My Periorbis review
When I first saw Periorbis on Kickstarter, I have to say that I was quite excited for the idea of the game. Some time ago, I played Eve Online. While I became an ardent PvPer - I spent lots of time ingame as a carebear miner, watching the hours fly by as my mining lasers crushed the Veldspar and Scordite 'roids in high sec all the way to clearing entire systems of Arkonor and Crokite in 0.0. How could I not be drawn to a board game that allowed me to unleash my inner miner! It was a bit of a wait for this one, but it's finally here!
2 player game, ready to go!
To start, I'd like to go over the components. The box is nicely put together and solid. I really love the box art, it really drew me towards the game right away - and it looks even better in person than on the KS page. In fact, when we brought it along to our local gaming group - most of the people in the room came over at one point or another to examine the box and ask about the game. The back of the box shows the gameboard, with a few cards shown too. It's not overly exciting, and I think would have looked better to show some tokens around the board - depicting a game in progress. I've noticed a few Kickstarted projects don't devote as much thought to the back of the box compared to the front. But hey, the front of the box more than makes up for it!
Going into the box, and the board is well made with everything nicely illustrated on it, everything perfectly readable. Seperating the other components, I come to my first quibble about the game. There are 6 players possible in the game, so 6 different colours are presented - yellow, green, orange, pink, blue and purple. However, the colour selections are terrible for a colour blind gamer (and my colour blindness is only "mild"). The shades of green and orange are really close and quite tough to distinguish. The blue/pink shades are pretty much identical to me. The purple cubes only look different when I really concentrate and look at multiple different blocks to try and distinguish. To a casual glance across the board, there is no difference. This is compounded further when looking at the mining outposts, as they look a slightly different shade again from the cubes. This game isn't just about watching your own cubes, you need to be aware of how other players are progressing and how you can intercept their planned actions. That's quite difficult when different game pieces on the board all look identical. I appreciate that games need to be asthetically pleasing to look at for non-colour blind gamers - but I believe that much better choices could have been made regarding player colouring. Luckily, the player cubes are a standard size - so it won't be a huge deal to obtain and substitute more appropriate coloured cubes. For me, a bit of a negative here - but might not bother many others.
Following on from the colouring, players operate with two types of wooden pieces. 30 small square cubes, which are used for marking mined ore, research and contracts, and 7 larger discs that are used for indicating worker actions. I really liked the discs, they make it really easy to indicate all actions taken. While the smaller cubes are fine, we had a number that were noteably off-shape and off-size. I understand that this is a common issue with manufacturing this amount of small items, so this isn't a big issue at all - and doesn't affect gameplay.
Players also have a card play area, which denotes their company. So holds their worker cards, as well as areas for storage and to denote where worker actions go. These boards have the colour issues that I've mentioned previously - my non-colourblind girlfriend even has issues with differentiating some of these colours. I like the art style on these boards, my girlfriend didn't - so really just a matter of taste here. The card of the player areas is a little thin and flimsy, which I didn't really like. All of the rest of the game components are of a better quality. Though I appreciate that the guys were working to a budget, so this isn't a big deal.
End of a game, my trusty crew!
Finally, for components, we have the worker cards. The cards are small (slightly bigger than X-Wing upgrade cards), which makes sense since we need to fit up to 7 of them on our individual play areas. From following the KS updates, I know that a lot of focus was put into the artwork. From watching the Rahdo review, with a pre-production version, we could see that the original artwork was of a generic anime art style for the workers. Ironically, my girlfriend liked this artwork But I think that the artwork on the employee cards is really really wonderful. I think that each of the individual employees is very well animated and displayed. I know there were delays to the project based on the artwork to be done (specifically waiting for backer submissions at the "Appear in the game" level - but I think they were well worth the wait, seeing the cards now. In fact, it makes me wonder if I should have went in at this pledge level myself! For the positives about the player cards, I'm afraid there is a bit of a negative. Each employee has a number of statistics that appear on his card, which appear at the bottom of the card underneath the picture. With 6 pieces of information on the first line, and 5 pieces of information on the second line underneath - it means that the text size is quite small. Despite colour blindness, I do have quite good eyesight - and even I struggled to see some information quickly and easily. It is useful that there are a number of "base stats" that everyone has (ie, exactly the values that the starting cadets have) - so employees with any different value do have them highlighted in a different colour. It does mean that the game slows down a little, searching these values when trying to decide actions. I can imagine that anyone that needs to wear glasses would have trouble reading these values clearly. Perhaps listing employee base values on the play area card, and only listing differences on employee cards, might have been an idea? In any case, it's a small annoyance in my view.
Next up, we have the rulebook(s). I found the 1 page overview document very good and very clear. There's a lot of little things to setup in the game, and this helps perfectly. I found the rulebook to be pretty well written and animated, though with a small complaint with smallish font again. I think it would have been better with larger font and either longer - or larger pages. There's a couple of tiny mistakes in the rulebook, but mostly nothing that you can't figure out with a little common sense - though I know some players will find these things frustrating. I did find that a few times I had questions and went to consult the rules, that what I was looking for was highlighted in bold - as if the testers had seen the same questions asked repeatedly and wanted to make the answer stand out in the rulebook! The biggest one we encountered was what to do if you finish a turn without enough money to pay employees? Rolling back an entire turn to make your turn fit seems to be the rule, but seems inelegant. Gareth confirms how they play in this thread. So, a few little things like this aside, there are major issues here for me with the rulebook - but I'd like to see it receive a little editing and released as a v1.1
Overall, for components, I'm happy with what I see apart from the colour selection.
