Those of us who love Science Fiction, have seen countless captains leading their brave crew in to the great unknown. Since the 60’s we have all wanted to feel what it was like to be a crew member on the USS Enterprise. Now you can. Gather 5 of your most trusted and able comrades and take the helm of your very own star ship in Space Cadets.
Space Cadets is a cooperative game where each player takes on a role (or multiple roles) on the bridge of a star ship. What sets this apart from other cooperative games is: 1) Each person is in charge of a distinct station, and more importantly 2) the action phase of the stations are simultaneous and timed. So for those of you who may have had a bad experience playing Co-ops with an overbearing teammate, this is a breath of fresh air.
The big picture is that you and your crew are trying to achieve an objective and staying alive. The introductory mission is collecting 3 guarded crystals. Other missions vary from destroying your nemesis to surviving an ambush. The crew must, this is a key word: must, work together to survive, achieve their objective and jump away. All the while, being chased and attacked by a menagerie of hostile ships.
The shining gems of this game are the stations. Each player is going to be playing one or more of the stations on the ship. Every station is very different, and they all integrally rely on each other to operate. Now, before I go in to the individual stations, I should clarify that while these tasks may seem trivial, they are not. You have 30 seconds to do the task. Those 30 seconds seem a lot longer until you are sitting at the station. It gets tense (but in a great way). Here is a brief overview:
Every crew needs a Captain. The Captain is mainly in charge of keeping the flow of the game, this player will be the one who keeps the timer on track, and helps the other players communicate during the heat of the game.
The Engineering Officer generates energy for use by the other stations. Most stations need at least one energy to function, and more energy gives them more options. During their action phase, the Engineering Officer arranges 7 tiles, trying to get as many matching icons as possible.
The Helmsman drives the ship, trying to avoid space rifts and asteroids if possible. The Helmsman is dealt maneuver cards depending on the speed of the ship, that are used to plan out the ships movements.
The Sensor Officer is in charge of sector scans (revealing new space for the ship to move in to) and target locks. Target locks are essential for collecting crystals and a good idea if you are planning on shooting any ships. The sensor officer reaches in to a bag and tries to feel for the right shaped tile.
The Weapons Officer’s job revolves around loading the torpedo tubes. They have to put together the right combination of tetris-like shapes for every torpedo. For every set they complete, they get to fire one torpedo. To fire a torpedo, the weapons officer flicks a wooden disk down a track trying to land on the highest damage space. Flicks? Yeah, that is right, there is a little dexterity in this game.
The Shield Officer is ‘dealt’ a varying amount of number tiles, that are used to make pairs, sets, and runs. Think Texas Hold’em Poker hands. But they have to do this over all the 4 sides of the ship. Shields will protect the ship from incoming fire from the enemy ships.
How do you collect crystals? With the help of the Tractor Beam Officer. For every energy received, the tractor beam officer can flip over one pair of tractor beam tiles. If they match, then they get that many points to apply to a tractor lock, if not the tiles must be flipped face down. This is high stakes, strategic Memory.
The other two stations are Jump Control and Damage and Repair. Jump control rolls dice and tries to get dice modifier cards for later use, with the eventual goal of getting 5 of a kind to jump out of the system. The Damage and Repair station adds a whole additional layer of the game ranging from lingering damage effects that may make the other stations harder to play (like rotating the tractor officer’s board, or making the weapons officer fire with their eyes closed), and dealing with the dreaded core breach.
As you can see each station has a very different feel. This variety means that you can play this game many times, even with the same mission, and have a different game play experience. During my second play of the game, the former weapons officer played helm. She was blown away by how hard it is to control the ship. Like I mentioned before, it is very easy to look at pictures and hear the rules, even watch someone play one of the stations and say, “That is a piece of cake…,” but just about all of the stations are harder than they seem. On top of the different missions, there is built in difficulty settings, both fighting more capable enemies and having more potent damage effects.
Components wise, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ in the Space Cadets box. Each station has its own components and play mat. The quality is fine, nothing to write home about, but at the same time very functional. The very little art feels the same way, not stunning, but functional. Things are organized logically. It does end up taking up a lot of space. I had to pull out the leaf for my table to hold everything. Included is a 30 second sand timer, but Stronghold also has a free timer application (iOS and Android) that replaces the timer, and helps keep track of the phases. I highly suggest using the app if you have a smartphone lying around.
This game could not be any more thematic… I guess they could to send you a Captain’s chair. Really, all of the stations give the feeling of what they are representing. The Helmsman will be constantly speeding up and slowing down the ship. The Shield Officer will be pulling their hair out when the ship does a U-turn and that great run they put on the rear shields is now facing nothing. Possibly the most thematic station is the Sensor Officer, who is actually sensing things! Great!
If you play the game in ‘normal mode’ it is a tough game. As I have only been playing the game with new people to the game, we have been fudging some of the die rolls to make it more enjoyable. For the most part every station is important to the rest of the ship. This means that if you have someone playing that is not really in to the game, or if they are just no good, the rest of the team will suffer. This is both a good and a bad thing: it removes the ‘alpha gamer’ from taking over the game, but it also allows for the weakest link to tear down the rest of the team.
When learning about the game, for some reason I got the impression that it was along the lines of a thematic party game. I was wrong. Space Cadets is not a party game. It is a thematic cooperative game. It may be meant for 6 people, but they need to be 6 people who are fully invested. It is a tense game. There is a lot going on, and you will feel the threat of an enemy ship closing in. That being said, this game does appeal to a wide array of gamers. If a child is comfortable with a given station, perfect, the more complex parts of the game can be handled by a grown up. The same is true with players who just want to blow stuff up, or just want to make the shield pairs, it allows for players to focus and not worry about the rules for everyone else. Because of the timed nature of the game, there is not too much down time, things move along at a good pace.
The rule book for this game is ~30 pages long. It is a doozy if you are not a fan of reading rules. Stronghold has made an effort to alleviate this by posing ‘How To…’ videos for each station, but at least one person (most likely the captain) needs to be comfortable with all of the rules for the game to be playable. The rules are intuitive; but, due to the number of stations, there is a lot you need to know and remember.
I have played a few games with large groups (6+), and a few with small groups (4). It felt remarkably similar for both, just with less wrangling in the small group. The game length largely depends on the scenario. I would bank on 1.5 – 3 hours, with added time for explanation to new players.
In Summary: Space Cadets fulfills that urge we all have to be Captain Kirk. It is a tense cooperative game, that is full of action and suspense, that is unlike any other game, let alone co-op I have played. I highly recommend this game to someone who is looking for a different, and unique, type of game to play with other gamers. I cannot wait to get a well practiced team together… that is when the game will really shine.