Spaceship Unity – Season 1.1
- Designers: Ulrich Blum, Jens Merkl
- Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60-120
- Played with review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele
Spaceship Unity might be unlike any other game that I own. It’s a cooperative game. OK, maybe not unique yet. It’s a game the portrays a TV series captured in a game – played over a number of episodes. Wait a minute, that sounds a lot like Pandemic Legacy or other games. It uses things found in your house to transform it into a spaceship. You will need pen and paper, maybe some socks, a light fixture, your sink, and who knows what else… Wha?!
In Spaceship Unity – Season 1.1, the focus is on the story. As in a TV series, the story continues over several episodes (five in this case). Each of them is divided into multiple chapters with branching story paths for a different experience. As in real life, the story keeps going no matter how the crew performs. However, that doesn’t mean the mission is to be taken lightly! After all, the players are the last hope for galactic peace, and the course of the story will change depending on the players’ success or lack thereof, for better or for worse.
As recruits of the IPA, i.e. the Interplanetary Alliance, the players experience an extraordinary story full of action and adventure and have to steer their own spaceship, with the fan turning into a jet engine, the blinds into a protective shield, the bookshelf into a diplomatic database, and much more!
In this game, you group works together as the crew of the Spaceship Unity. The episode book sits on your game table, and it serves as the bridge of your spaceship. Locations or objects common to most houses serve as the different systems of said ship. The neat (or crazy) thing is that my Communications system in my house might be totally different than at my kid’s college dorm room – but yet, the game can still be played in either location just fine!
The overall rules are fairly simple – and I can explain those in detail. Many of the other rules you will encounter come up in the storybook and the cards; and they’re meant to be a surprise until you see them – or else, they wouldn’t pose much of a challenge to the crew of the Spaceship Unity! I’ll give some made up examples as we go – which are probably true to the spirit of the game – without spoiling anything for you when you play the game on your own.
To start, you must set up the ship. The rules tell you to make clear what the boundaries are for your game (and your ship). Make sure everyone knows which rooms are included in the game and if there are any objects that are off limits. This is mostly so that people don’t go poking around in your house in rooms or with things that you don’t want to be bothered.
You take the booklet for your current episode and open it up to the first page. Place it on the table – and the diagram on the right side of the book will act as the bridge of your spaceship. The left side will be filled with text; you’ll read this soon… There is a deck of story cards for each episode; get out the appropriate deck – but do NOT shuffle them. They are numbered, and you’ll want them in order as the game will direct you to find specific cards. You will also need the Malfunction and Injury decks nearby. Find the timer for your player count and place it near the top of the bridge where the time track is found.
Look at the Systems listed in green boxes on the right side of the bridge. Find the appropriate cards from the System deck and pull them out. On the backs, you’ll see the name of the system in white, and then in smaller print underneath, the names of common household objects (for instance – lamp, door, sink, pen and paper, smartphone, bowl, etc). Find the appropriate thing and put the system card near it. If it turns out that you don’t have the household object, there are a number of “backup system” cards which you will hopefully be able to find and use instead. This is a clever system to allow you to play the game in just about any sort of situation. You will also need the logbook which is a grid of checkboxes; this will help track your progress through the story.
Now, it’s time to read the story on the left side of the opened Story Book on the table. There may be special setup rules for this chapter; as you read those rules, do the setup. As you read this, note if the chapter is an Action Chapter or a Challenge Chapter. Action chapters are timed, and require you to finish the chapter before the timer runs out or reaches the end of the time track. Challenge chapters are not timed but rather limit the number of times you can fail tasks during that chapter (but does not matter how long you take to complete the tasks).
As you try to complete the chapter, there is a lot of freedom given to the players. There are no assigned tasks; once a task is read, you figure out how many people are needed to do it, and anyone from the team can do it. Make sure that everyone listens to the story; players won’t need to know all the details, but they should have a good feeling for the story arc, and it may be helpful to know the names of your friends and enemies. Be sure to read every card fully before doing anything; there may be special instructions only found on a card, and you want to be sure you know exactly what you need to do before doing it.
In an Action Chapter, you are under some time pressure. At the start of the chapter, you will flip over the timer, and you must constantly watch it – flipping it over before it runs out of sand. Each time you flip it over, you must also advance it one space on the track – possibly adding Malfunction cards (obstacles) to the system cards in your spaceship.
Flip over the first story card for the chapter, and then follow the instructions – generally it will point to a system card and a specific action on it. You must then do said action. The system card usually has multiple options on it; so make sure you look for the right color banner to do the right thing. There will be a player icon to the right of the action telling you that the task must be done by 1 player, 2 players or all players. If you cannot do the task with the household object chosen for the system, you are allowed to substitute objects.
In my made up example, say that the action tells you to go to the Lighting System (Lamp), and do the Distress Signal action. The back of the system card asks one player to go to the lamp, and turn the light on and off to signal SOS in Morse Code. You must do this twice to complete the action. So, you go to the lamp and do it – and if this completes the action, you then move onto the next numbered story card (or you will be directed to a specific numbered card). Repeat the process with the text on the next card. Remember that players need to keep an eye on the timer as it cannot run out of sand.
