Mole Rats in Space (Game Review)

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  •         Designer: Matt Leacock
  •         Publishers: Peaceable Kingdom
  •         Players: 2-4
  •         Time: 10-30 minutes (if this is taking you 30 minutes, you’re playing it wrong)
  •         Ages: 7+
  •         Games Played: 8 (with a review copy provided by Peaceable Kingdom)

I could only assume/guess/surmise that the name of the new Matt Leacock game – Mole Rats in Space – had some distant relationship to:

a)    Pigs in Space (one of the great bits of weirdness from the Muppet archives) and/or

b)    Rufus the Naked Mole Rat (boon companion of Ron Stoppable)

And the villains of the game, a plethora of snakes… well, just ask Samuel L. Jackson or Indiana Jones about those slithery monsters.

Imagine my pleasant surprise to find out (thanks to the rulebook) that mole rats actually work cooperatively with each other… and that the main predator for them is… snakes. (On or off a plane.)

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read my ramblings about board game naming and pop culture. (Or maybe you did.) So, let’s get to the reviewing.

It’s Not A Tumor (aka Chutes & Ladders)

So, pretty much every time I’ve opened the board up to teach someone Mole Rats in Space, the first thing out of their mouth is “It’s Chutes & Ladders in space.” No, no… a thousand times, no.

chutesChutes & Ladders is, in no uncertain terms, one of the worst in-print games ever designed. The only reason for making your child play it is because you want to develop a deep-set streak of fatalism in their philosophical outlook. The “game” (and, yes, I used scare quotes on purpose) is deterministic – spin the spinner and move. Hit the wrong space (which you can’t control) and you go backwards. Hit a different space (which you also can’t control) and you are rewarded.

While Mole Rats in Space has a similar board structure with ladders that lead deeper & deeper into the ship (to where the escape pod is located) and suction tubes that move you down a level or into the deep inky airless vacuum of space, the game play is markedly different.

I’ll Take Cooperative Games for $500, Alex

Mole Rats in Space is the newest cooperative game from the dean of cooperative game design, Matt Leacock. His most famous creation is Pandemic

…what with three expansions…

  •         Pandemic: On the Brink
  •         Pandemic: In the Lab
  •         Pandemic: State of Emergency

…and four spin-off games designed by Matt:

  •         Pandemic: The Cure
  •         Pandemic Legacy (Season 1)
  •         Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
  •         Pandemic: Iberia

He’s also well-known for designing a pair of family-friendly cooperative games – Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert – both of which I’ve reviewed here on the Opinionated Gamers. (You can click on the game names to read my reviews.) Matt also designed the official Thunderbirds cooperative game.

Yeah, he knows what he’s doing.

“…at a bar called O’Malley’s, where we´ll plan our escape…”

image4The objective of the game is simple: get away from the horde of snakes that are slithering out of the air vents. In order to do this, your team of intrepid mole rats must gather four important items (duct tape, toothbrush, radishes and a map) and board the escape pod. Similar to Pandemic, you can lose in a variety of ways:

  •         If one of your mole rats is sucked out of the space station, you lose.
  •         If one of your mole rats is bitten twice by snakes, you lose.
  •         If a snake gets in the escape pod, you lose.
  •         If your team runs out of time (empties the draw deck), you lose.
  •         [There is one additional way to lose when you’re playing in challenge mode… but I won’t spoil the secret.]

The set-up is simple:

  •         Put one snake of each color (there are four of them) on their starting spaces.
  •         Place the important items on their starting spaces.
  •         Place the mole rat figures (with a med-kit in their backup) on their starting spaces.
  •         Deal each player one card face-up from the deck.
  •         The youngest player starts.

Each turn, a player moves (depending on the card):

  •         His mole rat
  •         Any mole rat
  •         All the mole rats

The number of spaces is indicated on the card… but the player chooses the direction of movement.

Then the player executes whatever snake action is called for:

  •         Moving one snake of a particular color
  •         Spawning a new snake
  •         Moving all the snakes of a particular color
  •         Having one (or more) snakes of a particular color climb the closest ladder

If you end movement on a piece of equipment, you pick it up & put it in your backpack.

If you move over or onto a snake, you are bitten and must discard your med-kit and put your mole rat back on their start space. Remember: a second bite ends the game with a loss… so just don’t go there.

Like I said, this isn’t a difficult game to learn. The simplicity masks some very tricky (and very enjoyable) problem-solving, though!

Mark’s Mini-Thesis on Cooperative Games… As Applied to Mole Rats in Space

For me, cooperative games succeed or fail on some simple questions:

  1. Is there a coherent and/or compelling story arc to the game?

Yes. Gathering the equipment and getting to the escape pod while snakes multiply around you works like a charm.

  1. Are there meaningful decisions to be made by the players?

Yes. Though Mole Rats in Space is the least complex of Matt Leacock’s cooperative designs, players have to balance priorities to successfully escape: getting the equipment, keeping the mole rats venom-free, and slowing the relentless march of the snakes toward the escape pod.

This is made easier by the “look ahead” that the group has due to the face-up player cards. I’ve enjoyed how my sons have spotted chain reactions that I missed – both saving us from certain doom and opening up ways to win.

