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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Saturday 8 June 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Moon Base

Game: Moon Base

Publisher: Itten Games

Designer:  Naotaka Shimamoto

Year: 2019

Moon Base is a two-player abstract game from Japanese publisher, Itten Games. Itten are certainly most well known for Tokyo Highway which was originally a two-player game that was turned into a 2-4 player game for wider distribution in North America and Europe. Itten's other games have typically been harder to find here in the UK, but this year Itten were at the UK Games Expo showing all of their beautifully crafted games, including Tokyo Highway with it's new buildings and vehicles extension, Here Comes the Dog, Tribe and more. I really hope that lots of UK gamers took advantage of this opportunity to get some really unique games.

Moon Base is Itten's latest release, which I believe was launched at the recent Tokyo Game Market and just one look at it on the demo table was enough to persuade us to give it a try.


Moon Base takes place over 6 rounds, at the end of each round players will check to see if they can place moon bases (worth big points) or smaller outposts (worth small points). At the end of the game you will also score points for having the highest ring in the game, having the research station currently residing in one of your rings, and having the largest group of connected rings in the game. Moon Base is a two-player game, but these 3 objectives won't always be scored as there is a neutral colour in the game which can, and will, win these objectives, preventing points from being attributed.

At the start of every round players will take turns drawing the top two large rings off of one of the 4 stacks. They then repeat this action for small rings, giving each player 4 rings to place each round, 2 large and 2 small. Players will then take turns adding 1 ring to the game board, either on the surface of the moon inside one of the craters, or over the top of two rings, forming a bridge between them. In order to do this you typically need either of the lower rings must be of a matching colour to the higher ring you are placing. At the end of the round you want to have large rings in your colour in the open at the top of a stack. If this is the case then you can build a moon base in every uncovered large ring. Should you have failed then you may place an outpost in a crater, blocking it from future construction.

While this is simple enough in theory, the complexity comes in the player interactions. You do not necessarily have control over your own ring colour. When your opponent is doing well you can often cap their open rings to prevent them from scoring them. Selecting which rings you take each round also affects which rings will be available next round, you have to consider what you will need in the future or else risk having a round where you have no rings to place moon bases with at all!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Moon Base deserves an accolade for being an abstract game in which Fi regularly beats me. Most abstract games are doomed for a short life in our household as they tend to just "click" with my brain. What makes Moon Base different is that there are 2 phases, both of critical importance. While it may be obvious that placing your rings is crucial to perform well and block your opponent. Woe betide you if you ignore the ring selection phase's impact not only on the current turn, but future ones as well. Thinking ahead about what rings will be available next round and who will have first choice on them can dictate what you want as much as what would be good for your current phase.

A good abstract game is often simple, and Moon Base certain ticks the "why has no-one done this before" box in my mind. All you are doing is placing concentric circles, trying to ensure your circles are on the top. And yet it's so compelling. The inevitable pyramids of rings present real challengers in creating both scoring and blocking moves. This opens up even further with the third colour allowing you to create 'collaboration rings' of all 3 colours which opens up a lot of extra choice to the game.

I really do struggle to find flaws in the game, the setup can be a little clunky as you have to randomly shuffle the two different types of rings before putting them into stack of 6. But clunky or not it's not as if it takes longer than 2 minutes. Sometimes the structure can be a little unstable, but there are some small support pieces to help when that happens. It would be devastating to have the game board collapse mid-game but in our experience the structures usually end up pretty solid. Overall if you are looking for a ~20 minute 2-player abstract game then stop second-guessing yourself, get out there and buy Moon Base!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Two-player abstract games can often be a genre that doesn't work well for us. Amy has an ability to work out the spatial puzzles and plan ahead far more easily than I do. Fortunately, Moon Base pulls of an amazing twist with the 8 stacked piles of rings you create to draw four rings every turn. Fortunately I seem to be very good at figuring out the best time to take rings. Sometimes you want your own large rings, to create scoring opportunities, but that's best when you're second player so that your final move can't be blocked. Other times you want all of your opponents rings so that you can place them in the worst possible places. The blue rings are great if you don't know what to do but you can block moves like crazy or set yourself up for some moves in the early game. Amy still seems to be best at spotting opportunities on the board, especially for the blue, silver, gold combo blocking move and creating the highest point, which I often forget about. Overall this creates a really balanced game between our two strengths.

The other aspect I really love about Moon Base is that the round-to-round scoring isn't the only factor in winning. You might not do that well during the game, but the point swing isn't often huge, but if you slowly work at having the longest connected route and then pull of a cheeky final turn where you create the highest spot on the board and manage to locate the resource building pawn there, then you've easily won the game. There's a lot to keep in mind during that final round.

What Itten seem to do really well is turn simplicity into something beautiful, both mechanically and visually. The game only has a simply set of coloured wooden pieces, but as you play you will watch something really beautiful unfold on the table, creating a 3D landscape that looks a bit like something out of a nature magazine or a conceptual architecture competition. The only element that slightly soils this is the pink pawn (we might spray ours white or black!). The rules simplicity means that this could be taught to anyone and the placement rules are very intuitive. We have sometimes had mistakes because your eyes trick you with all of the overlapping colours, but the other player typically spots this.

Moon Base is my favourite two-player abstract game in our collection, by a big margin and I think its classic abstract feel will keep it on our table for a long time.

You Might Like...
  • When you finish playing Moon Base you have created a thing of beauty out of very simple parts.
  • Unlike many abstract games Moon Base's two phases seem to level out any advantage that some players have for spatial reasoning.
  • Moon Base creates an intense puzzle out of amazing simple rules that are so fast to teach.
You Might Not Like...
  • Moon Base is not a dexterity game, but it does involve some delicate stacking which can be a challenge for some gamers without a steady hand.
  • If you want to show off beautiful photos of Moon Base on Instagram (which you definitely will!) then the big pink mobile resource building pawn needs to be out of frame.

The Verdict
9/10 Moon Base has really blown us away and it's our best surprise from the UK Games Expo 2019. It's an incredible two player abstract game with depth of strategy and simplistic beauty in both its look and mechanisms. We really hope it gets some attention in Western markets and takes off like Tokyo Highway.

Moon Base was a review copy kindly provided to us by Itten Games.

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