Moonrakers Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


The Basics:

  • For ages 12 and up
  • For 1 to 5 players
  • Approximately 90 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Making money is space is surprisingly easy…if you play well with others

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

After space travel became commonplace, men and women looked skyward for opportunities to get rich and have a better life. Living in space is dangerous, but the pay is good. You’ll find many different types of folks floating around, but none are more dangerous or unpredictable than the mercenaries. Helpers to some and space pirates to others, these individuals take jobs that pay well and don’t much care about the risks. This was the job you were born for and love your work, but there is only so much work to be had. Time to put the competition out of business.

Moonrakers, designed and to be self-published by Austin Harrison and Max Anderson, will reportedly be comprised one Armory board, one Dispatch board, five Command Terminal boards, five Ship tokens, 15 “3 Credit” coins, 25  “1 Credit” coins, 37 Ship Part cards, 20 Crew cards, four Hazard dice, 23 Objective cards, 40 Contract cards, and 130 Player cards. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. The provided review copy was excellent, showing what could be the final product, with sturdy boards, thick cards, metal Credit coins, little plastic Ship tokens (that look like different types of ships), and simple – yet impressive – artwork that ties it all together with style.

On the Hunt for Good Money

To set up the game, first have each player take a Command Terminal board and place it directly in front of them. Place any Command Terminal boards not used back in the game box.

Second, take the Player cards and create a starting hand for each player. Each player’s starting hand will include two “Damage 1”, three “Reactors”, two “Shields”, two “Thrusters”, and one “Miss”. Players should take their starting cards, shuffle them, and place them face-down to the left of the Command Terminal board. This is the player’s personal draw deck for the duration of the game. The remaining undealt cards should be placed face-down for the moment and off to the side.

Third, place the Armor board in the middle of the playing area and within easy reach of all the players. The Armory board has space for Credits and cards.

Fourth, shuffle the Ship Part cards and place the deck face-down in the designated “Ship Part Supply” space on the Armory board. Draw the first six and place them face-up in two rows of three cards each next to the Armory board. Now do the same with the Crew cards, shuffling them and placing them face-down in the designated “Crew Manifest” space, but draw only the first three Crew cards, placing them face-up in a row above the previously placed Ship Part cards. Place all the Credit coins in the designated “Vault” space on the Armory board, giving each player their starting two Credits (which is moved to each player’s Command Terminal board).

Fifth, place the Dispatch board next to the Armory board.

Sixth, shuffle the Contract cards and place them face-down in the designated “Contract Board” space on the Dispatch board. Draw the first eight and place them face-up next to the Dispatch board in two rows of four cards each. If any of the drawn Contract cards show a Hazard dice value of “3” or “4”, place these Contract cards at the bottom of the Contract cards deck and draw new ones. Shuffle the Contract cards draw deck again when finished.

Seventh, shuffle the Objective cards and deal three to each player, face-down. Players should review these cards, select two to keep, and pass the one they do not want back to the dealer. The dealer then shuffles the Objective cards again and places the deck face-down in the “Objective Vault” space found on the Dispatch board. The Objective cards kept by the players are kept secret and placed face-down under the player’s Command Terminal board.

Seventh, place the Hazzard dice to one side of the gaming area where all players can reach them, place the previously set aside deck of Player cards in the middle of the playing area (still face-down), and have each player select a Ship token color that matches their Command Terminal board. Players place their selected Ship token on the “0” value space found in the “Prestige” track on the Dispatch board.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who will go first and begin with each player now drawing the first five cards from their personal draw deck to create their starting hand.

Raking in the Credits

Moonrakers is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. When it’s the player’s turn, they are referred to as the “Mission Leader”. A player’s turn is summarized here and broken down into distinct phases.

Note that Objective cards can be completed anytime during the game and must be revealed on the same turn (be it the player’s turn or an opponent’s turn) when the requirements are met. Objective cards will reward the player Prestige points, which are recorded, and then the Objective card is discarded.

Phase One: Plan

The planning phase provides the player with two options.

