Updated: Jan 4, 2020
This is a game that seemed unpromising from the box. It’s a game about mining for crystals on some indeterminate alien planet. Somehow that didn’t send our pulses racing. But if the theme didn’t get us excited, the game play came as a very pleasant and positive surprise. This is a great game that involves strategy and tactics yet one which is easy to learn and which plays quickly.
Star Scrappers Cave-In was designed by Filip Milunski and Jan Zalewki. It is published by Hexy Studio. Although there are other components, this is essentially a card game. It involves hand management and card drafting as the cards (representing mercenaries hired as miners) are used for their special abilities or as the game’s currency to exchange for more powerful cards, victory point scoring crystals or ‘artifacts’ which give additional special abilities.
On a player’s turn they can take any two of four possible actions:
recruit a mercenary – playing a card to take another exactly one level higher (ie: play a value 1 card to take a card of value 2);
mine crystals – play cards equal or higher in value to the crystal being taken (the cards’ colour must usually match the colour of the crystal being taken);
collect an artifact – play cards of any colours provided their total value is at least equal to that of the artifact;
use a mercenary skill – play a card to take the action set out on that card.
Cards that are played become that player’s ‘base’, and the order that cards are played in is important because the card on top of the base (the last card played) is deemed the leader and can be used for its mercenary skill as an extra free action at the start of the player’s next turn.
You can see from this that players will be trying to build up their hands so that they can acquire the more powerful artifacts and the most valuable crystals. Symbols on the crystals add a set collection bonus, offering another route for stacking up victory point scores. There is player interaction too through the use of an ingenious ‘raid’ action. A raid of an opponent’s base allows you to take to your hand the cards from that base (from the bottom up) until you reach your hand limit of 7 cards; the top card (the leader) is always returned to the base owner’s hand, even if that would take them above their hand limit.
Meanwhile, a hazard track advances whenever a crystal with the symbol is taken and whenever a card pile is exhausted. When the track reaches the end, it represents a cave-in and the game ends (albeit at the end of the round rather than immediately).
Because cards can be used in several different ways and because the order in which they are played will be significant, Star Scrappers Cave-In is a game that rewards strategic thinking, forward planning and tactical play. Nevertheless, this isn’t a game that’s likely to be slowed excessively by AP (analysis paralysis). In the main, you’ll find turns go quite quickly so you won’t be waiting long for your own next turn to come along, even when playing with a full (4 player) complement. You can expect this game to take around 45 minutes, but it can be quite addictive: don’t be surprised when players demand an immediate reset and rematch!
The theme may be light on Star Scrappers Cave-In but it got us thinking. It wasn’t hard to imagine the factions as the major races and empires from the Star Trek universe with the crystals representing the precious dilithium used to power starships. If Hexy ever finds itself in the business of buying licences for its games, a Star Trek reskin of Star Scrappers Cave-In would be a sure-fire smash hit.