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Subject: The destiny of intergalactical smugglers rss

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Jens Stenström
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BACKGROUND
As a remedy to a hard schedule at work, brother Mosse and I took a cruise over the pond to Sweden. As we're not your typical tourists we decided to run through Stockholm's lavish boardgamestores. There was one small problem though; as we searched the web, before the trip, to find all these stores in Stockholm and we found one ... and Science Fiction Bokhandeln (SFB) is not actually a gamestore; it's a bookstore that also sells boardgames.
We were slightly confused by this since we're spoiled by having two, quite large, well equipped, physical boardgamestores in Helsinki. Anyway. I searched through SFB homepage to see if I could find any games in their inventory that I couldn't get here in Finland. I found two games that caught my eye; Fantasy Flight Games' Frenzy and the small publisher Playus Maximus' Smugglers of the Galaxy.
I came home with Smugglers of the Galaxy and Klaus Teuber's (Mayfair Games) Domaine. Frenzy was sold out when we came to Stockholm.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The Smugglers of the Galaxy-box gives a good first impression; it's huge and lavishly illustrated. Everything about it shouts out that it's a fun, good and big game. The 'word' goober is actually a word that could be printed on the front of the box. Sadly, the box is misleading.
My first thought was that I would have the chance to act out the life of Star Wars' Han-Solo's life as a smuggler in this game. Flying around in the Millenium Falcon and trying to evade attacks by the imperium.

So the first impression, at least from the box and the backstory is really impressive, but immediately when you open the box the disappointment sets in. The box, which is almost as big as the Fantasy Flight Games' big box, contains as much components as in a FFG's Silver Line-game. Over 90% of the box is air, nothing, nada, nilch - useless space. The only reason to why the box is so big is that the board, which is splitted into two parts, is quite big, but they could've just split the board in four pieces and packed it in a smaller box, all without losing any 'first impression' from the box.



THE COMPONENTS
I didn't have high hopes about the components from the beginning, especially as it is a small publisher and their first game, but the box promises so much.
The game consists of a board, three decks of cards, two dice, six playing pieces (spaceships), a block where you write down your stats and lots of paper money.

The board isn't bad, but it isn't something I would like to look at too long. The material is quite thin though which makes the boards warp slightly. All the charts are well placed and the board is very informativ, so it's practical, but still not beautiful. The cards are of mediocre quality but the illustrations are nice. Again, no "wow"-factor here, but keeping in mind that it's a small publisher, they're good. The dice are normal six-sided white dice and the spaceships are the same as in Isaac Asimov's Space Traders.
The thing I like the least about the components are the stat-blocks, which seldomly is a good idea in my opinion. It wouldn't have costed much more for the publisher to use small playerboards with some counters and cubes. Also, papermoney is something I despise.
I forgive much just because it's a small publisher and their first game, so let's go to the game itself.



THE GAME
It was a monday afternoon when my brother Mosse and I decided to shoot into space and smuggle stuff around the galaxy. After reading through the rules, which were quite well written, everything seemed clear and everything pointed towards a fun and good game.
Quickly a fact dawned on us; the Destiny Cards that are drawn at the beginning of every turn are way to powerful and there's just too many of them in play after a couple of turns.
It didn't take long until I had gathered a crew that overfilled my ship and I had loads of special toys that helped me to smuggle more stuff around. This also led to my ship being almost undestructable and I won every spacefight I got myself in to.
Both of us flew around in space, buying and selling and earning profits. Smuggling to planets where the merchendise was illegal and it was here I had a huge advantage; my profesional crew and high-tech spaceship could smuggle almost anything almost anywhere, even into military bases.
After an hour of play I had managed to collect enough money to try the Koroth Run which is the endgame of Smugglers in the Galaxy. I managed the Koroth Run easily and won the game.



CONCLUSION
The game is clearly inspired by Isaac Asimov's Star Traders, which isn't by itself a bad thing. It could be a very fun beer and pretzels-game and the theme is perfect for that occasion. Who wouldn't want to smuggle stuff in space? But sadly there's a couple of problems that make this game fall flat.
- As said before; the stat-blocks should have ben playerboards with cubes and counters. Definately.
- The Destiny Cards are all too powerful and they're drawn all to often. This is the biggest problem in the game and it's such a big problem that it practically destroys the game and all the fun in it. It also feels dumb that you find your crew and equipment (included in the Destiny Cards) in space and it doesn't cost anything!

So what is good in the game? It's really fun and feels like smuggling until the Destiny Cards destroy everything. The idea behing the game is good and it isn't a bad thing to try to improve Isaac Asimov's Star Traders. The mechanic that there at any given time only seven planets open for trading is good - immediately when a planet has bought or sold goods it's deactivated and a new planet is activated. Actaully, everything in this game scaled from 'okey' to 'good' except those damn Destiny Cards that destroys the whole game.

