Dale Yu: Review of Space Station Phoenix

Space Station Phoenix

  • Designer: Gabriel J. Cohn
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: about 30 min per player (our 3p games have averaged 105 minutes)
  • Played 3 times with review copy provided by publisher

space station phoenix

Space Station Phoenix (SSP)  is a worker-placement and resource management game set in one of Earth’s possible futures. The players are representatives of the Galactic Council, sent to Earth to build space stations to observe and perhaps interact with humanity.  Diplomatic posturing, careful timing of actions and resource management all come into play as players race and outmaneuver each other in an attempt to construct the largest, most powerful, and most populous space station.

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Setup of the game is a little involved.  You’ll need to give each player all their individual starting material.  Players begin the game with nine ships (represented by cards) and a unique station hub which are gained in a draft format. These ships act as action spaces that players use to gather resources, explore the nearby planets, and build their stations. The hub is the starting point for the construction of the three possible wings of your space station – you’ll need three wings because you have to house three different alien species, and of course, each requires its own atmosphere!   

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You also need to set up space station segments.  As I mentioned earlier, there are 3 different wings (distinguished by colors) in three different sizes.  For each of these nine segment types, you will randomly draw one per player – from a pool of 8 for each.  These are placed on the table to form a market.   [Note: for your first game, the rules specify specific hubs/ships and space station segments available. There is no draft.]

The diplomacy board is placed on the table, and the Humans and Alien meeples are placed on the top of this – the number dependent on player count.  Beneath this is placed the Neutral ship board.  The bulk of the diplomacy board has four columns, each player places a marker on each track – most likely at the bottom, but their hub might tell them to start on particular spaces of certain tracks.  Finally there is also a score track around the outside.   Each player also takes any starting resources as shown on their hub tile as well as a small amount based on turn order.

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Before you start the game, the board is pretty full.  Each player will have their space station hub, and there will need to be space available above it for potential builds.  Next or beneath it, you will have your 9 (or more) ship cards splayed out.  The center of the table will be filled with the diplomacy board, space station market and the neutral ship board.

The game is played in turns until one of the three end game conditions are met.  The turns themselves are fairly simple – you only have two choices.  You either take a ship action or you take income.  Then the next player goes.

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To take a ship action, you choose any unused ship on the table (your ships, opponent ships, neutral ships found under the diplomacy board). Put your action marker on that ship card so that everyone can see which ship is being activated.  If you have used a neutral ship, also place your neutral ship marker on the ship – you will not be able to use a neutral ship again until after you take income. The cost to use the ship is in the upper right corner.  You must pay the left number to the bank, and then if you have used an opponent’s ship, you pay the right number directly to the ship owner.  (If you use your own ship, you do not need to pay yourself).    The action of the card is found below the cost, but before you execute the action, check your space station sections and hub to see if you have any bonuses that apply to this action.  Once you calculate these bonuses, then take the action.

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There are only a few different action types:

  • Dismantle (red): choose any of your own unused ships and dismantle it; remove it from the game and collect metal equal to the number shown in the top middle
  • Construction (grey) : use metal to build a space station segment. You can only have one of each possible color/size; and each of your three wings in your space station must be a different color. You have to build the smallest segment first, then the middle, then the largest.
  • Terran Expedition (blue): Roll dice equal to the left number and then keep the right number of dice.  Collect resources or possibly recruit humans based on the die faces showing.  You must have an available space station room to place the human. Humans can be in any room. Rooms in any particular segment are filled from left to right, and many of the rooms have associated bonuses that only trigger if their room is occupied.  You can also score VPs for human die faces rather than recruit them. 
  • Transport (green): You can make exchanges as shown on the chart on your player board.  Exchange resources or recruit aliens to your space station.  If you gain a pink, blue or brown alien, they must be placed in a room in the space station wing of matching color.  Gold aliens can go in any room.  Rooms in any particular segment are filled from left to right, and many of the rooms have associated bonuses that only trigger if their room is occupied.
  • Diplomacy (yellow):  Pay the cost shown on the left of the diplomacy board for the next step you want to take. Move your marker up on the chosen track.
  • Farming (dark green): Gain green resource cubes
  • Ice Collection (blue): Gain blue resource cubes

After the action is taken, all players check for Diplomacy bonuses.  Each time a Dismantle, Construction, Transport or Terran Expedition action is taken, any player who has moved forward at least one step on the corresponding column on the Diplomacy board will get a bonus.  The bonus options can be found on the lateral borders of each space.  If there is a player alone in the lead, they can choose the bonus of their current space OR any bonus below for their column.  All players other than a sole leader can choose from any bonus listed in a space below the one they occupy.

The other option is to take income.  In order to do this, you must meet one of the criteria: have 7 or fewer gems, one of your own ships must be used, OR you have no valid ship actions to take. Retrieve your action marker and your neutral ship marker. Return all the gems found on your own ships; thus freeing them up to be used again.  Then take your income from your hub (generally 1 gem per ship you have left) as well as any income from your space station – generally from occupied rooms with associated income bonuses.  Finally, you can relocate residents, moving a human/alien to a legal destination at the cost of 1 gem per move.  If you create a hole in the row of rooms in a space station section, simply move everything to the left to fill the hole.

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Now, check to see if that game end has been triggered – which happens if one of three things happens:

  • The active player has 40 or more points on the score track
  • The active player has built all 9 space station segments 
  • There are 4 of fewer total aliens remaining in the supply

If the end is triggered, all other players get one more turn (but not the person who actually triggered the end), and then final scoring happens.

