Scorpius Freighter is a new space-themed pick up and deliver game from AEG. It’s designed by Matthew Dunstan and David Short, with some evocative art by Victor Pérez Corbella, Jay Epperson and Matt Paquette.
The strap line on the box outlines the broad order of play: ‘Recruit crew, customise ships, smuggle goods’. Tho' actions are taken on a board governed by three roundels, each player has their own individual board representing their freighter. Throughout the game, you’ll be adding tiles to your board to increase the capacity and capabilities of your freighter and you’ll be acquiring and delivering smuggled goods to fulfil contracts and side jobs. The interaction of special abilities and the way they are triggered on the roundels means that Scorpius Freighter is also something of an engine builder as players seek to optimise the productiveness of their actions.
There is a great looking plastic cargo ship on each of the planet roundels that make up the main board. These represent ‘government’ motherships rather than those of the players. Players move any one of these ships on their turn, usually by one or two spaces, in order to take the action indicated. The motherships have a cargo cube added to them every time they complete a circuit of their roundel and the game ends when one of these ships is full, so, in effect, these also function as a game timer.
Players are inevitably competing for desirable tiles and contracts and for opportune spots on the roundels. However, since players may each be following different strategies, they won’t necessarily be in conflict over the choice of action or tile. This is a game where, in the main, you can concentrate on optimising your own performance rather than worrying overly about sabotaging or being sabotaged by other players. This may disappoint those who demand ‘take that’ interaction but it’s relatively refreshing to have a space-themed game where players are competing but aren’t actually attacking each other. That said, during the course of a game, you can expect some tension over position on the roundel, especially when playing with the full complement of four players.
Scorpius Freighter incorporates scalability in terms of difficulty. The placement of tiles onto your board can be important (there is an advantage to having similar tiles adjacent to each other) and the boards are two sided, allowing for more ‘advanced’ play with a freighter that is made more difficult by having ‘restricted access’ slots. You can also vary the way in which players choose their crews: you can play with pre-set crews or you can create your crews through card drafting. The pre-set crews are a useful way of getting your first game off the ground but you are likely to want to add the card drafting mechanic in subsequent plays of this game. The crew members all have special powers but these only kick in when that crew member has been upgraded (card flipped), which costs credits (the core currency of the game) or ‘skills’ (mostly, this means activating crew members that haven’t already been activated to take a move action). The choice of crew members is likely to affect players’ strategy for the game because they will generally optimise a particular victory point scoring path.
Scorpius Freighter is set to appear on retail shelves this month. At Board's Eye View, we’ve really enjoyed our plays of the game. It benefits from an elegant design and great components: we especially liked the way in which both sides of the player boards are layered so that they hold the various storage and upgrade tiles in place. We found Scorpius Freighter easy to teach and learn, and we liked the brisk pace of the game, which you can expect to complete in around an hour. Although you certainly need to plan ahead, players aren’t confronted by so many options on their turn that they are likely to succumb to AP (analysis paralysis). This is definitely one to check out!