First Impressions of Space Race

Space Race

  • Designers: Jan Soukal, Michal Mikes, Marek Loskot
  • Publisher: Boardcubator
  • Players: 1-5
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Played on preview/prototype copy provided by Boardcubator

Space Race is a game where players fight against each other to have the most successful space exploration program.  Over the course of seven turns, each corresponding to a decade of development, your faction will work to make the most breakthroughs, finish the most projects, and have the coolest rockets…  This version of the game is a reimplementation of Space Race: The Card Game – a game which initially came out in 2017. While I normally don’t look at KS games (this game is actually currently running on KS – see – I had enough good things about the card game version to want to look at their new take on things.  The new version adds a number of more complex mechanisms as well as giving a board to help organize play – providing areas to organize cards, keep track of score and breakthru progress, etc.    Rather than re-invent the wheel – I will just point you here to a BGG thread written by one of the designers that outlines that progression from the simple card game to the more complex board game:

The board looks like a giant blueprint of a rocket.  This rocket ship space is in fact used to track the progress of the game.  There is room on the board for the “Universe” – that is the selection of cards which players can add to their hand.  There is also a breakthrough tracker where players can mark their achievements in the four different areas:

So, in the game – each player develops their own space agency over the seven rounds (decades) of the game. Each round has three distinct phases:

Phase 1 – Manage the Agency.

Players may play cards from their hand facedown into the Unexplored universe area.  There needs to be at least one card per player here; if not, make it up from the deck.  Then, they are shuffled, and some of the cards are revealed and placed into the appropriate columns of the Universe (based on card type icon seen in the upper left corner): Propaganda, Technology, Space Program and Breakthru.

Each player now takes one of their 12 Control cards (all players start with an identical set), and plays one face down in their area. Each card can only be used once per game, so you should carefully choose which one to play. This care will determine which type of card you can take from the Universe this turn, can affect your turn order, and also determines which stage you will activate and/or score this turn.

In the space in front of them, players have their own area.  In the center, the Control cards are played. The card on the top of this stack is the active card for the round.  To the right of this, cards in your Space Agency will be found. These cards can be activated each round. To the left of the control stack is the Lab area.  Cards here are turned sideways, and they are not used for their actions. They can score points later in the game as well as having many other uses – such as being transferred to the Agency side of your area.

Phase 2 – Develop the Agency

There are four (well really five) Stages in each round, and they are always played in the same order.  Propaganda (yellow), Technology (green), Space Programs (purple), and Breakthrough (red). Finally, there is a Bureaucracy stage at the end.  Each of the cards in the game may refer to one or more stages, and if so, there will be a matching color band across the width of the card to outline what things can happen in that particular stage.  The stripes are in order top to bottom as they happen in game play – and their locations are unwavering – so when you lay your cards out next to each other, you can look across the whole row and see all the yellow bands at the same height telling you all the things you can do in the Propaganda stage…

Many of the actions in those colored stripes allow you to move cards from one area (say your hand) to another area (your Space Agency – a row of cards on the table).  The Breakthrough actions are a little different and they usually have you moving your Astronaut meeples in the Breakthrough zones on the board.

The catch here is that during the round, you only get to activate cards that match the stage shown on your chosen Control card.  You can do as many abilities as you can which includes the ability shown on your Control card (namely, taking a card from the Universe).  The order of play within each stage is determined by who has the highest Control card level, and ties here are broken by Initiative track standing.  You can only use a particular ability once each round, and you are not obligated to use all the abilities you have at your disposal. Some cards have Investment costs – that is, costs which must be paid in order to place a card into play.  You must discard cards from your hand to the board or suffer the penalty written on the card.

You should also pay attention to the Projects. There are five tiles dealt out at random at the start of the game, but only one is available at the start of the game.  Each Project has criteria on it which must be met – but only from the time that the Project became available. Goals may be something like moving 5 cards into your Lab area OR playing two Propaganda cards into your Space Agency Area.  When you have met the criteria, you can choose to score that Project card. To do so, you take an unplayed Control card from your hand and place it face down next to the project. The first player to finish a Project scores 5 points, all later players will score 4 points.  Be sure to carefully choose which Control card you play here, as you will not be able to use it any more this game.

Once the four stages are complete (and each player has had a chance to take actions), all players take part in the final Bureaucracy stage.  All cards that have the Bureaucracy symbol take effect now. Some cards have actions that occur now. Other cards may have upkeep costs which must be paid at this time.   It could happen that you meet a Project finishing criteria in this stage, and if so, you could choose to finish it (and score it) on your turn in this phase.

Phase 3 – End of the Decade

At the end of each round, look at the Mission Progress token on the rocket schematic.  It tells you what happens: Projects could open or close at this time, you might score points based on how many cards you have in your Lab area or you could score points for Breakthrough area domination – this goes to the player who has the most Astronauts in each of the four Breakthrough areas.

