Space Base (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: John D. Clair
  • Artists: Chris Walton
  • Publisher: AEG
  • Players: 2-5 Players
  • Time: 60 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3

“I swear, if I roll another damn three combination, I am chucking these dice into space.”-Brandon Kempf April 2019

In space, no one can hear you scream, but when playing Space Base, your friends definitely will.

Space Base sees the players lead a small fleet of ships out in the vast universe to engage in trade & commerce, mining and even a bit of influence spreading via your giant spaceships. In reality, on the table, the players are building a tableau of spaceship cards and rolling dice hoping to activate ships to gain the benefits of the given ships.

To start the game, the players are given a player board that will act as your Command Console. This is where you will keep track of the ships you have docked in station and the ships that you have out in the galaxy expanding your reach. Also on this console you will be tracking your Credits, Income & your Victory Points. Space Base is a race to get to forty points. In the middle of the table will be three rows of ships available for purchase in three levels, as well as twelve Colony Cards. Before starting every player will be at five Credits. Each player will draw a card from the top of the first level draw deck and pay the credits for the ship by moving their credit marker down the number of credits the ship card costs. After paying for that ship, they will place that ship card in the dock of the corresponding number of the card –the number is in the top right– and will move the starting card from that dock to the top of the board. Flipping it 180 degrees and tucking it under their player board in the correct slot until only the red portion of the card is showing. The player who bought the ship card in the highest number dock is now the start player and you are ready to begin Space Base.

The difference in where the cards are located is the twist of Space Base. When the cards are in dock, face up on your player board, these ships are activated on your turn. The cards that are above your player board and only showing red, are activated on your opponent’s turns. So as you buy a new ship, you have to dock it and send the ship already in the dock, out on a mission. You can only have one ship card in a specific dock, but you can have multiple ships out on missions in specific spots.

On a player’s turn they are going to take the two dice, and roll them. After rolling the dice there is a choice to make. The player may use the sum of the dice and activate the dock of that value, or they may use the individual dice and activate the two docks that match the dice values. After choosing, the player is going to gain the rewards of the ship cards in their chosen dock, or docks. The other players around the table have that same option with the dice that were rolled, except that they are going to activate any ships that have been deployed. Easy way to remember this is that blue means on your turn & red means on opponent’s turns. After gaining their reward, the active player may then buy a card from the offering to be placed in a dock. When purchasing ship cards, or colony cards in Space Base you use the entirety of your credits, regardless if the cost is less than what you have at that time. If you have ten credits and you want that four credit ship card, you still pay all ten. At the end of your turn, if your credit marker is lower than your income marker, you will move your credit marker back to equal your income.

Throughout a player’s turn, there may be abilities that may be triggered by other cards that have been charged. Charge cubes are placed on cards when you activate them. Some abilities only require a single charge cube, others require more, but the ability can only be taken when you have a full charge. When triggered you remove the charge cubes from the ship card and take that action as directed on the card.

What abilities can be triggered when activating ship cards? A lot of them. Mostly you are going to be focusing on gaining credits, income or victory points and most of the ship cards have rewards based on that. There are, however, a lot of different abilities and rewards like the aforementioned charging, or directional arrows that will point you to activate different cards, giving you some flexibility. But most of the time you are just going to be rolling the dice and gathering the three basic resources and trying to get your marker to forty points before your opponents do.When a player reaches the forty point total, the game ends at the end of that current round. If two or more players are tied in score at this point, another round will be played in an attempt to break the tie. Keep playing this way until a clear winner has been determined.

Machi Koro in space, with more to manage and take care of. At this point, that’s probably how I would describe Space Base to someone who had maybe played Machi Koro. To others, I would call it a tableau building game, that manages to frustrate the ever loving crap out of you due to the roll of the dice. There are some clever things that can happen in Space Base. You can put together some ship card combinations that can lead to some fun moments, but those moments are so fleeting here, they may as well not exist. Maybe it’s just me, maybe my planning isn’t the greatest. I know I should read up more on dice probabilities and different statistical analysis, but I don’t know that it would make any of this any more fun. I still don’t know how probabilities are going to explain why I keep rolling ones and twos, when I need threes and fours, or vice versa and upside down.  

