08th Feb2019

‘Scorpius Freighter’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

scorpius-box

I’m told that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Indeed, even in space it seems, the latter is true. Scorpius Freighter is a brand new game from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) in which players each control freighter crews that work for the governing body of the Scorpius System. Even though players are legitimately employed by said government, that’s not the only thing that pays their bills. You see being the crew of a sanctioned freighter comes with its advantages – including the ability to smuggle goods, make deals with shady aliens and fulfill side jobs.

Whilst the average space simulation that promises as much flexibility as Scorpius Freighter does can tend to be slow and ponderous, AEG has applied its own trademark straightforwardness to the theme, creating a fairly simple optimisation puzzle based on a triple roundel system. If you’re wondering what a roundel system is, then let me explain – simply put, roundel games work on the basis that players will (usually) share a circular area on the board that features a number of actions. On their turn, the players will be able to move a number of spaces on the roundel, which will dictate what they do on their turn.

In Scorpius Freighter, there are three roundels to contend with, each of which has a plastic government mothership on it. On a turn, a player may exhaust one or two of their four crew members, allowing them to move any one of the motherships either one or two spaces. Which space the mothership lands on will dictate what the player can then do, however the level of skill that they will have available to perform their action will depend on how many un-exhausted crew they have left, plus any modifiers. In keeping with the overall simplicity of Scorpius Freighter, such modifications are usually limited to experience crew (obtained by upgrading basic crew) or through ship upgrade modules that are clearly labelled.

As an example, a player might exhaust two of their crew to move one freighter forwards two spaces (only clockwise movement is allowed.) Once there, if you can imagine that one crew was already exhausted (from the last turn) and two have just been exhausted to make this move, that would leave one crew member remaining, so the action (let’s pretend its Load Cargo space) will be performed with a base skill of one (for the un-exhausted crew member.) In this example, let’s also pretend that the player already has one experienced crew member who adds plus one skill to Load Cargo actions, and even though that crew member is exhausted, their bonus still applies, allowing the player to perform the action with an overall skill of two.

The real meat of Scorpius Freighter is to manage crew efficiently to move and then perform actions that will allow the player to engineer point scoring opportunities. These come in the form of contracts and side jobs, but can also come from upgrading crew by flipping them to their experienced side. To expand the overall capability of their ship (and its ability to hold valuable resources) the players will also invest in equipment and storage. Equipment usually allows either passive or active benefits when certain conditions are met, whilst investing in storage creates a Tetris-like micropuzzle of its own, thanks to certain efficiency bets that come into play when similar storage areas are placed beside one another.

Although players will most certainly interfere (either intentionally or otherwise) with each others plans during a game of Scorpius Freighter, there is essentially no direct interaction in the game. Instead, very savvy players might notice that their opponents require specific spaces on a given roundel, or that they are working towards a contract or side job and attempt to sabotage them, but usually, it’s not worth wasting their own turn to do so. Whilst there is a feeling of what most board gamers call “multiplayer solitaire” as a result, the speed of turns in Scorpius Freighter and the fact that everyone shares the motherships and moves them as needed is usually enough to keep everyone distracted enough not to care.

There are a couple of fairly large optional variants that you will likely want to bake in from the very outset (perhaps even in your first game, if you’re an experienced player.) The first of these is a variant that has the players use the reverse of their player board, which will include a specific cockpit (which acts as a unique equipment card) and has several Restricted Access spaces that cannot be build upon. This variant is incredibly simple and takes no time at all to come to terms with. The other variant involves drafting crew members rather than drawing a preconfigured set of four.

Again, this mode is very straightforward, but it can introduce elements of imbalance among players who are unfamiliar with Scorpius Freighter, or indeed with gaming in general. It’s worth noting that whilst the box advertises recruiting crew as part of the game, it never happens once gameplay starts – recruitment is purely part of the drafting variant and it does add a large strategic element of the game. This, largely, is due to the fact that crew members each has a skill that becomes active only when that crew member becomes experienced (which is achieved by paying a cost shown on the face of the card.) Some crew abilities provide powerful effects, including end game points, and combinations are possible with smart drafting.

Scorpius Freighter has really excellent build quality, with excellent cards for the crew members and some really unique artwork. It also has exceptional player boards that are actually triple thick, with indented spaces on both the front and back side. The manual is brief, filled with examples and well written, making an already simple game very easy to pick up and play. Most impressive, perhaps, are the three motherships, which are made from moulded plastic that includes six spaces on each to house resource cubes. This is because the game end mechanism is linked to how many times these ships pass a specific space on their roundel – at which time the active player must pay a resource into them. I did say that even in space, taxes are inevitable!

Whilst a bit uninspiring at only two players, Scorpius Freighter is a lot of fun at three or four players with both variant modes in play. It is definitely an entry level roundel game that won’t challenge more experienced gamers, but even with that said, there are many strategies to employ and a fair bit of fun to be had in drafting and planning for the most efficient approach to victory. A solid, attractive, exceptionally well made game that will tick a lot of boxes for a lot of players.

*** 3/5

Scorpius Freighter is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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