Moonshot: Preview

Fairway’s been away. In space. Apparently for a few months. He returns from space with this Kickstarter preview of Moonshot, a dice-rolling, space-race game that’s coming to Kickstarter on April 24th.

Moonshot is a three to five player space racing, betting game by Fisher Heaton Games. Players are captains of a team of aliens racing from one planet to a distant moon called, Yutera.  In a twist on the normal race game, players are also betting for (and often against) their own team in hopes of scoring the most points at the end of the game from those bets.  The game is coming to Kickstarter on April 24, 2018.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game mixed some really easy to learn core mechanics with real strategic betting mechanism. This made teaching most of the game easy but introduced new concepts and modern game ideas.
  2. Even for a long game, the game was thrilling to the end.
  3. We realized early on that the bumping mechanism was harsh, but hopefully that’s softened somewhat for production.

How to play ^

In Moonshot, players take on the role of a captain of an alien space racing team. The objective is to score the most points through a combination of activities: getting your fleet of spaceships to the goal and by placing bets on who the actual winner of the game will be.

At the start of the game, players get a role card, a set of space ship pieces, a maneuver card, starting money, and a set of betting tokens. Each captain’s role has a special power that are variously used throughout the game.  The players’ ships all start on a starting planet: Gianrix. Maneuver cards have a one-time usable power that can affect you or your opponents.  Money is earned (sometimes lost) and used as for scoring purposes.

The game is really divided into 12 rounds with two phases: the betting phase and the racing phase.  During the betting phase, players go in reverse point order and place one betting token face down on a betting track. The betting track has one column for each team and two available betting spaces.  Players “bet” on which team they believe will win at the end of the game.  These bets aren’t counted until the end of the game and players can’t bet on themselves until the 6th round.

The race phase is where most of the game happens.  Again, in reverse point order, players take turns moving their ships along the board. To start, players roll a set of special d10 dice with sides that have black and red dots or are blank. In general, you count up the dots and that’s the fuel you have.  The fuel represents the number of spaces you can move one of your ships. There are a few exceptions.  First, if you roll all blanks, you get to move five spaces and you get a bonus roll.  Second, if you roll only one red dot, you move backwards one space.  Finally, if you roll four dots, you get an extra roll.  Whenever a player gets extra rolls, the first roll is stored.  All of the fuel earned on a turn must be spent on that turn.

To spend fuel, a player must move a ship equal to the fuel rolled (or the individually stored fuel). You can’t split fuel rolls among ships. The ships move along colored paths that lead from the starting planet to the Yutera, the final destination.  The board has one main path (the longest route).  Along the main route are various planets that, when landed on exactly, can allow a player to follow a shortcut to the final path.

In addition, each planet the player lands on or passes by earns more money — thus, if you take an early shortcut, you might miss out on points.

Finally, when two ships wind up on the same space on the board one of two things happens. If it’s one of your own ships, you can link them: they move together as a unit rather than separately. If it’s a ship of linked set of ships, you “bump” those other ships back to the start.

The game ends one of two ways: a player gets all their ships across the finish line or 12 rounds finish.  At the end of the game, the bets are added to the players scores.  The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

On the green ^

We enjoyed Moonshot. I don’t like to do comparisons to other games, but it’s going to be hard to escape comparisons to a game like Camel Up — not only is it a roll & move with betting, but it has stacking. The game, though, does stand on its own and in some very important ways.

Roll & Move.  Let me get one thing out of the way: this is no ordinary roll and move game. Whether a player wins or loses has very little to do with any individual roll.  And while rolls are used to advance ships along a path, there’s a variety of ways that this is much more like Camel Up than Monopoly or Sorry!.  Indeed, there is such a large volume of points available via good, strategic betting that whether you win or lose has almost nothing to do with whether you roll well or poorly. The movement along the path is more of a way to advance a plot.

That said, the rolling and the race are an integral part of the game. And much of game does focus on rolling the custom dice and looking for those chances to get multiple rolls. And while points for bets were a big part of the end scores, there’s still a lot to be gained by racking up the points getting your ships to the end. The reality, over 12 rounds of racing with each player moving multiple ships, the difference in any one round between one player’s poor roll and another player’s amazing roll wasn’t too noticeable.

Art & Theme.  The game mat was very well illustrated. We enjoyed the Saturday-morning cartoon feel of the individual race captains.  Overall, the game had a very nice set of illustrations and space scenery. Admittedly, this is not the first space race game out there, but we thought it was a well done theme. The use of smaller moons to create alternative paths to the finish line worked really well.

Maneuver Cards.  These, typically, one-time action cards provide a little bit of take-that action to the players. Unlike some games where the game is just cluttered with actions or action cards that serve only to demoralize another player, the maneuver cards were restrained. With one exception (noted below), they were restrained in their consequences.  If anything, we wanted more variety of maneuver cards and ones that provided more dynamics.

Learning time & Setup & tear down. Aside from the betting, this game is a breeze to teach.  Players picked it up the core part of the game quickly: count fuel, move ships, etc. Because the consequence of the betting combined with the “hidden” nature of the bets and the early feeling like you’re just guessing another player will win, the betting concept was harder for the younger players we played with to grasp.  By the middle rounds it became more apparent why those early bets were going to matter.  By the second playthrough, it wasn’t an issue.

Likewise, setup and clean up were short.

Early bets. This feature shows up twice for… reasons. We liked that the first half the game didn’t permit you to bet on yourself. This meant that you’d forgo lots of points (from early bets) if you’re racing to beat the player you bet on.  This dynamic creates a real tension.  It also makes it so that players have unwitting alliances — alliances that aren’t really revealed or known to each other until the bets are reveals. Super cool.

Where it comes up short ^

Playtime.  I’m not sure if it was just us, but in our games we always ended either after the 12th round or by someone sneaking across the finish line in the 10th or 11th round.  That meant, for us, our play times were easily an hour and a half if not closer to a full two hours with four players. While it was a fun-filled game, I can see this stretching the limits for some families.  The upside: those last rounds get very intense and fun and most players were paying attention even during other players’ turns.

Returning to Gianrix.  So, if there was one thing that didn’t sit well with our players was the consequences of being bumped and cards that caused a player’s ship to return all the way to the start.  One card, “Nabbed,” actually sent a player who was about the cross the finish line all the way back to the beginning. We only played one game with that card.

Early bets.  Even though it shows up in the first grouping, early bets shows up here too. So many players lamented that those early bets felt more like guessing. I think this leads to the difficulty of teaching the significance of this mechanism.  The early “guessing” carries a lot of points for the correct bets. They dynamic sets off the interesting tension, but leaves aspects of the final scoring a bit more arbitrary: the last place player scoring a whole bunch of points because of early bets and coming into win would be a bit disheartening.

We didn’t try it, but one thought we had was as round 6 rolls around, revealing those early bets might make the end result less arbitrary.

In the hole ^

Moonshoot has a great combination of fast-paced dice rolling and strategic betting mechanism. It makes for thrilling game all the way down to the end. This game will definitely play well with a family of gamers, but there’s just enough other things going on to make it enjoyable for even the most experienced gamers out there.

Moonshot is in the hole for a par. ^

This post was originally published on The Indie Game Report:

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