Thursday, July 28, 2016

Space Race


Leaving Earth is a somewhat dry but oddly compelling game, and it's not really like any other game I've played.

I say dry because at its core it is a game about mission planning. Players are put in charge of a nation's space program starting in the 1950s. The goal of the game is to score points by accomplishing missions on cards that are randomly dealt at the start of the game, and scaled based on the players' desired difficulty. They can be as simple as getting a capsule into orbit, or as difficult as putting a live astronaut on Mars (a recent expansion even includes missions to Jupiter and Saturn).

Each turn represents a year of game time, and during that time players get a fixed amount of money to spend on developing technology and buying space ship components such as rockets, capsules, supplies and astronauts. Each piece of technology comes with three random outcome cards, which can either be success, minor failure, or major failure, and each time that particular piece of technology is used, the cards are shuffled and one is flipped over. After an outcome, a player has the option to "buy off" the card, removing it from the stack for that piece of technology, so eventually, with enough testing, the technology will always work. The challenge is balancing when to play it safe and thoroughly test, and when to move quickly (it is a space race after all).

The second part of the game involves assembling spacecraft and launching them into space, and this is all about managing thrust and weight. Rockets generate a certain amount of thrust, depending of the difficulty of the maneuver you are trying to perform. However, each rocket can only be used once, so your craft will need to have multiple rockets to fire at various stages of your craft's journey, and each of those additional rockets is more weight you have to launch into space.

Planning these missions is very tricky, since you have to figure out how many rockets you need to get through each step of the spaceship's journey. The game offers a mix of simple and complicated missions, which are randomly drawn at the start of the game, so every game will have a different mix. The first strategic decision a player will need to make is whether to try for a bunch of easy, low-point missions, or spend the whole game working towards a high-value mission like putting a permanent base on Mars.

In addition to the brain-stretching game play, Leaving Earth features some truly gorgeous artwork and graphic design, which makes looking at the game a joy, even if you're scratching your head trying to figure out how many rockets you will need to get to the Moon and back.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) This game is gorgeous, utterly engrossing, and unlike any other game I've played.

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