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Subject: So Many Plates to Spin, So Few Actions - A Pulsar 2849 Review rss

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Chris Ruf
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So Many Plates to Spin, So Few Actions – A Pulsar 2849 Review

So you have found yourself transported to the 29th century and in charge of a futuristic energy company.  How?  That’s not important.  But you are here now, so let’s deal with it.  Your job is to harvest energy from pulsars… A what?  Pulsars: a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star or white dwarf, that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation.  Oh… What’s a netron…  Let me stop you there.  All science and tech questions should be held until the end of the review.  I can see science isn’t your thing.  Why do they keep sending me these people? shake

You will set up an energy network to beam the energy back to… oh whatever, let’s just get on with this.

Pulsar 2849
Designer: Vladimir Suchy
Publisher: CGE

So what do I need to do?  It’s not so much what do you “need” to do; it’s more what do you “want” to do?  But the rough idea is over 8 rounds (years, epochs, eras, etc) you want to explore space, find pulsars, build gyrodines (What?  (I said at the END), start them spinning, find new planets, set up transmitter networks, patent new technologies, bolster your own Headquarters, and participate in fun runs… I mean GATE runs.  And all the while trying to stay ahead of your rival companies in regard to stellar initiative and engineering capacity.  That sounds like a lot.  It is.  But as you will see later you don’t have to do ALL of it.  Phew… that’s a relief.  So HOW do I do those things?  I’m glad you asked!  But first, what do you know remember about basic statistics?  Uhhhhhhhhh……

If you are familiar with the rules, you may want to skip to the “Review and Analysis” section below.  If you are even lazier than that, you may want to skip to the TL;DR section at the very bottom.

The Dice Draft

In the future, instead of companies just acting pseudo-independently of each other, we’ve found the best way to balance their interests is through simple dice drafting.  Weird.  But I’ll go with it.  A pool of 6 sided dice is rolled and each die is sorted into a space on the dice board based on its number.  We then determine where the Median die is.  You know the median?  The middle one.  I can see your glazed over look and I don’t appreciate it.  Once that is determined we set the median marker to that space.  We then cover all the dice in that space with our hand and move the median marker slightly toward whichever side has more dice.  Thus putting the space with the median die either just ahead, or just behind the median marker.  Or possibly it could stay in that space if there is an equal number of dice on each side.  This will become important in a moment.  This sounds pretty low tech for the future.  Using your hands and dice?  I can’t pretend we aren’t talking about a game the whole time.  Thematic breaks will happen.  Like now.  We are about to leave the silly zone for a while.

Starting with the player first on the initiative track (which, along with the engineering track, is just above the dice spaces) and continuing in initiative track order, that player will draft one die from the pool.  After all players have one die, a second die will be drafted in reverse initiative order.  After this 1 die will be left over in a 3p or 4p game, 3 dice will be left in a 2p game.

Here is the part that makes the dice draft REALLY interesting.  When a player takes a die from the pool they must move either their initiative marker or engineering marker up or down on the respective track based on the number of spaces away from the median that die was.  So if the median is between 3 and 4, and a player takes a 6, they must move a marker 3 spaces to the right (down).  If the marker was on the 4 space, they would only move down 2 spaces.  So this creates some very interesting interplay between players as the jockey for position on the Initiative (player order) and Engineering tracks.  The players that are ahead on the engineering track get a bonus of engineering cubes at the end of each round.  These are quite valuable.  Their most direct use is to turn in 4 of them to take the Red Bonus Die and set it to the number on the die that wasn’t taken during the draft.  This die now gives you 3 dice to use during your turn.  Important rule though is that you can only ever get ONE red bonus die per round.  So if you would get another after you already have one, it is wasted.

All your used dice go back to the middle of the board.  These, along with the one die not taken, will be re-rolled at the beginning of the next round.

The Actions

So… how do I use these dice?  In lots of ways outlined below.  But know that each player will use both their dice during a single turn, and in Initiative order that was determined at the end of the previous round.  Also, each value of die required is EXACT.  No using 6s to get things that need 4s.

