Review of Pulsar 2849 – A Dice Driven Sci-Fi Engine Builder from CGE

As a long time gamer, I have a love/hate relationship with dice. I’m always happy when I find a dice driven game that works well and Pulsar 2849 is one of the best dice based board games I’ve played. It’s also one of the most stingy action selection games ever.

In Pulsar your use your dice to explore the stars, claim pulsars, discover technologies and build an energy-distribution infrastructure on a cosmic scale. 

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I received a review copy of Pulsar 2849 from CGE at Origins 2019

If you prefer to watch rather than read, I invite you to check out our Pulsar 2849 Review on YouTube.

What comes in the box with Pulsar 2849

Pulsar 2849 was designed by Vladimír Suchý and features art by Sören Meding. It was published in North America by CGE in 2017. This Sci-fi board game plays two to four players in an hour or two depending on the player count. 

To see what you get with a new copy of Pulsar 2849 from CGE check out our Pulsar 2849 Unboxing Video on YouTube.

The first thing you will find in the box is the rule book. This is a glossy nineteen page rulebook that also includes an icon summary on the back of the book. There is an excellent component list in the front of the book, taking up the entire inside cover. This is something I wish every company provided.

The rules include some nice sci-fi graphics and plenty of examples using pictures of the actual game components. I’ve always found CGE to have some of the best rulebooks on the market and the book for Pulsar 2849 is no exception.

In addition, there is a two page booklet that describes the various technology boards. I like that this is separate from the main rulebook. There are also some excellent round overview cards that cover end game scoring on the back. The box had one for each player. These are a bit thin and I may take the time to laminate them at some point.

The dice in Pulsar are wooden D6s. There are nine silver metallic dice and one red one. In addition to the dice, there are a number of plastic components. These include a large number of white plastic cubes, a ton of plastic discs in the four player colours, three small rockets in each player colour and a plastic yellow teardrop shaped piece. 

Up next we find boards, lots and lots of boards. I think Pulsar may be the game with the most boards in my collection. There’s a board for holding the gyrodyne tiles, a two-sided board for drafting the dice which also has a couple of player tracks on it and, a two-sided main board that shows a map of the cosmos.

Then there are a bunch of punchboards that contain even more game boards and some other items. There are individual player HQ boards, end game scoring tiles, a board for holding the dice modifier chits, technology boards, various chits and counters, system tiles, array tiles, exploration bonus tiles, and more.

When actually setting up the game, all of these smaller boards are designed to rest right up against the circular main board and the whole thing takes up a ton of table space. 

Playing Pulsar 2849 from CGE

To start a game of Pulsar you need to pick which side of the main board to use. One side features some dead end systems and pulsars and is recommended for experienced players only. Three end game tiles are randomly selected and placed next to the main board. Three random technology boards are selected and placed in a pyramid next to the main board. The side of the dice board used is based on the number of players and this is placed next to the main board. The rest of the boards and chits are placed out in their respective spots. 

Players receive a random home base board and pick one of the two sides to use for the game. These bases are best left in the box for your first couple of games. Then in reverse player order, players place a scout ship on one of the starting spots on the main board. 

Each round the dice are rolled and placed onto the dice board. The median die is found and the value marker is placed based on whether there are more dice above or below the medium. Players draft two dice in player order. After drafting a die a player has to move their marker on one of the two tracks. It will move up or down depending on where the spot the die was taken from compares to where the value marker is.

The top track determines player order, the bottom track determines technology level. 

Once all players have selected two dice the action phase starts. In this phase, players spend dice to take actions. Dice are spent for a variety of things:

Moving your survey ship around the board, discovering systems and claiming colonies or claiming pulsars.

Taking a gyrodyne from the gyrodyne board.

Developing a pulsar with a gyrodyne already in the player’s possession.

Activating or “spinning up’ a gyrodine you already have in play.

Building an energy transmitter array. 

Patenting a new technology.

Building a dice modifier token

Completing a special project on your HQ board. 

In addition to using the dice players drafted at the start of the round, there are many ways players can earn a bonus red die during their turn and get a third action, which is also taken from the list of actions above. 

After the action phase is a production round where a number of things will happen. Players receive knowledge cubes for their position on the technology track. Activated transmission arrays will give players points or resources, spun up gyrodynes will score players points, some technologies will give players points, new technologies are unlocked, and the player order is updated for the next round.

The game only lasts eight rounds. At the end of the eighth round (after production) there is a period of end game scoring. Players will get points for their claimed pulsars, unactivated gyrodynes, level three technologies, the three end game scoring goals, end game player order and how many settlements they founded during the game. 

