Launch Pad is a new card game from Stratus Games. I hadn’t heard about Stratus Games before trying this one out, and it turns out that they’re a fairly new company that is trying to gain a foothold in the ever-crowded boardgames market. Launch Pad is one of the company’s two initial offerings – the other being an exploration game called Gold Mine. The Opinionated Gamers will be hosting a giveaway this week of Launch Pad to give someone a chance to try out the game for themselves!
Designer: Melanie James
Publisher: Stratus Games
Time: Approx 45-60 minutes
Launch Pad is a card game that puts the players in the era of the great Space Race. Players are racing to build bigger and better rocketships than their opponents and making sure that they are finished by the time the launch pad is constructed.
The table space in front of you represents your rocket factory – there are three main zones: the Construction Zone, the Quality Control Zone and finally the Launch Zone. During the course of the game, you will be building multiple rockets and moving them up through your factory and getting them ready for Launch. Initially you have to collect enough raw materials to build a rocket. To do this, you first have to play a Rocket Card in your bottom zone, and then you have to place enough Metal and Fuel cards underneath it to build it. Once the rocket has been constructed, it can move up the factory into the next zone IF you have played a corresponding expert card for that level. If you do not have the expert card in play, your rocket cannot advance and thus does not move closer to launching.
You can improve your rockets with Bonus Cards which can augment their scoring ability or might protect them from bad things. These bad things are found on Action Cards which your opponents might choose to play against you. If your rocket has the appropriate Bonus card, you will not be affected by negative effect of the Action card. For the most part, each of the Action cards targets a specific rocket piece or other card, and almost every bad action card has a specific card which protects players from the effect of that card.
While this is all happening, the Launch Pad is also being built. The overall goal of the game is to have your rockets complete (and in the top zone of your rocket factory) by the time that Launch Pad is completed. There are 4 cards which make up the Launch Pad, and at the start of the game, they are shuffled into the bottom half of the draw pile. Whenever a Launch Pad card is drawn, it is immediately placed in the lowest zone of that player’s rocket factory. Every turn thereafter, it is automatically advanced towards the Launch Zone. When the card graduates from the Launch Zone, it is placed in the center of the table… and when all 4 cards make it there, the game enters its final turn.
After the final turn, scores are calculated. The bulk of the points come from the Rockets. For each rocket in the Launch Zone, you will score full points (which range from 6 to 12 points). You score nothing for a rocket in the middle zone, and you score negative points equal to the value of the rocket if they are still in the initial Construction Zone. You then total up your points for the bonus cards and the winner is the player with the most points.
You can also look at a video produced by the company for a more visual introduction to the game:
The game is brightly colored with most happy/energetic graphics. It’s a game that wants to attract children or casual gamers. However, the gameplay can be pretty brutal as there are a number of cards which can completely stymie your progress and even cause you to have to discard a lot of the cards that you’ve already played! Furthermore, there are some bottleneck points in the game that are reminiscent of Milles Bornes – there are certain Expert cards which are necessary for your rocket to advance into the next zone and to score full points. Like the “Go” cards in Milles Bornes, if you don’t have one of them in play, there can be turns when all you can do is hope to draw the right card.
At first it seemed difficult to get the hang of which cards did what, but play is aided by the fact that every card has a pictogram on it telling you where and when you can play each card. All of the action cards also have the full action explained on the card (in small print) so that you don’t have to refer to the rules to remember what each card does.
The game itself is pretty straightforward and has been enjoyable in my few playings of it. The graphics and presentation lend itself to casual gaming or gaming with my kids, but I’m not sure how well the direct antagonism will go over with that population. Some of the Action cards can be pretty brutal and can turn this game into a frustrating affair, possibly more than a child would be able to handle. But, if your group doesn’t mind that sort of play, it’s a decent choice for a filler or closer to game night. Once players are familiar with the cards, I would think that this would clock in around 20-30 minutes, though our initial game took about an hour as we were learning what all the cards did.
Interested in trying it yourself? Stratus Games has been gracious enough to sponsor a giveaway of Launch Pad!
Prize: Launch Pad, sponsored by Stratus Games
Dates: Wednesday, August 24 through Wednesday, September 7 at 10:00 PM MST
Rules: Answer a short survey containing trivia questions about Stratus Games and the Opionated Gamers. Each correct answer will earn an entry in the contest! In addition, you can earn extra entries by referring your friends and interacting on Facebook and Twitter. The winner will be selected randomly from all of the valid entries. Click here to fill out the survey.
[Note – the survey and contest are being administered by Stratus Games, the publisher of Launch Pad. I’ll announce the winner here in the comments, but if you win, expect to be contacted directly from the nice folks at Stratus Games]