Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 21 February 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Scorpius Freighter

Game: Scorpius Freighter

Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group

Designer:  Matthew Dunstan, David Short

Year: 2018

After the prototype of Monumental stole our hearts towards the end of 2018, Matthew Dunstan is a UK-based board game designer who has our attention. Add into the mix pick up and deliver and engine building and a game like Scorpius Freighter is one I’ve been very excited to play. Having said that, it is a game that I initially overlooked when its box art and name did not grab my attention, so I’m very happy that it got a little bit of love in the board game media space which made me take a second look.

Scorpius Freighter is primarily an engine building and resource management game for 2-4 players, which plays in around 60 minutes. With three rondels to choose your actions, I don’t quite get the pick-up and deliver feel, although with a bit of imagination you could see yourself taking resources from one planet to deliver to another. Each player takes a player board, where they will build their ship over the course of the game, by adding square ties to the 5x5 grid. By adding some tiles, you can gain space to store cargo, whilst other tiles give you special actions. Over the game you’ll fulfil contracts and side deals to gain points.

Core to the game are the four character cards each player has that are used to activate actions on the three rondels. The number of characters you activate represents the amount of spaces you can move one of the ship tokens around a rondel, taking the action of the location where you land. The action is then powered a number of times equal to the number of unactivated characters you have. Once you’ve activated 3 characters your tableau will refresh. In addition, you can pay to flip the characters to give you asymmetric special abilities and methods of end game scoring. The rondel actions come in just a few flavours and are repeated around the rondel – you can gain resources, activate your ship’s special abilities, gain cargo areas, invest in your crew, fulfil side deals or fulfil contracts.

In the standard game, the position of your characters doesn't matter, but their special abilities do. Each faction is different and encourages a different play style, perhaps focusing you on contracts or building specific types of locations in your ship. Some factions focus your attention to a specific resource, which is a strategy that's easy to try and foil as an opposing player. AEG have even posted a guide to which faction might best suit your play style. What all of the factions have in common is a combination of end game scoring and boosts to in game abilities and it's easy to feel like one faction is overpowered when a player makes the most of the end game points. However, having played all of the factions, I think that Scorpius Freighter gives you the same mighty feeling of Marco Polo where every faction is over powered in it's own way, which can be very fun and helpful to play with.

Undermining someone's faction abilities is one way of bringing some player interaction into the game and the rondels also offer a way that you can manipulate others. In a two-payer game in particular, the movement around the rondel is predictable, so that you can see how far the ship might move and what actions you might have next turn. The most lucrative actions, like delivering on contracts are spaced just far enough apart to be frustrating, meaning that you can take actions that might block another player from taking their optimal action next turn. For me, this kind of passive, rather than aggressive player interaction is the perfect level, where I'm certainly not playing solitaire but I'm also not being punched in the face!

Scorpius Freighter is a fast game, with super quick turns. Every turn you only take one action and in a two player game it's possible to plan this during other people's turns. With more players, the position of the ships on the board might alter too much to allow for forward planning, but even still the game should move quickly. All of the actions are simple and easy to understand, meaning that it's quite easy to build a strategy in the game and there are many strategies to choose from. Based on the way that tiles are dealt into the markets, the available cargo will definitely influence the way you play and you might have to be quite flexible, which can lead to games with a very different feel. Every so often, this feeling is frustration, and there are often one or two turns in the game where there is just nothing you can do to move your strategy forward, but in general this frustration hasn't defined my overall game experience.

Whilst I love being tactical and manipulative with the rondels in a two-player game, I do find that there is one drawback to playing with two, which is the lack of refresh in the markets. The whole feel of the game can change and it feels like the balance can swing if there's only one pink storage tile that shows up and one player has it, making use of all of the pink side deals and contracts. With more players, there would be a chance to get through more tiles in the supply and see a higher percentage of tiles over the course of the game, possibly creating a more level playing field. It's fun to try and find creative ways out of these challenging situations, but it can sometimes feel like you are hosed by the player who got lucky at the right moment.

All in all, Scorpius Freighter delivers a satisfyingly crunchy game in a short length of time. Having said that, the game length is really well judged and varies by player count, to allow you enough time to get your engine built and running before the game ends. It doesn’t fall into the trap of many engine builder where it ends before you really get going. I love how the different factions give you different paths to victory to explore and how the game has inherent variability in the random markets, that make each game feel different. For the Yellow Meeple, Scorpius Freighter is a 7.5/10.

Scorpius Freighter was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £57.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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