Any game set in space is bound to capture my attention, and although this one is a little more euro than my usual tastes, it looked just interesting enough to try out. And I’m glad I did.
Pulsar is a game of… exploration, I guess? Really, you’re just trying to score points through various game-related activities.
The core mechanic of the game is dice drafting. A number of dice are rolled (2 per player plus 1, I believe) and placed in order by value rolled. Players then take turns drafting one die at a time; however, the higher values of dice will require you to sacrifice engineering or initiative points, while lower numbers reward you with extra engineering or initiative points. (Initiative determines player turn order, engineering awards bonus engineering cubes at the end of the round).
From there, players will activate their dice to perform actions. Certain actions require certain die values, but you can always spend dice to move your ship.
When you move, you’ll pass through solar systems, in which you can settle planets. If you end your movement in a solar system, you can claim the bonus on that system. If you end your movement on a Pulsar, you’ll gain control of that pulsar.
Other actions allow you to research technology, which grants you one time bonuses, permanent effects, or end-game scoring bonuses. You can gain modifier tokens to use later to adjust the value of your dice. You can build structures on your pulsars that harness their energy (and gain points!), and you can build other structures that grant you permanent bonuses and points.
There’s a lot going on in Pulsar, and the demo lasted about half the game. The circular board is interesting, and it seemed like there were a huge variety of ways to score points effectively without being too overcomplicated. The iconography seems clean, and my friend who was with me remarked on how much the game just made sense and was easy to learn.
Of all the games I tried at Gen Con, this one felt like it had the most to explore, the most interesting choices paired with enough clever tricks to make you feel smart when you pull off a neat combo. Plus, it’s set in space, so that’s a big sell for me, at least.