Buzzworthiness: Hyperspace Smuggler

Thanks to Plain Sight Games for providing a prototype copy of Hyperspace Smuggler.

I don’t get a whole lot of pre-Kickstarter review games.  Every once in a while, I’ll get a note from someone who’d like me to say something about their project, and that usually gets put into the Kickstarter Blitz.  Well, today I have a review of a game that just went up on Kickstarter called…

image by BGG user plainsight
image by BGG user plainsight

Hyperspace Smuggler is a game designed by Greg Loring-Albright that is coming from Plain Sight Games.  It’s a 2-4 player sci-fi pick-up-and-deliver game where players are exploring space, picking up cargo, and trying to deliver it to a central space station.

As a bit of a disclaimer here, I will say that this game was sent to me in prototype form.  Therefore, some mechanical and component changes may occur before the final version is released.  But I’ll be reviewing the game in the form it was sent to me.

The game will come with 51 tiles; 72 cards (Laser, Engine, and Hyperdrive); 24 cubes;  13 Cargo cards; 16 crew cards; 6 rules cards; and 4 player ships.  To set up the game, each player will get seven cards – three Engine, two Hyperdrive, and two Laser cards.  Engine and Hyperspace cards are all the same, and Laser cards are numbered 1-24.  Each player also gets the cubes of their color and two crew members.  The starting tile, which has a Space Station on it, is placed in the center with eight other tiles dealt around it to form a 3×3 grid (any planets or nebulae dealt in these eight are replaced and shuffled back into the remaining tiles).  The rest of the tiles are placed in a stack, and all player place their ship on the Space Station.

On your turn, you can perform two actions.  You have four choices, and can do them twice if you wish – MOVE, HYPERDRIVE, DRAW, or REFRESH.

MOVE: To move, you play an Engine card and move to an adjacent tile (not diagonally).  If this would move you off of the board, you draw two tiles from the stack and place one, putting the other on the bottom (exception: if you draw the Space Pirates, you must place that tile).  Whatever tile you land on, you can then interact with the space, depending on what is there.

  • If it’s a PLANET, you may place a cube there and take a Cargo card.  This cube means that other players can still land there, but there is no more Cargo to be had.  It also means that you can never return there because you are now Wanted.  You only have space for one Cargo on your ship.
  • If it’s the SPACE STATION (there’s only one), you may flip your Cargo to its SAFELY STORED side.  It can now never be taken from you, and counts to your score in the end.
  • If it’s a CUSTOMS CHECKPOINT, and you have an unstored Cargo on board, you must discard it.
  • If it’s an ASTEROID FIELD, you must discard a Laser card to blast your way through the Asteroids.  If you don’t have a Laser card, you can’t enter the Asteroid Field.
  • If there’s nothing, it’s OPEN SPACE.  Nothing happens.
  • If there’s ANOTHER SHIP, you fight.  Both players play a Laser card, with the high card winning.  The winner may take the other player’s Cargo if he has one and the winner has room.  Otherwise, the loser exhausts a Crew member, or if both Crew are already exhausted, discards a Crew Member.
  • If it’s the SPACE PIRATE, you must fight.  You play a Laser, and he draws the top three cards of the Laser deck, choosing the highest.  If you win, you can take a Cargo from the Pirate if he has one and you have room.  If you lose, you lose your Cargo or Crew as before.  Pirates have room for unlimited Cargo.
  • If it’s a NEBULA, nothing happens to you, and no one can interact with you because you’re in a cloud.  It’s basically a safe spot.

HYPERDRIVE: Play a Hyperdrive card, then move from your current space to anywhere on the board with a matching symbol.  If there’s no Hyperdrive symbol on your space, you can’t do this. (My understanding is that the final version will have actual symbols, but my prototype copy had dice icons, remnants of a previous ruleset.)

DRAW: You may discard up to one card, then draw back up to seven cards.  This may be in any combination you see fit from the Engine, Hyperdrive, and Laser cards.

REFRESH: Flip over any exhausted Crew.  These can be exhausted by using their ability or using them in battle.  The abilities can be used as explained on each Crew card, and generally don’t take an action.

After the last player in turn order has taken a turn, the Space Pirate moves.  He is moved by the player with the Space Pirate pawn, and moves two spaces.  After this, the pawn is passed and play resumes.

