One Sentence Synopsis: If you’re going to wheel and deal in this galaxy far far away, you’re going to need some good organizational skills.
Update: Far Space Foundry successfully funded, and will deliver to backers with the Ether Ore expansion, and METAL COINS!
This month has seen an unusually high volume of high-quality Kickstarters. I’m currently backing 8 projects which is more than I think I’ve had backed at any other time, and there are more I wish I could back but finances simply don’t allow for it. With one exception the games I’m backing are from smaller publishers, all of which rely on Kickstarter to get their games on the shelves and to people’s tables; these projects contribute significantly towards the expansion and evolution of the hobby, and it makes for a very exciting time for those of us who enjoy board games and helping others bring their visions to life. For indie studios, however, this month is probably a mixed bag: just because there are a huge number of worthwhile projects our wallets as consumers don’t expand, and we’re forced with difficult decisions on which creations we’d like to receive most. Having played an online version of Far Space Foundry, I’m writing today to tell everyone a bit about the game and to explain why I think it should be at the top of your backing list.
Far Space Foundry is a game designed by Dan Manfredini and published by Terra Nova Games. It seats 1-4 and plays in roughly 20 minutes per player. The playtime for this one is spot on, and my 3-player game with Justin Schaffer from Terra Nova and another backer named Stephen took almost exactly one hour. The rules are extremely intuitive and easy to pick up; we had each read the rule-book ahead of time game-unseen, and yet still managed the game’s exact stated playtime with very minimal interruptions for rules clarifications. The longest amount of learning is spent not on gameplay mechanics but on becoming familiar with the iconography on the boards and various special pilot cards, but even that does not take long and there are few enough of them that they’re generally easy to remember.
If you’d like to read the game’s full rules Terra Nova Games has made them available from the game’s Board Game Geek Page here, along with full-art print and play files if you are so inclined to try the game yourself.
Setup is easy: the central docks, card docks (cantina for pilots, and product module), player warehouses, ability module, and dock master modules are all placed in the middle of the table on their “A” sides. Alien pilot and freighter cards are shuffled and put in their slots at the top of the board, and a number of product cards are randomly selected and placed at the bottom. The game tokens, including shuttles and the two types of asteroid ore, are set next to the board, and each player receives one credit, their starting deck of six pilots(plus commander), their starting freighter card, and 3 ore in their warehouses. Each player then takes their commander card into their hand and draws two pilot cards to start the game.
There’s a lot going on in this game, and in order to really relay effectively how strategic Far Space Foundry is I’d like to briefly run through scoring before actually giving a rules overview. Keep all this in mind when reading the rules. Players receive the following points at the end of the Beta stage for resources in their freighters at the end of that stage: 1 per ore type from Foundry Alpha, a number of points per product determined by the randomized product cards, one point per “charged” product, and one point for each different type of good. Players also receive one point per credit left at the end of the game. If players have an empty space in a freighter, they take negative two points. Freighters that were not upgraded at Foundry Beta are also worth negative two points. Click the image to the left for a much larger representation of the scoring sheet.
The game takes place over an Alpha and a Beta stage with players taking turns playing one pilot card from their hand, and choosing to move shuttles either to or from the space foundry. Each pilot card has a number(or in the case of one shown above three numbers) indicating which docking bay they will attempt to dock in first. If the docking bay is already occupied, the pilot will dock in the next open docking bay moving clockwise around the central hub. The shuttle’s “transport capacity” increases by one for each docking space bypassed. When first moving into the docks, this dictates how many ore players are able to move from the asteroids to their warehouse. For example, if the pilot card played was a seven but there were already shuttles docked in bays seven, eight and one, the pilot would land in docking bay two and have a transport capacity of four.
Although it may seem like the strategy would be to simply play the card that nets you the most capacity, players must balance capacity with landing in bays that allow them to take whichever one of the three actions they require. These include the processing plant (circular arrows) to turn one red Rubion and one blue Skyrite ore into a purple Galactium token, the Galactic Traders (planet) which allows the player to sell a Rubion for two credits, or visiting the cantina(beer mug) to recruit pilots which will give them a new pilot card(i.e. extra action) with a special ability, and potentially a new freighter so they can take more goods to Beta phase and possibly score more points at the end of the game. Once per stage players may also opt to spend a credit to forcibly vacate a shuttle from its dock prior to playing a pilot.
Leaving the station to ferry ore up to a waiting freighter is similarly done by playing a pilot card, but it’s done in reverse effect: the pilot attempts to leave from their designated docking bay, but if there is no shuttle they count clockwise until reaching the next occupied bay to determine how many goods from the warehouse can get transported, and which action they’re allowed to take before actually undocking.
Actions must be taken with a great deal of forethought since the first collection phase of the game sets the stage for the second manufacturing phase. Product cards are revealed at the beginning of the game, each requiring a different type and number of input ingredients to produce finished goods for scoring. Planning which products you’re going to aim for once reaching Far Space Beta, the manufacturing facility, is essential for directing actions while visiting Far Space Alpha. Other people, of course, may have the same idea about what they’d like to produce, leading to some great opportunities for blocking and, accompanyingly, the need to stay flexible with your strategy and to sometimes make the most out of hard-knock situations.
Once all players have used up their pilot deck the entire board flips to side B, revealing Space Foundry Beta where players will turn any ore they were able to carry in the freighters into products. Resources left in their warehouses from Foundry Alpha are lost, but any extra pilot cards acquired during Alpha are added to the player’s deck as long as they have a freighter of that color.
