19th Feb2018

‘Kepler 3042′ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Kepler 3042 represents the fourth game in a run of space exploration and/or colonisation games that I’ve enjoyed in the past month or so. I’m happy to use the word enjoyed in this context because whilst space (in general) might be an overused theme, it offers almost limitless possibilities for imaginative interpretation at a local, planetary or galactic level.

Kepler 3042 most definitely falls into the latter category, with a beautiful six-leafed board that unfolds into a clear and compact depiction of not only our own solar system, but many, many more. Depending on the number of players (with one to four supported) a number of celestial bodies are placed randomly and face down onto the map in a logical and visually elegant way. The majority of these celestial bodies are planets that can be controlled by taking a corresponding card and then ultimately terraformed (by flipping the card to its reverse side) in exchange for resources. Firstly, though, face down celestial bodies must be discovered, because only those in the immediate vicinity of the starting position can be seen.

Colonisation and terraforming of planets can only be achieved once a player has sent a spaceship to it (which requires faster-than-light travel to be developed) and only once terraforming has been researched. Both of these enhancements are managed via a specific technology tracker for each player, which has a total of five tracks with five upgrades on.

As you can already imagine, Kepler 3042 has a myriad of options available to players on each turn which makes it a proper, scientific euro game. There are sixteen turns in all, at which point a winner is calculated as the result of a mixture of various particulars such as medals gained from the two leadership tracks, colonised or terraformed planets (number and type) and more.

On each turn, players use a nine by nine action grid and demonstrate what they want to do by placing a cube on one space, then taking the action described there. They then have the option to take a bonus action based on the placement of their cube, but if they do so, they’ll need to burn one of their valuable (and limited) resources.

On that note, each player begins the game with three energy and two matter cubes available to them, from a personal supply that contains seven of each. When used normally (for tasks like building ships or terraforming) cubes are just returned back to the supply, but when using bonus actions to burn resources, they are removed permanently and can only be restored through very specific in game effects.

The game is made up of sixteen turns, which makes Kepler 3042 one of those games that will never really allow you to do everything you want to. As a result, choosing when to burn a resource to get ahead is absolutely critical, as is choosing when you will spend a turn just consolidating your position and using one of the skills that produces resources – including anti-matter, which is not available at the start of the game.

Aside from discovering, colonising and ultimately terraforming planets, the most existing thing you can do in Kepler 3042 is probably develop your technology tree. Each player receives their own technology board which shows five tracks, each with five spaces. These tracks include key advancements such as various forms of light speed travel, the development of anti-matter and advanced terraforming. Once again, players must spend a whole action to advance a single tech level, so focus on a particular strategy is highly advisable.

Whilst you’ll likely link your technology choices to a long term objective based on your own preference and what you think will win the game, Kepler 3042 has a great way of generating short term objectives thanks to card driven events. A new card is placed at the beginning of each turn and will often provide bonuses for the player(s) who achieve a certain thing during the upcoming turn. This might involve leading the Technology Track or being behind on it, or it could be something else. Whatever the card says, it might well be worth changing tack temporarily to snatch a quick bonus, especially if you are the last player and you can be certain that no one is going to gazump you to the prize!

Now, I must say that the first time I set up Kepler 3042, I felt quite daunted by the amount of stuff on the table. The board itself is large and covered in mostly hidden celestial bodies so deciding on your starting strategy can be a challenge. Each player has a tech card, an action card and a resource card, plus a complex looking player aid. It all adds up to about an acre of space, not to mention a ton of iconography. Start playing though, and Kepler 3042 begins to demonstrate its simplicity.

The action card is a concise and neat way of reminding players of the actions available to them, whilst also providing an actual gameplay mechanic in the form of the bonus actions. The tech card takes a little time to get used to, but once players understand the symbols (and over time, what each technology is focussed on) then it becomes second nature. The player aids go back in the box and the game is remarkably fast paced once it gets going, lasting about an hour to ninety minutes at min and max player counts,

Component quality is high, whilst not breath-taking. I say that because whilst Kepler 3042 packs in loads of cards, boards and wooden pieces, it doesn’t have the most distinctive art style and as I described previously, there is a fair bit of clutter. The manual is very clear and fairly brief, with a decent structure and some nice examples of commonly overlooked rules.

Having recently played a number of other space themed games in the last two months, I can say that Kepler 3042 has a nice pace given the galactic scale, which means that players will draw a decent sense of achievement from their work over the course of the game. It works best with four players in my opinion because the event cards have more weight and whilst there are more planets in the galaxy, the game feels much more densely populated because the board is physically the same size.

Kepler 3042 may not ooze theme in the same way as Terraforming Mars does, but it does entangle thematic elements among its various mechanics. At the same time, those mechanics are solid and well handled (especially the action board and the bonus action) without ever being ground-breaking. Component quality is OK and there is a lot in the box, so on balance Kepler 3042 is a good game that is more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think it reaches quite as close to the stars as it could have, but it is still a welcome addition to my collection.

*** 3/5

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