As you move the timer forward, you might come across spaces with the Malfunction icon on them. You draw a Malfunction card and place it on the specified system area on the Bridge. That system cannot be used until the Malfunction is fixed; this is- someone must perform the Malfunction action on that system card. This can be done at any time, and it will save your team time to have someone do this while another action is happening. Whenever the Malfunction action is completed, discard the Malfunction card from the Bridge; thus allowing anyone to use that system normally. To continue our example, the Eliminate Malfunction action on the lamp might be to unscrew the lightbulb and screw it back in.
Keep going until you either finish the chapter (get to the last card and finish it) or fail the chapter. If you succeed, you might get a conclusion card to finish out the story. Then, you will likely see some Logbook icons, and you will check off the corresponding spaces in your logbook. This is a way for the game to record your progress; and as the story can and will branch based on your decisions and performances; you will use these checkmarks to determine which way to go when the story forks. If you fail, you are directed to a particular Story card. Interestingly, if you fail, you generally don’t repeat the Chapter – just like real life, the story goes on. Of course, the story may follow a different path now…
If you have a Challenge chapter, you still place the timer on the first space of the track, but you don’t need to flip it over. In these chapters, time doesn’t matter. You simply have to succeed at the tasks given to you. These tasks tend to be more difficult, but not always. For our example, the Challenge action might be: place a plastic cup about two paces away from the lamp. Unplug the lamp and then try to toss the plug so that it lands in the cup and stays in the cup.
If you succeed at the task, grab the next card and move on. If you fail, you must advance the timer and likely take an Injury card, which is given to the player who failed at the action. You can have only one injury at a time, and you keep it until either the Chapter ends or you are given a new injury card (at which point you must discard the older one). As with Action chapters, mark off the logbook and read the conclusion to the chapter regardless of which way you finished it.
Whenever you finish the episode, the final chapter is a debriefing episode where you will read some cards to finish the story, and you will be able to score your progress based on the boxes checked off in the Logbook.
My thoughts on the game
Per the credits in the rulebook, this is a game that has been in the works for at least 8 years – and the development work and time is obvious (at least to me). This is unlike any other game that I have played; and the way that all of the systems work together is pretty neat. The branching story also is very well done; thus far we are quite interested in finding out what happens next.
The rules are nicely done. The rulebook gives you what you need to play, and the cards do a good job of explaining the rest. The rules even tell you – if you’re not sure about how to progress, just make a decision based on what you think is right and will be fun. Just do it and enjoy! Also, the game rules stress that it shouldn’t necessarily matter whether you “win” a chapter or not; enjoy the ride and watch the story unfold as you play the game. That’s a nice approach to a cooperative game. It might actually push the game into the experience game genre/territory; but that’s OK with me.
In fact, at least one of the gamers that I have played this with labeled Spaceship Unity as “interactive fiction” as opposed to a game. In a sense, I can agree with that sentiment because in the end, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you succeed or not – the story rambles on regardless. Sure, it may take you down a different plot line (i.e. you play a different chapter in the story book) – but the game always continues. I don’t think that this characterization is a negative though – I approached this game as a fun way to spend the evening with friends; and by and large Spaceship Unity accomplishes that.
The heart of the game are the System Actions; and it’s pretty neat to see how the game designers have thought of common objects in your house that you can then repurpose for the game. The one issue that we had is that the game asks you to put the system cards near the household object that it employs; but if this is spread around the gameroom, sometimes players can’t remember what was the shield activator and what was the rudder – and you scramble around the room looking for things. By the time you reach the 5th page of an episode, you might have a dozen system cards lying around – and they proved to be a bit confusing for us.
The game definitely keeps everyone busy – we often had one person reading a card and barking out instructions, while three of us were scurrying about the room doing things at all the different systems. The card reader at the bridge also was in charge of watching the timer. Each of us action-doers would yell back to the bridge when we had accomplished actions or malfunction clearing actions, and so forth. While it kept us all busy, it also meant that each of us often didn’t see what the others were doing. There is more of an opportunity to watch the action in a Challenge chapter because time is no longer the issue, it’s the completion of more difficult tasks. The majority of the chapters we have seen so far have been the action variety though.
I think the designers have also done a nice job with coming up with backup systems and rules to allow you to change up a system if your bits don’t exactly work for a particular task. In the end, it doesn’t really matter though; someone just has to do thing A at object B and then yell back that they have done it. I do wish that there was more of an integration between doing a thing and what it means for the game.
The chapters that we have played so far have stayed pretty true to the estimated time on the cover of the associated story book. This is a nice feature as it helps your group plan a game night. For me, this would be a fantastic convention game. When you’re at a hotel, with a bunch of gamers, ready for something zany in the late hours – this would be fantastic! Unfortunately, you almost have to be playing this in a residence in order to have enough of the things required for the systems! Maybe you could do this at an AirBNB weekend getaway, but almost certainly impossible to do in a hotel ballroom.
Spaceship Unity is a clever storytelling game where your actions will in some way guide you through the five episodes of the story. In all of the chapters we have played so far, we have skipped some of the pages in the book, so I know that there are things I did not see – but like a TV show, the episodes continue to roll despite the twists and turns in the story. It remains to be seen whether the show will be renewed for another season, but the box seems to suggest more as this is listed as Season 1.1. The voyages of the Spaceship Unity will likely continue on. It remains to be seen if the crew will explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, or boldly go where no man has gone before… I’m personally interested in seeing a bit more of where the story will go.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…