- Designer: Vladimir Suchy
- Publisher: Czech Games Edition
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by CGE
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, CGE is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Is it going to be a fluffy party game like That’s a Question? Maybe a super crunchy hard core game of Through the Ages or chewy euro like Tzolkin? This year, CGE’s featured release was from Vladimir Suchy, skewing expectations to the chewier end of the CGE sampler. On the flight to Essen I attempted to read the rules, but the overall complexity and chewiness made them tough to grok. So like a previous game of his, 20th Century, it looked like I’d just have to get it to the table and see how it played.
Pulsar 2849 has players competing to explore and set up shop in a rich star cluster, trying to harness the power of the titular pulsars. Well, at least, that’s how the story goes in the rules. The board is a round affair with a number of spaces for planetary systems and pulsars with lined connections between the those two elements. Planetary system tiles are shuffled and placed face down on the board, one per space. Each player gets their own “HQ” board a bunch of player tokens in his color and six pulsar rings also in his color.
There are a handful of other board elements. They are all gently rounded and will fit around the main board wherever you’d like. Some of these are storage for different counters and tokens. There is also a dice board with six numbered spaces for dice. There are also two tracks on the top of this board for turn order initiative and for technology advancement. There is also a pyramid like structure of technology boards which tracks the game round as well as providing new actions for each successive round.
The game itself is played over eight rounds, each with the same three phases: dice drafting, action, and finally production.
In the dice phase, the silver dice (nine in four player game, seven in three player game) are rolled and placed on their matching spots on the dice board. Then, you find which die is the median die (the middle one if they were all in a line in numerical order). You must now place the median marker. To do this, ignore the number space where the median die is (and all the dice in that space), and see if there are more dice to the left or the right. If so, put the median marker to the corresponding side of the median space. If there are an equal number of dice to the left and right, then place the median marker directly beneath the median space.
Now, in player order, players choose a die from the dice board. When you take a die, you count how many spaces away you are from the median marker and in which direction. You must then move either your turn order initiative marker OR your technology marker the same number of spaces in the same direction. If the marker is on the median number space and you take a die from that space, no marker movement is necessary. You may not move off the right end of the tracks. If you land on a space with another marker on it, place your marker on top. The uppermost marker in a stack breaks all ties for that space. Place the die, keeping the same number face up, next to your board. Then, the second round happens in REVERSE order – so ABCD-DCBA. At the end of this phase, each player will have two dice, and there will be one left on the dice board.
In the action phase, players now use their dice to take actions. Each die will correspond to an action. Every available action on the board has a die icon next to it – you must use a die with that exact number in order to take the action – however, there are some actions which do not have a space and can be done with any die. There are two types of modifier tokes: +/- 1 and +2. You may only use one modifier token per die. There are a number of different action types: fly your ship, discover and develop pulsars, build energy transmitters, patent technologies, work on projects at your HQ board, and collect modifiers for future turns.
When you fly your ship, you will move your ship a number of spaces equal to the number of the die used. Your ship follows the lined paths on the board. You may not use the same line segment twice in a particular flight. If you fly though or end your movement on a planetary system, you flip over the tile to reveal it if not already face up. You may only colonize one planet per system (using your round marker). If you are passing thru, you must choose a yellow lifeless planet if possible. If there is not one, you may then take a blue fertile planet (but you do not get a bonus). If you end your movement on a system, you get the option to take a blue planet first. If you do this (with ending your movement there), you will also get the system bonus listed at the bottom of the system tile. If no blue planet is left, you must take a yellow lifeless planet; but you will not get a bonus. If there are no available planets, you simply don’t get one. If your flight ENDS as a pulsar, you can claim it and place your color ring around it.
Developing a pulsar is a three-step process. First, you must claim one – as noted above by ending your movement on a pulsar and placing your ring on it – because as we all know, if you liked it, you shoulda put a ring on it. Then, to capture the energy of the pulsar, you must put a gyrodyne on it – there are three sizes, and they require a 1/2/4 for a small/medium/large. It takes an entire die action to put the gyrodyne on a pulsar. Then, with another action, you can start the spinning of the gyrodyne. This takes a 3/5/6 for small/medium/large. Once it is spinning, it will generate VP at the end of every turn that remains in the game. If you are the first or second person to have placed two gyrodynes of a particular size, you can get a bonus VP token for that.
