14 Oct 2013
First Time Playing: Space Cadets
I was introduced to co-operative games some months ago, and I've enjoyed having the occasional game where either everyone wins or no one does. This game definitely gave a twist on the mechanic, for better and for worse. Because Space Cadets is a game where no one can ride along for free. You play as a crew of a space ship, and each crew member have tasks that have to be completed simultaneously. Each part of a given round is timed very specifically with an hourglass. It's not a game for people who get easily stressed, but for those who can handle it, it can actually be a lot of fun.
As for how newcomer friendly it is, the game sounded complicated when it was explained to me, but as we actually started playing the game, it wasn't too hard. I do recommend playing with at least one player who's already familiar with it, just so you can start with some guidelines on what is a good idea to do and what isn't. It helps that you only have one or two things you need to focus on, and the puzzle challenges are very simple to the core (the challenge is only to complete them in thirty seconds). The timed planning stage sounds like it could get challenging real fast, but my group at least never needed the full time, and even when that stage was restricted by a minute (due to a damage card) we still managed stay on top of things. I can't really think of another game that's similar or would prepare you for this game, so I will just say it's one of those games where you either jump in or you don't play at all.
At the beginning of the game, the eight different tasks need to be delegated between the different players, the game manual suggests suitable combinations depending on how many players are in the game. We played the game with five players and drew randomly what tasks each of us were responsible for.
Each round starts off with a planning phase, which initially is five turns of an hourglass (in the very first round this isn't timed, however), where all players discuss what each of them should do, how the energy should be delegated between the compartments and what areas need to be prioritized in the next round. Then each player prepares for their tasks.
In the third step, there are five tasks being solved simultaneously;
- Puzzling 7 tiles together to allocate energy for the next round
- Combining strings of numbers to strengthen shields on specific sides of the ship
- Blindly matching specific tetris-like pieces to cards to do sector scans, lock on targets, etc.
- Putting down flight cards to program the ship's flight route
- Puzzle together pieces to create specific shapes to build missiles to fire on enemy ships
Then the flight route, the sensors and the shields are resolved. Dice are rolled to determine whether enemy ships will lock onto the player ship, then moved in direction of the player ship if they do, then dice are rolled to determine if they manage to fire successfully. Then one player gets to try and fire missiles back at the ships if they have any. This is done by flicking a disc along a track during one turn of the hourglass.
If the sensors have locked on a crystal, and there has been energy allocated to the tractor beam, a player could attempt to pull in the crystal through trying to match number and shape tokens on a grid (which plays out like memory).
If the ship has taken any damage, another player could try to draw repair cards to fix it, some are successful, others cause damage, so it's best to allocate enough energy so an unsuccessful card may be switched.
Finally, in order for a game to be successful, the players need to manage to pull in all three crystals hidden in space, and then perform a successful jump. The way to do this is to roll five matching dice after the third crystal has been pulled in. The dice can be manipulated by cards that can be earned through throwing specific dice combinations or totals throughout the game. This is done within the turn of an hourglass at the end of the round if there has been any energy allocated to it.
At some point in the game, the ship might get core damage, and when that happens a core repair needs to be resolved to prevent the ship from exploding and thus losing the game. This is done through matching an image to a negative in a deck of cards, and takes place in the regular third step of the game in addition to the other five tasks. Core repair tasks needs to be distributed evenly between the players, so one player needs to match their card before the next one can match theirs and so on. When a player receives the deck, they need to temporary abandon their other tasks until they find a match and can pass the deck on.
It's a very intense game, where success heavily relies on every player pulling their weight, so I think it's important to consider the group dynamic before trying out this game, as well as the stress level of the players. It can be fun, but it can also put some people off. I personally am not someone who enjoys timed gameplay, neither in video games nor in table top games. I really, really hate to be rushed. I understand why it must be this way with this game, and because of that I can enjoy the game, but it will not be part of my collection.