Space is vast. Just maybe not as big as you’d like. You’re trying to scrape by, moving cargo from planet to planet, hoping to keep your ship running and ragtag crew paid. But as you take one job after another “with no questions asked,” the central government keeps breathing down your neck, making life difficult. It’s bad enough they haul your crew off for “interrogation.” Now it seems you picked up some mysterious cargo on your last gig and it may be too much for you to handle. At least there aren’t any Reavers…
How to Play
Space Movers 2201 is a cooperative, sci-fi adventure game set in the distant future (I forget which year). As crewmembers aboard the Serenity Liberty led by its dashing captain, Mal Eli, you’ll jump from system to system delivering questionable cargo while trying to achieve various objectives – all while evading the oppressively watchful eye of the Alliance Universal Oversight.
Okay, so I tease a little with the Firefly references, but there seems little doubt this design is influenced heavily by the cult series. The game board depicts the various planets and/or systems you can travel to – a mixture of real names and ones totally made up. It also depicts your ship, the Liberty, with its various sections. These amount to actions you can perform during play. There are also two meters to track both the Universal Oversight’s (UO) watchfulness and your vessel’s resources, generally representing the things you need to stay flying.
Players choose a crewmember with unique skills and abilities, and alternate turns following a specific course. First you draw a card which might be a cargo contract, an event, UO activation or a reaction card. You may also move your character standee to any location on the Liberty and also jump the ship to an adjacent planet, if you wish.
Then you take one action listed on the board or on a card. If on the board, you must be in the specific ship location to resolve its specified task. Otherwise, you can pick-up and deliver cargo – as long as you’re on the planet listed on the contract card. Or you can attempt to resolve one of the objective, event or UO cards on the board via a skill check.
Skill checks set Space Movers apart from other titles in the genre. Giving it a role-playing vibe, most of the critical tasks require a skill roll. Resolving an action aboard the Liberty does not require the test. There you can perform a variety of functions like jumping to an additional system, healing injured crewmembers or using a drone to deliver cargo. Picking up and delivering cargo likewise is a simple matter. However, if you want to get the UO scout ship off your back, address major events or, more importantly, pass an objective, then you need to roll for it.
Each test requires a set of two to five skills to pass, the average being three. Many of these are specific to a certain character. Players have a 10-sided die in the color corresponding to their character’s unique skill. So you roll your own die anytime that skill is needed (if the character is not in play, then the active player rolls the die). In addition to a specific skill, these tests will also call for general strength and/or intelligence which everyone possesses. In that case, the active player – who can only roll his own die once per check – will call on his shipmates to help out.
The actual roll is also unique and exciting. You don’t just roll the dice, check the results and move on. Instead, the active player determines in which order everyone participating in that particular check rolls their dice. Then the team proceeds one at a time. To pass, all dice must be five or higher. The first person rolls inside the box lid. If it’s a failure, no worries. The next person goes and, if she’s a good aim, can whack the failed die at the same time in hopes of improving its original result! Everyone proceeds in this manner hoping to throw successes and thwack previous failures. Even after all the skill dice have settled, the active player has one final chance to change any failures to successes by chucking in a blank 6-sided die.
That process can prove difficult because often times the shipmate with the requisite skill needed to pass a test will be in jail. Anytime the UO scout ship reaches the Liberty’s location, there is a high chance they haul some one off for interrogation. While under questioning, that character can no longer contribute to tests. You have to jump to UO headquarters and bust them out…by passing the necessary skill check, of course! Likewise, you can be injured during a test by rolling the medical symbol. While injured, you cannot aid your crew in encounters until healed.
After resolving your action, you end your turn with a quick clean up phase. You’ll drop the ship’s resource marker down one on the track. If the UO scout ship is on the board, it moves one space closer in the Liberty’s direction. Finally you discard down to five cards, if necessary.
There are three ways to lose. If you run out of ship’s resources or the UO’s presence grows too strong, you’re life as a smuggler comes to an inglorious end. Likewise, there are some cards that may spell disaster if you cannot resolve them in time.
If you manage to complete five objectives before those three conditions, you’ve successfully evaded the UO, cemented your legacy as one of galaxy’s most notorious movers and earned the right to proudly wear
that browncoat those space wings!
One More Run? Or Everything Must Go?
Space Movers 2201 has some built in appeal thanks to its science-fiction theme and similarities to Firefly. And it’s actually pretty straight-forward, though I hesitate to call it a gateway. For cooperatives, the best introduction remains Forbidden Island. But this is a nice second step. And as mentioned, its skill check element sets it apart from other titles in the now crowded genre in a way that’s both unique and a blast to play.
