Ever since Space Base, a sci-fi themed, dice-driven resource management board game first came out, everyone has been telling me to play it. This recommendation is usually based on my love for Valeria: Card Kingdoms.
Like Valeria, Space Base has players rolling dice, comparing the results to your growing tableau, and generating resources that let you buy more things to add to that tableau. It keeps players engaged due to the fact that you can generate resources on other players’ turns.
Despite some similarities, there are a lot of things that make Space Base unique and that stand out when compared to other dice driven engine building board games.
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A look a what you get with a copy of Space Base from AEG
Space Base was designed by John D. Clair and features artwork from Chris Walton. It was published in North America by AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group) in 2018. It plays two to five players with games taking on average about an hour, though this is very dependent on player count. Space Base has an MSRP of $39.99 US.
In Space Base, you are a commodore in command of a small fleet of ships in a race to forty victory points. These ships begin docked at your space base. Each turn the dice are rolled and all players will generate resources in the form of credits, income and victory points. The active player will then purchase one ship or colony. The newly purchased ship or colony replaces a ship that was docked, with the replaced ship becoming “deployed.” Deployed ships generate resources on other player’s turns. Due to this resource generation mechanism, Space Base keeps players engaged, watching and counting each roll of the dice.
For a look at what you get in the box for Space Base be sure to check out our Space Base Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Space Base comes in a fairly small box that contains a surprisingly thick rulebook over a plastic box insert holding the rest of the components.
The rules are a whopping 32-pages long, though only sixteen of these are actual rules. Which is still a lot for what’s really not that complicated of a game. A large portion of the rulebook is for reference and there is also a lot of fluff and background information for what is, at its core, an abstract game.
The game also comes with five very large player boards, two six-sided dice that feature a rocket on the one side, forty-five plastic cubes, and two-hundred and four cards. There is a set of starting cards for each player, plus three different decks of market cards, a set of colony cards and a start player card. All of these cards are a rather odd size, being about half the width of a standard playing card.
The component quality on everything here is excellent, I don’t have any complaints at all.
How to play Space Base
A game of Space Base starts with each player taking one of the rather long player boards and a set of starter cards in the colour of their choice. They will place these cards onto their board so that they have one ship in each of the twelve slots on the board.
A central market is built by shuffling each of the three market decks (with backs that say one, two or three) and placing six cards of each type out into the centre of the table. The colony cards are also placed out face up, in numerical order.
Players also take three colour-coded resource cubes and mark their starting resources on their player board, which is five credits, zero income and zero points. The clear cubes are placed off to the side.
To determine the start player, each player draws a random card from the “1” market deck. They pay for this card out of their starting credits and place it into the appropriate slot, deploying the ship that was there already. Deploying a ship means taking the card off of the player board, flipping it 180 degrees and sliding it under the top of the board so that only the red portion shows.
The player whose new ship is in the highest slot becomes the start player (with a roll of the dice breaking any tie).
Each turn of Space Base starts with the active player rolling two six-sided dice. Then everyone, not just the active player, will activate ships based on the numbers rolled.
After each roll, players will look at their ships and decide if they want to use the numbers from the two dice individually or use the sum of the two dice together, and then they activate the appropriate ships. The active player will activate docked ships, whereas the other players will activate deployed ships.
On each ship card, the blue section tells you what you get if the number is rolled on your turn while green sections indicate things that will activate on any players turn, including your own, and red sections indicate what you get if the number is rolled on an opponent’s turn. Docked ships use the face up blue and green areas, whereas deployed ships use the face down red or green areas (remember when you deploy a ship you flip the card one eighty degrees and tuck it under your player board).
Many ships, including all of the starter ships, simply generate one or more of the three resources, currency, income or points. Other ships feature all kinds of special actions, including things like letting you shift your dice rolls to the right, allowing for re-rolls, getting cards for free, etc. Some of these abilities need to be activated by collecting charge cubes first.
I don’t think it’s worth me getting into the full details here but I will say that this is the most confusing part of the rules and worth reading over a couple of times, or watching a video, to make sure you’ve got it down before playing.
After activating your ships, you then get to purchase one card from the market. The market is broken up into three areas divided by card cost with the “1” cards being much cheaper than the “3” cards. You pay the cost of the card you pick in credits. and any leftover credits after this purchase are lost. Your credit resource now resets, down to your income level.
