Updated: Mar 4
There have been some great games launched and sold through Kickstarter but backing a new game often involves something of a gamble, especially when the game is from a new designer or publisher without a proven track record. What looks like it might be a gem could turn out to be a dud when the game is finally delivered.
Designers Dan Alexander and Charles Gershom, and publisher Intrepid Games, were very conscious of this as they developed their ambitious space colonisation game. They decided to tackle this backers' dilemma head on by going to the trouble and considerable expense of setting up an innovative 'play before you pledge' campaign. Advance prototype copies were produced and distributed to board game cafés around the world so that prospective backers would have the chance to check the game out at first hand and even get in some plays. Players have also had an opportunity to try the game out at conventions, including last year's UK Games Expo.
The Kickstarter campaign for Lander finally launches today, so we'll soon be able to gauge the effectiveness of Intrepid's bold pre-launch strategy. Even for the many who don't get to a board game café and haven't taken up the offer to 'play before you pledge', it will surely be a huge reassurance to know that Lander is a fully developed game in which the publishers have demonstrated such confidence.
At Board's Eye View, we've had a copy of the game for several months and we've had the opportunity to test it with different player counts (it takes 2–4) and in its three different modes (length and complexity levels). We've hugely enjoyed our plays.
Planetary colonisation may look like a cooperative endeavour but Lander is an unashamedly competitive game, tho' it can be adapted for competitive team play. Players represent pioneers who are exploring and exploiting a new planet for its three resources: titanium, energy and food. The central board is made up of interlocking triangular plastic sector tiles, drawn face down and positioned so that the explored area grows over the course of the game. Players mark out ownership of these triangular sectors and each turn take from them the resources they show. Ultimately, players will upgrade some of these sector tiles to increase their yield.
As you'd expect from other tile laying games like Catan (Kosmos), you need to collect resources because you'll need specific combinations of them to help you complete Missions in the race to be the first to reach the requisite number of Mission Stars (victory points). On your turn you'll be juggling not just these resources but also the various action, item and training cards. You'll be recruiting and equipping crew members for their abilities and traits because, to complete Missions, you'll need to build appropriate combinations of skills. The crew cards are very reminiscent of those in the Star Trek Collectible Card Game (Decipher) and, like those in STCCG, your crew members can find themselves 'red shirted': the risk in buffing up a crew member and enhancing their traits is that they can become a tempting target for an opposing player's sabotage. There's no direct PvP (player vs player) conflict in Lander but, in this highly competitive game, you can expect other players to try to screw you over, and you'll need to be prepared to do the same to them in the scramble for those all-important Mission Stars - indeed, our advice is that Lander is a game where you need to get your retaliation in first :-)
As you delve deeper into this game and play the more advance modes, you'll unlock the Event cards which affect play in each game year (round). Some of these offer no choices - just a change affecting that game year; modifying, for example, the resource yield of some of the sector tiles; others give an A or B choice to the player whose turn it is to be the designated Colony Governor. Some of the Events can really shake up Lander, injecting further adrenaline into what is already a tense and exciting game.
Success in Lander depends on pacing. You need to choose the best time to complete a Mission: go for a Mission too soon and you risk hampering your ability to make progress in the next game year. But you need to keep an eye on the other players: delay too long in claiming a Mission and you can find it snatched by an opponent. You'll find that the dynamics of resource generation inevitably alter over the course of a game: resources start off in very short supply but become more abundant as you increasingly expand the modular sector 'map'.
Each game also awards Mission Stars for the 'Accolades' set out at the start of each game. These reward the players with, for example, the most upgraded sector tiles or the most Science capabilities in your crew. Players track their progress on the Accolade cards so you can always see who is leading on that track, but the lead can change hands during play...
There are lots of options in Lander. There are specific rules, for example, on negotiation (trading resources and cards with other players), which has to be completed against a one-minute sand timer. Perhaps it was just that we were too competitive to do anything that might conceivably help an opponent but we found we only very rarely used the negotiation rules. Lander, tho', is a very well designed game with plenty to keep players engaged and coming back for more. Even tho' we've been playing one of the preview prototypes, we've been impressed with the production quality and artwork by Elias Stern. It's such a joy to play with interlocking plastic tiles in preference to cardboard tiles that you more commonly find in games and which slide about when you position them.
Lander is certainly worth checking out. Click here to find out more and back the game.