Moving onto the game, what is it and what are we trying to do? It's a medium weight Euro worker placement game. There's no dice and the only randomness is what employees or transport ships come out next. So - we all control our destiny in this game! The game was originally to be called "Asteroid Miner" and mining asteroids is what the game is all about. In fact, we only gain victory points through successfully mining asteroids. So no bonus victory points for science, employees or money. With money being first tie-breaker in the case of a victory point tie, and wage bill being second. I like the simplicity of the victory point system, keeps the focus on the asteroids for everyone. Likewise, gaining victory points is simple and done in one of 2 ways - each with pros/cons.
1. Ship ore to your play area storage - then just sell it to locals. You earn a victory point for everything you sell, but you also tend to gain less money (a flat $2+your agent bonus). You do get the money immediately though.
2. Setup a contract with a transport ship. You get an upfront payment, then are required to deliver a certain amount of ore for an agreed price per unit (which is normally more than just selling locally). A little risk/reward here. You get money for everything you sell here. You also get victory points, but only up to the amount of the contract you signed. If you deliver less, you also lose victory points! You also only get paid when the transport ship has enough on board and leaves at the turn end.
So that's how we score victory points, how do we play turns? The round structure is fairly simple.
1. Hire new employees
2. Players, in order, take turns - with a player doing ALL of his employee actions during "his" turn.
3. Transport ship might leave, paying players and bringing in a new transport ship in its place. New employees come out. Refresh employee actions and advance turn marker. Mark new player order.
Turn order is handled nicely, in a way I've seen in a few games - where the "winning" player goes last! The first player will be whomever is furtherest behind in victory points, with ties decided by whoever has the lowest wage bill. If still tied, then whomever has the employee with the highest number is considered to be "winning" and goes later in the turn. I think this works really well here. Going early in the turn is a definite benefit, as you're first to mine asteroids, hire employees and fill contract spaces in the transports. It provides a great catchup mechanic, so that it's harder for any player to completely dominate the game and use first place to pull further ahead!
End of a 2 player game.
A narrow loss by 2 points!
Accessing asteroids is handled in a rather unique way - with the orbit mechanic. This means that on any given turn, some asteroids will be closer to our base planet, some will be further away - and some will be so far away, we just can't access them at all! So, we can send miners onto asteroids when they're close and they can still produce ore while they're out of range - but we can't collect ore and bring it back to base! This is a very interesting mechanic which offers unique interactions. In our recent game, Julia had bases on 3 asteroids and was planning to pickup a contract - then realised that all of her asteroids were out of range that turn. But it meant she'd have lots of ore to collect the next turn..... The back and forth nature of the asteroids means a bit of planning can be needed if you want to ensure a regular supply of ore coming back to base. The setup does make me a little sad that the game didn't hit the stretch goal level where we'd have saw the double side board with an alternate asteroid setup
Hiring new employees means paying the newly available specialists a "signing bonus" to join your work crew. Initially this is 5x their normal wage, but each turn this goes down to 4x and eventually 3x if no-one is hiring them. After that, they leave - unhappy that no-one wants their services - though there's always new people coming around looking for work!
Final turn of a 4 player game.
Orange has pulled ahead, but yellow has ore to deliver.
Blue will tie for points and win on the money tiebreaker!
Stage 2 of the turn, where players take their employee actions, works well and badly imho. A player can take actions with every one of his employees, in any order. Any employee can do any action, though specialists do "their" action much more efficiently - you will probably want people doing "their" action over any others. But with 7 possible employees, each able to 10 different actions - there can be a case of AP (action paralysis) setting in very easily. What this means is that there can be a bit of downtime between player turns as the player count increases. While it is perfectly possible to plan out your turn while others take theirs, we all know players who like to wait until it comes round to them before they think of what to do.... So, I can't imagine playing this with 6 players unless it's a really specific group! That's the negative. But on the positive side, there's a lot you'll want to do with your turn - to maximise what each employee does. I think it's a great sign of a game that you always have a lot of options, but you're never able to do everything you want on a turn. In fact, in later turns when I've got the engine running - I found myself wishing to have just one more employee to get something else done! I think the actions are all very well designed and fit together nicely, and there's always "something useful" that an employee can do - even if it's just doing (or selling) research. At the end of your turn, you must pay your employees. There's a little oversight in the rules, where it doesn't specify a penalty if you can't afford all the wages. In the rules section here, the game designer confirmed how they like to play it (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1880459/paying-wages) and it does seem an appropriate punishment for non-payment of wages (and better than trying to takeback your turn, like we had initially played it!).
Stage 3 of the turn is just cleanup and preparing for the next round, but it's a great feeling when a very profitable transport ship pulls out and makes you lots of money!
