Designer: Freddie Ipson
The Universe is a casual dexterity game designed by someone who goes by the pseudonym Diletostra (aka Freddie Ipson, Stiggy Vanderskeen, or Stiggy Vranziskeen). Diletostra contacted me via Board Game Geek and insisted that I review his game, so, although I'm not partial to dexterity games, I agreed to give The Universe a shot.
The Universe is currently on Kickstarter for $35 until December 12 and is scheduled to be fulfilled in December (yes, that's a quick turnaround, but my impression is that Diletostra has a number of these ready to go). The campaign's funding goal is $5000. You can check out the campaign here: http://kck.st/1k2u6Bs
The Universe is a dexterity game where players have three ships (a D6 die, a marble, and a disc) that they flick or roll around a game board populated with 44 planets and a black hole. Each planet has a marble bumper glued to its center and is worth positive or negative points (ranging from -30 to +30) if your ship lands on it, except for four planets that award a bonus round (more on that later). The game is for 2-6 players (according to the Board Game Geek listing, although it only came with pieces for four players) and plays in a varying amount of time depending on how many rounds you play (recommended is 10) and how many bonus rounds are earned (theoretically a skilled player could get into an endless loop of bonus rounds for a game that doesn't end until everyone gives up).
Setup and gameplay is pretty easy. Simply unfold the game board and choose a set of pieces in one color and a corner to shoot from. After randomly deciding who should start, players take turns choosing one of their three ships to flick (or roll, or propel in pretty much any other manner) from a corner base into the center of the board. There are two planets right in front of each base that must be cleared (although a ricochet back onto those planets is legal). Ships are left where they land until after everyone has launched all three of their ships, after which scores for the round are calculated. Planets are worth their face value, either negative or positive, however the D6 die is a multiplier so whatever face is up multiplies the score for the die's planet by that amount. Clear off all the ships and repeat.
If a player's ship ends up on the central Black Hole space, that ship is lost for the following round. If a player's ship ends up on one of the four octagonal shaped planets the player gets a bonus round. In a bonus round a player gets the entire board to himself and gets to shoot his three ships again. But this time all the planets are worth positive points and instead of using a D6 the player gets to use a D20. Also, the Black Hole awards an additional bonus round instead of causing the player to lose a ship. So, theoretically a player could play endless bonus rounds, earning up to 635 points per bonus round. Finally, after earning a bonus round a player gets a small ring to 'own' a planet. The ring is worth 5 points and is placed on the marble bumper for any planet. In future rounds, if someone lands on a planet owned by a player the owner also gets the points for that planet (always positive for the planet owner).
There were a few scenarios that weren't exactly discussed in the rules, but the game is so simple that they weren't really issues. The game doesn't specify that players have to launch their ships from the same corner every time, but we each chose a corner as our own base. Also, we decided that if a ship landed on an octagonal planet during a bonus round they don't get an additional bonus round. Another slight change we made was to pass a Starting Player token clockwise each round so that everyone had an equal chance at playing first.
There are also a couple of simple variants to the game included in the instructions that focus a little more on skill and not on points. One is to place rings on each planet and players take turns trying to collect rings by hitting planets and collecting the rings of hit planets. The other is a variant of the classic HORSE where players try to replicate each others' shots, earning a letter if they fail. Neither of these variants have detailed rules, however they're simple enough to play.
I have to be honest, when Diletostra first contacted me about reviewing The Universe I wasn't thrilled with the game. I looked at the pictures and videos on his website and replied that I didn't think the game would be a fit for my game group. It looked too random and too reliant on chance as opposed to skill or strategy. Despite my reservations though, Diletostra was persistent an insisted on sending me a copy of the game, claiming there was no way I could make an assessment of the game without playing it. So I agreed to review the game since he really seemed to want to send me the game. "You seem to really know your games and what works for you. Offering you a free game that you could really do whatever with." A few days later I received a large box wrapped in brown paper.
|That's one big package!|
|It didn't arrive in 30 minutes or less, or piping hot, but it was free...|
|Rules, a bag of components, and two |
rogue planets (broken marble bumpers).
|Strapped in for safety.|
|Yes, that is a business card...|
Overall the components are a mix of a cheap board, cheaply affixed marble bumpers, average quality dice, typical wooden disks, and nice colored marbles. The biggest problem with the components, however, are the black rubber o-rings used to mark planets as owned. The problem isn't the o-rings themselves, but the fact that they are all black. So after a couple of bonus rounds there's no good way to tell who owns what planets. Fortunately we had a kids educational game that had colored rings we used instead.
|Four dice, four marbles, four tokens, a D20, the game board, and a |
bunch of o-rings make up the components.
The game is obviously hand made and a project of love by the designer, however you know what they say about the eye of the beholder and love's eyesight... Looking past the nice, but not particularly great artwork and poor graphic design, ignoring the quality of the corrugated plastic board, pretending the glued on marble bumpers don't have to be reglued back on occasionally, and forgetting that I really didn't think there was much game here to begin with, I played this with my family this past weekend and gave it a fair shot.
We played a full ten rounds, as recommended, and had three bonus rounds added in. The game lasted just a bit less than an hour for four of us. By the time the hour was up we were ready for the game to be over. Final scores were 235, 285, 350, and -25. As I suspected, the game was about 93% luck, 5% skill, and 2% strategy. The only strategy in the game is to aim for higher point planets (everyone has a 25 point planet that is a fairly straight shot and can net 150 points if you land you D6 there with the six side up) and bonus planets (again, a fairly straight shot and not too difficult to hit with your disk). Defensively you can try to knock opponents off of the bonus spaces, but generally you're better off to just try to get on a bonus yourself. There is a bit of skill required to get your die or disk onto a high scoring space or bonus space, but it's not much. And the marble is pretty much just a random shot in the dark. Unless the board is perfectly level, doesn't have any warps or divots, and isn't jostled at all during gameplay, the marbles just go pretty much anywhere. The marbles are best used to try to knock someone else's disk or die off of a good planet, or to just shoot and hope for the best.
|Scores were all over the place...|
|Marbles were just as likely to end up on a planet as they |
were to just roll randomly around the board.
I do have to say that my family had fun playing The Universe. We laughed a lot during the game. However most of that was not because of the game itself, it was because we were doing an activity together. My sons loved the game, but that was mostly the novelty of flicking pieces around the board. They would have had just as much fun rolling marbles around the table trying to knock over dominoes. The points were, pardon the pun, pointless in the overall entertainment value of the game. It was just fun to roll the marbles and watch them trace wiggly, unpredictable lines around the board, or to flick disks at other players' dice and marbles. The Universe reminded me of games I used to make up and play at fast food restaurants, like taking turns sliding a salt shaker across a table trying to see if you could get it to hang off the edge without falling, or flinging pennies to see who could get closer to a quarter. The Universe has all the mindless fun of that, but on a huge, colorful board. If this is something you think is worth $35 you can check out the Kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/1k2u6Bs
Preliminary Rating: 3/10
This review is of a prototype game. Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.