22nd May2019

‘Space Gate Odyssey’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

spacegateodyssey-box

In Ludonaute’s Space Gate Odyssey, each player controls an individual confederation of scientists on humanity’s first interstellar colonisation mission. The players will compete to expand their own personal space stations, each of which will consist of a number of interconnected modules. By managing the flow of specific actions, players will gather settlers and then deploy them onto the five randomly chosen planets, which ultimately scores them points. As each planet reaches the limit of settlers that it can accommodate, settlers will begin to head to the planet Hawking, which (unlike the others, that are chosen at random) is always present in every game.

Each planet has a different set of prerequisites that must be met in order for settlers to be added to it and each also provides a variable amount of victory points based on similar conditions. The planet that settlers will arrive on depends upon which Space Gate is shown on the airlock module from which they depart, which will match one of the Space Gate standees that are placed during setup. Ultimately, the winning player will be the one who obtains the most victory points based on the combined total of their points across all planets, as well as Hawking itself, which tracks overall influence in the new galactic order. Whilst the objective in Space Gate Odyssey is relatively simple, there are a few unusual mechanics to wrestle with in order to achieve move settlers efficiently and maximise points output.

First and foremost, Space Gate Odyssey uses worker placement as the mechanic that drives what the players will do on each of their turns. All actions are driven by a shared board that features five separate locations. There are three kinds of actions that these locations allow, including; filling an airlock module with settlers, adding new modules to your ship and moving settlers towards one of three different coloured airlock modules.

The rub here is that the strength of the action a player can take relates to the total strength of their workers in that location. As an example, if a player moves one regular scientist into a location, then they will be able to take a one strength action. If they have a robot and another scientist there, then they will have a three strength action. Experienced scientists (denoted by a kind of plastic suit that wraps around the basis scientist meeple) are worth two actions on their own. That’s not all though, because any other players who have scientists (or robots, which do not move) in the same area will get to follow the current players action, so there’s some interesting interaction here. Sometimes, you’ll simply need to take an action and therefore it’s worth allowing the opponent(s) to do so, but on other occasions, you’ll plan your own moves to provide the least advantage for others as possible.

Space Gate Odyssey gets more complex as you apply these actions to your own spaceport, which is largely due to the different kinds of modules that are added. In short, there are nine different modules that players can choose freely from when adding new sections to the spaceport, and each works in a different way.

Some modules allow the player to recruit new engineers or robots into the worker placement section, effectively increasing the strength of their actions as I described earlier. Other modules add air locks into which settlers can be recruited, whilst Space Gate modules are colour coded and allow settlers to teleport onto the Exoplanets, based on matching the symbol on the module with that of the relevant Space Gate standee.

When one of the three actions associated with a colour is chosen, the player may move settlers from any space towards a Space Gate module of the matching colour. Building the spaceport quickly becomes a puzzle focussed on optimising routes and minimising the distance that settlers need to travel between airlock and Space Gate modules. There’s another complication in that during end game scoring, any open corridors will cost the players negative victory points.

Thankfully, Space Gate Odyssey includes a single use “rearrangement” token that players can use during early games to change modules as needed whilst getting used to the game. I’m a big fan of this feature as an inclusion to reduce the learning curve, and I’d even say that it’s worth continuing to use the rearrangement tokens for the first three or four games, as it can be quite frustrating to learn the hard way about module positioning.

Between the prerequisites needed to score the different planets, the worker placement portion of the game and the actual construction of the spaceports, Space Gate Odyssey poses the players a number of challenges both mechanically and strategically. Although it is ultimately quite straightforward to play (after a few turns) this is a game that poses some really interesting questions and rewards repeated playthroughs.

Not only is Space Gate Odyssey interesting to play, it’s also fairly unique. I can’t think of a lot of other games that combine such different mechanics in quite the same way, whilst retaining a level of simplicity that ensures a smooth flow of gameplay. Space Gate Odyssey also looks impressive as well, with translucent plastic meeples that are a little small, but nicely sculpted and a range of unusual cardboard components including a three-dimensional display for the modules and little stands for the actions spaces.

Whilst Space Gate Odyssey’s unusual nature is its greatest strength, it is also perhaps the reason that it may struggle to hit the table from time to time. Space Gate Odyssey is, well, a little odd. It’s a strange mix of mechanics to combine and as a result, it’s a little hard to explain and a slightly challenging teach – even if it is ultimately not that hard to play. The colours used across the various pieces are also a bit unusual, making it perhaps a bit less visually exciting than much of the competition.

Ultimately though, Space Gate Odyssey is a good game that really requires players to invest two or three games into it before it begins to feel truly rewarding. Only once the idea of optimising both the positioning and type of modules really begins to sink in is high level play possible, and reaching that point will come with a fair few disappointments.

Poor planning can leave players feeling as though they are well behind, but Space Gate Odyssey uses an interesting system to limit runaway leaders. As more settlers are dispatched to planets, the player who advances fastest will also need to place settlers and ultimately engineers onto the Hawking planet board. Losing settlers isn’t really a problem, but engineers are so limited in number that having them stuck on Hawking will slow a lead player down quite a bit.

And so, I don’t recommend Space Gate Odyssey for absolutely everyone, but I would say that it can find a home on the shelves of more experienced gamers who aren’t afraid to tackle something that looks and feels a little different to the norm. Perhaps one to try before you buy, I remain confident that Space Gate Odyssey is a game that is worthy of exploration.

*** 3/5

Space Gate Odyssey 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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