At Cape Canaveral all look up to columns of smoke coming out of four launching rockets. Red ship of the Russian Federation is leading and after it, also other three colorful boats soared into the sky. But now in orbit situation changes, when each ship takes a different direction. Yellow China flies toward Mercury, other two crew yet maintain original direction. And green rocket from European Union slightly deviated from all available courses. Do they have technical issues? We have no news so far! But it seems, that everything is OK in the end, they succeed in maneuvering rocket, changed direction and are heading towards Mars.
A few minutes later, they heard only silence on board EU ship. Radio signal disappeared and crew was left alone in the universe. No chance for help, if something fails. Although navigation is controlled by computer, you can now listen only to me. My name is Ralf and I am pilot of this ship. I’m sure, that we will win this race..
Will you thwart Ralf’s plans in board game Kosmonauts, her its publisher is Portuguese publisher MesaBoardGames. Yet, paradoxically, both authors come from Russia and are Yury Yamshchikov and Nadezhda Penkrat. Delivery games on the European market is done by Heideberger Spieleverlag company.
Exactly, you attentive readers are right, we’ve had one such game with a theme like this. It was called High Frontier (review), but was intended only for really demanding players. In Kosmonauts everything is much simpler and aimed at a slightly different audience, as we will soon convince ourselves together.
Game takes you on first glance, not with its classic square format box, but with spaceship illustrations on cover and imaginative name, that looks more like KOSMONAVTS. In its stomach are hidden rules in A4 format and length of eight pages, but do not let that scare you away, game is simple and manual contains many examples and pictures, which take up most of the space.
What attracts you inside the box the most is a beautiful square game board of the solar system. No, its not so beautiful as with High Frontier, but still very pretty. Route of the planets do not correspond to reality, because all orbit in symmetrical circles around the sun. After all, it is important that each of them has its given trajectory, where it will wander during the game. All these routes are intersected by elipse of Halley’s Comet, which is the icing on the cake, when it comes to list of race objectives. Each corner contains seven hexagons, that represent spaceship control panels.
Below game board, you will find a player plans, where are portraits of all eight planets with symbols, that correspond to them. But most of space is taken up by drawing of your ship. It has still empty fuel tanks on its both sides. Fortunately, technology has advanced enough to allow it to be able to land with help of robots and gather fuel on surrounding planets. In front of the ship, there are three positions for shield energy.
So what? Of course we could not miss popular wooden cubes. There are 48 yellow representing ordinary fuel, sixteen red has a greater driving force and is referred to as hyper-fuel. Remaining twelve gray cubes represent energy in the ship’s shields.
Wooden materials are nor abandon even, when we go for players tiles. Their spaceship is one large colored wooden cone. Smaller wood tokens are used to survey, which player controls which spaceship. Well, then there’s only nine planets tokens (only? And how many should there be?) – eight planets and then Halley’s comet. The above mentioned tokens get accessories in form of a sticker sheet. These labels are used to decorate your space ship tokens and also contain marks for individual planets.
In addition to landing tokens numbered from one to fours for each planet, there is only a deck of cards waiting for us to be discovered. There’s thirty unexpected events and sixteen missions cards, which are divided into a total of three levels.
At the beginning of the game everyone can choose one color. You may, but need not, assign a superpower in your imagination to those colors, like we did in the beginning of the article. From this color, you get a color token and a spaceship. But it would not be enough, because you still need a little board for the game. Fuel tank of your ship are immediately refueled with eight cubes of ordinary fuel and two hyper-fuels. This is your starting moving force.
But what about the Solar System? The one we must not forget. Players randomly distributed blocks of stone inhabitants circling around the Sun among themselves and spread it to any place in orbit belonging to this particular planet. Earth is the most important, because everybody is starting from there. You put your ship tokens on its current position, ready to lift off.
Then just sort tokens with points for each planet from largest one on the bottom to the smallest on top, shuffle event cards and reveal three of them. Each player also gets one mission card from each of three sorted (according to difficulty) and shuffled decks.
Now, finally, the space race begin and it starts, just like every other round, with events phase. Its selection will be followed by three more phases, which players gradually go through together, including in particular movement of ships and planets.
But now let’s get back to the events, you have just discovered. On a player, who has a instructor token (he was randomly chosen at the beginning of the game) is to choose one of three cards available. They affect all competitors equally. They must defend against some unexpected events or in other rounds may instead use some favorable conditions in their favor. Some inconveniences can be avoided by paying a fee or even by your rocket sitting on the surface of the planet. But all other players are affected and must do as the card says. After evaluating and discarding a card, you reveal one new to complete menu for the next round. I will again be a choice of three events.
Now players will be spending precious fuel, placing its cubes on their control panel in corresponding corner of the game board. You will be deciding your speed like this. Fuel cubes remain there even for next rounds and will be moving you forward in inertia, if you do not cancel them out by spending fuel in opposite direction.. Fuel cubes can be placed on any of the six boxes and like this determine not only your speed but also direction. The place, where you put fuel, corresponds to direction, where will the ship actually fly.
If you want to slow down, you have to spend cubes in the opposite direction. At that point, remove pairs of cubes from opposite sections of control panel until there are only on one side. You got your new speed. In the event of a landing, all cubes go away, and you move your ship token in the middle.
When you schedule all your movement, there comes a time for third phase, which is its fulfilment. Direction are now strictly given and players should plan their movement secretly, for example behind their opened palm. For each cube of ignition you can move space ship one step ahead in a given direction. With the right combination of fuel spend, you can move across hexagonal positions on the board any way you like. It’s up to you, in what order you do the actual firings ignitions, in case you have cubes at several positions. The movement is completely arbitrary, but you must follow exactly direction and speed you have planned..