You place your newly purchased card onto your playboard and deploy the ship that was in its place (flip it and tuck it under your board).
Instead of purchasing a ship, players also have the option to instead found a colony. Each game, there are twelve colonies in play. Each colony corresponds to a different spot on the player boards. Note there’s only one of each number available, so once one player claims a colony of a certain number the other players can’t buy that same number. Colonies give a player instant victory points when bought, but then take up a spot on their player board. You cannot purchase a ship with the same number as one of your colonies and that colony slot also generates no resources on your turn when its number comes up.
Play continues until one or more players reach forty points. You complete the round so that all players have an equal number of turns and then the player with the most points wins.
Space Base is an excellent abstract engine builder.
Ever since Space Base came out, every time I mention Valeria: Card Kingdoms and how much I dig it, someone steps up to tell me that I need to play Space Base (most claiming Space Base is the better game). Due to this, for a long while now I’ve been looking forward to trying Space Base.
It wasn’t until getting the game as a birthday gift in 2021 that I finally got to try it and decide for myself if it lives up to the hype. I will say straight up that it does, at least the hype that it’s a fantastic game. As for being a Valeria Killer, I don’t know about that.
Space Base is one of those rare games that just feels right from the moment you start playing it. From the moment you sit down and draw that first card from the “1” deck and deploy your first ship, to the closing round of the game where everyone is scrambling to do what they can to get squeeze in a few more points, Space Base just feels tight and polished.
Some of the things I really love about this game include the fact that you are always engaged, even on other players’ turns. This isn’t a game where you end your turn and then lose focus. You want to know what numbers are being rolled every turn, hoping for just the right numbers to come up so that you score big and are able to make a big move once the dice get back to you.
Another thing I really like is that you start the game with a full tableau. This is a big difference from Valeria: Card Kingdoms where you only start with two cards in play, and thus only start with a small set of numbers that will generate resources for you. In Space Base, when it is your turn you will always get something. Then, once you start deploying ships, if you are smart, you should be able to set it up so that you are also always getting something on everyone else’s turns as well.
I also really like the way the dice are used here, which is again different from Valeria, and also different from Machi Koro (another game Space Base gets compared to all the time). In Space Base, you get to choose if you want to use each die individually or use the dice together as a sum. What I like the most about this is how it affects the bell curve. Most of us gamers are used to a 2d6 curve and know that 7 is the most common number rolled on two D6, but that’s only true if you are adding the dice together. In Space Base, the number that actually will come up the most often is 6, due to the fact you can not only roll six on the dice themselves but that there are also a number of die combinations that add up to 6.
Along with this, I really appreciate the way they balanced the cards, with ships in the higher numbers offering much better rewards than ships in the lower numbers. This combines in a neat way with powers that let you swap your cards around.
My biggest complaint about Space Base is in regards to learning the game. For one, the rulebook is a bit of a beast. Though a large part of the book is stuff you don’t need to actually know in order to play. I think this comes from AEG originally being a company that made RPG modules, but there’s a ton of background information here on the various ship types etc. None of which matters at all when you play.
The second thing that makes Space Base a bit hard to learn is the whole charge cube system. While it’s not all that complicated, it’s just not as intuitive as the rest of the game and many of the actions that can be done once you have cubes break the flow of the game. This includes things like drafting multiple cards in a turn, getting to shop more than once, swapping cards around, etc. Then there’s the added confusion from the fact that many of the charge cube based powers need different numbers of cubes depending on the number of players.
Another issue Space Base suffers from is how much space it takes up. This is due to the fact that the player boards have to be able to hold twelve cards each plus the resource trackers. This is also the reason behind the half-sized cards. Even with tiny cards, this game takes up a lot of room. We ran into an added issue due to the long boards and that’s when using a non-square table. It’s pretty much impossible to fit four or five players in a position where they can all see and reach the market in order to play Space Base at a large-sized rectangular gaming table, like the one I have in my game room.
Speaking of the number of players, another issue some groups may have with the game is how it plays at different player counts. I will admit that Space Base feels like a very different game at two players than it does at four. The number of players to act between your turns is going to greatly impact the power of your deployed ships, and the number of credits you will generate between turns. Personally, I’ve been enjoying the game the most with three players, but I will happily play it at any player count.
