Gazing into the night sky, my mind tends to drift into dreams of places far away. If travelling to those places involves stop offs at Tatooine or Vulcan, all the better. A youthful diet of Star Wars, Star Trek and other tales of futuristic derring-do has left me with a strong appreciation for space related make believe.
What it failed to do was provide an appreciation for the economics of interstellar adventure. How much does it cost to fuel a Death Star? What is the away mission insurance for a Starfleet red shirt? To be fair, my youthful imagination never once led me down the rabbit hole of interstellar accountancy either.
Nowadays, the older, (slightly) more adult me has an entrepreneurial streak that wonders. If there is a cost, is there a profit? And how much profit might a continuing mission to boldly go make the savvy investor? The answer, in Spacecorp at least, …is Trillions.
Space Exploration Inc
Spacecorp 2025–2300AD is a game of exploration and exploitation. Over the course of three eras humankind, as represented by nameless corporations, will break free of the constraints of Earth and begin to colonise the stars.
The first era, Mariners, reveals the initial tentative steps beyond our atmosphere. First to the moon, then mars and on into the asteroid belt. The second era, Planeteers, details advancing technology and the first signs of genetic adaptation to life in low gravity. New resources and improving infrastructure allow exploration and building in the furthest reaches of the solar system.
Starfarers, the third era, sees the corporations’ cross vast distances. Colonisation of nearby star systems begins. Contact with aliens is almost inevitable.
Anticipation because, although I have not played many of their games, I have thoroughly enjoyed those I have played. This is despite not being particularly keen on war games. It’s the nuances that get me rather than the themes. The blend of strategy and tactics. The subtleties of the choices I need to make every turn.
Trepidation, due to the near vertical learning curves and huge time investment required to fully appreciate many GMT games (I’m looking at you Pericles).
I was pleasantly surprised, and a little relieved, to find Spacecorp beginning with a set of relatively simple actions. Move, Explore, Build, Research (draw cards), Produce and so on.
These actions require points to perform. Points are gained by collecting and playing cards. That trip between Earth and Luna is movement four? Play cards displaying a move capability adding up to four. There are many cards in Spacecorp. You'll find three full decks of them and clever management of said cards is key to success.
Certain cards can be used to represent evolving infrastructure. Played onto your player board, these cards are baseline abilities that improve over time. Not limited to using only your own infrastructure, players can, for a cost, leverage others’.
Competitive 'Edge' and a special one-off action cards provide a one-off advantage, while other cards increase the pace of technology advancement. Speed is important because space travel is a race where being first has huge advantages.
How do you get to be first to the asteroid belt, first to see celestial industry producing new technology? How do you plan to move from Earth to Tau Ceti before your competition? By making one decision at a time. Each turn in Spacecorp consists of one single action. And, ultimately, each one is all about the money.
Explore, Expand, Exploit
Spacecorp is won by the player that generates the most profit. For all the exploration and discovering you’ll do, in the end money is the measure of success.
So, how do you make profit in Spacecorp 2025-2300AD? New areas provide advantageous access to minerals, being first to these frequently bolsters the bottom line. Pushing at the boundaries of technological advancement provides lasting benefit. Fulfilling contracts helps increase your margins and colonies provide a useful source of late game income.
The main route, however, is Production.
At its heart, Spacecorp is a 4X game. Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. The Production route to stellar profits is very much in keeping with the first three X’s. Travelling to and then exploring a region. Building a network of Refineries, Attractions, Industrial areas to exploit the resources you find.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Spacecorp stops after the first three X’s. The galaxy is a refreshingly peaceful place in this view of the future.
Spacecorp's components are rooted firmly in the functional war game tradition of cards and counters. No superfluous miniatures here. Nevertheless they are top quality examples of these. Thick cards, clear player aids and good sized tokens. What catches the eye particularly are the superbly illustrated game boards.
Each era plays out on a separate board with a unique deck of cards and era specific components. Basic rules introduced during the Mariners era are expanded upon during each subsequent era. The game evolves over time. A relatively simple race to the asteroid belt develops into a more complex mix of infrastructure and economics in the dangerously radioactive worlds orbiting stars at the edges of the galaxy.
