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Subject: Brief Space Dealer review rss

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Joshua Wolf
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I had the opportunity to play this thanks to Morgan (sisteray) Dontanville, who brought it back from Essen. He was raving about it, and its real-time aspect had me very, very intrigued.

The theme: Each player controls a planet. He/she builds mines to gather resources, and sends those resources to opponents' planets in order to score points.

The twist: There are no "turns". Every game lasts exactly 30 minutes, and every action relies on using up a sand timer.

The wacky gimmick: It comes with a CD to keep track of the game, with a soundtrack.

We played a 5-person game, which needs two boxes. Everyone starts with a basic setup- your station, a small power plant, and a mine, plus another mine (maybe two) and power plant in your hand. Your station can construct up to two things at a time, and doing so requires the services of a "robot" (turn a sand timer and wait for it to run out). There are a limited number of slots to put things, and expanding your station to capacity requires building more powerful power plants as well. More advanced items require investing in research, each level of which (you start at 1 and can go up to 3) requires two steps of Robot Time. Basic mines produce one cube for each full use of Robot Time, more advanced mines can produce a higher quantity (2) and/or a selection among multiple colors. Resources are limited, so it's possible to waste an entire round of Robot Time if someone grabs the last cube you need.

Everything you build (except power plants) also provides a trade opportunity for your opponents. On lower-level techs, it's one or two cubes. On higher ones, it's 3 or 4 (there may have been a five, I'm not sure). Fulfilling a trade scores points for both you (as the trader) and your opponent, usually in a 2:1 ratio.

To trade resources you produce, you load them on to your ship, and send it off to other players' planets. Planets are arranged in a ring, with two steps between planets; the ring is also used to keep score, with 1 step per point. Moving your ship one step requires, you guessed it, one round of Robot TIme. Only one person can fulfill any given trade, so if you arrive second, you're SOL and either have to invest Robot Time in moving your ship onward or dump your goods and return home (sending an empty ship home from any spot only requires one round of Robot Time).

The hitch is that each player starts with only two timers; it's possible to build an additional one through a level 2 tech. So, you have to choose between building, producing, and moving, and be able to manage your timers effectively. There is one (I believe) opportunity for someone to build an additional ship, as well. I don't know if it was a deliberate design decision or just lousy production, but the timers weren't even close to even. About a third of them are significantly slower than the others. I hope this gets fixed in subsequent runs.

The broad strategy of this game, in my opinion, lies in whether you choose to invest in infrastructure or trade. I chose the former, building out my station as much as I could, as early as I could, which provided plenty of attractive trade targets for my opponents. Yes, I earned fewer points per trade, but spread out across enough of them, I was able to take a sizeable lead that my opponents couldn't catch. I didn't even trade with anyone other than my two immediate neighbors, as getting farther than that required too much of a time investment (I tended to send out a less-than-full ship to make a single trade, rather than a full one to do multiple trades).

The real-time aspect of this game will keep away the rules lawyers in your group. Generally, if you try to do something that's "illegal" (like building something you cannot power), you just waste the timer and move on. If two people are trying to get to your base to make a trade, it can possibly be confusing knowing who got there first, and sorting out disputes takes up everyone's time. Scoring simultaneous trades with multiple people can take up valuable time as well. And because the gameplay is so chaotic, I could see the opportunity for cheating.

The components of this game use sturdy cardboard, and take up a lot of space- you need a big table to play this game, and be careful to keep glasses away from the gameplay area . The ships are large, as they need to physically hold resource cubes, though I find the perch to hold the sand timer a bit precarious, and if multiple ships are at the same spot on the track, it can get very crowded. The CD soundtrack has a generic techno beat, and is an amusing bit of chrome, though I suspect subsequent plays will make use of a simpler 30-minute timer.

If you're looking for a tight gaming experience, this may not be your cup of tea. That said, this game is what a lot of "tight" Euros are not: FUN. For a game you can set up and play in an hour, it's an entertaining ride.
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Joshua Wolf
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I should note that there is an "advanced" mode to the game that we did not play. These rules incorporate direct "screwage" moves that essentially take up your opponents' time, neutral planets (for trading), and more transport options for your resources.
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