Space is a dangerous place to live. You’ve got alien invasions, comet storms, and deadly radiation around every corner. As it turns out, the walls of your spaceship feel very, very thin when you think about how deadly that vacuum out there truly is.
But now is no time for contemplating the dangers of space on an intellectual level. Your ship is falling apart, there’s a black hole about to rip open space/time, and your only hope of survival is to keep up with the cascade of system failures, all the while dealing with deadly anomalies.
So pass me that Holospindle, oh and the Fluxloosener Inducer, whoever has it! This is Spaceteam, and we’ve got a ship to save!
How It Plays
Whatever your mission was before, the only thing that matters in Spaceteam is putting your ship back together, and it seems that it is falling apart at the seams. Literally the moment you fix one system, another system breaks, and some joker down in accounting dotted some T’s instead of crossing the I’s, so you only have one set of tools on board. It’s a race against time before your ship falls apart completely, leaving you for dead. But, if you can repair all the malfunctions and get your main systems back online, you have a chance of surviving. Maybe.
So, here’s how it works: everyone’s got a stack of Malfunctions and a hand of Tools. You’re all experts, so when something breaks you generally know exactly what you need to fix it, or at least you know what it looks like.
The timer starts, and chaos ensues. Facing one malfunction card at a time, you’ve got to get all the necessary tools and play them next to the Malfunction card so you can flip it facedown, but like I said you’ve only got one set of tools between the lot of you. That means a lot of shouting to the other crew members as to what you need. Sometimes, you remember distinctly that it’s the Quasipaddle that you need, but then the pressure caves in and you know the tool you’re looking for looks somewhat like a large purple comb with a hamster wheel at the end of it but you can’t for the life of you remember what its called. Either way, you need it. It’s a big ship, so you’ll need to pass tools only to the adjacent players to get them across the table to Kevin who should really have thought of that forty seconds ago.
As soon as you have all the tools you need, you flip your malfunction face down, pick up your tools, and… immediately deal with another malfunction.
Except, sometimes, something much worse happens. You might get sucked out of the ship, and the two closest people have to pull you back in. You might learn you’re a robot and you only have two robot fingers on each hand to work with. You might hit a gravity distortion that throws everyone out of their seats. These are Anomalies.
If you are very, very lucky, you might actually fix a primary system. All you have to do to fix one of those is shout that it’s ready to go, and place the card at the center of the table. You must have fixed it when you repaired those other 17 malfunctions, but guess what? Malfunction number 18 is blowing up in your face right at this moment.
When all 6 Systems Go cards are on the table and arranged correctly, congratulations! You’ve fixed your ship, and you might make it home. Unless you get hit by another asteroid or alien attack or run into another burgeoning black hole. In any case, you’ve won the game. If, however, the time runs out, you are all dead and sucked into a black hole and no one will ever know what really happened to you.
Givin’ It All She’s Got, Captain?
If you’ve ever watched a science fiction show involving a space ship of some kind, you’re familiar with this scene: the brilliant engineer is crippled or otherwise occupied, forcing someone with no expertise to follow the engineers techno-babble instructions to hilarious effect. “Open the port jet control,” Kaylee says to Jayne, “Cut the hydraulics.” Of course, Jayne has no idea what she’s talking about. What’s a press regulator anyway?
“Horizontal boosters…! Alluvial dampers…! Well that’s not it. Bring me the hydrospanner!” says Han Solo, frantically trying to repair the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive in the middle of a battle.
Well now you’ve got the chance to be the genius engineer, fixing broken (and mysterious) systems at a record pace all while, shouting unintelligibly at your friends to hilarious effect.
This frantic co-op definitely keeps you on your toes, playing vaguely like a very streamlined card-game version of Space Alert without the soundtrack. No one has any idea what an X-Throstle or a Arcball Pendulum is, but you’ll soon find yourself shouting at your friends as if these things were the most important thing in the world, and are you sure you don’t have it? You better check again, because I NEED it, and if I don’t get it in two seconds, WE WILL ALL DIE HORRIBLE SPACE DEATHS.
The game succeeds by utilizing this goofiness to its maximum effect, obscuring just how simple the game really is. It’s possibly the easiest set-collection game in the world, except for the fact that no one remembers they have the Centrifugal Disperser in their hand, and everyone just keeps staring blankly at you while you try to describe what looks to you like a film reel with two yellow ears sticking out of it. It’s some kind of charades or Catch Phrase, but everyone’s going at once. Also it’s in space, and you know how I feel about space (I love space, just in case you’re new here).
