In this sci-fi setting deck builder from IV Games, the players are completing secret objectives and displayed contracts in order to earn prestige points. Along the way, you'll be earning credits which you can spend to upgrade your ship (player board) and recruit crew members. The winner is the first player to get to 10 prestige and so become leader of the Moonrakers outlaw coalition.
Players all start with similar decks of 10 action cards from which they draw a hand of five. One of the cards is a Miss, which has no value but just clogs up your hand. Other of the cards give additional actions; allowing you, for example, to draw two more cards (Reactors) or to play two more cards (Thrusters). There are always eight contract cards on display and these all specify their requirements in terms of the minimum number of each icon that need to be played. The icons correspond to those on cards, so, for example if a contract demands 2 Reactors and 1 Thrusters, then you need to play the cards with those icons to fulfil the contract, but you can at the same time use the cards for their actions. Contracts also indicate the number of Hazard dice to be rolled. These are custom six-sided dice with numbering 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2. For every Hazard you roll, you lose prestige. However, any Shield cards you play will reduce this loss.
Complete a contract and you'll usually earn prestige points and credits. The latter are used to recruit crew members (effectively, powered-up action cards) and to buy upgrades for your ship (player board); typically giving you bonus icons and/or a special ability. If you can't or choose not to attempt a contract on your turn, you can 'remain at base'. This will earn you an extra secret objective card, a single credit and the option to remove one of the contracts from the display and replace it with the next contract card in the deck.
This makes for entertaining play, with some push-your-luck chance taking, but what really makes Moonrakers stand out is the option to negotiate and form temporary alliances to fulfil a contract. Austin Harrison, Max Anderson and Zac Dixon have designed the game so that most of the more valuable contracts are virtually impossible for a player to complete on their own, especially with the deck with which players start out. Before attempting a contract you can, however, ask one or more other players to join you in the attempt. You'll need to agree with them how you will divide up any Hazard dice to be rolled and how you'll allocate the spoils (prestige and credit) for successfully completing the contract...
Tho' we've shown open hands in our Board's Eye View photo, the game is of course played with each player concealing their hands. You'll know tho' how useful your cards are going to be when your own turn comes around, so allying to fulfil a contract can not only give you the chance to bolster your prestige and credit on another player's turn, it can also give you the opportunity of drawing a potentially more useful hand for use on your own turn.
Moonrakers takes 1-5 players. There are special dummy hand rules to allow you to play solo and with two players, but the key negotiation and alliance mechanic means this game is really at its best with four or five players. Even with a full complement of five, however, our plays rarely took much longer than 60 minutes; but to keep the game pacy you will probably want to take up the optional rule suggested in the rules of introducing a two-minute timer for negotiations.
This is a game that's been beautifully and lovingly produced. With art by Lunar Saloon, it looks great. There are plastic space ship minis for recording progress on the prestige track and the game comes with metal coins for the credits. It's obvious that care has even gone into the design of the box insert. The game was originally launched on Kickstarter in September 2019 but backers have been well rewarded for their wait. If you have difficulty finding a copy in your friendly local game store, you can order Moonrakers direct from the publishers. We gather there are expansions in the offing, and we'll show them off here on Board's Eye View as soon as we can get our tractor beams on them.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)