The vast mystery of space is a theme used often in board games. From games based on cinematic space opera trilogies or narratives ranging from cyberpunk to reimagined westers, designers will always be inspired by the great unknown.
Bringing these experiences to the tabletop is no easy feat, but thankfully there are plenty of designers up to the task. Whether it’s a hard-science-based or a science-fiction-based game, there are plenty of choices that’ll have you hurtling through space or, if you prefer, laying back and enjoying what the stars above have to offer.
In Gravwell 2nd Edition, you and your opponents command ships that have been sucked into a black hole and transported into a new dimension. With your ship’s fuel supply dwindling, you’ll have to gather resources from nearby asteroids and use the dimension’s gravitational pull to find the warp gate that will get you home.
Players draft three pairs of cards from a common pool in order to move their ships, then reveal simultaneously. Each pair has one face-up and face-down card, so your opponents only receive partial information of your plans to escape.
Movement in this dimension isn’t straightforward, however; depending on how your opponents play their card, you’ll sometimes find yourself moving away from the warp gate! It’s a race to get home and the first player to make it to the warp gate wins the game. If no ships have made it there after six rounds, the closest to the warp gate wins.
The second edition Gravwell retains the same solid game play of the original but includes new spaceship miniatures as well as new art by Kwanchai Moriya. It can now be played by six players instead of four and each ship has a new dashboard of special abilities. Can you make it to the warp gate first and safely travel home? Or will you be lost forever in the Gravwell?
Designer Scott Almes has had a prolific career producing a series of wonderful small-box games with solo variants. With Warp’s Edge, he focuses on the single-player experience, producing an immersive and outstanding game, and includes a separate narrative book by Banana Chan, which allows you to customize your ship for your upcoming game.
As Taylor Minde, rookie pilot in the Outer Rim division, you find yourself stranded from your fleet, lost and alone. With fuel and resources running low, you desperately attempt to find your way home via the warp gates, only to find yourself deep behind enemy lines. You’re about to be blown to smithereens when your ship’s experimental SAVIOR protocol warps you back to the start of the battle. Can you use your recently gained knowledge about the enemy to successfully maneuver your way to safety this time?
At its heart Warp’s Edge is a deck and bag builder, as you cycle through your deck of cards and the tokens for triggering different effects. But it’s much more than that: you’ll need to figure out how to build your deck and bag to complete your mission. If you make it to the showdown with the mothership you’ll soon learn if your gaming skills were up to the challenge. Don’t worry if your ship meets its untimely demise, though; with games lasting between 30-45 minutes you’ll have plenty of time for multiple runs at that big bad boss.
The Search for Planet X
In 2016 scientists published their “Planet Nine” hypothesis, based on the unique orbits of dwarf planets, gas clouds and other observable objects in the solar system. The Search for Planet X is a fantastic re-creation of the science community gathering data, making hypotheses, and discovering new celestial bodies.
Each player is a scientist and must take notes of the evidence presented to them, eventually deducing the location of the elusive planet. Being the first to discover the elusive planet doesn’t guarantee the victory, though. Offer solid theories on what is in each sector of the sky and you’ll score points as well, but you’ll lose points if your theories prove to be incorrect.
On your turn you’ll use the integrated app to either survey for an object, target a sector, research a topic, or locate Planet X. The app will provide you clues based on what you’ve selected and while other players won’t know what you were told, they can keep track of what action you selected. Peer reviews and conferences also happen, allowing you to obtain more information to back up your theories. They may also render them obsolete, giving your opponents an advantage in finding Planet X.
Using your trusty telescope, you gaze up into the sky to see planets, moons, and other celestial objects. You’ll track these in your notebook, hoping to score more points based on what’s in your telescope and notebook.
Stellar features deceptively simple play: choose a card from the celestial objects row, then place it into your telescope tableau or your notebook tableau. Then depending on the number of the card you played, you’ll take the corresponding card from the celestial objects row and place it in the other tableau.
This is the brilliance of Stellar: with only 11 total turns in the game (which will fill up your telescope tableau), each turn features a tough decision. Which card do you take from the row into your hand? Which card do you play from your hand, and do you play it into your notebook (set collection) or your telescope (area majority)? Will draft a card to benefit yourself or deny your opponent the chance to score?
Much like another Renegade Game Studios title, Arboretum, Stellar offers sublime card art with tension-filled turns. Gazing up into the night sky has never been more competitive.
The newest release from Renegade Game Studios, Subastral is another small-box game in the tradition of Stellar and Arboretum: games that surprise you with their strategic depth and ease of play.
Designed by Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, the team that brought you Stellar, and illustrated by Beth Sobel, the artist of Arboretum, Subastral allows players to study various terrestrial biomes of Earth.
Like Stellar and Arboretum, Subastral features clever and tense card play in a beautifully illustrated package of cards. The game is for 2-5 players and like the designers’ previous game Stellar, Subastral includes factoids to enhance this “thinky” gaming experience.
Ruel Gaviola is a writer, podcaster, and livestreamer based in Southern California. His work has been featured on Geek & Sundry, Roll20, Renegade Game Studios, and more. He is on the Board of Directors for the Tabletop Writers Guild and the American Tabletop Awards, and is co-organizer of the Tabletop Live Network. Connect with him on Twitter @RuelGaviola, watch his regular livestreams on Twitch @RuelGaviola, and find more of his work at ruelgaviola.com.