agent’ actions. The first icon which resembles a sheet of paper represents the workers Contract skill. The number beneath this denotes the bonus amount of currency that a worker will receive if that worker is assigned to agree to a contract. The second icon which resembles two hands grasped in a handshake represents the worker’s Selling skill. The number beneath this denotes the extra amount of credits that a worker will receive when selling goods from a player’s storage as well as how many goods they can sell if they are assigned to do so.

The next action is the ‘Captain’ action. The icon which resembles a rocket ship that is in motion represents the worker’s Captain skill. The number beneath this denotes how much cargo they can move each turn. The higher the number, the more efficiently a player will be able to transport workers and goods around the board.

The next action is the ‘Scientist’ action. The icon which resembles a flask being poured into another flask represents the worker’s Research skill. The number beneath this denotes the amount of research cubes that a player will receive if this worker is assigned to perform research as well as the maximum amount of research cubes that can be sold for money if the worker is assigned to do so.

Beneath this area is another area containing a worker’s Mining skill. There are three different types of ore (black, grey, and white) and for each of these there is an appropriately colored box with a corresponding number. The number represents how many cubes of ore will be generated if a worker is assigned to mine that specific color of ore. For instance, if a worker has a skill of 2 for black ore and is assigned to mine black ore, then a single mining action would produce two cubes of goods. To the right of the mining area is the worker’s wages. This indicates how much money a worker must be paid at the end of a turn if the worker is assigned to perform some action during the turn.

The second set of cards are the contract ship cards. These cards are larger and longer than the employee cards and feature an overhead view of a spaceship. Like the employee cards, there are numbers in the upper left and upper right hand corners of the card. The number in the upper left represents how many credits each cube of goods on a contract ship will pay out when the contract is completed and the number in the upper right represents which game the card should be included in (just like the employee cards).

Each ship is divided into two sections. The section of the left is subdivided into three rows. Each row has the same set up. There is a number in a circle that represents how many cubes of goods a player has contracted to provided. To the right of this is a single square with a number printed upon it. A player places a cube on top of this to signify that they have agreed to fulfill this contract and the number shown is the amount of credits that the player will receive as an advance when they sign the contract. Directly to the right of this is a dark gray area where cubes will be placed to represent a worker’s Agent Bonus if the worker is assigned to accept the contract. If a worker had an Agent bonus of 2, then 2 cubes would be placed in this area.

The right portion of the ship is divided into two different sections. These sections are represented by colored squares. There are light grey squares and then there are black squares. Collectively, the squares represent the ship’s maximum capacity. The grey squares represent the capacity after which having been filled the ship will take off to fulfill any contracts that have been signed against it. The black squares are spillover squares. So, if a ship has 2 grey squares and 2 black squares, then it will take off at the end of a turn on which the 2 grey squares have been filled regardless of whether or not there are any goods on the black squares.

The third deck of cards I will call, for lack of a batter name, ‘cover’ cards. There are two of these per player. One is labeled with a ‘12’ and one is labeled with a ‘17’. These cards are used to cover up the last two employee spaces on a person’s player board. In order to open up these spaces to accommodate more workers, the amount shown must be paid to do so.

In addition to the cards mentioned and the components that each player receives, there are also a few others. There is a square, double-sided turn tracker token that features the image of a planet on both sides. There is also a square, double-sided short game token that features the image of a red steroid labeled with the letter ‘C’ on both sides that is placed into the asteroid line up for turn #6 if the players are playing a short game. In addition to these two tokens, there is also an assortment of white, grey, and black wooden cubes that are used to track the availability of the ore on the various asteroids.

The only other components of note are the game board itself and the rule book. The game board is a large tri-folded board that is divided into several different sections. Along the top edge of the board are the asteroids. Each asteroid has a specific name and color and shape which correspond to it. Each name begins with a different letter and that letter is used to distinguish one asteroid from another during different phases of the game. Laid out in a rough pyramidal structure on top of each asteroid image are a series of three boxes which are sized to accommodate one of the base tiles being set upon them. Each of these boxes is labeled with a different number (10, 15, and 20). These numbers represent the amount of credits that must be paid in order to construct a base on that spot. Directly to the right of this is a column of numbers that are numbered from 9 to 0 in descending order. This column is used to track the availability of the various types of ore on each of the asteroids.

