Players: 2 – 5
Time: ~40 minutes
Times Played: 1
My surprise hit of Unpub 8 was Moonshot, designed by David and Micah Abelson and being published by Fisher Heaton Games. Like other games played at Unpub, what I mention below is subject to change and all photos are prototypes.
I want to clarify that when I mean ‘surprise’, it’s not that I thought this was a bad game when I laid eyes on it. When pitched this game by David, I heard the word “family-style” game and my heart honestly sank. There’s nothing wrong with games designed for families. I’m just not in a place right now where they are my greatest desire. I’m not consistently surrounded by young players or new gamers so my tastes tend to lean towards the heavier side. Nevertheless, I was at Unpub to play test games and was able to sit down for a four-player jaunt through the galaxy with two of my friends.
Moonshot may seem familiar to some people as it had previously been available on Kickstarter. There have been some changes since that initial posting and I don’t have any history with the initial offering so I sadly cannot provide a compare and contrast.
We played an entire game in under an hour and I loved what Moonshot brought to the table. This is a game that perfectly teeters the line that is a casual and strategic game and I could see myself enjoying this with my ten year old nephew (or if he’s Rachel’s nephew that means that he’s my step-nephew? I don’t know how that lineage works) or with my hardened group of friends that game with me. It would be an excellent introduction to showcase players of games like Sorry! and Parcheesi what else is out there to explore.
The gist of Moonshot is that there is an annual race, celebrating the settlement of a far away galaxy. This race is a team affair and has players navigating the galaxy looking to cross the finish line. Each player controls a team so the game isn’t necessarily facilitating cooperative play but there will be times where you make decisions that benefit players that are not yourself. Having your ship(s) cross the finish line first does not guarantee victory either, as players are also betting on which team is going to win the race. In our playthrough, the individual that won the racing aspect was not the overall winner, but they still were close.
Moonshot is like Camel Up and Cosmic Encounter had a baby. There is the racing and betting of Camel Up with the light ‘take that’ of Cosmic Encounter. The betting system is one bet per player, with the last place player betting first each round. Each player can be bet on twice a round and players cannot bet on themselves until the start of the sixth round. All bets are publicly made but placed upside down so unless you’re memorizing who bet where, the results won’t be revealed until the end of the game. The rounds change how much each bet is worth. Bets in the beginning rounds are worth much more as it’s more of a crap-shoot at that point in time regarding who is going to win. This mechanism helps balance the end game if there’s a runaway race winner as it allows the players in last to use their betting to catch up. Also, if the game is too complicated for some audiences due to the inclusion of betting, that can be easily removed so as not to confuse the players.
Something else reminiscent of Camel Up is that ships can stack on top of one another. Typically, this is just your fleet of ships in a risk/reward of being able to move them together but there are some action cards that will allow rival teams to link together and allow both teams the opportunity to move them.
The player interaction and ‘take that’ aspect is very reminiscent of Cosmic Encounter. What I mean by that is that when conflict arises, it’s typically left out of a players hands. The main interaction seen between players is bumping, where you will land on another players ship(s) and send them back to the starting location. Being bumped isn’t necessarily something you want to happen to yourself, but you are given an action card for your troubles. If your movement is two and someone is in that spot, you don’t really have a choice and it’s more done in good fun as opposed to an action of a vindictive nature. Back to the cards, they offer one-off powers that can be activated immediately, during your turn, or during another players turn.
Players will fly around the board, following a set pathway around the planets (that do branch off and allow alternative routes) using dice with binary dots on the faces. Rolling a one through three allows players to move that many spaces while rolling a four or five allows you to earn an extra roll, banking that previous roll as fuel.
The binary dots are red and black and there are different circumstances that can occur depending on the roll, such as rolling only one red pipe will result in your ship moving backwards one space or if still docked in the starting position, jettisoning forward toward the end of the race. There is a helpful aid on the game board to help players remember the combos. There are not many combinations (maybe five?) so after a round or two, the aid isn’t entirely necessary anymore.
The game has two ways to end: a player either gets all their ships to the end of the race or twelve rounds are completed. Our game ended after twelve rounds and I believe only four ships had crossed the finish line (two from one player and one each from the other two players. I was left with all my ships not going anywhere).
The game ending at twelve rounds ensures that it won’t overstay its welcome and helps players easily visualize how long they have to get moving. It plays quick and as the decision making is almost entirely related to the dice rolling, turns should process quickly and a second playthrough would have had us flying through the game (no pun intended).
My two friends, one a heavier gamer and the other more on the casual side (but with experience with games such as Viticulture), loved it. The teams (which are actually called factions) are double-sided and the ‘advanced’ side offers variable player powers unique to each faction.
I was only able to play the game once at a four-player count and I think I would prefer to only play at four- or five players. The board was much tighter and there is much more interaction between players due to this congestion and bumping is such an integral part of the game that I wonder how it’s implemented at lower player counts. I am unsure if there are any variant for playing with two- or three-players to help replicate the feel of the higher player count plays but I have no worries that this hasn’t been addressed already.
If you don’t like that tightness and the possibility of having your plans thrown off, you may not enjoy Moonshot. If you like something that fits into that middle-scale of lightweight games, I would recommend keeping an eye out for Moonshot, which will be on Kickstarter in 2018.