In the far future, humanity has discovered a way to manipulate matter on a quantum level. Thanks to powerful quantum generators, starships can be built, morphed into other types of ships, and even recovered from destruction in a matter of moments.
Of course, humanity is not united, and 4 separate factions with their own values and way of life seek to use this quantum technology to expand their influence and take control of the galaxy. How to do this? By building massive Quantum Cubes – the devices that generate the power needed to activate the quantum reconfiguration technology – on as many planets as they can find.
How It Plays
In Quantum, players are tasked with expanding their control of the galaxy by constructing all of their Quantum Cubes. In order to do this they will have to position their ships in orbit around planets, fend off attacks, and destroy opponents’ ships. They can also research and collect powerful cards to upgrade their fleet.
Each player starts with 3 ships, represented by dice. Higher numbers are faster but weaker, while lower numbers are slow but powerful.
On a turn, a player gets 3 actions, and has a number of options to choose from:
- Reconfigure: choose one ship and re-roll it until you roll a different number than you started with
- Deploy: move a ship from the scrapyard into an orbital position over one of your planets
- Move/Attack: Move a ship up to the value of the die (ie a 6 can move 6 spaces). Move into an Enemy space to attack.
- Construct Cube: Spend 2 actions to construct a cube on a planet if requirements are met
- Research: Increase your research die by 1
After taking 3 actions, a player gets to take cards; 1 for each Quantum Cube built on their turn, and 1 if their Research die is at 6.
Now for the exciting part; in addition to the actions, each ship has a special ability that can be used once per turn. The Battlestation can make an extra, free attack. The Flagship can pick up a friendly ship and drop it off after moving. The Destroyer can swap places with any friendly ship on the board. The Frigate can convert to an Interceptor or Cruiser. The Interceptor can move diagonally, and the Scout can reconfigure.
Combat is pretty straightforward: each player rolls a die and adds to their ship value. The lowest total wins, and the attacker wins on ties. When the Defender wins, the attacker is fended, not destroyed, and is simply pushed back out of the space it was attacking. When the attacker wins, the defender’s ship is destroyed. Any time a ship is destroyed, the winner gets to increase their Dominance die by 1, and the defender must decrease their Dominance by 1.
Conveniently, when your Dominance reaches 6 you immediately get to build a Quantum Cube anywhere on the board.
Speaking of Quantum cubes, building them via the Construct Cube has one major caveat; in order to perform that action, you must have ships in orbit around the planet you’re building on, and the ships values must add up to equal exactly the planet value. Once a cube is placed, it can never be removed from the board.
The cards you get are pretty powerful and very useful. One set of cards gives you a permanent upgrade, while the other set gives you powerful abilities that you resolve immediately and only once. These cards might enhance your attack, give you more movement, increase your fleet size, or sabotage your enemies.
As soon as one player builds their last quantum cube, the game ends!
There are a few variants included in the rules, the primary of which is the ability to construct your own galaxies. The standard board is a 3×3 grid of square tiles, but a list of alternate configurations is available to create unique challenges.
I’ll be honest; this game caught my attention because of the window dressing. The art on the cover of the box is beautiful, and it evokes a retro sci-fi charm without feeling cheesy, or like a bad ripoff of Star Wars. Plus, it promised to be a cool space game that played in 30-60 minutes. I love the multi-hour epic galaxy fests, but one doesn’t always have the time to put those on the table (seriously, they take FOREVER to set up), so it’s good to have a shorter option.
Yeah, but then I opened the box and learned the rules (in about 10 minutes) and played, and found out the truth.
The truth is, Quantum is far more abstract than it is thematic; it is not so much broad and epic as it is focused and tightly packed.
The truth is, Quantum is an excellent game. It’s not quite the game I expected, but it more than makes up for it with gameplay that is not just streamlined but engaging and entertaining.
It’s not really “abstract” – I used that word above, but the theme does a good job of giving context to your actions. You’re not just placing dice and moving them across a grid; you’re deploying starships, building Cubes, and activating powers. But this isn’t Twilight Imperium; it’s closer to Pandemic, where the theme helps explain the rules, but while you’re playing you think less about the window dressing and more about how to make your next turn the most efficient. For those who don’t like it when theme results in convoluted mechanisms or bloated rulebooks, have no fear.
What it is, really, is a game with simple rules that still lets you combine your actions, ship abilities, and eventually upgrades to pull off clever moves that make you feel awesome. In the meantime, you’re faced with an intense strategic battle against your opponents; a race to the end goal.
This is definitely an interactive game; you’ll intentionally block the other players, use your ships to destroy theirs, and use up precious slots on the available planets by filling them with your own Quantum Cubes. But it’s not random and chaotic.
The dice, of course, ensure that there is some randomness. While they primarily represent the type of ship you’re using or your level of research, you do roll the dice. When you reconfigure a ship, you generally don’t get to choose what you reconfigure to; you can only guarantee you won’t end up with the exact same ship you started with. Fortunately, each ship is useful in its own right, so an experienced player will rarely get trapped. Most of your decisions happen after the dice are rolled. New players may not know how to effectively use their ships, but a learning curve is not a game flaw.