On the left side of the board is another column of numbers ranging from the early negatives all the way up into the 30+ range. This is the victory point tracker. On the opposite edge of the board is a similar column of numbers that ranges from 3 to 42. This is the wages tracker. Arranged along the bottom border of the board are the turn order tracker, the Fleet Capacity tracker, and the Drive Technology tracker. As the game goes on, the turn order will shift and change so that the person who is currently in last place will always take their turn first during a round (similar to the turn structure in Power Grid). This jockeying for position is followed on the turn order tracker. Fleet Capacity is a number that informs how many workers and units of goods can be transported at the same time. Each player begins with a Fleet Capacity of three. This means that, if a player has an employee that could transport four goods at a time, that they will not be able to operate at their full efficiency until research is done to raise the Fleet Capacity to four. Drive Technology determines which asteroid belts a player may reach on their turns. There are three asteroid belts in total (near, middle, and far). At the beginning of the game, players are only going to have access to the asteroids that are in the near belt. However, by using research to upgrade their Drive Technology, they will be able to access asteroids in the belts that are further out. And this brings us to the final portion of the game board...

In the center of the game board is an illustration of a planet. This planet is enclosed by a large circle that is divided into a series of three rings (the aforementioned asteroid belts) and these rings are divided into 12 clusters (one cluster for each turn of the game). Inside of the space of each of these belts are arranged several different asteroids (represented by the illustration and the associated letter), but their positions in the various belts changes from turn to turn. For instance, in turn 1, the red asteroid is in the near belt while in turn two, it is in the middle belt. This change in order is intentional and represents the varying orbits of each of the asteroids and a large part of the strategy of the game revolves around planning for these orbits.

As for the rule book, it is twelve pages of extremely well organized, very well-written, and amazingly illustrated instructions. Every element of the game is touched upon and there are a multitude of examples given to drive home each of the separate topics. The different types of actions are grouped together and color coded. There is even an example of a sample turn provided at the very end that puts it all together. This is the kind of rule book that other rule books look up to.

SET UP

The overall set up for this game is complicated but not as complicated as some games that I have seen. The reason for this is that the game scales depending upon how many people will be playing as well as how many rounds those players have agreed upon (either 6 or 12). Depending upon the number of people playing, each asteroid will be set to a particular complement of the various ores and depending upon the number of turns, the short game token may or may not be used.

Once this has been sorted out and everything has been set up according to the chart provided in the rule book, each player will select a color and then take all of the pieces of the appropriate color into their possession along with a player board and a player aid. Then each player will place a cube onto each of the tracks on the game board at their lowest position. After this has been done, each player will receive 3 cadet worker cards and a single specialist worker card and these will be placed into the dormitory area at the bottom of their player board. Then one of the number tokens is placed on top of each of these in ascending order from the number 1. Spaces six and seven in the dormitory area will have cover cards placed into them in ascending order. Each player also receives 50 credits apiece to begin the game with. Once this has been done, the turn order is determined and the game can begin.

DETERMINING the PLAYER ORDER

Player order is determined in the following way. First, you compare victory points. Then you compare total wages. Finally, you compare the employee numbers and the highest employee number will go last. This seems confusing and it best explained with an example. For the purposes of brevity, we will pretend there are three players. The person that is losing will go first during the turn and the person that is in the lead will go last during the turn.

It is turn number three and the "Hire Employees" phase has just ended. Alice has 2 victory points and Bob and Eve have one victory point each. First, the victory point are declared. Alice has the lead, so she is automatically pushed into third place on the turn order track. Next, we have to compare Bob and Eve's total wages since they tie for victory points. Looking at the wages track, we see that Bob and Eve are currently tied there as well. This means is comes down to the highest employee number. Bob has a specialist with an employee number of 32 and Eve's cadet has an employee number of 8. This means that Eve loses and will be going first with Bob going second during the upcoming turn.

HIRE EMPLOYEES PHASE

Each round takes place in a series of three phases. The first phase is called the 'Hire Employees' phase. It is in this phase that players will have the opportunity to recruit new talent to their worker pool. In reverse player order, each player may hire up to one worker from the available employee pool. New employees are revealed each turn to replace previously purchased employees and leftover employees will steadily get cheaper until they are removed from play and replaced with newer workers.

To hire a worker, a player must pay five times that worker's wages. So, if a worker has a wage of 3 credits, a player would need to pay fifteen credits to purchase that worker. Purchased workers are placed into empty dormitory spaces if any are available or they can be used to replace any existing employee cards. A player may not, however, replace a worker that is currently on an asteroid mining base.

EMPLOYEE ACTIONS PHASE

The second phase is called the 'Employee Actions' phase. In this phase, the players will use each one of their employees to perform some type of action. As I mentioned earlier, employees can be used to perform research, to transport workers and/or resources from one location to another, to sign contracts and sell goods, to build bases, or to mine asteroids for their ore. Each employee may only carry out a single action but, depending upon the employee used to carry out the action, some employees will be better at performing certain actions than others. To denote that an employee is performing an action, the number token for that employee is placed onto the action that the chosen employee is performing. So, if employee number four was assigned to perform research, then the number 4 token would be placed onto the perform research action space of the player board. Each player board has a strip of space running along the middle of it that can be used to plan ahead your employees' actions for the upcoming turn.

