Board Game Review: Space Movers – Where Dexterity is Entirely Positive | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Space Movers – Where Dexterity is Entirely Positive

So called “thematic games” often strive to provide a strong narrative for the players. But Space Movers, currently on Kickstarter, goes even further. The game comes with a comic book that tells the story of the seven person crew coming together. Then players cooperatively play through five objectives to tell the rest of the story. Besides that, the game incorporates a twist on die rolling that is quite enjoyable.

The Basics. Each player begins by selecting one of the seven characters. Each character, in turn, has access to one die (of a given color) representing the skill they bring to the crew of the Liberty. And, of course, each provides a unique player power. Unchosen characters are set to the side but may still be called upon during the game.

On a player’s turn, they go through four separate phases. First, they draw a card off the top of the deck. Cards may provide opportunities to deliver goods and gain resources, they might reveal events that alter the game in some way, or they might unleash the mighty UO – the universe police who are looking to arrest and interrogate smugglers like the players.

The UO interrogation room

Next, the player may move the Liberty. The ship starts on Earth and, from there, can be moved throughout the galaxy. When moving the Liberty, a player simply selects an adjacent system. Most systems are free to move to, though one planet requires a skill check.

Next, the player may take one action. Sometimes, cards provide an action. The UO cards have a particular skill check that can be made to avoid detection and remove the UO pursuit ship. And the Liberty itself has several action spaces that can be utilized to dig for new cards, move the ship further, or even deliver goods remotely. Of course, each crew member is particularly good at one particular action on the ship.

The Liberty contains several action spaces

Finally, there is a brief cleanup phase where the Liberty loses one resource, the pursuit ship moves closer if it is on the board, and dice are returned to their players. If the pursuit ship ever catches up to the Liberty, then there is a 70% chance that UO takes one of the characters to Interrogation. While a character is in Interrogation, the corresponding die cannot be rolled for any checks. This can make some things unachievable until that character is rescued.

Many actions require skill checks. If piloting (red die) is required, then that player will roll his die in the game box. A roll of 5 or higher on the ten sided die is a success (the dice are labeled 0-9 and the 0 is an actual 0, not a ten). Most checks require three or four dice. Uniquely, if the first die comes up as a fail, the next player can throw his dice at the already rolled dice to try to change the number. In fact, after all dice are rolled, a blank six sided die is thrown to try to hit and change any remaining bad dice. The check succeeds or fails based on the results of the dice after all of the dice have been thrown.

Liberty crew members

The players attempt to work their way through five separate objective cards. The first objective, for example, says to flip it when the first cargo delivery is made. Once flipped, it requires the Liberty to make it back to earth and attempt a particular skill check. Once successful, the second objective is revealed and so on.

Players win when all five objectives are completed. Players primarily lose by running out of resources, but several other cards or abilities – including objective cards – can add game losing conditions.

The rest of the crew

The Feel. The feel of the game truly depends on how the cards get randomly mixed. Most of the time, the game provides a fun experience with a light dexterity element that feels like a small advantage to the players rather than a central or critical mechanism. But if the cards fall out in a strange distribution, your game could be over before it really begins.

When Space Movers is working, it works very well. The players have a number of options available to them, but no silver bullet. Each turn, they have to choose from a wide array of possible actions but there is rarely one that seems to be absolutely the best action – especially when an objective has not yet flipped. This encourages the players to discuss each turn and reach a consensus. It keeps everyone involved.

Cargo delivery is critical to replenish resource stockpiles

A major part of Space Movers is pick up and deliver. Every turn, a resource is used up, and if the players run out of resources, they lose. So, to regain resources, players will pick up and deliver cargo to various planets to replace differing amounts of resources. This becomes the bread and butter action of the game. It is necessary to avoid a loss of resources and, therefore, a loss of the entire game. But if you don’t depart from those actions from time to time to complete objectives, you’ll run out of time and lose anyway.

The dice throwing element is well integrated into the game (though perhaps not the theme). I’m generally not a fan of dexterity games because they favor the player with the greatest practice (and thus soon becomes unfun to teach to new players or to be taught). But the very mild dexterity aspect of Space Movers is actually really fun and exciting. It doesn’t feel like a necessary dexterity requirement; instead it feels like a second chance when a rolled die comes up as a fail. After all, if you absolutely hate dexterity, you can simply roll the dice in the box as you normally would.

