Listeners of the Dice Tower podcast will know the name Geoff Engelstein very well. His Game Tech segments are among the best on the show, and really are enlightening in their exploration of the math, psychology, and science behind games. Last year, Z-Man published a design by Engelstein and his son, Brian, called The Ares Project. Now, a different game by the Engelsteins is coming out:
Space Cadets is a game designed Geoff and Brian, as well as Geoff’s daughter Sydney (game design is apparently a family affair in the Engelstein household). It’s being published by Stronghold Games, is for 3-6 players aged 8 and up, and takes 90 minutes to play. This is a cooperative space adventure in the tradition of Space Alert – everyone is working together to accomplish their missions. However, this is a pretty different game.
There are nine stations on your ship, and each station has its own set of components:
- The Captain has a display, a nemesis track token, 8 experimental equipment cards, and a sand timer.
- Engineering has a display, 16 engineer tiles, 16 energy tokens, and 2 battery tokens.
- Sensors has a display, 3 lock tokens, 8 target puzzle pieces, 8 sensor target cards, a cloak token, and a cloth bag.
- Shields has a display, 4 shield track tokens, an I.C.E. token, and 32 shields tokens.
- Weapons has a torpedo track, 24 torpedo puzzle pieces, 18 torpedo tube cards, and a torpedo disc.
- Helm has a display, a speed track token, and 20 maneuver cards.
- Tractor beams has a display and 16 tractor beam tiles.
- Damage control has a display, a core breach tracking token, 12 damage cards, 12 core breach cards, 11 repair cards, and 12 core repair cards.
- Jump drive has a display, 12 jump cards, and 5 dice.
- Also included in the game are 10 map tiles, 17 chip cards, 4 crystal cards, 17 enemy tokens, 4 crystal tokens, a player ship token, 4 special crystal tokens, and 9 damage tokens.
In the game, you’ll divide up the nine stations (captain, engineering, sensors, shields, weapons, helm, tractor, damage control, and jump drive) among the players. A suggested division of labor is included in the rules. You also set up the damage decks according to the level of difficulty you want, and the Captain chooses four experimental cards for the game. Each can be used once, and only one can be used per turn. You’ll choose one of six different missions you want to attempt.
Each turn is divided into nine steps, tracked by moving the sand timer along the Captain’s Log track. The steps are as follows:
- Discussion and Energy Distribution: This phase lasts exactly three minutes. The 30-second sand timer is flipped six times. Here, players discuss what they want to do during the round. The Engineer also places energy tokens based on the tile layout from the prior turn. In the first turn, you can have as much time as you want, and the engineer distributes 12 energy tiles to the stations, but no more than 4 can go in each station.
- Preparation: In this step, which is not timed, stations will set up their turn. The Engineer discards the current engineering tiles, and draws seven new ones. The Helm splits its energy between Thrust and Maneuver. The speed is adjusted by one (up or down) for each energy in Thrust, and the Helmsman draws standard maneuver cards equal to the energy in Maneuver. The Sensors designates three target objects (crystals or enemy ships). Weapons can attempt to load a torpedo tube for each energy allocated by drawing a torpedo card for each loaded tube. Shields pulls random shield tiles.
- Action: Five stations simultaneously perform their action within a thirty second time frame. Engineering flips over the seven tiles and matches up the symbols on the sides (completed circles will generate energy). The Helmsman has to plot the movement of the ship by placing a Maneuver card in each space on the Helm display up to the speed, choosing a standard maneuver or special maneuver. The Sensors Officer pulls tiles from the bag equal to the number of targets cards; if it matches a target card, puts it on the card (on a card of their choice if no match exists). The Weapons Officer attempts to load the torpedo tubes by flipping over the torpedo tube cards and place torpedo pieces to match the shapes on the cards. The Shields Officer flips the shield tiles and distributes them around the ship.
- Resolution: Here, you’ll mark shield points, move the ship and check for damage. Sensors will lock onto targets and scan map tiles. This step is not timed.
- Tractor Beams: You have 30 seconds to try to tractor an object with a sensor lock, spending one energy to flip two tiles that you hope match. If they do, then you have earned that many tractor beam points. For the tractor to be successful, you must have points equal to the speed of your ship plus the distance to the target. You continue until you are successful, run out of energy, or decide to stop.
- Weapons Fire: You’ll flick the torpedo down the Weapons Track for each successfully loaded torpedo tube, doing as much damage as indicated by the place where the disc lands. This action must be done in a thirty second time frame.
- Enemy Action: Enemy ships, and the Nemesis ship moves closer to entering the game or gains in power.
- Jump: You have thirty seconds in which to attempt a jump. You need an energy, and roll five dice to try to get five of a kind. You can use Jump Flux cards to change dice, and reroll dice as long as you have energy (unless there’s a Core Breach). If you successfully jump, the game is over. If you fail, you can take an inactive Jump Flux card. If you can’t take a Jump Flux card, you take one internal damage. You can also spend one energy for a 30 second extension (again, unless there’s a Core Breach).
- Repair: Here, you have 30 seconds to attempt any repairs.
The game ends when you have successfully completed the mission, failed, or been destroyed.
There’s a lot going on in this game. It makes me think of Space Alert and Wok Star in a way – those games are very time controlled, and everyone has to effectively work together in order to succeed. Wok Star also features people with specific roles to fulfill. That definitely addresses the problem some people have with cooperative games – the one where someone takes charge and tells everyone else what to do. Space Cadets features a strange mixture of mechanisms – dexterity, puzzle solving, resource management, cooperative play, dice rolling, etc. However, they all look pretty fun.
I’m not sure what to think about how the rules are laid out at this point. Essentially, there’s a component breakdown, an overview of each step, a more detailed breakdown of each job, and then extra rules. It’s not very linear in the layout, which means that it’s not great for learning, but possibly better for reference purposes. It’s the kind of game I think would be good to learn from an experienced player. I think there’s probably going to be a learning curve, but it’s a cooperative game, so that will help with learning.
After reading the rules, I think I’m more excited to play this one than I was with Ares Project. I’m looking forward to hearing the buzz about this game as it gets its release at Speil in less than a month. Thanks for reading.