There's not much in the way of direct player interaction during the game, but there is some indirect interaction. From watching to see what employees your opponents want (and grabbing them first) to claiming new asteroids (or contesting existing ones). The biggest one is to try and fill transport ships with ore, before opponents can load their contracted amount - benefitting you and hindering them! It's all fair and it's a cutthroat galaxy when it comes to asteroid mining!
The game lists 2-6 players, and 120 minutes play time. The longer playtime of this game is definitely accurate, and may be even more with higher player counts. The excitement of the variety of actions on a turn is offset a little by the downtime involved between turns. For player scaling, we found that the game plays OK at 2 players, but definitely misses some of the confrontation. For most of the game, there simply isn't any reason to contest asteroids - there's enough for everyone. As the later turns come in, it gets easier to calculate who will win (as the shipping technology gives a hard limit of how much ore one player can ship in a single turn - victory points are entirely based on ore that you can get back to base or transport ships). It's a different game at higher player counts. While there's more ore per asteroid, there's also more people mining it each time!
Balance wise, I've only got 2 plays in so far so it's difficult to judge accurately. All of the 5 Specialists (Builder, Agent, Captain, Scientist, Miner) are very useful at what they do. My current feeling is that starting with a scientist is the best start you can get, with the builder being the next best. Getting an early specialist miner is also very useful, you really don't want your 1-1-0 cadets doing the work! I actually feel that the starting random Agent is more useful than the pilot - so perhaps it should be the pilot who only costs 1 for a wage. But no matter what you start with, it's not going to make or break your game.
When teaching players, I think it's important to stress that you only earn victory points by selling ore. While I mention this earlier, I think it's important to note this when explaining the game to a new player. Most games these days offer multiple paths to victory and the ability to make victory points by doing other things you'd do anyway, but Periorbis does not. Your research level and bases/HQ upgrades do nothing in final score. Your final money and wage bills are only tie breakers. So the scoring is based on how much ore you manage to rip out of those 'roids and sell for a tasty profit!
The game follows a back and forth structure. Players will oscillate between being in 1st position. Moving into 1st position in the early/midgame is fairly easy if you want to be there - but going last in the turn really hurts your options. So a pack tends to form, with players trying to keep up with the first player - but also trying to keep behind to play early in the turn. As an example: early in the game, it is normal for players to take a contract to deliver 1 unit of ore but actually deliver 3 - as they want the money, but not the victory points. This happens due to the catchup mechanic I have mentioned, where the last player gets to do everything (hiring and all employee actions) first. I like this, because it means that no player is ever "out of the game" because of a mistake made on any early turn. Once the game hits the later turns, someone will go "all-in" with delivering ore and taking full victory points. With the physical limit imposed by the shipping technology level maxing out at 8, it can be possible on turn 11 (and certainly at the start of turn 12) to see that it's just not possible to stop a player from winning. While I think that the game can be exciting throughout, it can sometimes be a little anti-climactic at the end.
So, how do I summarise my feelings about the game? Well, despite noting quite a few little niggles, I have to say that I really really enjoy it. The idea is great, the artwork is great, the employee action phase is slick and well thought out. It's a game full of interesting decisions on every turn. And the catchup mechanic of the last player going first, means that a little mistake isn't going to ruin your game and I think everyone has a chance to keep in touch with the leader. I really get the feeling from this game that it was a labour of love. The designer wanted a game that worked around the space mining business theme. And from that point of view, they succeeded and it really works. They've definitely created a clever game that's fun and quite unique here. I do believe that the downtime between player turns is the biggest thing that will hold this game back from becoming really popular. Periorbis won't appeal to everyone, but it will find willing players in most gamer groups who have a couple of hours to spare! By the BGG ratings, from me, this gets a:
8/10 - Very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it.
PS: if you want to have a little background music while you play - I can highly recommend the Eve Online 12 hour soundtrack:
*Edit - mixed up listing the colours I was having trouble with
- Last edited Thu Jan 4, 2018 6:22 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Wed Jan 3, 2018 2:33 pm
Board Game Studio
The ''ONE'' Ring
awsome review !!!
Ordered mine through there site and can't wait to give it a try
- Last edited Sat Jan 6, 2018 1:58 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sat Jan 6, 2018 1:57 pm
A very through review! Nice job.
I agree that a singular victory condition makes for a more focused game, and usually reduces a lot of potential AP in games where its used. Though I guess it doesn't work out that way for Periorbis, eh? Anyway, I like how this game focuses the victory path.
I would counter your assessment that if it wasn't for the downtime, that this game would be more popular. Unfortunately, today's gamers often "judge a book by its cover" (i.e., judging a game purely by its components). And while you're entirely correct that the artwork is phenomenal, the component production falters greatly. You pointed out many of the faults... graphics, text, images, and icons are simply too small. The material is thin, etc, etc. It really is a shame that such great artwork is displayed on cards too small to be appreciated.
And BTW, if you're interested in other games which use the "losing player goes first" catch-up mechanic, I highly suggest you check out Trickerion: Legends of Illusion! Am glad to see that it works in Periorbis.
And thanks for the mood music!