  1. Is the game system have enough randomness to offer a new play experience each time… while predictable enough to make the players feel like they have both strategic & tactical choices? (Note: I didn’t say that players HAD to have strategic choices – just that they felt like they did.)

Yes. While the board is fixed, the order that cards are drawn can have a big effect on player decisions.

  1. Is the game susceptible to a player/dictator?

One of the problems inherent in cooperative games is having one player “direct” the play of the rest of the players to solve the puzzle. There are various ways to solve this as a game design problem: hidden information, real-time play, appointing a leader, etc… (Or my favorite home remedy: don’t let obnoxious people play games with you.)

If Mole Rats in Space has a weak point, it’s the alpha player problem. I think for the intended family audience that it’s unlikely to be an issue… but the potential is there. With that said, we haven’t experience that in our games with people who have played a number of cooperative games.

Note: I actually created this series of questions for my review of Matt’s Forbidden Desert

Challenge… Accepted

A nice touch is the inclusion of a sealed Challenge cards envelope which adds some additional cards to the deck, along with an additional way for the mole rats to lose their battle against the reptilian invasion. The rules strongly suggest that you need to win three games before opening the envelope… even thoughtfully provided checkboxes on the envelope to track your wins.

No spoilers here – but it’s not a radical change to the basic structure of the game. It makes the game a bit more difficult, which is a good thing as players get better at figuring out how best to play the game.

And in the End…

image2After 7 games, my sons & I are 4-4 against the snakes… and we actually won our first game using the Challenge cards. I think that’s an appropriate balance for a family-oriented cooperative game. We’ve also found that the larger number of players feels easier since you have a farther “look ahead” with what those pesky snakes are going to do.

Compared to the subtleties of Pandemic or even Thunderbirds, Mole Rats in Space is a pretty simple & straightforward game. While that makes it unlikely to take the hardcore gamer community by storm, it is perfectly suited for the family audience. The $19.99 MSRP makes it an affordable entry into cooperative gaming… and the simple gameplay makes it easy to teach, even to non-gamers.

The board and cards are nicely done, as are the plastic mole rat pieces. The cardboard pieces (snake tokens, equipment tokens, and med-kits) are thinner than I would like, but they work just fine.

More importantly, it’s one of those games that have the “potato chip” factor – as soon as you finish playing, there’s a temptation to immediately play again… especially if the snakes overwhelmed your intrepid team of mole rats.

All in all, I’m excited both for Peaceable Kingdom (who has put out a great entry into the co-op genre) and for new audiences who will find a world of family gaming opened up to them.

For those playing along at home, the pop-culture references include:

  • The Muppet Show
  • Kim Possible
  • Snakes on a Plane
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Kindergarten Cop
  • Jeopardy
  • “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (Rupert Holmes)
  • “The One With The Embryos” – Friends
  • “The End” (The Beatles)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it…

I like it… Mark Jackson

Neutral…

Not for me…

 

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Review of Pups

Pups

  • Designer: Charlie Bink
  • Publisher: Bink Ink LLC
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 8 and up
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times Played: 5
  • Game provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Pups

Introduction

Pups is competitive trick-taking card game in which players are dog trainers using their packs of loveable pups to complete in a series of legendary canine showdowns to become the top dog. During each of seven rounds, trainers will receive a pack of seven Pups, bid on how many showdowns can be won during the round, complete in a series of showdowns by playing Pups with the highest valued one winning, and then collect Reward Treats for successful bids or Penalty Poos for failures. The trainer that has earned the most overall treats wins and is declared Top Dog!

Pups is the second game successfully crowdfunded by Charlie Bink and Bink Ink LLC using Kickstarter. The campaign ended on August 15, 2016 and was supported by 586 backers. The game shipped to backers in December 2016 and is currently available for purchase directly from the publisher. Continue reading

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The Opinionated Gamers discuss the 2017 Golden Geek Awards

The winners of the voting for the 2016 BGG Golden Geek awards were just announced.  We’ve been talking about the winners amongst ourselves – and we thought it would be interesting to bring this discussion to the blog.

 

The methodology (taken from BGG):

 

The Golden Geek Award is given annually to the best new games of the year, as selected by you, the users.  In order to avoid voter fraud, we have adopted the following restrictions. Voting is restricted to either supporting users (having a supporter badge from any year is sufficient),voters who pay a one-time 20 GeekGold fee, or users who have purchased an avatar or a geekbadge.

 

First, there will be a nomination phase. Each eligible voter can nominate up to 10 items in each of the categories. The 10 items with the most nominations in each category will become the nominees for the final voting. You are not restricted to the list of suggested nominees.

 

The final voting will be resolved using a condorcet voting system – specifically the Schulze method. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schulze_method

 

For those who don’t want to read the specifics of the system, users will rank the games in each category from 1 to 10, (with a 0 for no opinion), and, through some mathemagical computations, we will select the winner.