Buy a Die Modifier
You can use your die to get a die modifier token.  Whenever you use a die, you can optionally use ONE die modifier token.  They come in +-1 and +2 flavors.  Dice do not “go around” from 6 to 1 or 1 to 6.  So you can get a max die value of 8.

Moving Your Ship
You may move your ship, which started at the edge of the board, and move it exactly the number of spaces on a single die.  This can cause all sorts of things to happen.  And there are some rules about not backtracking and such.

If you activated a Gate Run on your Headquarters Board (which is an optional “expansion” to the game), you may use it now to gain the number of points indicated for each space of the associated color you move through during this movement.

If you passed THROUGH a solar system, you may flip it over if it isn’t already (they all start facedown) and place a marker on a dead (desert) planet.  If no dead planets are available, then you can place your marker on an Earthlike planet.

If you END YOUR MOVEMENT on a solar system, you may flip it over if it isn’t already and place a marker on an Earthlike planet AND get the bonus at the bottom of the system tile.  These can be getting gyrodines, getting die modifiers, engineering cubes, and the elusive red bonus die.  If you don’t want or can’t take that reward for some reason, you may flip over an exploration bonus tile from the supply.  These mostly give points.  If you end on a system that does not have an Earthlike planet, you may still place a marker on a dead planet, but you DO NOT get the bonus.  And it’s possible that all the planets have already been claimed.  And you can’t place more than one of your markers on each of the 16 systems.

If you END YOUR MOVEMNT on a Pulsar, you put one of your Claim Rings around it.  That is now your Pulsar to harvest energy from at some point during the game.  It cannot be taken away from you.

Getting a Gyrodine
You can use a die to get a Gyrodine.  Gyrodines come in 3 point values: 1, 2, and 3.  A gyrodine is some gigantic ringlike thing that absorbs the energy of the pulsar and converts it to points… or energy ready for distribution if you want to stay all thematic.  Ever seen a Dysonsphere?  It’s like that.  Only a ring, not a sphere.  Spheres are too expensive.  When you get a gyrodine you place it in your supply.  At any time on your turn, you can place it inside one of your claimed pulsars.  The first person to have a pair of same value gyrodines on the board (whether spinning or not) gets a point bonus.  The 2nd person to get a pair (which could be the same person again) gets a smaller point bonus.  But that’s not the end of gyrodines.

Spin a Gyrodine
Using the number printed on the gyrodine, you can flip it over to start it spinning and harvesting points (energy).  Each gyrodine will now produce points based on its value for its owner at the end of each round.  There is also a modifier on the Technology Boards / Round Tracker that affects how many points each gyrodine produces at the end of each round.  So the earlier you start them spinning the better.

Patent a Technology
You may use a die to place a marker on a technology on one of the Technology boards.  There are 3 “levels” of tech boards that make 8 total levels of tech that also correspond to the rounds in the game.  There are 2 boards for each “level” and they are double sided.  So a good amount of variety.  There are 4 types of technology:  Persistent Effects, One Time Bonuses, End of Round Scoring, and End of Game scoring.  You can only patent techs that are at or below the current round.  All have spaces for 2 markers, though some can only be taken once per round.  But once both spaces are have a maker, no one else can patent that tech anymore.

Start/Finish a Transmitter
Each round, 3 new Transmitters will be on offer.  These take 1-3 dice to complete.  To start building one, spend any die that is listed on the Transmitter tile, keep the tile in front of you (it’s yours now), and place a marker on the Transmitter covering the number of the die you used.  Once all these numbers are covered, the Transmitter is active.  Which means, you gain any one time bonuses from it, then flip it over to its completed side which may provide end of round points or engineering cubes.  And it may have half a red die on either or both of its ends.

Whenever you take a Transmitter, you can attach it to one you already have, or start a new array.  If you attach it, you must attach a half red die to another half red die to make a complete die.  It doesn’t matter if the Transmitters are active or not right now.  But once both Transmitters are active, you immediately gain the red bonus die and set it to the number created by the two red half dice.  This red die is a one-time bonus; use it or lose it.  So think carefully before you complete a Transmitter bonus die.

