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Review: Far Space Foundry

3

Humanity has conquered earth, tamed the seas and taken to the skies. Reaching for the stars was an inevitability. What would will we do when we start colonizing the universe? The same thing we always do: strip it for natural resources and make robots and lasers! Far Space Foundry isn’t about exploring the vastness of space or adventures with alien species. It’s about the dirty work that keeps the galaxy running. It’s about the people behind the scenes, keeping the cogs spinning. It’s about space rocks.

Far Space Foundry is an impressive production.
Far Space Foundry is an impressive production.

How to Play

Far Space Foundry is divided into two distinct halves. In the first half of the game, players will be collecting resources (skyrite and rubion) and building up their fleets of freighters. All of this occurs on Space Foundry Alpha. The second half occurs on Space Foundry Beta where players will try and convert the resources gathered in the first half into goods and upgrade the fleets that they’ve previously amassed. At the end of the game, players receive points for money, resources and goods in their possession and lose points if any of their freighters are not completely full or upgraded. And, as is typical in board games, whoever has the most points is declared the winner.

Game play is much the same regardless of what stage of the game is being played. Players will have a hand of shuttle pilot cards with numbers on them that correspond to a particular docking bay in the space foundry. On a turn, a player will select and play one of their pilot cards and must decide whether that pilot is taking a shuttle to or from the foundry. When sending a shuttle to the foundry, players will be taking resources from an asteroid to their warehouse on Space Station Alpha or from their freighters to the warehouse on Space Station Beta. When sending a shuttle from the foundry, players will be transporting goods and resources from their warehouses on the foundry
to their freighters.

Pilot cards have numbers on them corresponding to the different bays on the foundry.
Pilot cards have numbers on them corresponding to the different bays on the foundry.

If a player is sending a shuttle to the station and the docking bay selected is full, they must move clockwise around the foundry until an empty docking bay is reached. The number of bays tried before successfully docking dictates the carrying capacity of that particular shuttle. So if a pilot tried 3 bays before finding an empty one, the shuttle would be able to carry three resources to the warehouse on the foundry. In a similar fashion, when sending a shuttle from the foundry to the player’s freighters, the carrying capacity is dictated by the number of bays that were checked to find shuttle already in a docking bay.

In addition to sending goods back and forth between the foundry and freighters, every docking bay has a special action associated with it. When that docking bay is activated, that special action can be taken. On Space Foundry Alpha, the special actions include selling resources for money, visiting the cantina to hire new pilots and add freighters to your fleet, and converting resources into other types of resources. On Space Foundry Beta, the special actions include upgrading freighters, using resources to manufacture goods, and charging goods to make them worth more points.

The first half of the game on Space Foundry Alpha ends when everyone has played all of their pilot cards. The cards are then shuffled and new hands of pilot cards are drawn to begin the second half of the game on Space Station Beta where play continues until every players has played all of the pilot cards, thus ending the game.

A shuttle in docking bay 3 of Space Foundry Alpha
A shuttle in docking bay 3 of Space Foundry Alpha

First Encounters

I’ve never been more befuddled by a game than I am with Far Space Foundry. Every initial indication was that it would be a game that I would really enjoy. The physical production is fantastic with beautiful art and smart graphic design. The cards and metal coins feel great in the hand. I’m a sucker for attractive productions. Board games are physical objects that take up space in our homes. They should respect the physical space they take up with high quality components and visual appeal. Far Space Foundry earns its existence as a work of cardboard art, if nothing else.

The pilot and docking bay system is something I haven’t quite seen before and definitely earns some points for originality. The goal of gathering resources and turning them into more valuable things always sends a tingle down my eurogame-loving backbone. Reading through the rules, I could tell that it would be a test of optimization and efficiency. I like those things! Everything was lining up for an enjoyable game. And then I played it and I played it again and I played it some more. Why didn’t I have any fun?

Resources. I like resources.
Resources. I like resources.

I want to like games. I don’t like dedicating multiple hours to a game that doesn’t provide enjoyment. So when I sit down to play a new game, I’m rooting for it to be great. I’m hoping that the potential contained with the box is realized to it fullest and captures my wandering gaming eye. I want the ideas that the author has committed to paper and cardboard to take over my thoughts and run through my mind as I struggle to go to sleep. I want to like games. Unfortunately, I have high standards.