So many places to smuggle goods

Because of the way it is incorporated, dice rolling actually becomes active and fun. For those players who do not typically like to roll dice, there is a separate enjoyable aspect to it. And for those who do like to chuck dice, now you have targets as well.

But what happens when the draw cards do not mix well? In that case, Space Movers can feel quite slanted. If you get a lot of cargo cards at the beginning, the game seems slow and easy. If you get some back to back UO Pursuit cards, the UO ship will move multiple spaces each turn and a failed roll to resolve it might result in being caught immediately. Worst of all, having a run of event cards can be disastrous.

An event card stays in play until resolved. If another event is drawn, then the old event is removed from the game and the Liberty loses resources equal to the number of cards removed so far. So, the first removed event makes you lose one resource, the second two, and so forth. If you have four or five events near the top of the deck, you might lose all of your resources before you have enough turns to get a cargo card and deliver cargo.

Events change the game in unexpected and critical ways

As a result, Space Movers is very uneven from play to play. In my first session, for example, the game ended on the seventh turn. We were in the midst of completing the first objective when we were faced with a choice. We had to resolve the UO ship or it would move at the end of the turn and catch us (and, according to the objective card, we’d lose immediately). We ended up failing the roll and the game was over then and there. Bummer.

The other concern is that there is only one set of objective cards. Meaning that after even a single play, a lot of the mystery of the game will be gone. For example, the first objective is flipped as soon as cargo is delivered and then satisfied after returning to Earth. So, once that is known, players simply select a card that allows them to deliver cargo close to Earth so that they can zip along and finish the objective card quickly.

Even though there is a strong narrative inherent in Space Movers, it is largely the same narrative from play to play. This may feel a little tiresome after a few plays and make the game wear thin quicker than it otherwise would. Space Movers could really benefit from randomized objectives. Perhaps as many as four or five sets would alleviate this concern. Then, you could randomly select an “objective 1” to be matched with a randomly selected “objective 2” and so on.

Drawing these pursuit cards can mean bad news for the players

Components: NA of 5. As a prototype game, the components are not final. However, I enjoy the comic book style artwork and the board is pretty to look at. In fact, the comic book that comes with it is a fun little read that really gives you a sense of the personalities of the characters. The strong backstory encourages just a hint of roleplaying during the game. Hopefully the artwork will change little between now and final production.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 2.5 of 5. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw has a dramatic impact on the game. As a cooperative game, you won’t see a lopsided draw benefiting one player over another. But, the random nature of the deck can make the entire game stilted if the wrong (or right) cards happen to come up. Space Movers could benefit from some way of stacking the deck to minimize this concern. Perhaps breaking the deck into quarters or fifths and shuffling a certain amount of UO Pursuit or Event cards into each fifth. Or maybe some other mechanic entirely.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. With the exception of the totally random card draw, the mechanics here are really exciting. Players always have something to do – you never feel like you have wasted turns. In fact, you more often feel like you don’t quite have enough time to do what needs to be done – a fantastic feel for a cooperative game. Plus, I really enjoy the dice throwing and colliding aspect of the game. If you like dexterity, its a wonderful addition. If you don’t, it doesn’t detract from the game at all since it isn’t a strictly necessary aspect.

Replayability: 2 of 5. This is perhaps the biggest failing of Space Movers. Replay value is significantly harmed by the inclusion of only one set of Objectives. A game or two later, and players can simply game the system. Worse yet, once the mechanics are known, it is easy to disregard the story. I’m aware that the Kickstarter campaign is looking to unlock alternate objectives and that others may be sold as mini expansions, but I can only review the game as I play it which did not have any alternates.

Spite: 0 of 5. As a cooperative game, there is no spite.

The first objective seems easy enough….

Overall: 3 of 5. Despite some of its flaws, Space Movers is a fun game to play. It easily soaks up seven players making it a delight for larger groups. The strong narrative keeps the gameplay interesting (at least on the first few playthroughs), and the dice throwing mechanic adds a whole world of fun to the game. Rather than rely on boring and tired checks, Space Movers puts the players in a much more active and engaged role. And that’s a good thing. Sure the flaws hamper what would otherwise be a stellar game, but even with those issues it still provides an enjoyable time.

(A special thanks to KnA games for providing access to a prototype for review)

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