There are three transmitter tiles available each round. You can start to build one by spend a die that matches one seen on the tile. Take the tile and place it in front of you. If you have previously taken transmitter tiles, you decide now if you are going to connect them to previously placed tiles. You can spend dice with later actions to fill in other dice spaces. Whenever the tile has all its spaces complete – the tile is activated. Most have an immediate benefit and some have ongoing or recurring bonuses that trigger each round. Furthermore, when you flip over a linked transmitter tile, you may for a bonus die – that is a full red square. If you do so, you may use this formed die on this turn as your bonus die (more on this in a bit). However, if you do not use this bonus die on the turn which it is formed, it is lost forever.
You can patent technologies – these are found on the pyramid like turn structure. The first round is represented by the band closest to the circular board, and there is small red triangle that move upwards with each successive round. You can take any action seen at the level of the arrow downwards to the board. Some of these give you special abilities that take effect for the rest of the game, some give one-time actions, and some give end game bonuses. There are two spaces for each patent; you may not fill both spaces for a particular patent action. There are two double sided boards for each of three levels, so there is a fair amount of variety that can be had here.
You can also take actions on your personal HQ board. The actions are vaguely in a pyramid. When the game starts, you can only take actions on the bottom-most row. You can take actions higher up on your pyramid once you have done all of the actions which are beneath the chosen action.
The last option is that you can spend dice to buy either of the two types of die modifiers. The +/- 1 modifier can be bought with a 1 or a 2. The +2 modifier can only be purchased with a 2.
So, in this phase, the active player takes both of his die actions before the next player goes. In an action phase, a player may also take a SINGLE bonus die action. A bonus die can be purchased with 4 Engineering cubes. In this case, you use the leftover die on the dice board for the base value of the die. You could also get a bonus red die from completing a transmitter tile; if so, the number of pips on the formed die is the base value. There are also some exploration bonuses and patents which can grant a bonus die; the value of this is printed on the tile. The bonus die can be used in any order with the regular dice, and it can be modified with modifier counters.
Once all players have taken all their actions, the round moves into the Production phase. There are a number of steps to this round. First, turn order for the next round is determined based on the current standings on the turn order initiative track from the dice board. The leftmost player goes first in the next round and so on to the right. Then, the Engineering track is resolved, and the leftmost two players receive Engineering cubes from the supply. There are penalties then levied for any player whose marker is on the rightmost two spaces on each track.
Next, transmitters are scored. The points and/or engineering cubes produced each turn are shown on the active tiles. Spinning gyrodynes are scored next. Each gyrodyne has a base value of 1/2/3 VP printed on the spinning side. In addition, each gyrodyne’s VP production is modified by a notation found next to the round marker on the patent pyramid. Finally, any green patents score each round at this time as printed on their space.
Three new transmitter tiles are set out (any non purchased ones are discarded), and the round marker is moved up a notch. The dice are rolled to start the next round – unless you’re at the end of Round 8.
At the end of the game, there is a fair amount of final scoring. There are 3 goal tiles (which were chosen at random at the start of the game). Each of these has a primary goal, found closest to the top of the tile. If you achieve this, you get the first VP allowance. Underneath this are secondary and tertiary bonuses, and these are paid off with Technology cubes. You can only trade in Technology cubes for VPs if you have achieved the primary goal. All three of the goals are evaluated and players take VPs and cash in leftover Technology cubes as best they can.
Next, score all uncompleted pulsars for 1VP as well as all non-spinning gyrodynes for 1VP. Each pair of engineering cubes left over (not used on the goal tiles) gains you 1VP. The final standing on the initiative track is also scored with 7/4/2 pts going for 1st/2nd/3rd place after the eighth round.
Finally, you score for the number of colonies you’ve been able to leave on the board. The scoring chart is found on the back of the player reference cart. 2 colonies score 2VP, 8 colonies scores 20VP and 13 colonies scores 50VP. Each additional station past 13 gives an extra 3VP.
The player with the most points wins the game. Ties go to the player closer to first on the initiative track.
My thoughts on the game
So, after my initial research on the game, I was a bit worried about the complexity of the game – however, the structure of the game really ends up simplifying things a LOT. Though you have a plethora of possible choices on the patent board, on your HQ board and not on the board (flying your ship); in the end, the numbers of the dice that you have really end up eliminating a lot of the possibilities.
