Updated: Oct 9
Empty Space (formerly Empty Space Explorers) is a very accessible space race themed set collection and exploration game designed by Peter Collins. You need to collect a set of matching colour cards in order to launch first a probe and then your space rocket from a starting point below the 'universe' grid of initially face-down cards to an exoplanet at the top.
The rules are commendably simple. On your turn, you can either Research or Travel...
Research means drawing two cards (from either of the two discard piles displayed or from the face-down draw pile). You can then pay two non-matching cards to peek at or reveal to all any face-down card in the universe, pay three matching cards to 'change the universe' (play one of those three cards to replace any previously revealed card in the universe) or pay four matching cards (ie: cards of the same colour) to buy a space probe of that colour. If you have a Black Hole card you can play it to the universe to block the progress of an opponent.
Once you have a space probe (and later a similarly acquired space rocket) you can choose on your turn to Travel. This means advancing your space craft by playing a card that is either the same colour as your craft or the same colour as the space you are moving to. If you move on to an unexplored (face down) card and don't have a card in hand that's the same colour as your space craft then you are taking a risk: if you can't match the colour (or if it turns out to be a Black Hole) then your craft gets bounced back to the start!
Our one frustration with the game has been the demand in the rules that players have to collect four matching colours to collect a space craft. Given that players cannot end their turn with more than four cards, it can be frustrating trying to pick up those four matching colours - especially as, once other players have claimed theirs, they can't just be any four colours but have to be four that match a still unclaimed colour. This can feel a bit like those old children's games where you always had to roll a 6 to start. So much so that we found ourselves inventing our own house rules to help to get everyone off to a quicker start. We gather that the game's rules have now been further evolved to offer something akin to our house rule as a 'quick start' option. It is just this potentially slow set collection start that felt at odds with what is otherwise a fast playing game.
Empty Space is pitched at a similar level to Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder) and, like that game, it works as an easy to learn and play 'gateway' game. The Black Hole cards, in particular, introduce a 'take that' element but, in the main, your focus will be in using your Research actions to plan a suitable path and trying to collect the colours you need to advance. This makes this game a good stepping stone in easing players towards more complex games involving 'programming' actions.
Empty Space launched on Kickstarter on 26 June. We've been fascinated to see the evolution of this game through its early prototypes: shown here on Board's Eye View is a recent prototype, tho' we understand it is due to be modified further by changing the spaceship symbols for each colour in order to make the game accessible to colour-blind players.