Use a Project on your Headquarters Board
You can use a die to activate an HQ project on your personal HQ board.  You are not required to play with these boards during the game.  There are plenty of things to do without them.  But they add another layer to the game.  And, they add the possibility of Gate Runs during movement.  Each HQ board is double sided, and it functions like a personal technology tree.  After researched, Gate Runs can be used once during the game (for no action) during a later movement.

End of Round

At the end of the round, you adjust turn order based on the initiative track (this track DOES NOT reset).  You gain engineering cubes based on your position on the engineering track (this track also DOES NOT reset).  You possibly lose points if you are too far to the right on the tracks.  You earn points for all end of round stuff.  Earn points for spinning gyrodines.  Then you move the round tracker up one level on the tech track and start the next round.

End of the Game

At the end of the 8th round, after doing end of round scoring, you proceed to final scoring.  And boy is there final scoring:

The first are the 3 end game goals I have yet to mention.  There are 6 end game scoring tiles.  All are double sided.  And only 3 are used each game.  They all have a main condition like, have 11 markers on planets, have 6 markers on tech, have 4 active transmitters, have 2 of the same value gyrodine, have all 3 values of gyrodines, etc.  If you meet the main goal, you may spend engineering cubes to get more points, if you do that, you can again spend even more engineering cubes for even MORE points.

Points for how many markers you have on planets.  This can be worth A LOT.

Points for End Game Scoring technologies.

Points for positions on both the initiative and engineering tracks.

Conciliation points for rings with no gyrodines, non-spinning gyrodines, and left over engineering cubes.

You got all that?  Not even clo… Excellent!  You’ll do fine kid.  I do have a few questions.  As I said at the beginning, all questions must be submitted in writing, in triplicate, and filed with the appropriate rules governing bodies.  Responses could take 1-2 centuries.  That’s not what you said earlier.  Bob, will you come knock him out?  I’m tired of him.  Seriously people, we need better recruits!  Can we please just get people with astrophysics degrees?

The Review and Analysis

Wow!  There is a lot to cover here.  But let’s start with components.  There is a lot of stuff in this box.  And in typical CGE fashion, one or two boards will not do.  There is a main board, dice board, player boards, die modifier board, tech boards, and gyrodine board.  And they all fit neatly around the main circular board.  But the whole assembly takes up A TON of table space.  I can’t play it 4p without side tables to hold some stuff.  The dice are wooden, so keep that in mind if it bothers you.  Your player markers are little plastic semi-translucent candy looking disks.  Your ships that mark turn order and fly around are also the same plastic, but they are kind of small.  I wish they had been a bit bigger.  But all in all it’s a nice package.  And for the amount of stuff, setup isn’t a huge chore.  The worst part is setting out the system tiles.  Cleanup is a fair bit worse though.  It takes considerably longer to put it all away.

I found the rulebook to be clear and well written.  There are one or two minor quibbles with clarity, but nothing so major a second read through and some common sense couldn’t decipher it.  Though I am a stickler for clarity.  Even at the expense of brevity.  But these rules are well above average.  It also comes with a separate book that explains all the tech boards.  But I wish it also had the HQ boards in it.  They do cover all the HQ actions in the main rules, but only in that it explains what the iconography means.  It just felt like it could have been in the tech manual.

The game looks nice as well.  But the art isn’t really in your face.  The board is pretty generic space.  Everything else uses the same sterile color palette.  And the only other artwork are the people on the end game scoring tiles.  But the iconography and graphic design are quite good.  I was able to decipher most of the meaning behind symbols without have to reference them more than once.

Now we get to gameplay.  There are A LOT of things you can do.  Like, A LOT a lot.  It’s quite the sandbox.  It’s very much a point salad game.  But you also can’t just do whatever.  You just don’t have enough actions.  You aren’t going to get 3 actions every turn as much as you would really like to.  So you will have to settle for approximately 20 actions in a game.  Determining what you want to do is ALL about the tech board (and HQ board, if you are using it).  You have to analyze what end game tech bonuses there are, what persistent effects could define a strategy, and what the end game goals are.  These will help define what you actually want to do.  It’s entirely possible to NEVER use your HQ board even if you have it.  It also possible to barely use technologies.  You may never build a gyrodine.  You may never build a transmitter.  And these tech setups typically will allow for multiple different strategies.  If you don’t have a plan after the first couple rounds, you probably aren’t going to win.