The first option is to essentially do nothing which is referred to as “Staying at Base”. And while this doesn’t sound all that exciting, it’s an option player will be taking for strategic and tactical reasons as the game progresses. Plus, it always gives the players something to do when they feel stuck. When a player stays at the base, draw two Objective cards (keeping one and returning the other), collect one Credit, and then discard all the cards in their hand, drawing a fresh hand of five cards. The player may, if they so wish, discard one Contract in the row and replace it with a new Contract. The player now moves directly to the third phase of their turn (Buy), skipping the second phase (Execute).

The second option is much more interesting and involved. The player selects one face-up Contract card and places it directly in front of them. This represents a mission the player will attempt to complete. Contract cards come in four different thematic types. These include daring rescues, your standard delivery service, killing other space pirates, and exploring the vast unknown reaches of space. Each Contract card shows the number of Prestige points to be won, the credits to be earned, and the bonus cards to be collected if the Contract is successfully completed. Also shown are the number and type of Player cards needed to complete the Contract and the level of risk (noted by Hazzard values).

And here is where it gets interesting…

Most of the Contracts available to the players are near impossible to complete if you want to go solo. This is intentional as the game designers wanted to include a semi-cooperative element into their gameplay. If the Mission Leaders want, they may now discuss a temporary alliance with an opponent. Any opponent can be asked for assistance and there is no limit to the number of players in the alliance. If an alliance is formed, the Mission Leader and their temporary partners now decide how to divide up the “loot”, which can be any breakdown of the to-be-won Prestige, Credits, and bonus cards. The players should also discuss how many of the Hazzard dice each player will be responsible for. Thematically speaking, the more Hazzard the player elects to take, the higher their odds of not getting much of a payout. Keep this in mind when making deals. Long story short, everything is negotiable. Have fun with it.

A quick word of caution: while alliances should be honest and cooperative, the rules allow you to be dirty and a backstabber. Honesty is a good policy, but there is no penalty for a player being dishonest about what they will provide, short of not being trusted for the rest of the game. Which is not a good strategy unless you really like losing, Mr. McLoserPants.

Phase Two: Execute

Once the Contract has been selected and any alliances formed, it’s time to get to work. The first thing to do is to determine how dangerous the job really is. This is done by rolling the number of required Hazzard dice. Each Hazzard die could provide up to two hazards, which are blocked by Shields. The number of dice rolled by each player should have been negotiated during the previous phase. Whatever values are rolled are on the player to avoid with no impact on their other alliance members.

Attempting to complete the selected Contract is little more than playing the right cards, but of course, this is not as easy as it sounds. Players start the game with only one action and that is “play a card”. And then they are done. However, each card in the player’s hand (except the “Miss” card which is considered trash) provides the player with a bonus.

  • Reactors provide bonus actions and complete Contract requirements
  • Thrusters provide bonus cards and complete Contract requirements
  • Shields block hazards (1:1) and complete Contract requirements
  • Damage helps complete Contract requirements (and nothing else)
  • Crew cards (a special card to be purchased during the next phase of the game) provide special abilities and complete Contract requirements

Starting with the Mission Leader, each player plays as many cards as they can to contribute to the Contract completion requirements. All cards played contribute to the Contract, even if they are played to “block” something. After all the players in the alliance have gone, it’s determined if the Contract is successfully completed. If it is completed successfully, the players divide up the “loot” per their previous agreement. Any hazards not blocked by a Shield reduce the player’s overall Prestige by one (and only the player who rolled the Hazard die that couldn’t block said hazard), meaning a player could not obtain any Prestige and even lose some during this phase. Which sucks. Feels bad, bro.

All players who were in the alliance now discard their cards and draw five new cards. The completed Contract card (successful or not) is discarded and a new one is drawn.

Phase Three: Buy

Time to spend that hard-earned Credit! Players can purchase upgrades to their ship by spending Credits to collect available Ship Part cards and hire on an elite team of bad-ass space bandits by purchasing Crew cards. The cost of each is displayed on the card, which is paid from the player’s Command Terminal to the Vault. Only four Ship Parts can be attached to a player’s ship at a time, but the player can drop the old ones for new ones without penalty. Newly acquired Ship Parts come into play immediately. Newly acquired Crew cards are placed in the player’s discard pile.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in the turn order sequence now takes their turn, becoming the new Mission Leader.