Overall I’ve really been enjoying Space Base. My entire family digs it and everyone I’ve taught the game to so far has enjoyed it. There’s still a lot of buzz out there about this game, and you hardly ever hear anything negative, and that’s with good reason. Space Base is a very tight and polished game. While the use of charge cubes may be a bit fiddly the game overall is very elegant and flows well.
Since getting Space Base for my birthday this year, it’s become one of my favourite board games of all time.
If you dig dice-driven engine builders you probably already own a copy of Space Base, but if not you really need to pick this one up. If you dig sci-fi themed games, despite really being an abstract engine builder, I think there’s enough theme here for you to enjoy Space Base. Now if you prefer perfect information games with low randomness Space Base may not be for you, but I do recommend giving it a shot, you just might discover a newfound love of dice games.
A quick comparison of Space Base to Machi Koro and Valeria Card Kingdoms:
Due to the fact that Space Base, Machi Koro and Valeria: Card Kingdoms all use a very similar system of rolling a set of six-sided dice and using the results to determine what you get both on your turn and on your opponent’s turn, people can’t help but compare them. Every time one of these games gets mentioned, one or both of the others tends to come up and for pretty good reason.
The thing is, I don’t actually find the games all that similar. While they do share a similar core mechanic, the actual feel of each game at the table is very unique. Now I’m not just talking about having different themes, but the feel of the mechanics, how they interact and the amount of player interaction is very different in each of these roll-for-resource based games.
Even the dice mechanic is different in each game. In Valeria, you get to use the rolls on each D6 as well as the total, whereas in Space Base you get to chose to use the dice or their total, and then in Machi Koro you always total all of the dice you roll and you can roll up to three of them. This totally changes the probability curve, which is a big part of what makes each game feel unique.
Of the three games, Machi Koro is the most competitive with a large amount of take-that elements. The entire set of purple cards in Machi Koro is designed to penalize your opponents, and we’ve found in our games that money in Machi Koro is bouncing back and forth all over the place for the entire game.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms also includes some take-that elements, depending on which heroes you use, with players stealing resources or cards from other players.
Compared to Valeria or Machi Koro, Space Base is downright friendly. It’s mostly multiplayer-solitare except for the fact you can hate draft and there can be some competition over colony cards. There is one take-that card included in the core game (and the use of that card is hotly debated online, with many groups removing it).
Thematically speaking Space Base sits somewhere in the middle. Machi Koro felt completely abstract when I played it. It didn’t feel like I was building a city, I was just drafting cards. Valeria: Card Kingdoms on the other hand has a ton of theme, from hiring different types of heroes and going on adventures to killing monsters and eventually founding strongholds, the game gives a rather old school D&D type vibe. Whereas Space Base manages to feel somewhat thematic, especially with the way you purchase, dock and then deploy ships, but that theme doesn’t get in the way at all.
Another aspect that feels very different between these three games is the handling of resources. Machi Koro only has one resource, coins, which are going to come and go and get passed all over the place rather chaotically. Space Base features currency that needs to be re-generated every turn, but that can be improved through upping your income, and which can’t be stolen by other players. Valeria: Card Kingdoms on the other hand is a game of having piles and piles of resources, so many that there are x5 and x10 counters included in the base game. Where Space Base and Machi Koro can be about scarcity, especially at the beginning of the game, Valeria is all about hoarding.
When combined, all of this makes for three very different games that just happen to use some similar but not identical mechanics.
Personally of the three I still love Valeria: Card Kingdoms and don’t expect that to change. I also really enjoy Space Base. Based on some of the hype I’ve seen in regards to the expansions I think there’s a chance that Space Base may replace Valeria for me eventually but it’s not quite there with just the base box. As for Machi Koro, we didn’t actually enjoy it very much at all. It was far too random and cutthroat for our tastes.
As for you, I recommend doing what I did and trying out all three of these games. Then you can decide which game is best for your group. Heck, you just might like all three games and want to own all of them.
What’s your favourite board game with random resource generation? Is it Space Base, Machi Koro, or Valeria: Card Kingdoms? Or is it some other game I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!