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Gang Up! A Criminally Fun Card Game

Gang Up! A Criminally Fun Card Game

  • Designers: Robin Keizer and Paul van der Meer
  • Publisher: HOT Games/Czacha Games
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 10 and Up
  • Time: 30 – 60 minutesTimes Played: 2, with a copy provided by one of the designers

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Gang Up! A Criminally Fun Card Game is a card game where players compete to be the boss and have the toughest gang. Players start the game with a hand of 6 cards.  These cards can either be gangster cards, which you recruit to form your gang, or influence cards that can help your gang achieve their criminal goals. Players also start the game with 5 status; you need status to recruit gang members, exert influence and commit crimes and being the first to achieve a status of 20 will win you the game.

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Dale Yu: Review of Portal of Heroes

 

Portal of Heroes

  • Designer: Johannes Schmidauer-Konig
  • Publisher: Mayfair
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Mayfair Games

In Portal of Heroes, players are heroes that go through portals to the world of Molthar and “bind fantastic beasts” to you – which is boardgame rule speak for discarding appropriate cards in order to collect other cards. Continue reading

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Play – The Games Festival

Play

Modena, once again, will be the Italian Gamers Capital. The 31st of March will start the ninth edition of Play – The Games Festival, the greatest games event in Italy with more than 80 exhibitors and more than 2000 tables for games.From 31st of March in the City and 1st and 2nd of April in ModenaFiere (Modena Exhbitors Hall) with more than 22000 square meters dedicate to games!

The official program closed yesterday with more than 400 events/tournaments ranging from Boardgames to Role Play Games passing from Miniatures, Collectable Card Games and Live Games.

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War of the Ring Anniversary Edition (Review by Chris Wray)

WOTRSetup

War of the Ring wasn’t the first game to use the intellectual property from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy, but it is arguably the game that dives deepest into Tolkien’s world.  The game was released in 2004 by a trio of designers out of Italy — Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello — and was born out of a desire to create a game that simulated the struggle for control of Middle Earth.  As Di Meglio said in a 2016 interview, “Lord of the Rings was a mass-market IP, and most games were very simple, family-oriented. We wanted something which could give us, as players, a full immersion in the LotR Trilogy, with all the details.”

An Anniversary Edition of this 2005 International Gamers Award winner was recently released by Ares Games.  This limited edition features painted miniatures, a hardcover rulebook, an oversized game board, and several other nice touches.

This article has a brief photo tour of War of the Ring Anniversary Edition.  Please excuse my below-average photography skills.  I’m in love with this edition of the game, which I’ve taken to calling “my precious” (pun intended).  If you’re interested in the history of the War of the Ring or a review, I recently wrote an article in Counter Magazine, which is available through the BGG store.

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Dale Yu: Two Real Time Co-op Games – Dungeon Time (Ares) and Magic Maze (Sit Down!)

Dale Yu: Two Real Time Co-op Games – Dungeon Time (Ares) and Magic Maze (Sit Down!) 

Well, this is sort of an interesting coincidence… On the same day, I received packages from two different game companies with games similar in mechanism.  Both of the games promise a short (<15 min) co-operative game experience that use a sand timer. I thought it would be nice to review them together here.  If you read yesterday’s piece, it’ll seem like déjà vu all over again…

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Dale Yu: Two Real Time Co-op Games – Magic Maze (Sit Down!) and Dungeon Time (Ares)

Dale Yu: Two Real Time Co-op Games – Magic Maze (Sit Down!) and Dungeon Time (Ares)

Well, this is sort of an interesting coincidence… On the same day, I received packages from two different game companies with games similar in mechanism.  Both of the games promise a short (<15 min) co-operative game experience that use a sand timer. I thought it would be nice to review them together here.  If you read tomorrow’s piece, it’ll seem like déjà vu all over again…

Continue reading

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2016 Designer of the Year Award

It seems we live in perilous times and each day they keep getting perilouser. In such an age, I’ve heard it said that what we really need is something steady and reliable. Something that’s been with us for years, that has passed the test of time, and which has never let us down. If deep down, that’s what you’re looking for…sorry! All I have to offer you is the 2016 Designer of the Year award!

Most of you reading this know what to expect (including the preceding tomfoolery), but for the rest of you, let me explain. I began writing Designer of the Year (DotY) articles back in 2004 and thanks to a series of weak-willed and easily bribed editors, they’ve continued ever since. The idea behind them is simple. We have a metric buttload of “game of the year” awards, but nothing which rewards the individuals who are responsible for these wonderful creations—namely, the designers. So every year at about this time, I recognize the person who, in my opinion, had the best collection of games over the last calendar year. As much as is humanly possible, I want to keep my personal feelings out of it, so I have three reasonably objective criteria. First, how popular the games are, based on the game’s ratings (and number of ratings) on the Geek. Second, how well the games do in the annual awards. Since many of the designs came out during the latter part of last year, they won’t be eligible until this year’s awards, meaning there’s some projections and guesswork at play, but my track record for this is pretty good (I’ll talk about last year’s exception to the rule a bit later). And third, how much “buzz” the games generating. (A nice example of a game with good buzz is Friedemann Friese’s Fabled Fruit, which has generated a reasonable amount of discussion for its clever twist on legacy games.) I take all those things in consideration, combine them in some mystical way, and try to come up with a good and worthy recipient for the year. Continue reading

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