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Subject: First Impressions rss

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Snooze Fest
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Hillsborough
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We love our pups!! Misu, RIP 28 Nov 2010. Tikka, RIP 11 Aug 2011.
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FIRST IMPRESSIONS, based on 2 partial plays at BGG.CON. Why even bother posting this? Because I’m interested in hearing from others who may have played it as well.

PRELIMINARY COPY, ALL RULES/MECHANISMS SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

First, My Biases:
1. I do not love Dominion. I was very intrigued by it when it was first released: cool new deck-building mechanism, lots of card actions to explore (and SO SO MANY more now!), engaging play. But then I found myself liking it less and less. Especially when it became clear that to win, you needed to destroy (thin) your deck, not build it. You don’t want to do a bunch of cool actions, you want to do the least possible, as quickly as possible, to end the game with enough VP cards to win. I think later expansions may have made extreme deck thinning less of a winning strategy, but I’d lost interest by then. The other reason, maybe the more important reason, for the loss of interest was this: Dominion is a very strategic game. It seems to me that 85-90% of the game actually happens at the beginning, when you stare at the random mix of cards you’re playing with and set your game strategy: what cards to buy, how to make the flip from engine (efficient deck) building to VP generation. The rest of the game is largely execution of your initial strategy, dealing with your cards as they come into your hand. I prefer having a bit of strategy, but also a lot of tactical play where you have to look at the changing situation from turn to turn and respond accordingly.

2. I do not love Ascension: Deckbuilding Game (when did it lose the "Chronicles of the Godslayer" part?). This seemed to swing too far the other way. My initial plays felt completely tactical, where you were completely at the mercy of the luck of the draw (both in which type of currency you happened to draw, and what randomly popped up in the tableau for you to buy/fight). It felt as if the game was largely playing itself. I’m sure that this isn’t completely accurate and that you probably can work towards building a specific type of deck where the cards synergies with each other. But again, initial plays weren’t interesting enough for me to make the effort.

3. I do enjoy games where deck building is just one component of the game, but where it’s a part of other things. For example, territory control (for VP) in A Few Acres of Snow, area majority on a board (with less deck-building, more personal-action-selection) like in Rococo, a word game like in Paperback, area majority and secret roles in A Study in Emerald (FIRST edition, please!). I like a board and stuff to play with on it, using the deck I build during the game. Although the pure deck builder that is Valley of the Kings, with it’s built in deck thinning (but now with a purpose, other than mere efficiency, and which actually makes your deck worse if you’re taking out the high-powered/high-VP cards), is also very enjoyable.

4. I am a fan of Martin Wallace designs, ranking the Age of Steam family (which actually includes many other designers as well) as my #1 game and also rating several of his other designs (A Study in Emerald, Tinners’ Trail, Last Train to Wensleydale, and Struggle of Empires, for example) highly.

So, this game...
The Overview
It’s set in modern times, where players are wealthy financiers racing to space. People the likes of Elon Musk, trying to build their own space empires by launching missions (to Earth orbit, the Moon, or Mars) to learn something (which helps you later in the game) or just earn money (to finance your later endeavors). It’s a deck builder where you will buy cards from an Ascension-like display, except that the deck is stacked: there are at least 2 groups of cards but maybe more: both my games ended just as we were getting into the second group!

The Setup
To set up, everyone gets an identical deck of cards. These are multipurpose, showing some kind of mission (satellite, base, space hotel, or something-or-other), some science icon (chemistry, computing, or genetics?) and/or cash value. Draw 6 of your 12 cards. You also get 2 random end-game bonus VP cards.

The board is almost unnecessary but still is a convenient place to put stuff. There is space for:
- the card display. Prepare the deck by removing cards for player count, stacking by phase, then putting 6ish in the display face up. These cards give you new types of actions or abilities, as well as more icons to spend in various ways.
- there are also 3 piles of rocket cards (2-4 rocket points) available in limited quantity in every game.
- the launch track, showing spaces numbered 1-14ish
- VP spaces, one for each of the 4 mission types, at each location (Earth, Moon, Mars), with VP indicated for first person/others to succeed at the missions.

The Game Play
On your turn, you can take as many actions as you like. These could be:
- using a card for its printed action.
- buying cards from the display (put them into your discard pile)
- starting a mission (may only have one active at a time)
- playing cards to your launch pad. These could be rockets (missions require different numbers to launch, based on type and target location), or other cards designed to increase your chances of success. Some cards have icons (each location “wants” a different type), others have a helpful ability (coded to Launch Pad), or maybe both.
You must pay $10 for every card played to your mission or Launch Pad areas.
Unlike every other Wallace deck-builder, you may use EVERY icon on a card — nice and easy game play! What also makes things easier than some other games: you just add up all your costs and pay at the end ... no complicated accounting required for allocating specific cards to pay for specific expenses.

