Ganymede (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Hope S. Hwang
  • Artist: Oliver Mootoo
  • Publisher: Sorry We Are French 
  • Players: 2-4 Players
  • Time: 20-40 Minutes
  • Times Played: 4 

Recently, I have rekindled my love for the game Guildhall. It’s a wonderful hand management game with some fun, simple tableau building. Usually when games like Guildhall resurface into my rotation, it’s because there was another game from the same designer that we had recently played. This time it happened in reverse. We played Guildhall and then I went in search of other games from the designer, Hope S. Hwang. What I found was another game that features set collection and adds to it a light tableau building mechanism, Ganymede, and I decided to take a chance. 

In Ganymede, settlers from Earth are travelling all over the universe looking for planets to colonize. Ganymede, the largest satellite that orbits Jupiter, is the home for these settler ship bases that the settlers use to travel the universe. Our job is to get the settlers to Ganymede from Earth, with a stop on Mars. 

At the start of the game, each player is going to get a player board. The player board is where all of the action is going to take place, and where your tableaus of cards and tiles will be. There are two planets on your board, Earth and Mars, each of them showing their settler limitations, six and five respectively. Along with Earth & Mars, there are two Settler Ship spots to place two of the four cards you are dealt. Each of the two Settler Ship locations has a different requirement to be launched. Below the planets is a Reputation Track, that you will hopefully be climbing throughout the game. 

In the middle of the table you will set out Settlers of each color, the number based on the player count. Settler Tiles are also set out, there are four starting tiles, the rest are shuffled and placed in a draw pile. Both Earth and Mars have Shuttle cards, so shuffle those individually and deal out four in an offering for both planets and sit the remaining cards next to that row face down as a draw pile. Lastly there is an offering of four Settler Ship cards, just like the ones you placed on your player board to start the game, place the remaining in a draw pile next to the four currently on offer. You are now ready to start shuttling Settlers to Ganymede. 

There are three actions that a player can take on their turn, they may only do one of them. The active player can either Choose a Settler tile, Use a shuttle to move Settlers, or discard Settler tiles to perform basic actions. 

There are four Settler Tiles on display in the offering and the active player may choose one to add to their player board. When the player adds a Settler Tile to their player board, they take the action shown on the tile and place it above their player board in one of the three available spots. If the player has three tiles already, they cannot take this action until they discard some as part of their turn. On the top left of every Settler tile and every Shuttle card is a symbol. One of the cool parts of Ganymede is that if you match symbols with previously placed Settler tiles or Shuttle cards you get to gain the action on that tile or card as many times as you have those symbols in your tableau on your player board in that section. Tiles and cards don’t mingle. The actions of the Settler tiles will mostly involve gaining Settlers of certain colors and placing them on Earth. 

There are two choices when taking a shuttle card. You can take an Earth Shuttle card to move settlers from Earth to Mars, or you can take a Mars Shuttle card to move settlers from Mars to either one of your rockets on Ganymede. The top part of the card shows you which Settlers can be moved, the white Settlers are wild. The bottom part of the Shuttle card is an action that you can take. When you choose a Shuttle card, you place it below your player board in the column that corresponds with the symbol on the top left of the card. Remember, if you have previously placed cards of this symbol, you gain more of those actions on the bottom of the card. 

When moving Settlers from Mars to Ganymede, you will notice that the two Rocket spaces have different requirements. One wants you to move three Settlers of the same color to the ship in order to launch, the other Rocket wants four different Settlers in order to launch. When one of those conditions is met, the player will immediately launch that Rocket into the Universe. All Settlers go back to the supply, if there is an effect in the bottom right of the Rocket card, immediately resolve that effect and then the player who launched the ship will choose a new Rocket card from the offering, or draw from the top of the deck and then place a new Rocket card in the now empty launch site. 

