The amazing title No Man’s Sky debuted not long ago and opened up 18 quintillion (yes, quintillion) worlds to explore. But that wasn’t the first title to introduce players to space exploration. In fact, tabletop games have been doing a pretty good job for the past several years. If you’re looking for something a little more analog, here are three fantastic games about the deep reaches of space.
In Eclipse, each player takes on the role of an alien race or human faction. Depending on the race, you may get special powers or have different ship costs during the game. From there, it opens up into a 4X style experience: Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. (Yes, it should be 4E, but 4X sounds cooler.)
The board is made up of hexes, but at the beginning only the home worlds and the galactic core are placed. If you want to see what else is out there, you’ll have to leave your home world and explore outward. As you do, you’ll discover more planets and settle them for resources. Managing the resources you have, and ensuring that you’re making enough to keep your ever expanding empire satisfied is critical to doing well.
Typically, the first few rounds are all about exploring with the next few involving diplomacy, saber-rattling, and the inevitable military buildup. What once seemed wide and expansive becomes congested as different civilizations butt up against each other. From there, it becomes a space-based onslaught as the various powers vie for control of the best areas and seek to gain points for decimating opponents.
Image Credit: Asmodee Games
Going in a somewhat different direction is Space Cadets. Here, the players cooperatively form a space crew. Something reminiscent of a space journey, or Star Trek if you will. You might have one person manning the weapons, another on engineering, and another at the helm.
Initially, there is only one space tile placed. To get the others placed down, you’ll have to either scan them with sensors, or travel to them and get a visual confirmation of what might be there. But it isn’t so easy as pressing a button and showing up where you want. Instead, each of those stations is like a little mini-game. Engineering will use tiles to create as many matches as possible, and then give extra power to those systems. Helm has to pre-program movement and speed using a special set of cards. And weapons has to first complete little puzzles to create torpedoes, and then employ flicking skills to send them down a board for maximum damage.
Space Cadets is great because it isn’t the kind of game where one experienced player can tell everyone else what to do. Everyone needs to pull their weight and succeed at their assigned task. If there is a weak link, it could cause everyone to suffer damage. Most of the game is completed in real time and players have to do all of this while enemies chase them and while exploring outer reaches.
Image Credit: Stronghold Games
Unlike the previous two games, Core Worlds lacks a board. So the exploration isn’t just simply flip a tile, land on it. Instead, the players begin on the outer worlds. As the rounds progress, new cards are added to the offering and, included among them, are new planets to conquer. Of course, most of the planets are no pushovers. But if you’ve prepared your space horde, those planets could be yours.
Core Worlds is a deck-building game. Your deck starts with a serviceable army of grunts and small space fighters. But as you march toward the galactic center, the core worlds, you take over not only the planets, but also assimilate the technology of the worlds in your wake. By the end of the game, you have massive heroes, huge weaponized vehicles, and robotic assassins.
Eventually, you make your ways to the central worlds and have a final opportunity to crush them under your heel. You’ll need very specific combinations of space and ground forces, and those worlds tend to be a challenge. But you can go right from exploration to plundering. Once the Core Worlds have fallen, players count up the points they’ve amassed in their empire to see which civilization will now become dominant.
Image Credit: Stronghold Games
What space exploration games are your favorites? Tell us about it in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: Fantasy Flight