Next, if you have enough rockets in your launch pad (rockets only get you off the ground; you need other stuff for the mission to actually succeed), you may launch the mission: announce your target, which determines how far you need to move the marker on the launch path on the board. The mission marker always starts at 0, then you advance one step for every icon of the appropriate type (Earth missions want tech, Moon - chemistry, Mars - genetics), and also for any Launch Pad cards with advance marker actions. Next, shuffle all the Success cards (deck of cards showing cards numbered 0-4, I think 2s and 3s are most common). Flip cards one by one, up to the limit for mission location (3, 4, or 5), advancing the launch marker accordingly. After each flip, you may choose to abort: if so, discard as many cards from your launch pad as you flipped. If you keep going and end up reaching your target: yay! Score VP accordingly, and get a new ongoing power (based on type of mission): e.g., permanent rocket, extra money, larger hand size, or something else. If you fail, discard ALL cards from your Pad!

At the end of your turn, discard as many cards as you like, discard cards you played this turn, then draw back up to your hand limit.

The game ends at the end of the round when anyone reaches a specific VP target (varies by player count). Everyone scores additional VP for their bonus cards (eg +1 VP for Earth satellite mission, or per Pandemic card). Most VP wins!

The Good
So, what did I like about this game?
1. Well, it seemed like just the right mix (for me) of long term planning and short term, tactical play. The end-game VP cards give you some goals, specific missions to aim for, but you still have to deal with the vagaries of your deck shuffle and (of course) the cards available for purchase in the Display.

2. It fits the theme so well! It kind of makes sense that we're all racing to reach these milestone objectives (to earn extra VP). It makes sense that you learn something from your early successes, and so you'll have that knowledge (extra rockets!) to advance later missions. It's logical that your company needs to earn more money to finance your efforts -- build a space hotel! And you can predict that, unless you're very very conservative, you will have some mission failures; but you can at least salvage some of your investment by aborting early, at the first signs of failure.

3. That slow reveal of mission success cards -- the one-by-one flip that moves your token along the launch path -- is fun to watch even when you're not the one doing it! It's still somewhat random, but you know the deck distribution and you can abort early for minimal cost so it feels more like working with predictable probability, less like a random crapshoot.

4. Once you're familiar with the game (e.g., my second partial game), your turns are SUPER quick. You can mostly plan what you're going to do next turn at the end of your current turn! And no one is going to mess with your plans, other than maybe buy a card you want (at least, not with any cards I saw in the first half of the deck).

5. It feels more like a deck builder, less like a deck destroyer. There is a Chapel-like card, but it’s in the random draw deck so may not show up right away. Even when it does, it only removes one card at a time. However, you can still achieve typical efficiencies temporarily, by burying cards into your launch pad.

The Bad
1. There's no direct interaction with other players. It's mostly just a race: to complete a specific mission if someone else is attempting the same one (so you get bonus VP), to acquire a particularly good card from the Display, to trigger the end of the game before others can accomplish their current mission. I kind of prefer this -- Dominion's attack cards mostly just annoyed me -- but others may feel differently. Maybe the second part of the deck has more attack-type cards? I hope not!

2. There's a limited pool of cards (I think). The end-game VP cards will change your specific goals but you're still using the same deck of cards. Will the game feel same-y after several plays? Does that even matter any more ... do people nowadays even play games more than a handful of times? Or will there be a never-ending series of expansions like Dominion, Ascension, or Thunderstone that keep things fresh?

3. The rule banning duplicate cards in your launchpad: it's just annoying! Once you have a bunch of cards there, it slows you down having to scan through them all to avoid using another copy. I’m not sure the rule is worth the effort!
UPDATE: I got a PM from one of the developers. Apparently, in the mid-late game (which I didn’t get to play!), some cards become over-powered when used in multiple copies. So it makes sense to limit them. I just hope they find a good way present it graphically so it’s easy to see with just a quick scan of the launch pad cards.

4. Does the game run too long? Too short? Of course, it's hard to answer based on my partial plays. Either way, though, there would seem to be an easy fix: just adjust the end-game triggers.

The Ugly
Not much to say here, fortunately! The graphics could use some work but are only preliminary.

------

So, did anyone else play this? Did you play a full game? What are your thoughts?
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Sean Steel
United Kingdom
Manchester
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Been subscribed to this waiting for more/any info, so this is a big help, it sou ds fun to have a deck builder that isn't a game about war and attacking but about racing, that's a neat twist (as to be expected from a Wallace title). I would assume the full, finished product might have more cards and you've only had enough to give an idea of how it plays as there isn't much info out there yet.

How "prototype" would you say it feels? (To clarify what I mean, does it feel like it's just waiting for production. And will see shelves soon and this was just a demo to build hype, was it near finished and just some graphical tweaks, but of polish, and it will be out mayby Q2/3, or is this very much giving people a taste of what he's been working on as (aside from Nanty Narking and Judge Dredd (both rethemings of older titles) he hasn't put out anything since Wildlands and people might be aware of his development on Bloodstones, but not aware of this game in the pipeline.)

Thanks for the info and any reply
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We love our pups!! Misu, RIP 28 Nov 2010. Tikka, RIP 11 Aug 2011.
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Thanks for your comment! The game has a BGG listing with a 2020 publication date, and I think it’s going to go to Kickstarter, but I have no publication details and I wouldn’t consider anything I say to be definitive. The game felt finished to me, but only the designer and publisher would be able to provide production specifics - sorry I can’t be of more help!
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Michał Ozon
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Thanks for posting your impressions, Snooze Fest!
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