In general, players will fly their survey ship around the board and flip over systems which will give them some rewards. They will claim pulsars, put gyrodynes on them and spin them up in order to score points every round. Technologies are developed to make exploration and discovery easier or they will allow players to earn points for taking other actions in the game. Arrays can be built which can give instant rewards as well as round by round resources or point generation. 

The end game goals and which technologies are available are randomized and will help drive which strategies are more viable than others. 

Final thoughts on Pulsar 2849

I first got to try Pulsar 2849 at Origins 2018. That particular game session was just a demo game where we played through the first three turns of a game but never finished it. Those three rounds were all it took for me to fall in love with this game. 

The thing is I didn’t manage to get a copy of the game until a year later. It wasn’t one that was in stock at my FLGS and I never really found a good price online. So it took me until Origins 2019 to finally get my own copy of Pulsar. 

By the time I got this new copy played it had been well over a year since that demo game and the game felt totally new to me, but I fell in love with it all over again.

I am a big fan of action selection games, engine builders and point salads and Pulsar 2849 combines all of those elements. What it adds to these tried and true mechanics is a very interesting dice drafting mechanic. 

The main thing you have to worry about when adding dice to a game is there being too much randomness added. I’ve never found that to be a problem with Pulsar. This is mainly because all of the randomness is input randomness. The dice are rolled and you look at the results and you use that to plan out your turn. This is compared to a game where you pick an action and then roll the dice to see if you can do it. 

While the rolls of the dice really do matter in Pulsar 2849 I’ve never felt like my turn was ruined by a die roll. Sure, I may not be able to do that thing I was really hoping to do but there are always other options. Added to this is the fact you can buy and earn dice modifier tokens which also help to mitigate the randomness. The addition of the bonus die rules also means that if there is a number you really need there is usually some way to get it, eventually.

The one thing that people may not like about Pulsar 2849 is just how limiting having only two base actions a turn is. In every great Eurogame you can’t do everything you want. There is always a choice to be made between all of the things you want to do and being good at these games is usually about making the right decision on what path to follow. You can’t do all the things, and in Pulsar 2849 this is thrown right in your face.

Pulsar 2849 is the most restricting Eurogames I’ve played. There are eight different options you get with each die you spend and each turn I can promise you that you are going to want to do at least five of those eight different things. The decision of which action to take with each die can be agonizing. 

Another big part of the game is the fight to get more actions. While there are some technologies that will give you an extra action the main thing you are trying to do is to earn that red die every turn. Having one extra action in Pulsar is a huge thing. Fighting to collect knowledge cubes, or flipping over the right arrays or building that spot on your HQ that gives you a red die at the right number to do that one extra thing can be very rewarding.

My one other complaint about Pulsar 2849  is that it’s not easy to teach. The problem is the onboarding required to explain to a new player the eight actions each die can be spent on. Along with the actions, there are a number of icons that need to be explained and then there are the interactions between those actions. Sure you can buy a gyrodyne but why would you want to, here are a bunch of technologies that modify your basic actions, which one would I want?, etc.

It’s because of those interactions and new players not knowing why they may want to do a certain thing that this is one of the games where I recommend you play a partial game and re-start once all of the players start to see how everything works.  

What I do find interesting is that once you do dive in and start playing everything just makes sense. There’s something intuitive about how everything works. First, you claim a pulsar and put a ring on it. Then you get a gyrodyne and place it in the ring. Then you spend a die to flip over the gyrodyne and start earning points now that it’s generating energy. That all makes sense both mechanically and thematically.  

For what is a rather heavy Euro I find people pick up this game very quickly once you dive into actually playing.

I have played Pulsar 2849 at all player counts and the only thing that really seems to change much is the playing time. I was specifically surprised by how well the game played with only two players. It’s just as tight and rewarding and plays in just about an hour. I will admit that with four players there can be some downtime due to AP, but I personally didn’t mind this as it just means that I have more time to think before my turn comes up, something you will probably find you are going to need to make the hard decisions required of Pulsar. 

Overall I really enjoy Pulsar 2849. It combines a wide range of mechanics in ways that I find I really enjoy. While I may be frustrated at times that I can’t do all the things, I know my opponents are in the same boat and it’s up to me to find the best things to do with the options I have. Pulsar may not be easy to teach but everyone I have taught it to has picked up the game quickly once we dive in. 

If you are a sci-fi Euro fan you owe it to yourself to pick up Pulsar 2849, you won’t be disappointed. If you are into engine building point salads or interesting dice drafting and action selection games you may want to check this one out. If you prefer lighter games and don’t like having a lot of difficult to choose from options on your turn, this probably isn’t the game for you.

Have you played Pulsar 2849? What did you think of this dice driven sci-fi point salad?

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