Sunday, 10 July 2016

Dice in Spaaaaaaaaaaace

With Chris unable to make it until later in the evening, Ian and Andrew obligingly indulged me in trying out my (Sam's) latest game design last night. Its mechanics are openly purloined from games I enjoy - there's the regular combat and sense of a race from Quantum (and three actions each turn) , the planet tech of Ascending Empires, and the chance-based jostling for position in Lords of Vegas. But in Orbital, the planets keep moving.

The game takes place in a five-planet solar system and the players represent newly-arrived competing cultures, fighting over the planets. You begin with two ships in the form of dice, and during each turn you can move, settle on planets, build more ships, combat other players - either in space, or attack a planet - or cause an uprising on a planet where you have a settled ship. The last one is the heart of the game, because if a player has the highest value die on a planet, they have dominance there. Not only does that give you a boost during play, it's also key to winning: the game ends when one player gets dominance on all five planets concurrently. It's kind of Lords of Vegas in space in that regard - I nearly called it Spagas, only that sounds like a fungal infection.

 WIP board

There's a couple of other actions too, but mainly you're flying around, blowing each other up and landing on planets - there's only space for four ships on each planet.

Ian looks longingly on as Andrew and I share the blue planet

At the end of each round, all the planets move along their orbital paths, so you have to take your moment if you can, or you'll be left behind. And at the start of each new round, players pick up resources for each planet they occupy (being dominant gives you an additional resource cube) and these can either be spent during your turn (cheaper building, free moves, dice-rolling bonuses and hyperspace!) or saved for points at the end of the game.

WIP player mats

The idea was to make a feisty game where players are encouraged to go all out attack (trying to get dominance in all planets) or consolidate by stockpiling resources. But of course, you can only stockpile cubes if you're picking them up in the first place...

Ian is dominant

We played nine rounds in a little over an hour. I'd fallen away dramatically and had taken on some debt in order to build more ships. Having done so, I sprang back into what I thought was contention - gaining dominance in two planets. But the very next turn Andrew got himself back on top in four of them. He then went for the fifth, knowing if he managed to roll a six, he'd grab the planet and mostly likely the game. He rolled a six!

late game: orange (me) is struggling whilst the other two battle it out

Andrew 31
Ian 23
Sam 12

Hard for me to be objective, especially when throughout I was worrying if it was too fiddly/too luck-based/too X. But I think I enjoyed it.

With that trial by fire out the way, Chris was yet to arrive, sending us a mysterious text about poop.

So we decided to give Madame Ching another go; the board game that's actually a card game. The game played very fast - only 30 minutes - and whilst no-one made it to Hong Kong or claimed the China Pearl, we did at least give the impression we knew what we were doing this time.

Andrew 25
Sam 22
Ian 21

those lovely clouds

As we were debating what to play next Chris arrived. Having cleared up the mystery of the poo text, and cleared up the source of the poo text as well, we went and stared at the games cupboard in huddled discussion. Five Tribes nearly got played, but in the end we went for one of Chris' favourites: Concordia. It's not been seen for a while at GNN and playing it I think that's because it is a rather staccato experience: often turns whizz by, but everyone had their moments of pausing, staring at their cards and the board, and then saying "shit". Games are so fun!

I went with my tried and not-totally-trusted method of spreading around the board and trying to nab Saturnus cards which reward you for settlements in different regions. I can't remember what Ian and Chris did, but I do remember looking over at Andrew's cards in final scoring and thinking "shit" - games, fun!

Andrew (black) doesn't look that threatening mid-game

Andrew 120
Sam 101
Chris 96
Ian 86

We then played Waggle Dance, the game of dice-rolling worker placement. Fool's Gold pulls this combo off really well, but Waggle Dance ...doesn't. It looks nice, it's easy to teach, there's a fair bit of screwage, but unless I imagined it, we were all largely underwhelmed. At least it's quick, though.


Sam 4 honey (wins on tie-breaker)
Andrew 4 honey
Ian 3 honey (third on tie-breaker)
Chris 3 honey

There was just time for a blast of Push It before we wrapped up. This time it was Andrew who lagged behind the rest of us, only to make a belated push for glory. But someone - Chris I think - sent my disc ricocheting into the puck to give me a rather jammy two-disc win:

Sam 12
Ian 9
Chris 8
Andrew 5

Lots of fun. And thanks for indulging me on Orbital.


  1. Thanks for hosting, and for the pizza, Sam. Orbital was fun. It needs a bit of tweaking, such as if there should be a limit on number of cubes used per go, and other bits and bobs such as what to do with that moon. Definitely has potential, though. Of course, I might be saying that since I won.

    Madame Ching and Concordia were nice. I went card-heavy on both and it seemed to work. I'm glad that Madame Ching isn't all about getting the big rewards asap. I was worried during Concordia that a couple of times, I had nothing in my storehouse after buying or building but, thinking back, maybe that was a good thing.

    Push It was great, despite me giving everyone a four-point head start before I started scoring points. And Waggle Dance... meh. Interesting that Sam went card-heavy in Waggle Dance and won with only five bees, while Chris and I had eight each. Nice that it isn't just about getting bodies on the board. I approve of games that offer two (or more) paths to victory.

  2. Thanks Andrew... I might dump the moon; it was left over from a previous iteration when ships were cubes, not dice. Cube-spending limit could be a good call, but I do like that people can spend loads of cubes for big/meagre/no reward at all. Ian spent 12 resources (6 points) at one point on getting dominance on a planet.

  3. Yes; thanks for hosting and the pizza!

    I genuinely enjoyed Orbital. Like Andrew said, it needs a bit of tweaking but even in it's current form I think it's better than more than a few commercially available games I've played.

    Madame Ching was more this time. Last time we played I was a bit too focused on trying to get the ship bonus card and reaching Hong Kong, but they seem more like bonuses to get if the cards align, not something to specifically aim for.

    As for Concordia, I didn't really pay attention to the card-multiplier scoring until a bit too late, and once I did start buying cards I neglected to build in more cities. I did enjoy it but can't help but feel I'd need to play it more to get a feeling for the rhythm.

    Waggle Dance was okay, but once it was clear that Sam was going to fill his last honey-cell it felt a bit anti-climactic. Chris compared it how Istanbul can sometimes fall a bit flat when you realise somebody is going to finish and you're a step or two behind.

    Push it was as great as ever. Cheers folks!

    1. *Madame Ching was more enjoyable this time.

  4. Thank you Ian, that is praise indeed. I'll tweak the rules and hopefully, we'll give it another go. I was tempted to suggest a four-player after Concordia but didn't want to push my luck!

  5. Very intrigued by Orbital, Sam - I thought you were kidding when you said you were going to use the wooden disks for your 'Lords of Vegas in space' game!
    If the disks need art on them I've just ordered some printable circular stickers that fit them neatly.

  6. Also, it's ripe for a two-player version with dummy AI. Come on, Dirk loves this sort of thing!

    1. Yep. Like in Tokaido when the player furthest forward (i.e. the last to take their turn as the game currently stands) moves the neutral player. Could be interesting.