Disclaimer: This review is from a reviewer’s copy of the game that was provided by AEG to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Game: Scorpius Freighter
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Design: Matthew Dunstan, David Short
Art: Víctor Pérez Corbella, Jay Epperson, Matt Paquette
Mechanisms: Card drafting, Set collection, Tile placement, Variable player powers
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Game Time: 45 – 75 minutes
Scorpius Freighter tasks aspiring freighter captains and their crews to amass victory points by picking up cargo and delivering it via contracts and side deals, upgrading their ship with more cargo space and equipment along the way. But watch out for the checkpoints! Your valuable cargo can be confiscated by the oppressive government, and the end game triggered if they take too much.
Players receive a ship board with 16 slots for equipment/cargo tiles (some slots are restricted and cannot be used if players choose the more difficult side of the boards), a cockpit tile with a special ability, starting cargo tiles, and a 4-person crew (set of cards). The board is laid out with a mothership circling each of the 3 planets as well as shuffled cargo, equipment, contract, and side deal tile stacks. Randomly choose the start player and you’re ready to begin!
Each turn consists of the active player sliding 1 or 2 of their available crew up to cover their skill icon and then moving 1 of the 3 motherships that many spaces clockwise around its planet. You then take the action of the space where the mothership stops. Actions can consist of buying cargo/equipment tiles for your ship, picking up cargo, training your crew (which activates their special ability), fulfilling side deals, or starting/working on contracts.
The action selected is performed with varying effectiveness/options based on the number of skill icons currently showing on your crew. Each crew card has 1 skill icon, but crew used to move the mothership are not available and don’t contribute their icon. Your crew is reset to all available if you have 1 or less available crew at the end of your turn, but you have to manage wisely how many you’re using to move the mothership and select your action with how effective that action will then be. Some crew and equipment can modify skill icons available for certain actions.
When moving any mothership, if it stops on or crosses the checkpoint, you’ve been caught! One of your cargo is confiscated and placed in the mothership’s hold (or a cargo from the supply if you have none). This is also the game end trigger: when any mothership has cargo equal to the associated amount for your player count (ex: at 3 players the threshold is 5 cargo) at the end of the round, you play one final round and then the game is over. Points are tallied, which can be acquired from contracts, side deals, and some crew, and the player with the most is the winner!
Rondels feature in a variety of board games, but this is the first game I’ve played that had 3 simultaneous rondels for its action selection mechanism, and it works pretty well. Each of the 3 planet rondels has some exclusive actions on it, and a couple actions are shared across all 3 planets, so it makes an interesting decision point as the game progresses and the motherships start to fill up with confiscated cargo. Do I take the action I really want but hasten the game to its closure by moving a fuller mothership, or do I take a less desired action but have more time in the game by moving an emptier one?
It also means you won’t always know what actions will be available on your turn, especially at higher player counts, which can be fun but can also lead to turns taking longer as you have to re-evaluate your choices based on the new board state after other players have taken their turns. We didn’t have too much trouble with this in our games, but I can see it affecting people that are prone to AP. Lower player counts help offset this as you know that at least one of the ships won’t be moving (since at 3 players only 2 movements are done between your turns) so you can partially plan around that.
I really enjoy this game. I think the design works well and the theme feels like a vital component rather than being pasted on. We played games at 3 and 4 player counts and while the game is definitely longer with 4 players, because you have an extra turn every round, it was just as fun at either count. 4 players was definitely hectic as we were all learning it at the same time, and 2 of us had crews that combo’d for victory points a bit better than the other 2, but everyone still enjoyed it.
The rulebook includes an addendum with more thorough explanations for some of the crew cards and ship tiles in the game, which is good as we had to refer to it a fair number of times as some of the tiles have the abilities really abbreviated in order for the text to fit. The game is very icon heavy, which is good because if you see an icon it always refers to that action and the spaces on the board for each type of tile you can acquire have the same icons, but a couple of them are somewhat similar so it can be difficult to keep them differentiated when first learning the game.
One other thing I like about the game is that there’s no direct confrontation with other players. You aren’t actively sabotaging their efforts or undoing what they’ve done. Instead, it’s more of a race to acquire the tiles you need and amass the most victory points. Someone might take the equipment or cargo tile you wanted, but there are almost always other options available. This may not be enticing for gamers that like active confrontation or being able to attack or mess with other players more directly, but for someone that likes casual and friendly competition this is right up my alley.
Try, Buy, Deny:
I would consider Scorpius Freighter at least a definite Try for most gaming groups. Also, consider the following: space-themed games, rondels, victory point salad-type games, games in space, picking up and delivering cargo, friendly competition/non-direct confrontation, SPACE GAMES. If you like multiple things on this list, then I’d upgrade the rating for this game to Buy for you and/or your group.