BUREAUCRACY PHASE

The third phase is called the 'Bureaucracy' phase. It is in this phase that the various trading ships will depart with their cargoes and earn the players money if they have contracted with the ships. Each of the trading ships, as I mentioned earlier, has three different rows. Each of these rows represents a different contract that can be signed with this particular ship. The circle with the number in it represents the amount of goods that the player who has signed the contract is agreeing to supply to the ship. If the player who has signed this contract does not meet the terms of the contract, then there will be a victory point deduction for each resource they are short.

For instance, if blue signs a contract to supply 6 resources, but the ship is filled up by other players and blue has only managed to supply a total of 3 resources, then blue will suffer a -3 victory point penalty. However, if blue had an agent bonus of 3, not only would blue receive an extra 3 credits per resource sold, but they would also enjoy a -3 to any penalties they might receive. In the case laid out above, blue would be 3 resources short, but his agent bonus would negate the shortage and blue would lose 0 victory points.

After the victory points have been tallied, the players will get paid for all of the resources that they have provided. To determine just how much a player gets paid, they will multiply the number of cubes that they have on the ship in question by the number in the upper left hand corner. If they have provided three cubes and the number in the upper left hand corner is an 8, then they will earn 24 credits. The only time that this is ever different is if the players happen to have an agent bonus in which case they earn: number of cubes * (number in the left hand corner + agent bonus). So, if a player has provided three cubes and they have an agent bonus of 2 and the number in the upper left hand corner is an 8, then they will earn 10 credits per cube for a total of 30 credits.

Once a ship is filled and cashed out, it is removed from the game and a new ship arrives to takes its place. As the game progresses, the contracts become more lucrative and the ships are able to hold larger capacities of goods before they are cashed out.

CLEANUP PHASE and WINNING

While not an official phase in the game, I am calling this the cleanup phase because this portion of the game occurs after the Bureaucracy phase has ended and it is the phase where a lot of housekeeping is done. New employees are laid out to replace purchased employees. The player order is reset. The turn marker is advanced. This and the previous steps are repeated over and over again until the end of the agreed upon round is reached. When that happens, the final victory point totals are added up and the person who has the highest total wins.

THOUGHTS

If I had to be honest with you about what it was that initially drew me to this game, I would have to say that it was the box art. The illustration on the front of the box for this game is just amazing and it really drew me and made me want to find out more. As far as box art illustrations go, this one certainly does its job very well and, if I had to find one thing to be disappointed about in this game, it would be that the art work that is on the cover is nothing like the rest of the art work in the game. I mean, the art work in the game isn't terrible by any means, but it's a different kind of art that that initial impression led me to believe I'd see.

The game itself is fairly simple to learn. After a single turn of play, I felt like I was getting the hang of it, but it quickly became evident that, if I wanted to do well, I was going to have to start thinking ahead. The genius of this game is the interesting orbital mechanic. As asteroids drift in and out of their orbits, there will be times when your workers will be cut off entirely without any hope of getting transported off of the asteroid for another one to two turns. Opportunities like this are golden opportunities to grab up a lot of ore with very little competition, but it only works if you've managed to get the right people into place and are set up to capitalize on the opportunity when it comes time to move them off.

This is the kind of strategy that runs rampant all throughout this game. Every decision that you make matters. The things that you do this turn will directly effect the things that happen to you in later turns. While this game could have easily turned into a large game of multiplayer solitaire, limiting the amount of bases that can be built on an asteroid and limiting the amount of ore that can be found there encourages competition and the contracts ships afford plenty of opportunities for screwage. And it isn't just meaningless screwage either. Getting messed over in this game is costly where it counts. Those one or two victory points that you cause someone to lose can mean the difference between them winning and you winning.

And, not only does this game play great, it looks great, too! The tiles are very thick. The cards are sturdy and made out of excellent card stock. The printing and the colors are bright and vibrant. And everything has a very nice linen finish. If the final product is any better than the game that I had a chance to play with, then it is truly going to be something to marvel.

All in all, this is a pretty good game and I had a fantastic time playing it. It's easy to teach, easy to learn, and a lot of fun to play. Periorbis will test your strategic planning skills and will have you second guessing yourself constantly. The game play is fast and exciting. This is one game that I cannot wait to get my hands on and I am sure that it is going to hit my table time and time again.
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Gareth Newton-Williams
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Re: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Asteroid Miner
Brilliant. Thanks David, it was great meeting you and some of the other wonderful people in Nashville!

I hope to stop by another time!
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Jason Allan
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That's a great review. Thanks for taking the time to write it so thoroughly! Your comments are appreciated and we take on board everything that we hear.
 
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