The second stage proceeds exactly the same way as the first stage of the game so there are no extra mechanics to keep track of, but now players attempt to shuttle materials from their freighters to the station for manufacturing into one of the products from the cards placed at the beginning of the game, and then get those products back to the freighters for final transport(scoring). Each of the product cards lists what is needed for manufacturing, so players are able to plan their ore acquisition according to what they think they’ll need at Foundry Beta to produce the goods they need while still filling up their freighter and maybe keeping some ore held back for extra points.
The actions spaces in Foundry Beta update to reflect this change in venue and purpose, and players vie for use of the manufacturing plant which can turn raw materials into finished products, the charging station to charge one or more manufactured products, or the freighter upgrade spaces which let them either gain a credit or “upgrade” one of their ships. Though upgrading freighters won’t increase their capacities, it does mean those ships won’t cost points at the end of the game.
Far Space Foundry is elegant in its simplicity, yet robust in its capacity to generate elaborate game-long strategies and important decisions. The options available to you as a player change with every single pilot that’s played, forcing players to adapt and potentially make the best of a situation that has turned against them. This is Far Space Foundry’s worker placement mechanic shining through, but the competing elements of needing either open or used docking bays, and of still potentially needing a specific space to take the desired action, add entirely new strategic dimensions into the mix.
Hand management is also key to success. Players must balance the use of specific pilots since once the cards are used up the stage is over; should you perhaps expend your versatile “1,2,3” pilot or Commander, whose value changes depending on a dice, to take a needed action, or are they best saved until later to give you more options? On top of those decisions you’re managing resources trying to acquire exactly what you think you’ll need to manufacture and charge the most effective spread of goods for final scoring. But wait, regular ore is worth points too…in fact, they help out with 2 scoring mechanics. Do you hold some back to go for the bonus points? Do you go all-out for high-value manufactured products, raw-ore be damned? But what will that mean for your end-game freighter capacity?
And here, we reach a mechanic I haven’t seen anywhere else: a mechanic Dan and Terra Nova Games are aptly calling “Spatial Management.” Almost every element of this game that scores you points has limited space. Your warehouse has limited space. Your freighters have limited space. It might seem like filling them up would be child’s play. Like you’d be itching for bigger, better freighters to haul your things off to the Federation’s front lines and that the only thing anybody would ever want to do in Foundry Alpha is get ore, and recruit as much as possible to get more freighters. And yet, there’s that nagging little scoring mechanic where if a freighter is not upgraded at the end of the game it loses you two points, and if it has even ONE slot empty it loses you another two points. To give you an idea of how HUGE that is, the scoring for our game was right around 20 points, and we each only received one -2 infraction. Recruiting too many freighters and being unable to fill or upgrade them has serious consequences, so the entire game players have to have a sense of spatial awareness that drives and influences all of their actions.
With all of the tactical decisions players make each turn, it’s easy to overlook the extreme role game-long strategy plays throughout Far Space Foundry. Having a solid plan in the first phase and executing well is essential to having any chance at performing well once you reach Space Foundry beta. The game can seem a little deterministic in this sense since a player can essentially take themselves out of the running by getting trounced at Far Space Alpha, but Far Space Foundry makes no apologies, and I don’t really think it should. It’s refreshing, in fact, to see a game outside of heavy euros decide it doesn’t care about spending time implementing catch-up mechanics for people who got it wrong early in the game, and to instead focus on making sure players have a plethora of important options at their disposal, and ways they can adapt to changing situations, to ensure anyone paying attention stays competitive. Keep this in mind when making your purchase decision- Far Space Foundry is a game you need to pay close attention to because it will bite you if you turn away for too long; if you feel like it’s the game’s responsibility to pull lagging players back up by their flight suit straps then you’re going to have issues here.
I can’t comment on the components themselves since I played an online version (which, by the way, was outstanding…I wish there was some way for it to be made more widely available), but I can say I absolutely adore the art here. The entire game has a very retro feel like I’m looking at an old Sci-Fi movie poster with ray guns and ships with Thunderbird-style tail wings, and it just works very well. The iconography is well done. Unlike some games where you have to consistently look at the manual to remember which symbols mean what, players should have a firm understanding of Far Space Foundry’s after seeing the symbols only once. Some of them, in fact, are so intuitive I knew what they did before I was even told. The main actions themselves for Alpha and Beta Foundries are also laid out right on the game modules, so if you ever forget what an action space does the answer is right in front of you. Speaking of the modules, the game’s board is also just very cool. I haven’t seen a completely modular board like this where the entire thing flips midway through the game, and the idea of the central hub(docking bays) is also unique to my mind; it’s not a roundel, so I’m not sure exactly what to call it. A cog? 😉
COG Takeaway: The amount of game in this hour-long experience completely boggles my mind. There are strategy titles that last over two hours that don’t come anywhere near to Far Space Foundry in terms of the choices and mental exercise provided. And yet, the game doesn’t have a rulebook that reads like a novel. It literally took me 10 minutes to learn the game and understand what I needed to do. It’s a light game rules-wise, but a heavy experience strategically, and one that doesn’t apologize for holding players responsible for their performance throughout the game. If you like worker placements, if you like hand management, or if you want to try something completely new that adds a whole angle of spatial management, Far Space Foundry‘s innovative design makes it one worth looking into.