I’ll just start with that mechanic because it’s central to the design and brings two critical aspects. One it creates lots of excitement. It’s already fun rolling dice to resolve conflict, battles and obstacles in general, as is the case here. However, Space Movers tacks on the ability to change the results by actively whacking failures! That dexterity component amps up the drama as now you’re not only cheering for lucky rolls, but skilled ones, too. Taken too far, it might have come off kitschy or gimmicky. Instead, allowing each player only the one chance to help out their friend before them is a nice touch. Great rolls can be thrilling enough. Changing previously bad results to success with careening cubes will send your party through the roof!
Beyond the charm, this mechanic also solidifies Space Movers’ cooperative nature. One common drawback to the genre is the so-called ‘Alpha Player’ in which one individual sort of takes over, instructing everyone else on their moves and dominating decision-making. That flaw can certainly play to effect in this design. However, the skill checks ensure that everyone will be contributing to the team in some manner. Because only you can roll your skill die! You’re quite literally working together, which I gather is the whole concept behind cooperative designs in the first place! This aspect, then, is pure genius.
Now, the skill checks won’t always be candy and roses, of course. Despite the excitement and skill of it all, you’re going to fail many. Even if you’re a great shot and can whack dice like marbles all night long, there is still a high degree of randomness. And in order to pass a check, every dice must be a 5 or higher. So you and your crew will often stall at critical moments and experience your share of setbacks. No one said this would be easy. And anyone familiar with RPG’s and story-driven games will be quite familiar with such failure.
Besides, you’re all in it together. Another little element that augments its coop nature is the fact that you may be active in another player’s turn. Aside from rolling your specific die in a skill check, you can also lend reaction cards. These are helpful boosts which can affect rolls or increase cargo payouts. If you hold any, they may only be played during another’s turn, so you must be invested in the game at all times.
Individual skill dice also ensures a good measure and balance in variability, further enhanced by each character’s cards. Roles are fairly common in cooperative games and the ship’s crew fulfills that function here. Each character has a couple of unique attributes or abilities in addition to their particular skill die. This gives players a sense of individuality within the team. Something they can contribute to the mission’s overall success, aside from just rolling a die. It will also generate replay value as you can experiment which characters to combine and test which best complement each other.
The pick-up and deliver mechanic is heavily integrated with the cooperative and story-driven elements. Those familiar with the category will recognize this facet as pretty standard. It is simple and straight-forward. Interestingly it brings both a pro and con to the design. It works very well mechanically. While you’re working towards a greater and more mysterious goal overall and trying to avoid the UO with every sly maneuver you can muster, you also have to soldier on with those mundane everyday jobs to keep gas in the tank and bills paid. The cargo cards represent that. On the other hand, they can get repetitive and often sidetrack you from more climactic paths. Essentially, they don’t get you any closer to victory – just keep you from losing. Alas your resources dry up fast, so you’ll need to persevere through the drudgery, too.
Another element that sidetracks you is that pesky Universal Oversight. Just like cargo delivery and resources, the UO are constantly vying for your attention and detouring you from the main task – resolving objectives. This plight bears out in two ways, both important to keep a handle on. If the UO watchfulness meter gets too high, it can make challenges more difficult to pass by hampering skill checks. And if it reaches a certain point, then you lose automatically. Second, every time the UO scout ship reaches your location, one of your members are ingloriously hauled off to interrogation. While there, you don’t get the benefit of that character’s skill die. Which means you need to take a little diversionary trip to bust them out. You can spend an action to get the scout ship off your back – provided you pass the skill check, of course. And you can spend four ship’s resources to lower the UO watch track – kind of a steep price, but perhaps necessary. Either way, the UO is the source of the design’s tension and applied to good effect. Mechanically, it works the same as cargo cards. They distract you from your main goal. However, thematically, it builds more excitement and adventure than the more mundane pick-up and delivery.
Space Movers certainly shines as a cooperative experience for larger groups. I wasn’t able to play with six or seven, but it kept five players fully invested the whole game. While there is the chance you’ll be active during another teammate’s turn, that won’t always be the case, and so adding a sixth and seventh crew member would definitely increase downtime. And I felt we got enough variety of special abilities from using five different characters to provide plenty of options and interesting scenarios. You might be lacking in that regards with only two or three, but then it would move at a faster pace, too. Still, the larger the group the greater in the spirit of this design.
Space Movers 2201 brings some roguishly fun sci-fi action to the table. With a mish-mash of homages to our favorite space operas – and a very strong affinity to one in particular – this design offers action and adventure in a tight package that keeps players engaged and staying on target. It may not be terraformingly ground-breaking, but it has a few moving parts that blend smoothly and render something a little different. All in all, most people will pick things up at light speed and be having a blast from jump.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank KnA Games for providing a review copy of Space Movers 2201.