Players have scored points through the course of the game. To this they add:

  • Construction points: 4/6/10 points for a level 1/2/3 space station segment
  • Each Human/Alien in your space station scores 2 points
  • Majorities in each of the 5 species score 10 pts, 5 points for second place
  • If your hub has an end-game bonus condition, score that
  • 1 point per 20 gems left. 1 point per 5 resources left.

The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most aliens.

My thoughts on the game

Space Station Phoenix is a game that has been in development for at least 5 years, and I’ve been privileged to play it a few times along the way.  The final version is a nice tight game that gives players plenty of choices and options. As with many games, the rules provide you with a starter set up for your first game or two, and I can’t stress enough how much I would recommend taking this suggestion.  

If you do, you’ll find that you have two different sorts of experiences with SSP.  In the starter setup, you don’t have to try to draft ships and hubs (when you probably don’t know anything to make a meaningful decision).  The four starting setup nicely point each player in a particular direction to start the game, and this will allow you to explore the game for a few turns with a fairly decent focus.

For example, one of the setups gives a player two steps up on the Dismantle diplomacy track.  You get three ships with provide dismantle actions and you also get a bonus two ships in setup, meaning that you start with 11 instead of 9.  Finally, at least one of your dismantle actions gives you a bonus two metal for each dismantle action you take.  As you can probably surmise, this setup wants you to dismantle things, early and often.  You’ll get more metal if you use your bonus ship AND you’ll hopefully also get good bonuses from the diplomacy track any time anyone in the game Dismantles given your initial lead on the track.  Sure, you’ll eventually have to use the other actions too – most likely construction as you’ll have plenty of metal from your dismantling – but right off the bat, you have a decent path to explore.  Each of the other three starting setup similarly points players towards construction, terran expeditions or exchanging.

If you tried to jump right into the full game without any experience, you’d likely lose 45 minutes in the setup and draft, and you also probably wouldn’t have a good cohesive initial setup – no reason to be all macho and try it on your own; you’ll likely just have a bad experience.

But, when you’re ready to move onto the full setup – you’ll find that there is a wonderful “turn zero” phase where you have to look at 2 hubs dealt to you, keeping one.  To choose, you’ll have to take into account 36 space station sections, and 18 possible ships to draft from.  In a way, it can be pretty overwhelming, but I have found it manageable to simply look at my two hubs and see which of the two has more possible things that work with them – and then choose that hub.

The game itself moves along fairly quickly.  Each individual turn is simple.  Early in the game, you have plenty of ships to choose from, but the number of ships on the table will inexorably shrink as players dismantle ships to allow them to build their space station parts.  At first, you’ll likely want to use your own ships as the cost is less – as you never have to pay the “rental fee” on the right side of the cost.  However, if you use your own ships, you limit which of your ships you can dismantle.  You also reduce the opportunities for your opponents to pay you in order to use your ships.

As the game progresses, you’ll have to decide which ships you want to dismantle.  Your more advanced ships provide better (more efficient) actions, but they also provide more metal.  It can be a tough decision to figure out what is worth keeping and what gets recycled. 

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You can’t wait too long to build as there is a race for the space station segments. You can never be shut out as the supply provides one section of each type of each player.  But – the costs and bonuses differ widely on the sections – and you’d much rather have a segment that dovetails with your overall strategy. Sometimes you might just be interested in the number of rooms available in a section – because if you are vying for a majority in one of the alien types, you have to have appropriate rooms to put that sort of aliens into!

Speaking of the aliens (and humans!) – be sure to keep an eye on the supply.  There is a fixed supply made in setup, and you can sometimes be surprised when someone shuts you out of a type quickly.  This can hurt for both majorities as well as the ability to fill rooms to get certain bonuses.

The components are nice, and man, this box is filled with punchboards! It’s quite heavy and filled with bits.  After i bagged stuff up, we actually had to fold down the box insert in order to get all the bags to fit!  We had no issues with the icons and player aids, and we found the game really easy to understand.  The publisher has posted that there are a few errata with some of the hubs – and this can likely be remedied by a sharpie or post-it note.  There are large player aids that help give explanations to the many different hubs and space station sections – and we found they concisely answered all of our questions.

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Scoring can be a bit complex, and they do provide a template for scoring on the board of one of the player aids; but I’d recommend that you make photocopies of it, or else you’ll only have 2 chances to use the score chart before they’re all filled up :)

This is on the upper end of the complexity and time scale for me.  The first games with the starter setup were really good for learning the game and exploring the system, and then the next two games were rewarding in trying to set up my own initial strategy.  In the end, the advantages from setup tend to work themselves out in a few turns, but hopefully by then, you’ve figured out what you’re going to do.

I like this sort of game where you have multiple things you want to do, and you are racing with opponents for all of them.  There are a lot of things to consider with each turn’s decision.  Which ship do you use?  Did one of your opponents just take income and free up his ships? Can you take advantage of his newly emptied level 3 ship with the best action?  Do you build this turn to make sure you get the specific space station section you want?  Do you pend your own building for a turn to move up on a Diplomacy track in order to gain better bonuses with each successive action of that type?  You’ll have to keep a close eye on your own situation as well as those of your opponents to navigate the best path for you in this game.

Our 3p games have taken around 2 hours, which makes me think we would get down to the advertised 30 min/player with experience.  I’d also make sure you have a big table, or maybe two tables.  This game is a serious table hog.  The Diplomacy board and the space station section market alone takes up as much space as many other games.  Then, you have to add in the space needed for each player. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Like Beyond the Sun, RGG seems to be carving out a niche of solid strategy games set in Outer Space.  This is a game that deserves further exploration, and it will likely remain in the gaming basement for awhile to give me that chance.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

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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