Play continues until Cargo has been safely stored.  At that point, the player with the most Cargo wins.  If there’s a tie, you add Cargo and keep playing until there’s a winner. (This rule is in flux at the moment – the most recent change they were trying was to play until someone had three, then complete the round to see if there’s a winner.  The game ends immediately if someone stores a fourth.)

image from Kickstarter project page
prototype components – image from Kickstarter project page

COMPONENTS: It’s not really fair for me to rate the components here as I’ve only played the prototype.  But you’re looking at a tile and card game, so there are some expectations there.  Also, art will be done by John Ariosa, who has also done the art for games like Mice & Mystics, Summoner Wars, and others.  So that’s cool.

THEME: At the moment, this is pretty generic sci-fi.  There’s not a lot of universe building going on – no personalities for the crew, no differences between ships, no names for the planets.  I expect some of that will change in the final version, but for now, it’s kind of generic, so I don’t have much to talk about.

MECHANICS: This is a pick-up-and-deliver game, with players grabbing Cargo and transporting it from Point B back to Point A.  And it’s fairly simple at that – there’s not a whole lot you need to go through.  Land on a planet, pick up the Cargo, move on.  Or beat somebody up, take their Cargo, move on.

The most interesting aspect of this game to me is the hand management aspect.  You’ve got a hand of cards, but after the initial deal, you’re responsible for the distribution of those cards.  If you want more movement, draw Engine.  If you need to be able to just bounce all over the galaxy, draw Hyperdrive.  If you are looking for a fight, draw Lasers.  But how much of what you draw is up to you.

The combat system is ridiculously simple – just play a Laser and see who was higher.  This was partially inspired by Cosmic Encounter (though without the use of allies or any kind of modifier).  This leads to some issues with luck, but you can assume that if you have no good Laser cards, you should maybe try to stay out of trouble for a while.  The penalties for losing are pretty punishing – lose Cargo or Crew.

The Crew add some extra spice to the game as they give you special powers.  But you’ll find they get exhausted quickly, and it’s tough to wake them up since you need to spend half of your turn on them.  And once they’re gone, they’re gone – there’s currently no way to get them back. (My version of the game just had eight crew, but I see on the Kickstarter page that there are 16 in the final version.  I know Greg is still in the process of tweaking the Crew rules, so we’ll see where that goes.)

The endgame is pretty clunky right now – with only 13 Cargo, the likelihood that there will be a tie is pretty good.  But, as I mentioned, it’s being worked on.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is luck in the game in terms of tiles that come out, plus what Laser cards you draw.  However, there is still quite a bit of strategy, mostly in knowing how to manage your hand.  There are simple decisions to be made, like which way to go, but it’s that hand management aspect that will really make you think.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a very easy game to learn.  It’s pretty intuitive, and I don’t think people will have trouble learning it.  It has short turns, so it moves pretty quickly.

SCALABILITY: I’ve only played with four players, and that worked pretty well.  The game has a different set of rules when playing with two (each player controls two ships), so I can’t speak to how that plays.

REPLAYABILITY: Due to its modular nature, no two games will play out the same way.  That means that tactical play is important, and that in itself increases replayability – there’s not going to be a dominant strategy because you’re going to have to keep adjusting your style.

INTERACTION: There’s a moderate amount of interaction in this game, with most of it being in trying to put yourself in a position to win combats.  With such a low amount of Cargo in play, each fight will be critical, especially if you have Cargo on board.  So you kind of need to keep an eye on everyone else as you play.

FOOTPRINT: You will need some space to spread out as you play this.  Your personal area only needs room for your cubes and your Crew, but the board itself will expand as you play, and you won’t be able to predict how it will go.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? There are still some very rough edges on this game.  From the version I was given, the Crew and the endgame both need some work.  But I do think the core of a solid game is there.  As I mentioned, the hand management aspect is a very interesting part of the game, and it’s a pretty simple game to grasp.  It moves quickly, and there’s the potential for lots of exciting action as you work out exactly how you’re going to get where you need to go.  I enjoyed it, and the people I played it with enjoyed it.  It’s not a brain burner, but it does present enough of a challenge to keep you engaged.  If it sounds like something you might be interested in, go check out the Kickstarter project page.  It’s a $29 buy-in for the game, and there are more pledge levels with more stuff.

Thanks again to Plain Sight Games for providing the prototype copy for today’s review, and thanks to you for reading!

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