Each player also calculates their Stage Output – that is they look at the number on the left of each card in their Space Agency in the stage of the Control card.  Those numbers are added up and added to their tally on the Victory Point track.

If this is not the end of the seventh round, do it all over again.  If you have completed seven rounds, look at the score track. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by the player who has the most powerful stage in his Space Agency.

My thoughts on the game

Well, I must say that the game provided a lot more variety and interaction than I had expected from reading the rules.  Each of the seven rounds gives you the chance to work in one of the four main areas of the game, so you have to make them count.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that each player is likely going to take a different route via the Control cards as each player has 12 cards at their disposal, and they use one each round.  You have three of each type – and the varying levels cause you to really think about when you want to play each. Though I haven’t had a chance to play with them yet, there are also optional control cards which can be substituted into the deck so that each faction has their own unique powers.  The decision of which Control Card to play is one of the most important ones in the game as is the management of them – you need to make sure that you have the right cards available to you for the crucial final rounds!

The card powers are mostly explained with icons, and by the middle of my first game, I felt like I understood how to read any card in the game.  Most of them simply refer to card movement with the left side showing the origin, the middle telling you how many cards, and the right side showing the destination.

There is also some interesting interaction involved with the playing of cards from your hand into the Unknown Universe pile. In this way, players control part of the cards which will be available for drawing later in the round.  But, you will have to try to figure out what your opponents will choose for their Control card (or at least what initiative level) if you want to get a specific card out of the Universe.

There is also a bit of indirect competition to score the Projects, as there is a slight benefit for finishing first – however, the difference of 5 VP (for first) to 4 VP (for all else) is not that much.  I find that I end up competing more with the clock to try to finish a Project before the game makes it disappear…

There are plenty of interesting card combinations to develop, and this is the enjoyable puzzle of the game for me.  I do like the way that I can try to get the cards I want into the Universe, but I also have to figure out how to be able to choose them when I want to choose them.  Having only seven rounds to accomplish things AND only being able to use one of the four phases each round puts a big premium on planning and really rewards you when you’re able to pull off synergistic combos.

The artwork on the cards is fantastic.  All of the cards have unique art, and each appears to represent an important astronaut (or animal), event or piece of technology from the space race.   Even if you didn’t like the game, the cards here would be a wonderful refresher on the history of space exploration. See here for more card art –

The other thing about the cards is that the overall layout is very helpful to prevent confusion.  Like Race for the Galaxy, the location and layout of the colored stripes really helps you focus on the important stuff needed to play the game.  The art can really be distracting (because it’s so good!), and being able to see at a glance what someone’s cumulative power/effects are is nice.

I do like the blue and white blueprint motif of the board.  It looks nice and does really add to the theme of building a space program.  I must say that much of the board itself is mechanically superfluous. The cards and mission stages could just be laid out on the table, but it sure is beautiful; and beautiful bits help sell games on KS… so it’s probably a positive to most of the backers.  There are also molded rockets for each of the factions which aren’t really my jam, but again, stuff like that really sells things on KS.

our logo is 2 inches square – for scale purposes

The game plays fairly quickly, and games seems to end in the “right” amount of time.  Games are estimated at 20 min per player, but I suspect this would decrease with familiarity with the rules and icons.  While I’ve never played the original card game, the pictures that I’ve seen online show the game fitting on a regular card table.  Given the larger board here – 36 inches tall by 24 inches wide – you’re gonna need a larger table to get this played. The other downside of this is that the other players’ cards end up far away from you, and it’s hard to read the icons sometimes from that distance.    

Additionally, I have a quibble with the scoring track.  I know that thematically, you’re trying to show progress – and the progress track goes from 1950 to 2020.  That is, each step that you score shows a year of progress for your space program. But man, that’s really non-intuitive to look at.  I would have skipped the cuteness and just gone from 0 to 70 VPs.

The rules are fairly well written, and I didn’t have any major questions from reading the rules.  However, I do think that they could be edited down a bit. The current iteration of rules that I have are THIRTY THREE pages long, and while they are complete, that’s maybe a lot more to print out than is necessary to describe how to play the game.  But, I suppose, beggars shouldn’t be choosers – as it’s way better to have a long rulebook that explains everything than a succinct one that leaves you looking up multiple things online… I’m guessing that the layout will change and be more compact once the project is finished.

Overall, the game has been enjoyable, and one that gives players an interesting set of decisions.  I do like the theme very much, and that alone may be enough to keep the game in my collection. For anyone who is interested in the Space Race and the history of it should definitely take a closer look at this game…  Meanwhile, I’ll keep on trying to get it back to the table to play again – though I think I would have personally preferred the smaller format of the card game, it appears that they have added a number of other game elements, and I like what I have seen here so far, so I’ll deal with the bigger box and board.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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