Star Scrappers: Orbital
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Star Scrappers Orbital is an accessible, mid-weight tile and worker placement game for 1-5 players by Jacob Fryxelius - best known for Terraforming Mars (FryxGames/Stronghold) - and published by Hexy Studio. It plays in about 60 minutes.
Players each take on the role of a corporation which aims to build a space station in the mineral-rich asteroid belt of some far-flung star system. The rich mining has attracted independent miners and larger mining companies who need somewhere to rest their head and spend their credits. This is where you come in...
Over the course of five rounds (game years) players will take turns choosing from a variety of actions to expand and run their space station, with scoring taking place at the end of each round. At the start of the game players are each dealt a hand of eight cards, five of which you can keep, as well as a fistful of credits. The remaining cards, a mixture of event and space station cards, are placed in a deck in the middle of the table and the top five are laid face up in a row beside the deck. Each player then takes a red, 'core' module card, representing the starting point for their space station and places it on the table in front of them.
On your turn you may choose from a number of possible actions. Each player takes a single action and play continues until all players have passed consecutively. Firstly you can choose to build: to do this you pay credits (the game's currency) to play a space station module from your hand onto the board, connecting it to your existing modules. All space station modules are colour coded according to their function: purple for Military, red for Core Systems, orange for Logistics, green for Crew, yellow for Commerce and blue for Science. Green modules, for example, usually allow you to gain more crew or credits, whilst blue modules allow you to draw/purchase additional cards. Each of these modules will provide either a passive bonus (for example: income, reduction in build costs, protection from events) or have an active effect which requires you to assign a crew member to the module to gain the benefit.
The layout of your station is important, as certain modules function based on the type of module they are linked to. Additionally there are discounts in build cost for linking same-colour modules. Modules with only a single connection point are classed as 'exterior' and are more vulnerable to negative events.
You can play an event card from your hand. These will have a variety of effects but usually involve messing with game-state or other players: everything from swapping everyone's crew around to damaging enemy stations. Damaged modules cannot be used until repaired and do not count towards scoring at the end of a round. You may upgrade your core module. This can be done only once, from a set number of options linked to the main colours/designations. You may purchase a card from the face up row in the centre of the table, with the cost increasing the closer to the deck you get. You may repair a damaged module by spending credits and, finally, you may operate a module. To do this you can assign a crew member to the module in question and gain the benefit. Once assigned, the crew member and the module may not be used again that round.
At the end of the round everyone scores points according to the number of modules in each colour they have. The player with the most modules in each colour scoring.
We enjoyed Star Scrappers: Orbital a great deal. It's a very slick and streamlined experience: easy to pick up and learn with minimal effort but with a great deal of depth and replayability. The scoring system means most people will likely tend to specialise their stations, leaning towards one or two types of module in order to score points consistently. This means that each time you play, your station functions very differently. Due to the order in which scoring/repairing takes place at the end of each round, last minute damage events/actions can really mess with opponents' income/scoring. As such we found the game had quite a tense 'take that' feel where you are always looking for the opportunity to strike your opponents or look for a way to avoid taking damage.
Be warned: the game does need a big table, even with just two playing we found it took up pretty much the whole surface of a mid-sized dining table. With the full 5 players you would need to spread out a fair bit or risk some space station collisions.
Star Scrappers: Orbital is a quick, clever little game with great variety. It plays very smoothly and there are lots of ways to interact with other players and change the game-state. I would certainly recommend it. We played a preview prototype on Board's Eye View ahead of the game's upcoming release on Kickstarter but the KS is now live. Click here to check it out.
(Review by Toby Hicks)
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