For landing on the planet, you have to move to its current position. Any unspent movement points are lost, just like any other fuel cubes. Position of planet is unchanged from the previous round, because they move after the vessels. You get a reward for landing in the form of landing token of highest point value available. Some of them can be already owned by other opponents.
You can also refuel during landing on the planet. You must sacrifice the entire round to mining, which is very tough decision in the race. Often you have no other option left, because you would have not enough fuel for your next trip.
Map contains also positions, where it is not safe to be. If you want to stop at this point and wait for the next round, it will cost you one shield. And that is valuable asset, because it protects you against unexpected events and can not be repaired in any way. In addition you can burn energy from the shields as a normal fuel towards end of the game, so it’s important to really use them wisely until then.
Of course you may encounter situations, when your ship is destroyed, or perhaps even leaving the solar system. However, if you run out of fuel, its not considered destruction, so be careful how many blocks you have left. In such a situation, ship returns to the last planet it visited and continue race from there.
Before end of each round, you will move planets on their orbit forward to the next position. According to their speed, it always skips a few frames forward. Landed ships obviously move with the planet. Player can thus also go forward outside movement phase. And you can even land on a planet, which moves to the place, where is your rocket.
So players visit one planet after another until only one of them is missing. At that point, they can decide for themself, if they visit the last place in the solar systém or travel back to Earth and end whole game by landing. Why should they visit also last planet? Because they get points for this. All competitors add up their victory points gained for visited planet tokens and fulfilled a secret mission (cards). Player with the highest score is the winner. Beware! Finishing race first sometimes does not mean, you win!
Kosmonauts is a game, that brings space race for planets to your home. You cannot hear chat or buzz around this game and its a bit inconspicuous throughout the starting field of board games published for past year. And believe us, it is a shame, because playing it is so much fun!
The very idea of piloting spaceship and navigate it to the landing on a moving planet must shake every enthusiastic fan of universe. And now imagine, you have total control over, what your rocket does, thanks to excellently thought out movement mechanic. But although you can maneuver it, just like you do in real space, its simple and intuitive. Only with fuel you must handle really carefully not because it is flammable, but because its very rare stuff.
Gaming experience is enhanced by the movement of planets, that will definitely not make your task easier. Hitting them is not easy, because each round they leap forward. Guarantee of success is only good planning early in the game, where you predefine order, in which you would like to visit planets. It is good to calculate it, so that you get your ship moving wiht planet, bringing you closer to the next destination. Kosmonauts somehow resemble Robo Rally, even there is no pushing or killing of enemy robots involved here.
Halley’s comet offers interesting twists, as it can transfer you to different orbit in a second. But as it intersects circular orbits of all planets and their ellipse will make many wrinkles on your forehead, when you will be trying to reach it. Correct estimation of maneuvering needs a very good imagination, just as putting cubes in right control panel does.
And here will stumble many players, who have not this ability of good imagination and spatial planning. Spacecraft maneuvers exactly as you layout blocks. You must be able to transfer desired motion on the board to the control panel. Cubes can be combined to achieve goal always in several different ways and it is up to the player to discover the most effective way.
The game is surprisingly fast, because until the moments, when players land on the same planet, all can play basically at the same time. Thanks to it, everything flows beautifully steady, without hiccups and experience is really pleasant, but tense and nervewrecking at the same time. Its more interesting, when there are more players involved, because it contains more action and chances for you to screw up or on the other side, improve your position.
Kosmonauts is good racing game across the universe, it’s still lacking that something.. And this is the moment for one specialty to enter the scene. If you play Kosmonauts according to the basic rules, you will get only half the fun. For the sake of thrill and player options, official advanced rules (basic is better for learning, after that, we suggest to play the advanced) have been published. But these are not supplied in box. Instead, you must download it from BoardGameGeek: advanced rules for Kosmonauts.
First these rules eliminate influence of a random draw of mission cards. Players can choose two of the four offers they receive and thus have greater control over their plans from the beginning. The game also introduces two types of refueling – only five cubes or full costing a shield cube, bringing more choices to game.
There is less landing tokens on planets, which leads to tougher decisions and more tense race. In basic game, everybody got some points for his landing maneuver, here first and second players take it all. Since then, you have to carefully consider, if you want to land, without any reward. To end the game, you need to visit only four planets (and collect their landing tokens), before you can go home. That’s less, which makes match shorter and more dynamic, and pushes it under 45 minutes.
Advanced game also enhances two and three player matches, where some random planets are set aside. You get no landing tokens for them and you have no obligation on visiting them. But you can stop there to refuel or take a ride for free. This new rule makes play with less players more interactive, with greater chance of intersecting each other’s paths.
Kosmonauts are racing game, where we really love atmosphere and its emphasis on the players planning. Game contains almost no luck using advanced rules and it all depends on the capabilities of opponents. Although there is no real conflict factor in it, race itself is pretty elegant in doing the discords as it is. Experience is guaranteed with great motion planning and constantly shifting planets. If you’re looking for a unique racing game, then do not wait any longer, because Kosmonauts guarantee to let you fly away on wings of fun!
+ incredible feeling of being in a space race
+ unique way of maneuvering your rocket
+ landing on moving planet
+ fuel management
+ advanced rules add more strategy and lower luck
+ variable ending
+ winner is not always the first, who finishes
- advanced rules are not included in the box