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 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 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 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.
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.
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.