Furthermore, you only get two actions per regular turn. This means that you get 16 regular actions in a game – and with a limit of 1 bonus die per turn, no more than 24 actions total. With this very small number of actions, it seems like you really need to focus on your strategy, and that, in turn, also limits the actions that you might consider taking each turn. But… I’ll admit that none of this was evident until my first game started.
I normally like games with well prescribed small numbers of actions, and Pulsar 2849 scratches some of that itch. However, as the number isn’t truly fixed, it doesn’t have quite the same tightness as Princes of Florence. But, there is still a lot of anxiety caused by trying to make the most of your actions, and I find that I have enjoyed exploring that decision space thus far.
In my games, I have seen a number of different strategies win. From first glance, rampant exploration seems like a good deal with 50VP going to a player who is able to get to 13 different systems and colonize them. Some of the planetary systems may only have 2 planets though, and you could find yourself shut out of a number of them if you aren’t fighting for this. I have also seen players do very well with a gyrodyne based VP engine. Especially if you are able to get them out early, the recurrent scoring of gyrodynes (in addition to the fact that most rounds they also give you bonus points) can help you score well. This player will likely end up doing pretty well with the exploration payout too because you’ll end up flying through a bunch of systems to get to the pulsars.
Finally, I was just recently trounced by someone who really just took a “little bit of everything” attitude – and his combination of gyrodynes, colonies, transmitter tiles and success in two of the three goal tiles put my own score to shame. I have definitely not identified a dominant path here to VP. Some of this may be due to the variable setup. I have obviously not fully explored all the different permutations in the three games I have played so far. With a double sided HQ board as well as four possible sides for each of the three levels of patents, every game should be a bit different. Furthermore, you only choose three goal tiles out of the six double sided tiles – and these endgame scoring opportunities will also change how you approach this game. Chances of success will likely be improved with a good Turn Zero look at the options to figure out what strategy is best to pursue in that game with your limited number of actions.
In addition to trying to maximize your individual actions, there is also a bit of a challenge to trying to maximize the number of actions you get as well. Thus far, the most I’ve managed is 22, and as I came in a distant second place in that game, I am wondering if I spent too much energy trying to get extra actions rather than just taking better actions with the two given each turn… You can get nearly an extra action in cubes by being first on the initiative track – but by doing this, you are likely taking lower numbered dice to stay ahead here. Near the end of the game, you also need to look at possibly saving the Engineering cubes in your supply as you will be able to convert them into many VPs thru the goal tile bonuses. However, hopefully by that time, you’ll be getting bonus dice thru engineering tiles or by taking some of the more advanced patents.
The components are nice; the round board is somewhat unique, and I do like the fact that all the boards are curved to fit around the circle. This allows things to look nice and stay together on the table, but it still gives you a lot of flexibility in how to set things up based on your particular table size or situation. If needed, you can also simply separate the other boards and put them on something like a TV tray table… The game doesn’t quite fit on traditional card table if you’re also using the HQ boards, so something had to move onto a secondary space! I will also warn you that it is devilishly hard to find the nearly clear engineering cubes when they fall on beige carpet… It’s happened a few times, and we only found the cube after running our hands over the carpet until someone felt it!
In the end, this is a nice middle to upper weight game which lots of tough choices to make. The game itself doesn’t take as long as I’d thought. Our last three player game came in under an hour in playtime, though it still takes a bit of time to get the game setup – especially now that we’re choosing different setups with the HQ boards and the patent tiles. The games all still feel different at this time, which is good, and I still have no idea what is the best way to approach the game to consistently succeed, and that also likely makes me want to keep playing it.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Craig M. (1 play): I’ve been a fan of Mr. Suchy’s games in general and loved Last Will and Prodigal’s Club so I was eager to give Pulsar 2849 a try. The limited number of actions is what ultimately provides tension for the players. With only one play under my belt it’s difficult to tell how interactive the game will be. We were all largely heads down trying to figure out how to make the best use of our actions with little thought to everyone else. I suspect this will change with multiple plays and be more like Last Will which has a similar structure. I predict there will be tighter competition for technologies and grabs for pulsars. Variability with different technologies and goals will help keep things fresh. Good stuff!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Luke H, Alan H
- I like it. Dale Y, Lorna, Craig M., Jennifer G
- Neutral. Chris Wray; James Nathan, Patrick K
- Not for me… Joe H, Jonathan F