5…. 4…. 3…. 2…. 1…. Lift Off! A wonderfully retro, space mission themed game. You take on the role of competing space agencies, hiring your field specialists in order to send up as many missions into space as possible.
We found this gem wandering around Spielwiesn in Munich in 2018 and were instantly taken by the look of the game. It is bright, busy and just looks cool. Lift Off oozes theme and the artwork on the cards is reminiscent of 60’s cartoons. Together with the colourful board and player rocket meeples, Lift Off fully immerses you into the space race era.
This is both a firm family favourite and a solid two-player game that we keep bringing to the table. Quick to learn for experienced players, a great theme that ties in well with the gameplay and a good amount of player competition. These are all qualities that we love!
Basics of Lift Off
Set up – Set up is relatively quick, each player has their own bag of rockets, tracking board and a rocket with upgrades to layout. Within 5 minutes you can be ready to launch!
Rules – The rules are well written with detailed information for each of the objective, specialist and mission cards. Examples of gameplay and an abundance of illustrations make this an easy to understand the game for the first and second plays. After which you can enjoy developing your own strategies and knowledge of the cards.
Objectives and winning – To win, you need to score the most points. This is done in a combination of instant scoring from specialist cards and launching your missions as well as end game scoring. This is from the objective cards and points available from separate elements on the mission cards. These cards are worth big points and will very much shape the direction and strategy of your game.
How long does it take?
You can reckon on half an hour per player, so once you’ve learned the rules you can expect an hour or so for 2 players and 2 hours for 4 players. We personally like the one hour 2 player games, finding them a perfect fit for some midweek game time.
Lift Off is played in two phases, 8 rounds in total, 4 rounds in each phase. The technology card requirements are different in phase 2. The ability to launch level 3 and 4 missions are unlocked at phase 2 however you can upgrade your lab in preparation.
Card drafting is a big element of Lift Off, to start you have two rounds of drafting the three objective cards each player is dealt. You pass two cards to your left and receive two more from your right. This is then repeated, only passing one to your left and receiving a final card from the right. The three cards you finish with can be worth up to 90 points in final game scoring, depending on the distribution. Since some are easier to achieve, they are worth less points.
Money in Lift Off is in units of 100,000 and each player starts with 1,000,000 cash. You will also earn money at the start of each round, starting with 500,000 but this can be increased as you progress. Your rocket starts off being able to send one tonne into space at a cost of 500,000. Your player mat helps you keep track of your earning power, lift capacity and launch costs.
Dealing three specialist cards to each player to start, you draft these in the same way as the objective cards, only this time the starting player decides which direction the drafting goes. These specialist cards are the core of the game, giving both a benefit and up to two actions. These are;
- buying technology cards – without the correct combination of cards, you cannot launch a mission. Displayed on the player board are the technology card requirements for each level of mission launch.
- upgrading your rocket – capacity increases your payload that you can launch but will cost extra. Propulsion reduces the launch cost by 100,000.
- investing in the space station – a powerful but expensive action described further below
- upgrading your lab – quite expensive but necessary to launch higher level mission. The earlier you upgrade your lab, the more points you will get over the course of the game for each launch.
The payload you can launch and the amount it costs goes up and down depending on the upgrades you attach to your rocket as the game progresses. With each mission you launch, you gain instant points. You can also gain upgrades, technology cards or the coveted free lab upgrade.
The Space Station
The space station comes in addition to building your rocket and launching missions. The pay off for doing this is to gain points and increasing your income or receiving a green technology card. This is one of the few competitive elements, since each investment gets progressively more expensive. Although the later you do it, the more points you are awarded. Every time you invest and place your rocket meeple, you can lay a station segment. This is a nice aesthetic addition and the kids enjoy it but adds nothing extra to the game. Strategy-wise this can be a big points earner but is risky since it relies on getting the right specialists in drafting. You also need the matching objectives and level 4 missions bonus awards for space station investments to really maximise points.
Can I play Lift Off with 2 players?
Lift Off functions very well as a two-player game. As the game isn’t reliant on player interaction, you can concentrate on your own missions without worrying what the other players are up to. What is good, is the opportunity for some tactical card drafting in a two-player set up, this is much harder in a 3-4 player game.
Can I play this with my kids?
Absolutely, the mechanics of the game are easy to learn and with guidance from parents a child from the age of 9-10 could come up with a good strategy. Be aware of the length of the game, some kids may lose attention after a while. However, because the game is split into two phases, you could easily take a break halfway through.
Will I like it?
If you like Power Grid, you’ll love Lift Off. Similar cool retro artwork, the same balance with ensuring you have enough money to launch your missions, invest and upgrade. Lift Off is not too heavy on strategy. Whilst you do have to ensure a balance of money and card selection, this is not too difficult to do. You are also not often stuck over analysing potential outcomes! It doesn’t take all evening and you could easily introduce Lift Off to new players at a games evening.
How is the replayability?
Lift Off has good replayability, you won’t get the same objective cards each time and there is enough of a variety of specialist cards. However, due to the drafting, you might not always get the cards you want!
We think Lift Off is overlooked in the vast galaxy of board games, you don’t often see it mentioned often amongst top sellers or geek lists. However, it is a solid and enjoyable game that is very rewarding especially upon completing all your objectives!
Our one criticism would be that the dominant winning strategy, completing as many level 4 missions as possible, is rarely beaten. The right objective cards combined with the high amount of points available from level 4 missions wins most times. Comparatively, it is very hard to gain enough points with other objectives or even investing in the space station at any opportunity. Despite this, Lift Off is a nicely challenging, fun game, worthy of a space in anyone’s collection.