Space Base is a slow crawl. The game starts out really slow as the players have very little to work with on other player’s turns. You start the game with only one deployed ship, so you have to hope that others will roll the correct dice to activate it. It does eventually reach a crescendo, but by the time I reached that point I just wanted the game to be over. No matter how many items you stack deployed on a spot, and no matter how clever you think you are at directing odd dice rolls that direction, it all matters not if you can’t roll the right combinations. I can manage to enjoy that in a short game, but Space Base has been playing at 60-75 minutes, that’s not really a short investment of my time. Strategies may change a bit at different player counts. The more players, the more you are going to be activating those ships that are out on missions in between your turns. I just don’t know that it really makes that big of a difference though due to the fact that you can only deploy one ship per turn.

The rule book is just chock full of flavor text, and it seems that the folks at AEG have been reading the great rulebooks of Vlaada Chvatil as they wanted to infuse the book with a lot of flavor, a lot of trying to tell a story, but it just makes for a rulebook that has entirely too much going on for me. It makes it difficult to find rules when searching and you don’t know the book as well as you should. It even has two pages at the end that are strictly all of the ship names and their class. I guess that’s interesting to some, but it just gets in the way. Otherwise with production I think they have done a good job, they have managed to make everything feel appropriate, theme wise. Even making it a bit lighter in feel with bright colors and some fun artwork. The player boards are nice, but just like any other game where you are tracking resources on your board, you should have recessed boards, or a peg system, so that you don’t bump your markers while exchanging cards on your board for the thirtieth time, you move a lot of cards around and thus move that player board around a lot. Some of those little bumpers like folks use on La Granja’s player boards to lift them slightly off the table may help a bit here too, but I’m not sure how that would work with the current storage solution. Also, in what seems to be AEG’s style, this is a table hog of a game. Even at two players you need a lot of space to spread out everything that is necessary to play the game.

Have you ever set out to review a game before you even ordered it, and then been so completely apathetic towards it after playing it, that you have a difficult time getting that review written? That is exactly what Space Base has done to me. I went all in when I bought Space Base and I picked up the expansion Shy Pluto as well. It sounded like a game I would enjoy, or at least be able to tolerate, even given my distaste for Machi Koro. Most of all it sounded like a game that my daughter might enjoy and play with me, given her enjoyment of Machi Koro. It didn’t work out that way. She never wants to play it again, and I am trying to decide whether to sell it at this point with the expansion unopened, or if I want to try it a couple more times just to see the campaign-like twists that Shy Pluto adds. I don’t really want to, but I feel like I should, as my penance for jumping into something like this strictly based on the kind words of praise from other board game reviewers and not paying heed to my own reservations. Kudos to the folks at AEG for doing their best to try to develop good games for the market by releasing fewer games. I just wish they released fewer games like Space Base, and more like Tiny Towns (more on that at a later date).

Thoughts from The Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): My shorthand description of this game is “imagine Machi Koro, except no fun at all.” And I say that as someone who isn’t a huge fan of Machi Koro – I am willing to play it occasionally but I got kind of tired of it. I got tired of Space Base about 20% of the way through – as Brandon says, it’s very slow at the start, and the middle isn’t great either. The end was fast but still not actually fun since everyone could see what was going to happen.

Ultimately Space Base is a sterling example of one popular approach to game design: take a game that’s attracted attention and make a game that does the same thing, except MORE – more cards, more actions, more stuff in general. Sometimes this approach works but often it doesn’t, and this is a case in which it really doesn’t.

Larry (2 plays):  Well, it’s certainly better than Machi Koro, just not enough to make me particularly want to play it.  It’s harmless enough and if the rest of the group wanted to play it, I’d have no problem in sitting in.  But dice will do what dice will do and despite all the bells and whistles, I get the strong feeling that success comes down to good luck and properly deciding when to switch to earning VPs, neither of which makes for a terribly attractive game.

Fraser (1 play): I like the description “Machi Koro in space with more to manage and take care of”.  It does sum it up well. There are some definite improvements to Machi Koro, e.g. it seems more likely you will gain something when it is not your turn, but I am not sure the overhead of extra things and fiddliness is worth it in the long run.

