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Subject: Pigs in Spaaaaaace! - First impressions of Space Pigs rss

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Cathal O'Siochru
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I don't write many reviews but when I saw there was no review at all for this game I thought I would throw together a short review just for the hell of it. There is on big proviso on this review. I've only played this game once. There may be elements of the game that make more sense the more you play it. You should consider my review in those terms, a first impression of the game rather than a considered review after many plays.


Overview
I've see other people describe this as Twilight Imperium light, but with pigs, and I have to agree. I'd describe it as a 4X style game when you aim to conquer a portion of the game-board which matches your secret goal. The theme is satirical blending Star Wars and Dune with all the major characters as pigs and tons and tons of pig-based puns and other porkish humour.

Components
The game has some nice components but they do look a little dated. As you might expect from a game from the 80's and 90's there are a bucketload of cardboard tokens. Players get tokens for their armies, governors, position marker, moves and secret recipe. There are tokens for aliens, acorns (resources generated by planets) and colonists. The art on the tokens is functional and attractively done and the size of the tokens isn't too small for someone with big meaty fingers like me. Although the tokens are nice some of them are mostly redundant (the governors) and others are a complete mystery (the acorns). These pieces feel like they belong to mechanics that were removed in play-testing or never fully thought through. The board comes as a collection of hexagonal tiles which are familiar to anyone who has played a Catan game or the like. The event cards are the real gem of the components. They are nicely designed, easy to read and to use, plus the artwork is just great. A nice cartoonish style which uses the porcine theme to riff on classic icons from the Star Wars universe and general sci-fi tropes.

Mechanics
At the start of the game the board is laid out randomly but in a roughly circular shape. Each player chooses a clan which comes with certain special powers. You get a secret recipe which lays out your win conditions, usually represented as a specific combination of the different coloured planets on the board. You then place your five starting armies on an planet at the rim of the board, draw a hand of six event cards and the game begins.

There are two major elements of the mechanics, move-combat and an election. In the first element players move their armies from one planet tile to the next in an attempt to gain control over those tiles. After all the moves are done if any tile has more than one players' pieces on it then combat occurs and is resolved by rolling dice. Both movement and combat can be influenced by playing event cards.

After all the movement and combat is resolved the election of the next emperor takes place. The number of planets each player controls determines the number of votes they can cast. Players can nominate each other or themselves for the position of emperor, deals can be struck, promises made, event cards played and backs can be stabbed. This feels like where the real fun of the game is meant to happen. The winner of the election becomes the emperor for the next round. Being emperor has two main bonuses, you control how the reinforcements are distributed and you control the aliens on the board which are like non-player armies which can be used to attack other players.

And that's all she wrote. You take those two mechanics and you rinse and repeat. Play continues until someone starts the election part of the round with the combination of planets described on their recipe and you have a winner.

The good
The artwork on the cards is really good and as a big fan of both Star Wars and Dune I enjoyed the spoofing of them with pigs. The game should short and the rules are relatively simple making a decent light game in the 4x style. Although the game mechanics are mostly uninspiring I thought the tech-level mechanic on the event cards was clever. Some of the event cards are weapons which you can play to influence combat. These cards have a tech value represented as a number from 1 to 3. If the sum of the tech values of all cards played in a single combat is 6 or more the combat ends immediately and both sides are destroyed. This was a nice balancing factor, meaning you didn't always want to throw everything into a combat. Also it could be used deliberately to allow a small opponent to take out a much larger one suicide-style.

The bad
The game feels incomplete and not play-tested enough. Some mechanics like the planets generating acorns don't appear to go anywhere. The balance of the combat and elections didn't feel right. The mechanics for both weren't complex enough to offer much in the way of tactics or strategy but they weren't simple enough to play more quickly and allow players to really embrace a light 'n fast seat-o-the-pants approach to playing the game. Also, there is a possibility that the game will degenerate into a Zombies!!! style Mexican stand-off with the lead player constantly pulled back from winning by the rest and dragging the game out for ages. These is also the potential for the game to become unwinnable if an alien that eats planets eats all the planets of a colour needed by some or all of the players win conditions.

The verdict

A light 4X game with a nice satirical riff on both Star Wars and Dune using pigs. The artwork is great and the components are decent if somewhat basic (cardboard and cards). The game mechanics work and the game is playable but it feels incomplete. There are some elements which seem redundant (what are the acorn tokens for?) and both the combat and politics mechanics lack tactical or strategic depth. Ultimately it feels like a game which was built more around the joke theme than it was around the mechanics. Having played it once I don't think we'll be in a rush to play it again. There are other games that do a similar thing but so much better. Still, if you're of a certain age you may want to play this game at least once just for the chance to say "Pigs in spaaaaaaaaaace!" as often as you like while you play.
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