King of Space

The game continues until a player earns 10 (or more) Prestige points at the end of their turn, which is again possible through completing Contracts and Objective card requirements. Since it’s very possible that some players will finish with the required number of Prestige points at the same time, ties are broken by adding the total value of a player’s ship. This is done by adding the values of collected Ship Parts, Crew, and Credits which results in the player’s overall “net worth”. The player with the highest net worth is victorious.

To learn more about Moonrakers, visit the game’s website or the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks really enjoyed Moonrakers, finding the rules to be easy to grasp and the gameplay engaging. According to one Child Geek, “The best part of the game is helping others as often as you can so you can get ahead.” Very true! The Child Geeks jumped at every chance to help their opponents, knowing full-well that there were rewards to be won by doing so. Another Child Geek said, “I like how you can customize your ship and crew, making your ship different than any other ship.” The “build your own ship” component to the gameplay was greatly discussed and debated during our games with the Child Geeks, with some of the players going off to another table to design the best ship after the games were over. When all the games were completed and the various theory-crafting discussions on best crew/ship mix to obtain concluded, the Child Geeks all agreed to give Moonrakers their approval.

The Parent Geeks were also impressed, stating that the game had real appeal for casual gamers and more aggressive gamers in equal measure. According to one Parent Geek, “A great mix of deck building and player interaction. You could win the game by just completing Objectives, but that would be boring. The real fun is working with others – but to a point.” This Parent Geek nailed it. You can win the game by going solo, but that is a lonely and slow road. Helping others helps you get ahead, but you don’t want to help too much. Another Parent Geek said, “Easy rules and fun gameplay. This is the kind of game I would expect to introduce to new players who I want to get hooked on the hobby.” Another good point. The game’s depth of play can be very deep, but it never drop-kicks the players into the deep end. You can work your strategies from the shallows or go diving for more exploration. It worked for everyone and the result was a full endorsement from the Parent Geeks.

The Gamer Geeks found Moonrakers to be fun and simple. Not “dumb simple”, but creatively and systematically simple. Which, yes, sounds somewhat negative, but that wasn’t the case. According to one Gamer Geek, “There are more complex deck-building games around and this game reminds me a bit of Munchkins with some of the player choices and gameplay, but I have to say, I really enjoyed it.” Another Gamer Geek said, “At first the game felt like it was too formulaic. You know, really predictable. But when you add in the needed element of begrudgingly working together and the ability to update your ship, you have a game that kept me busy and entertained. Good stuff.” The Gamer Geeks all agreed that Moonrakers was doing little that was new and also decided that they didn’t much care. The game was found to be solid, challenging, and entertaining. The Gamer Geeks voted to approve.

Moonrakers is your quintessential deck-builder. Players start with the same advantages and disadvantages, and through conquest and smart plays, increase their efficiency. Instead of “building a machine” (which is something I hear many players state when they describe a deck-building game), you are building a ship. And with that comes the responsibility of outfitting it with crew and parts. In the process, you collect more cards and get rid of others. The player can never take on “more” than what is available. That is to say, players can only ever complete one Contract per turn. What does improve is the need for help from others. This is where I really enjoyed the game. The need for assistance can be reduced, but never fully removed from the gameplay. However, as the game progresses, how much you need a helping hand is only slightly reduced. This is a solid semi-cooperative that will keep you working with the very people who are also working against you from start to finish.

Which is great, because at the start of the game, you need all the friends you can get. As the game progresses, those friends start to become bitter rivals. And this is the only aspect of the game I hope is further explored in possible expansions. I think the game needs more “take that” player interaction. We are space pirates for goodness sake! I should be able to shoot some hot laser death at my opponent from time to time to keep them in check. Instead of taking potshots, all a player can do is lie to an opponent when making an alliance or flat-out reject their requests for help. Both are pretty passive-aggressive and dick moves. Which isn’t something I much care for, but I tell you true, it works and works well.

Overall, I enjoyed Moonrakers and would be happy to add it to my collection. I’d categorize the game as casual, as the gameplay never felt intense and the level of play never reached a depth where I was seriously thinking through my next move to a point where my brain hurt. It did keep me occupied (happily) and I enjoyed the level of player interaction, finding the real challenge of the game focused more on relying only on myself versus others. Which is near impossible, but a fun goal. Do try Moonrakers when the opportunity permits to see if this game blasts off at your gaming table or is nothing but space junk.

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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