Matt C (3+ plays): My son enjoys the game quite a bit, but then he’s also a Machi Koro fan.  I consider it to be similar to Machi Koro – there’s a bit of luck involved but fun to be had if it doesn’t last too long.  I’ve seen my son pull off some nice combos (typically by moving cards around to different numbers) and I think there’s some choices to be made for when to replace cards (so your cards begin to get “income” on other players’ turns.)  While Space Base is more time consuming, I think playing with 3 or 4 is a different game than just 2, as the “other player” abilities kick in more often and replacing “good” cards becomes a stronger choice so they can be earning results more often.  I have the expansion but it has not made it to the table yet.

Ratings from The Opinionated Gamers:

I love it.

I like it.  Matt C

Neutral  Larry, Fraser

Not for Me… Brandon K, Dan Blum

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7 Responses to Space Base (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Pingback: Space Race (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

  2. David says:

    I’ve rarely disagreed with a game review by you guys, but this one was clearly a miss for the OGs but I have thoroughly enjoyed all my plays. I say that as very much not a fan of Machi Koro so I agree with the consensus that it is a step up from that game, but clearly we disagree on how much of a step.
    I will concede the first part of the game tends to drag as everyone is getting their stuff set up, getting more numbers covered for other people’s turns. That is mitigated by using the Light Speed variant in the rulebook (where you get a set about of money to spend on 6 randomly drawn ships). But I have generally found that once that initial lull is over (and that will be longer or shorter depending on your luck and your decisions in those early turns) and then you are much more involved in what is going on and then the late game (characterized by the buying of Colonies) can be just a couple of rounds of saving up and then buying the biggest thing you can afford. There are a variety of possible approaches and another thing I will agree with is that there are quite a few powers in the game that seem … not very worthwhile. Too reliant on that number hitting or getting the special powers that redirect the dice. And even then not that great once you have achieved all the hoop jumping. But I just don’t buy those cards and get the better ones.
    OK sure there is some luck involved and sometimes numbers that have no right to keep hitting will just keep getting rolled (see many games of Catan!) but I definitely feel like I have a lot more control over the possibilities here and the arc of the game is satisfying to me. And honestly, your review is the first I read that was quite so hard on it. I just got the expansion and am very much looking forward to it.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      One thing I failed to hit on, you just brought up, so thank you. You say that you just don’t buy those cards that are “not worthwhile”. If everyone did the same thing, those cards would never leave the offer and you’d never see new cards. Especially if everyone at the table valued them the same as you and just didn’t buy them. There is no refresh system in the rules for those card offers. What’s there is there until someone buys.

      Also, I could have played with that variant in the game, but I rarely do. I like to play games as they are originally meant to be played and then maybe dabble in variants if the game shows enough promise.

      Thanks for reading!

      • David says:

        There are 6 cards in each section so there is something worth buying, even if it isn’t exactly what you want. Plus sometimes just flipping one to red to get more coverage is enough.
        I think the Light Speed version is the way to play if everyone has played already. I don’t really think of it as a variant as such. I think of it as the advanced game versus the basic game.
        Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts, just wanted to give a different perspective since none of your curmudgeons liked it. ;)

      • We actually play where you can spend 1 VP or 6 coins to refresh a row. It works great!

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  4. Snowden says:

    I just played this for the first time yesterday. My opinion on Machi Koro is that the base game is a fun little diversion but that adding the expansions, while delivering more variety, also turns the game into a lengthy slog.

    The base game of Space Base seems to start with the added variety, but is not as much of a slog as MK with expansions. For me, the key is the mechanic of always rolling two dice and having the choice of either combing your roll or splitting the two dice into separate actions. We also didn’t run into a stagnating card display. Possibly because everyone was willing to take a flyer on stacking up the less desirable numbers (11 & 12) on the off chance that one hit would payoff very, very well. Also, it helps that there are several card actions that allow you two switch the cards in two spots, including your stacks (I hit on the 4/10 switch).

    I enjoyed my one play (and won it) but time will tell whether that was just a fluke and general “slogginess” is the rule.

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