HOWEVER, you still must worry about the dice and the genius way they interact with turn order and engineering cubes.  Since all die actions must be exact values, you can often get stuck not being able to do what you planned for.  So you must be able to adjust as necessary.  You need to make sure you only spend those modifiers when you really need to.  Getting them without wasting an action to take one isn’t easy.  You may need to sacrifice some power by taking low value dice to get ahead on turn order so you can grab that one die value you really need.  And this tension during the draft is quite fun.  If you want to take Transmitters, you really need to be early in turn order.  If you want to score lots on the end game goals, you need to be ahead on the engineering track.  But if you want to move a lot on the board, you are going to be taking higher numbers, and thus be lower on at least one of those tracks.  Spinning gyrodines also requires high value dice.  It has a really cool ebb and flow over the course of the game.  The dice draft is the main source of player interaction in the game.  The rest of the interaction is typical euro, “who can get there first?”

If you were really paying attention, you may have noticed that it takes 3 actions to get a gyrodine spinning.  And that is independent of the value of the gyrodine.  1 point gyrodines take 3 actions just like 3 point gyrodines.  So why on earth would you ever build 1 point gyrodines?  Also, why would you not just spend actions doing “more productive” things like Transmitters or Moving instead of spinning up gyrodines?

To answer the first part, it has to do with the bonuses awarded during the game and the dice.  There are more bonuses that allow getting 1 point and 2 point gyrodines than 3 point gyrodines.  Often getting a 3 point gyrodine means you have to just spend an action to get one, which is a die of value 4.  And spinning it requires a 6.  Both of which are generally above the median.  And the lower value gyrodines require lower numbers.  So you are compensated by being able to move UP the tracks when going for low value gyrodines.  Is this enough compensation?  I’m not really sure.  A level 3 gyrodine built on the 2nd round scores more points over the course of the game than any other single thing can.  It scores 21pts plus the gyrodine round bonuses.  That’s typically 13-19% of a winning score.  (Assuming winning scores range from 170-240.)

So to answer the 2nd part, should you just do something else?  It really depends on the game setup.  Transmitters offer less points over the game than gyrodines, but also give you the bonus red die.  And end game conditions could reward you for building them.  They are also one of the few sources of recurring engineering cubes.  Moving around and getting 13 markers on planets is worth 50pts at the end of the game.  And you were probably getting bonuses along the way.  Is there an end game goal for spreading around?  That can make a big difference.  If you are playing with the HQ board and going for Gate Runs, this can become quite lucrative.

How much randomness do you like?  I could definitely see some instances where the random system placement may help someone with their chosen strategy.  I wonder if having the systems face up from the start was ever a consideration.  It would make planning easier.  But it would also create some AP issues, and it doesn’t fit the exploration theme very well.  As for the dice rolling, I feel it injects necessary randomness to ensure people can’t just buckle down and follow their plan the whole way.  I personally don’t generally like games that allow that (though I do like Terra Mystica).  I feel like the game was already decided from the start and all your decisions (for the most part except for player variance) were pre-determined.  I don’t like front loaded thinking.  I like reactionary thinking.


So let’s sum this up.  Takes up tons of table space.  Candy pieces.  Awesome dice drafting mechanism.  A real fight for track positioning.  Varied setup forces need to devise a long term plan.  Dice rolls inject necessary randomness to shake up said plan.  Feeling like you can’t accomplish enough.  A lot of choices.  Due to variety of things, some choices can feel like a wash when there are multiple ways to do the same thing.  Maybe an action balance issue, but maybe not.  Just another point salad?  Is it worth getting transported away from your home and century?  Then getting knocked out by Bob?  Do I really want to talk in italics for the rest of my days?

I give the game an 8/10.  I don’t really see it climbing higher than that, and it may even drop a point after repeated play after I start to “see” the possible strategies at the start of each game.  But I’m really enjoying it right now.  It’s just a good+ point salad euro.  But its theme does nothing to hide the fact that it’s a mathy, mechanisms driven game.
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