I don’t mean to say that Far Space Foundry is a poor game, only that I know what I like and I know when a game doesn’t provide it. More than anything, I want to feel in control of my own fate. I don’t like feeling as if my destiny is at the mercy of a random number generator. If my victory is thwarted by the calculated actions of my opponents I can accept that. When you play with people, it comes with the territory. But when my progress is hindered “just because” it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

This isn’t a rail against randomness in games. I’m not ideologically opposed to it, though I do tend to steer towards games with low randomness or various ways to mitigate it. And if a game employs randomness, I prefer it to be front-loaded. That is, I prefer to have the randomness occur and I then decide my actions based on those results rather than have the success of my actions decided by acts of randomness (think rolling a die to see you opened a door). Far Space Foundry actually employs my preferred method of randomness: the card draw. You always have a hand of three pilots to manipulate the shuttles around the foundry. But every so often, you have a hand that just doesn’t work for you. It only happened a few times over my time with the game, but it happened enough to frustrate me. You can usually play a pilot card to do what you want in terms of transporting goods even if it means transporting less than what you’d like, but it can be difficult to get a specific docking bay action particularly at higher player counts. You can’t rely on the shuttles being where you need to them be by the time it gets back to your turn. OK, so what? You might have a bum turn every once in awhile. Is that such a terrible thing? Maybe not, but it does highlight my largest gripe with the game: the endgame goods.

End game goods. Why do you taunt me?
End game goods. Why do you taunt me?

During set up, various goods cards will be laid out that will dictate the course of the game. The first half of the game on Space Foundry Alpha has you collecting resources in order to create these goods in the second half of the game on Space Foundry Beta. Not only are these goods worth a big chunk of points, creating them will help you get the right number of items to fill up your freighters and avoid the negative points associated with not having them full at the end of the game. Needless to say, these goods are important and can’t be ignored. The problem is that these goods sit there the entire game, constantly reminding you of what you are supposed to be doing. Every move and every action is scrutinized through the lens of these goods. Will taking these resources allow me to create those goods? Will I have enough money to create the goods that I need?

Ordinarily, having a clear goal for the end game would be a good thing. Having some direction in a sea of choice can assuage any feeling of paralysis. You can use the goods as an in progress check to see whether or not you are headed in the right direction. It’s a build in feedback facilitator. After every action you take you can quickly see if you are closer to accomplishing the goal at hand. It’s a good thing. Or rather, it could have been a good thing.

The mid-game switch from Space Foundry Alpha to Space Foundry Beta is a huge shift and not for the better. Once the game moves into the second half, certain actions and resources are completely cut off from you. It’s an interesting idea that gives the game a sense of place and progress, but it also heralds a point of no return. In the second half of the game, everyone is cut off from gathering resources and freighters. So if you get to the second half of the game and you realize that you are one resource short, tough luck. Every mistake and miscalculation that you committed in the first half is amplified in the second. It’s deflating and demoralizing to know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to rectify your past mistakes. You just have to suck it up and hope your opponents mistakes outnumber your own. And all the while those endgame goods sit there as a constant reminder that your plans didn’t work out exactly as you’d planned.

What’s strange is that I’m usually not one for heavy handed catch-up mechanisms. I believe playing poorly to start a game should hamper your ability to well later in a game. What I don’t like is Far Space Foundry telling me I can’t even try to fix what I did wrong. In most games I can at least take an action to make up for bad choice earlier even if it means giving up some efficiency. Even if it means I’m still likely to lose. In a way, Far Space Foundry isn’t much different from a lot of games that I thoroughly enjoy. Play poorly to start the game and expect to do poorly at the end. Intellectually, I can recognize that it’s no different from other games. But the emotional toll that comes with the transition to Space Foundry Beta and from cutting off my chances to rectify my poor play leaves me crestfallen. It leaves a black cloud hanging over the second half. The goods cards are constant reminders that I’ve messed up and there’s nothing I can do about it. It amplifies the sting that comes with a bad card draw. It’s a cascading events of ill feelings.

The second half of the game takes place on Space Foundry Beta with its own set of special actions.
The second half of the game takes place on Space Foundry Beta with its own set of special actions.

Conclusion

Far Space Foundry is a box of interesting ideas cut at the knees by trying to be too clever. I have no doubt that there will be fans who will enjoy the long term logistics puzzle and aren’t put off by it’s unforgiving nature. I wish I was one of those fans. But I couldn’t get over my feelings of unease and sense of defeat that settled in once the second phase of the game kicked in. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself and I shouldn’t dwell on my past foibles. Perhaps I desire too much control and I need to learn to let go. Perhaps. But I can say for sure is that Far Space Foundry is not for me.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Terra Nova Games for providing a review copy of Far Space Foundry.

  • Lame 5.5
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Summary

Pros

Beautiful art and production
Unique card play system

Cons

Demoralizing finality that comes with the second half transition
Bad card draws compound the feeling of helplessness

5.5 Lame

I love board games. The more esoteric, the better.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this fantastic review, Alex! I remember watching this game last year, but never really read much about until now. Your review was very insightful, and FSF is definitely now on my “must have” list this year.. I’ve got to have those awesome looking space coins! The entire game is so elegantly designed and absolutely beautiful.

    • There are some definite good ideas to be found in the game, but the way the game made me felt wasn’t to my liking. If my problems with the game are not a big deal to you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

      • Thanks Alex, I actually missed the last couple paragraphs when I read to review, so I didn’t catch the cons 🙁 Either way, the game looks really cool but I’ll certainly try and get some more views from others on how the game feels, before I make a final consensus. I appreciate your honesty.

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