One last thing before I retire from my smugglingdays; one thing that seldomly is a good thing in a boardgame is an endgame. They have a tendency to make the first 95% of the game irrelevant. The Koroth Run is the endgame in Smugglers of the Galaxy and it doesn't work. It makes the majority of the game irrelevant and the result of not succeeding in the Koroth Run are devastating.

With all this said; I wouldn't recommend Smugglers of the Galaxy to anyone, but it's always fun to try out new games from small publishers, because sometimes you can find a real gem. SotG has many good things going for it, but it's bad sides overshadow it all.
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Treacherous Cretin
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The only game I have ever bought brand spanking new, played, and traded away. IMHO an utter lemon that promised so much.
 
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Enon Sci
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Couldn't you mod the game so these issues weren't so pronounced?

Perhaps put a cost on destiny cards or invest another means of acquiring them?
 
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Jens Stenström
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Anarchosyn wrote:
Couldn't you mod the game so these issues weren't so pronounced?

Perhaps put a cost on destiny cards or invest another means of acquiring them?


I suppose you could. We discussed the issue after playing with my brother Mosse. One idea was that you would only take destinycards when you start a turn on a planet, since it really feels stupid when finding equipment and/or crewmembers in the middle of nowhere in space.

Another idea was to put prices on these, but then you'ld have to do it on every card which would take a long time and it would be a lot of work.

What eludes me though, is the fact that the designers didn't notice or feel that this was a problem in gameplay and didn't do anything to balance it out. I really can't wrap my head around it.
 
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DT Strain
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Hi Jens,

Thanks for the review
A couple of minor corrections & clarifications:

- I never heard of Asimov's Star Traders, haven't seen it, and never played it. But it isn't unreasonable there would be similarities between it and my design. The 'space smuggler' genre is found in many computer games, shows, and movies after all. For example, I've heard a number of other things people thought it must have been based on, but in reality, it wasn't much more than having a love of the likes of Star Wars, with perhaps the greatest game inspiration coming from Talisman (which, incidentally, is made to be less random than Talisman given that a player can freely choose where they move).

- The reason you find things in space is because of the scale of the galaxy. Each sector contains hundreds of thousands of systems, with each turn representing perhaps a month of time. The planets on the board represent only the most significant trading spots at the time. It's assumed your smuggler is making random stops at nameless planets and this is where most of the events in the Destiny deck take place (and why).

- Check out Alpha Expansion, a free download, for a host of optional rules which vary game length, ending scenarios, randomness, and more.


Thanks again and take care!
Sincerely,

Daniel Strain
Playus Maximus

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Jens Stenström
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DTStrain wrote:
Hi Jens,

Thanks for the review
A couple of minor corrections & clarifications:

- I never heard of Asimov's Star Traders, haven't seen it, and never played it. But it isn't unreasonable there would be similarities between it and my design. The 'space smuggler' genre is found in many computer games, shows, and movies after all. For example, I've heard a number of other things people thought it must have been based on, but in reality, it wasn't much more than having a love of the likes of Star Wars, with perhaps the greatest game inspiration coming from Talisman (which, incidentally, is made to be less random than Talisman given that a player can freely choose where they move).

- The reason you find things in space is because of the scale of the galaxy. Each sector contains hundreds of thousands of systems, with each turn representing perhaps a month of time. The planets on the board represent only the most significant trading spots at the time. It's assumed your smuggler is making random stops at nameless planets and this is where most of the events in the Destiny deck take place (and why).

- Check out Alpha Expansion, a free download, for a host of optional rules which vary game length, ending scenarios, randomness, and more.


Thanks again and take care!
Sincerely,

Daniel Strain
Playus Maximus



Hi and thanks for the respons,

Isaac Asimov's Star Traders is a Steve Jackson game that doesn't only play in the same way as yours, but it also uses the same components; mainly the spacesships. It's quite interesting that they are so alike if you've never played it, but that is not at all a bad thing.

Okey, you make a valid point with finding the equipments and crews in space, but I feel that it would probably make the destiny cards less overwhelming if you actually had to go to a planet to get them.

Thank you, again, very much for the respons and I'll be checking out the Alpha expansion soon. I hope you keep on designing, 'cause I love it when there are small companies that push the boundries of gaming and I will surely try out other games from you.

Jens Stenström
 
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DT Strain
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Thanks Jens!
 
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Jens Stenström
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Harv wrote:
DTStrain wrote:
Thanks Jens!


See what I mean? HE'S JUST LIKE YOU AND ME!


You've had a mental picture that designers are higher beings that just laugh at us puny humans before..?
 
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