Because it is so simple mechanically yet so goofy in practice, it’s really very accessible to just about everyone. Since everyone’s shouting at once, it’s hard to feel embarrassed when you’re having trouble describing a funky-looking apparatus, and often your neighboring players can help you demand the attention of the other crewmembers when you’re falling into truly desperate straits. Also, no one can really blame you if you’ve had a particular tool in hand all the while someone has been shouting for it, because it’s so chaotic it’s easy for anyone to lose track of things. The goofiness levels up even further with the switch between text and imagery. You’ll have someone shouting for the Rotomist Container while another begging for the thing that looks like an overinflated unicycle, and they both happen to be asking for the same thing. Some tools are a little more memorable than the others (I’m looking at you, X-Throstle) but it’s so easy even for the simple tools to get lost in the shuffle.
I had a friend suggest that this game would probably be just as fun using normal every day tools since none of us are exactly handy around the house, but I think I disagree. I mean, we all know what a screwdriver is, and there are certainly tools most of us would never recognize. But the made up ridiculousness of the Mezzotackle and the Duotronic Capacitor evens the playing field; no one should get mad at another player for their lack of familiarity with those.
Anomalies server their purpose well; they keep you on your toes, throwing surprises into the mix, but striking a good balance. Their effects are not so powerful that they derail the game (especially with a last-minute poorly timed reveal), but they’re not so boring so as to be inconsequential. The card count is balanced nicely between malfunctions and anomalies, adding just enough plot twists without overshadowing the core experience. In fact, I’d say they do a great job of enhancing the thematic experience of the game.
If this game does have any malfunctions, it’s in the game-ending condition. The 6 Systems Go cards aren’t connected to the Malfunctions at all, which can result in some weird situations. The worst offender is if, in the shuffle, the System cards end up near the stop of the malfunction stacks, the game ends very quickly and without much effort. Since the whole point of the game is to frantically race against time while shouting nonsense at your friends as the clock ticks down to 0, it’s a bit of a letdown to win after forty seconds. This doesn’t feel like you even achieved anything great.
The same shuffling situation causes another issue, and that is that some players might not have a Systems Go card in their Malfunction deck at all. If that’s the case, they might finish their stack and feel like they haven’t contributed anything. Possibly worse, they might realize there are no Systems Go cards in their deck, allowing them to simply ignore their malfucntions and help others. You’re not supposed to look ahead, but the cards are slippery and it just happens.
Basically, it’s just kind of weird that the Systems Go cards are so separate from the Malfunctions. You don’t even need tools to drop the System card in place, you just shout “Engineering systems are go!” and place it in the center. The shouting part is fun, but there’s a disconnect. The game barely even needs the System cards, and you could simply play without them, declaring victory only when every Malfunction stack is cleared. If you want to shout Systems are Go for effect, you can even deal out the malfunction decks, then deal out the System cards to go at the bottom of the stack. Boom!
This mostly matters because, even if there’s a System card at the bottom of every Malfunction deck and you’re playing on the hardest difficulty in the rulebook, the game isn’t particularly hard. It’s hard enough to be fun, but even under those conditions we claimed victory more often than not. This is playing with mostly new players as well, so it’s not like we all got really good with practice. There are ways to increase the challenge – primarily, decreasing the amount of time on your timer – but as written, I’d put it at a medium difficulty. The threat of loss was there, but mostly we were able to beat the time limit, and the effects I mentioned above only served to increase the ease at which we completed our tasks.
Fortunately, the game takes 5 minutes. If you have one lackluster game, you can just play another. It is the nature of games of this weight and style to have a few missed beats, and it’s okay.
Speaking of taking 5 minutes, the game includes a 5-minute sand timer, but I highly recommend using a digital timer. The rules offer a link to a website with countdown tracks of varying length (7 minutes if you’re having trouble, 3 if you feel like a master), and you can always grab one of the myriad of timer apps for your phone. A digital timer that makes a noise when your time runs out is far better for immersion than if someone has to keep an eye on the sand to know when it runs out.
Now that we’re on game components, I have to mention that the cards have a very slick, plastic coating. I do not know if this is intentional or not, but the coating makes cards difficult to keep a hold on, and we’re often dropping them, especially with large hands. In many ways that’s just fine, as it adds to the spirit of the game, but as I mentioned above it makes Malfunction decks hard to keep straight, usually making it possible to see if you have Systems Go cards coming up.
On the other hand, the art direction in this game is perfect. The cards are clear and easy to read, and the tool designs provide distinctive silhouettes, colors, and shapes that are condusive to description and comparison. You won’t get confused by background details or muddy shapes here; players will interpret the imagery different, but that’s just part of the game too. It’s a very clean design that simply works like it should.
Overall, I’d say Space Team is definitely worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fun, frantic co-op for a lot of players. I recommend playing with the full player count – the more people you have, the more fun it is. You just get more chaos, more shouting, and more cooperation is required to succeed.
The game has a nice short learning curve to make it accessible (whereas, say, Space Alert is definitely not easy to teach), a nice straightforward core mechanism that provides a lot of goofy shouting and mayhem, and it plays so fast you’ll be going at it again and again.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Timber and Bolt for providing a review copy of Spaceteam.