Not that it ever becomes too economic. Or, leans particularly towards engine building. Or is too much of anything really. There is a little bit of everything in Spacecorp. Hand and resource management, action point collection, area control. Even ever so slightly ‘take that’ in a broad, non-combative sense. It’s all there. Just in small amounts.
Time and Space
‘Small’ is a word that cannot be used freely in a game like Spacecorp. The distances to travel are vast, requiring movement multiplier upon movement multiplier to traverse. Space, in a more everyday sense, is required to fit two boards, four players and a host of cards around the table.
And time. Time is a key thematic concept in Spacecorp. Centuries pass during the thematic scope of the game and hours of real time are needed to play through them.
All the games I have played, both multiplayer and solo, have taken over three hours to complete. About average for a war game or a full 4X experience. Spacecorp, however, has much in common with Euro-style games and for that genre, three hours is long. Long enough to be potentially off putting to those attracted primarily by the theme.
However, none of the games have felt long. The single action turns move at a good pace. The decisions are never less than interesting. As a result, those hours have passed without me realising how long I have been absorbed.
Bite Sized Pieces
Spacecorp has a way to overcome game length in multiplayer games. The three eras can be played separately. Should you wish to start at the Planeteers or Starfarers eras there are separate player boards that allow you do this. Finishing at the end of Marineers or Planeteers is also possible thanks to scoring adjustments tailored to an early end.
This is great! Allowing flexibility to adjust a game to a range of players and time periods. If only all games on the medium to complex end of the gaming spectrum had this facility.
The solo player is also extremely well catered for. The solitaire game has a superb AI opponent. One that is, thankfully, a million miles from the complex flow charts of some GMT ‘bots’. Instead, the ‘Competition’ is closer to the Automata of games like Scythe and Viticulture. Each card has a location number used only in the solo game. This determines the next action of the ‘Competiton’. A handful of reference tables aside, that is it. A remarkably smooth and intuitive system.
Playing against the ‘Competition’ is a fantastic experience. The ebb and flow of the game, virtually identical to the multiplayer experience, is almost meditative when played solo. Taking an action, drawing a card, taking an action, drawing a card...
Dig, Dig, Dig
Ironically, the stunning solo play highlights a handful of minor issues with the multiplayer game.
The card display for the Research action is perhaps that most noticeable. In the solo game, this is refreshed frequently. The ‘Competition’ regularly removes some or all cards from the display. This clears the early cards and creates room for more powerful ones. During multiplayer games, there is a tendency for players to draw from the deck instead of the display. This effectively results in players ‘digging’ for better cards while the display remains untouched.
The other issue, and this may be down to my personal inefficiency, is the time it takes to move between eras. Clearing the board, setting up the next. It feels like a level of admin akin to three separate games. Not such a problem playing solo. Here, the ‘Competition’ will wait and never lose track of what it’s doing. With other people confusion can reign as components get muddled.
A Little Bit...More?
The ‘little bit of everything’ nature of Spacecorp is one it’s major plus points. However, I have found myself on occasion wishing that there was just more of some things. More exploration, a more detailed technological advancement process. The Infrastructure engine building, for example, feels thin with only one production location carried forward between eras. Although this does make the decision regarding which building to carry forward difficult.
Spacecorp as a solo game is designed to be played from the Mariners era. There is no clear way to start late/finish early like there is in the multiplayer game. Lacking the space to leave the game set up overnight this means I play less often than I would like.
Finally, while I don’t generally miss a combat element to this game, sometimes I do wish I could blast my opponents off the face of Triton with a death ray.
Final thoughts on Spacecorp 2025-2300AD
A peaceful yet competitive game of space exploration, Spacecorp 2025-2300AD is a sprawling epic. Minor quibbles are compensated for by absorbing gameplay. However, the lack of combat may be an issue for some.
Spacecorp is a superb achievement. The multiplayer and solo games are both among the best I have played in the past 12 months.