Updated: Aug 22
With its eye-catching circular board and grids that fit around its arcs, CGE's Pulsar 2849 looks almost as though it had been specifically designed to be shown off in Board’s Eye View 360˚ photos. It’s certainly a game with lots going on: a plethora of tokens to collect and an abundance of ways to score points.
In Pulsar 2849, you are notionally exploring the universe and developing resources (erecting devices to collect energy from pulsars). The board looks like Space, you are moving spaceships and the tokens have pseudo-scientific technobabble names. Despite this, we probably need to warn up front that Pulsar 2849 doesn’t leave you feeling like you are developing cutting edge Sci-Fi technology and exploring the galaxy. If the title and appearance made you think this was a 4X space game and that’s what you are looking for, then Pulsar 2849 may not be for you. This is unashamedly a ‘points salad’ game where you are just making choices in order to maximise the points you score. The key mechanic is one of dice drafting: players take turns to pick dice and then decide where and how best to spend them. They can choose to deploy their dice to get an immediate benefit or they can, in effect, invest them in the hope of being able to build an engine that will give them even more points.
Accept that Pulsar’s theme is slim and you can enjoy the game for what it does well – forcing players to think through and balance the choices they make. There’s not a huge amount of interaction, though players can find themselves racing to fulfil point-scoring goals and they can push rivals into suffering small penalties for taking the dice that are left to them. ‘Points salad’ games often deteriorate into bouts of ‘take that’ sabotage, so many players will welcome the fact that Pulsar 2849 affords them the opportunity to focus on developing their point-scoring engines without having to worry overly about a rival’s wrecking tactics.
Though there is an initially bewildering array of choices (once players have chosen their dice, they will often have several options for utilising them), turns are quite brisk. You can think about your actions while others are taking their turns, so this isn’t a game that suffers from downtime drag. The game comes with a two-sided board and a bunch of alternate tracks and technology boards. Indeed, there are more out-of-the-box alternate set up options for Pulsar 2849 than many games manage even after the publishers have sold you a series of add-on expansions. This means it takes a few minutes to set up a game, but, importantly it means that Pulsar 2849 offers great replayability. If you like this game, it’s one you can play again and again and it will feel subtly different each time.