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SCORPIUS FREIGHTER: Smuggling On the Tabletop Never Felt So Refined

SCORPIUS FREIGHTER: Smuggling On the Tabletop Never Felt So Refined

I have a soft spot for engine-building games because they often build upon several other common game mechanics, such as drafting (where you take a unique card that gives you abilities), resource management (juggling in-game currency of various types that facilitates upgrading, but also itself counts towards endgame scoring), and worker placement (where players place tokens on a board and get benefits based on the location). Scorpius Freighter, Alderac’s new engine-building game, is a highly refined take on the genre that rewards players for savvy and strategic play to create a satisfying play experience.

The premise of the game is simple: you run a cargo ship that transports a variety of cargo contraband (smugglers can’t be choosers, after all). You have a crew of 4 who you manage, and over the course of the game you’ll upgrade your ship, pick up cargo, invest in your crew to harness their real skills, and ideally come out on top as you compete against other smuggling moguls (the other players around the table).  Becca breaks it down with this How To Play video:

There are a lot of moving parts, but it’s all logical and clearly laid out. Most players will have a handle on the turn order and options pretty quickly (since they’re detailed on each player’s ship boards explicitly) and as soon as they do, they’ll be hit with the various strategic options they are offered with every turn and the challenge of choosing among them. Opportunity cost is an element of games that impacts the play experience, particularly in games such as these, where there is no direct confrontation with your opponents, but instead, you just need to outplay them to score the victory points that will put you over the top. When presented with several meaningful choices every turn, players feel the opportunity cost acutely.

The balance between trying to perpetually take the best action to benefit you, block an opponent from an action that would significantly help them, and keeping crew available to actually take advantage of the actions you want is really challenging, and the most compelling aspect of the game. For example, meeting with an informant will allow you to invest in your crew, unlocking their abilities, provided you’ve got the credits and/or crew to motivate said informant to teach a unique skill to your crew, with abilities that are always active to help you get the edge over the competition. Upgrading your ship with storage bays or equipment gives you more options during your turn and/or storage (keeping related areas joined improves action efficiency on top of just offering the benefit of the storage or equipment outright).  Fulfilling contracts and doing side jobs is where the big reputation points are, but contracts also give additional benefits. In order to do any of these actions effectively, you need to have crew allocated to get you to the action, as well as crew available (unallocated) to execute the action.

Scorpius Freighter Tableau

When the game all comes together, what becomes extremely apparent is how refined the mechanics are. The experience never feels clunky or clumsy – everything has a purpose. The actions of other players have a direct impact on the kinds of actions you’re able to take, and vice-versa, meaning that even when it isn’t your turn, you’re engaged with the game to figure out how you might block off another player while benefitting yourself, while you’re calculating who’s in the lead (it’s easily discerned with some quick arithmetic, but not openly tracked as totals are perpetually in flux until the end of the game), while you’re also planning your upcoming turn.

The game is fun on its first play, but it shines on subsequent plays, as players figure out how crews work, how to effectively build their ships, and leverage the options available to them. The game doesn’t stop being enjoyable at that point, however, as it boasts more advance ship build options (on the reverse side of the ship tableaus of the standard ship builds denoted by the ST on the ship name), as well as rules for custom crews that allow players to mix and match options. Because of the variety of choices, and how the game offers more options as players become more advanced in strategy, there’s a lot of replayability potential in this box.

Scorpius Freighter Crews

The game itself is high quality, combining the gorgeous components, thematic art, refined mechanics, and even a thoughtfully designed box insert that holds and organizes everything to make setup and breakdown a breeze. When you put all these elements together, you get a game that feels as smooth as black-market silk, fresh from the hidden cargo hold of a ship. You can see how the game plays in this episode of Game The Game:

Speed over to your friendly local gaming store for a copy or visit AEG’s site for more information!

More boardgame goodness!

Image Credits: Teri Litorco
This post is sponsored by Alderac.

Teri Litorco is Geek & Sundry’s contributing editor, author of The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming (a survival and etiquette guide for gamers), and a YouTuber who can be found on social media: TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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