Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Space Base, designed by John Clair and produced by AEG, takes 2–5 players into space, assuming the role of pilots who use a fleet of ships to gain influence and win victory points. It’s been daubed the 'Machi Koro upgrade we’ve all been looking for' - taking onboard similar mechanisms as the popular dice-oriented city builder and transposing them onto a space theme with some improvements. And to a certain extent, the observations are true.
In Space Base, all players have a tableau with spaces for 12 ships, all of which are occupied at the start of the game. There is also a track keeping record of income, economy and victory points. In the middle of the table are 3 sets of cards which can be purchased by the active player at any one time and a further set of 'colony' cards. All the ships have two values - one for when you roll the dice, and one for when other players roll the dice. Unlike Machi Koro, the active player rolls two six-sided dice and then chooses which values they would like, so for example, if they roll a 3 and a 6, they can either use those, or can combine to make 9. The other players also get to do this as well. Purchasing ships is inefficient unless you make your economy better; when you purchase one, your income goes back to zero unless you start increasing your economy track.
Most of the cards that can be purchased offer more interesting actions, particularly at the far end of probabilities. On the one hand, one can play safe by purchasing cards that are in the range of 1 to 6, which mainly cover increasing income and victory points, whereas some cards offer options such as fixing the dice value on your go, or even winning the game straight away if you wish. Purchasing colony cards can boost your victory point total significantly, but you run the risk of not being able to use a dice’s value once you have done so, indicating that these are game ending actions. We found a relatively high level of replayability in the game and it offers the possibility of constructing combinations quite quickly, which can be an alluring aspect of gameplay for some.
However, playing it safe by concentrating ships in the 1–6 region can be a solid path to victory, particularly if others around the table take risks with their card choices. Space Base does improve on the Machi Koro mechanic and lurks in that region of being an accessible gateway option for new gamers that might like the theme. It offers that jaunty, 'oh right you rolled a 5 and I have a 5 ship' dopamine hit that these sorts of games offer. It can often be the case that you are so engrossed in thinking about what to upgrade next, that you look at your opponent and they are on the verge of winning. It would have been interesting to see ship upgrades that made an impact on what other players did for example.
Chris Walton’s attractive artwork reinforces the game's thematic atmosphere but some of the more complex mechanics available on cards aren’t as immediately obvious as they might have been.
(Review by Toby Frith)