Combat is also dice-based. But again, experienced players will know to position their ships for defense; they’ll see the enemy approaching. Combat is usually one powerful ship attacking a weaker ship, meaning the result is almost certain, but with the slight chance of upset. Basically, you will lose ships, but that is almost a known quantity that can be incorporated into your strategy. In the meantime, losing a ship is hardly devastating.
The game flies pretty quickly; since no quantum cubes can be removed, the game always pushes forward. A very limited supply of cubes to place means that 30-60 minute playtime is pretty accurate. The game fills the time well and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The upgrade cards add a whole new level of fun to an already exciting game. There are 2 sets of cards you can obtain. One offers a series of one-time powerful abilities that activate immediately, such as adding a new ship to your fleet, boosting your Dominance, or relocating an opponent’s cube. The other set are permanent upgrades that give you more actions under certain conditions, or make it easier to deploy your ships, or improve your ships combat abilities. These upgrades feel pretty powerful. All of them are desirable. Yet they don’t seem to imbalance the game completely.
In one game I played that turned into a tense and drawn out battle for final cube placement, I had a nearly perfect engine of permanent upgrades – I could destroy one ship to gain an extra action on my turn. I could deploy ships from my scrapyard (where destroyed ships go) for FREE. AND I could deploy anywhere on the board, as long as there were no ships adjacent to the space I deployed to. Yet despite this fantastic combination of cards, it was still an uphill battle. My opponent kept getting in my way and blocking me where I needed to be, and she almost took the game from me. It was a close finish.
A big contributor to this balance is scarcity on the board. I can only place one Cube per planet. There’s only one planet per tile, and a very limited number of tiles on the board; as you fill up the board, you’ll be more restricted as to where you can place your next cube, making it easier to block you.
I can’t guarantee that every game will be perfectly balanced. It certainly is possible that one player could gain an upper hand, since you gain upgrade cards when you place a cube, gaining a slight advantage as you pull ahead. But games are short, and it seems in my experience that players close to equal skill should be able to stay neck and neck. There is no “catch-up” mechanism if someone falls behind (other than the limited placements available), but if the divide really is all that great the game will be ending shortly.
This divide is more likely to happen with the basic game setup – a 3×3 grid of tiles. The game comes with a full set of alternative ways to set up the board, and those alternative setups are definitely more fun. Putting corners and dead ends into your galaxy makes strategy all the more important and competition all the more close; blocking your opponents is not just possible, but how you position your ships for defense as well as offense becomes key to victory.
I will offer one word of caution; this game can definitely get “thinky.” With all the ships and their different abilities, the possible actions you can take on a turn are numerous. If you have an AP prone player, you may find them analyzing and re-analyzing every possible move. Players should have the opportunity to think through their turn, but if the game slows down too much it could easily lose its luster.
The game supports 2 to 4 players, and it really does work well regardless of the number. The amount of space available is adjusted based on the number of players, resulting in a tense battle no matter the player count. Sure, there’s a different dynamic between players with different sized groups, but the game is fun and exciting either way. I was surprised when I played with 2 and discovered how tense and interesting the game was; in fact, 2 might be the best (or at least my favorite) way to play.
Components, by the way, are fantastic. The dice are substantially and weighty and colorful . The cardboard is as sturdy as it comes, with a clean graphic design that is easy on the eyes with subtle touches to help players remember rules. The cover art on the box is beautiful and draws players in, but inside the box art is sparse and won’t distract. Player boards are useful, with action reminders as well as slots to organize all your spare pieces and upgrades.
A person on twitter mentioned that they like to use Quantum as a gateway game; I don’t know that I would have thought of it like that, but I could definitely see it working. I also heard someone once say that they couldn’t think of any “ameritrash” or thematic games that were gateway games. Perhaps Quantum is THE thematic gateway game; it represents just about everything a good thematic game should be. It’s got beautiful components, it’s action packed, highly interactive, offers unique powers and abilities, and tosses in some dice for good measure. But at the same time the gameplay is tight and streamlined and wastes no space in the rulebook for clunky theme-based concessions.
Quantum is fantastic game. It’s exciting without being overcomplicated; it’s easy to teach and easy to learn, yet allows players to pull off maneuvers that make them feel clever. It looks beautiful and will certainly attract attention anywhere it’s played, and it works well with 2, 3, or 4 players. It fits into the timeframe promised – 30 to 60 minutes – and provides a substantial, satisfying experience. It’s one of the few games that I play and immediately cry out “Again! Let’s play again!”
In fact I think I’d like to play right now. Anyone up for a game?
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Passport Game Studios for providing a review copy of Quantum.
- Thematic but not bloated
- Beautiful components
- Many interesting, challenging decisions
- Choices matter more than dice rolls
- Cool upgrade abilities
- Streamlined rules that are easy to learn
- Plays quickly
- Plays well with all player counts
- It can slow down for those who like to think through every move
- it's possible for a player who falls behind early to have trouble catching up
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