The final action that a player may take on their turn is to discard settler tiles to perform basic actions. There are five basic actions that can be performed. Recruit one Settler of your choice and place it on Earth. Adapt, discard a Settler from your player board and replace it with a Settler of your choice. Move, move one Settler from Earth to Mars, Mars to a Settler ship or from one Settler ship to another. You may also take a movement up on your Reputation track or you may draw a Rocket card from the offering or draw one from the top of the deck. The number of these basic actions you get to use is based on how many Settler tiles you discard. If you discard one tile, you get one basic action, two discards gets you two, three gets you three. You may repeat actions, you don’t have to do different ones. You can also gain Basic Actions by stopping your Reputation marker on the spots indicated on the Reputation track which grant a basic action, the icon looks like a gear. 

If ever a player reaches the end of the Reputation track, or if they ever have a complete row with each Shuttle type, they may launch a Rocket for free, even if that Rocket does not have the required Settlers on it. Ganymede ends at the end of the round when either a player launches their fourth Rocket, or when one of the two Shuttle draw piles runs out. 

Points are totaled, players will receive points for the Rockets that they launched, points are in the bottom left of the Rocket cards. Some will give you base points, others will give you points based on other things you’ve accomplished during the game. A player’s Reputation track will also award points based on how far they advanced the Reputation marker, anywhere from zero to six victory points. Any uncompleted Rockets will also score points based on how many Settlers are on them, one point per Settler and the player with the highest total points will win the game. 

Ganymede was released back in 2018 to a little fanfare, I vaguely remember folks being a bit excited about it, but it seemed to lose steam fairly quickly, probably in part due to the necessity of importing the title at first. Lucky Duck Games picked it up for distribution here in North America a few months later and after some unlucky cargo ship luck it finally landed on our shores. Like a lot of games like this, that delay seems to have kind of dampened any excitement here in the North American market. Heck, Ganymede didn’t even really hit my radar until after I started playing Guildhall again, as I said earlier. I hate that it happened this way, as Ganymede is a really solid title. 

Ultimately, Ganymede is a really done, rules light tableau builder. It is absolutely important that you try to use your card play and tile drafting in the most efficient way in order to keep gaining those extra actions by matching the symbols. Knowing when to best discard those Settler tiles is something you need to plan out. Watching that Settler tile offering in comparison to the Earth and Mars Shuttle cards is really important as well. You have to be able to move those Settlers that you have out there on Earth and Mars, or at least be able to use actions on the cards to change them around, or once again, Basic Actions to move them. 

For a quick playing game, there is quite a bit to pay attention to and think about. Ganymede will move quickly, it doesn’t take players all that long to figure out how to get those Rockets launched, so the ending can kind of sneak up on you if you aren’t paying attention. Even then though, you aren’t guaranteed a victory just because you got the four Rockets launched. It all depends on how your opponents managed to strategically launch ships that worked better with what they had been drafting, or if they managed to get way up the Reputation track. Points can be tight and the game feels wonderfully competitive because of it. It’s kind of like watching a good middleweight fight, all action. 

Components and the rulebook are good, everything is a bit thin, but I don’t think that’ll be an issue even after multiple plays, I think that everything is good quality, just thin. The rulebook is well written and easy to understand, my only wish was that there were maybe a cheat sheet card or something available for the players to decipher icons, but once you play it a couple times, you should never need it. And once you know those icons, you will also see that everything is spelled out for you on your player board as well. Everything you can do n your turn is up there in the top left. 

I personally think that twenty to thirty minutes is the perfect time for Ganymede. That’s long enough to feel like you are building your strategy, but short enough to not overstay its welcome, and I think it could if the game went much longer than that. Which makes me wonder if I should entertain the idea of picking up the new expansion which is up for pre-order on the Lucky Duck Games website, Ganymede Moon Expansion. It seems to add a couple more decisions to be made, which may extend the game out a bit longer. 

Hope S. Hwang now has two games in our collection after we fell for Ganymede and both have that same wonderful tableau building going on, all within a simple ruleset. Guildhall is the more complex of the two for certain, but that’s mostly just because of all the different cards that do different actions. Ganymede plays a lot quicker and feels a bit more in favor of comboing actions by placing things in your tableau, versus a feeling of gaining stronger actions by having more of the same in your tableau. You can definitely tell the style, and I really hope that he continues to grow and adapt that style and we see more designs from him in the future. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it. Brandon 

I like it. 


Not for me…

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