Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Space Explorers by 25th Century Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Space Explorers by 25th Century Games
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Title: Space Explorers
Designed by: Yuri Zhuravljov
Publisher: 25th Century Games
Year Published: 2017
MSRP: $30
2-4p | 20-40 min | 10+

It's the middle of the 20th century and the world's super powers have their sights set high.  In Space Explorers each player is working to assemble the best team of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and more, in an attempt to put together the greatest team and build the best projects in the fledgling space race!

Using a combination of resource management, set collection, and engine building, you'll hire specialists to your various departments.  These specialists will bring skills and special abilities that will let you complete projects to score points.

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Outstanding artwork.
  • An interesting set collection and engine building mechanic.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • The strategy behind using Specialists for both the resources you need to hire other Specialists and the set collection elements needed to gain the skills you required for points is interesting.
  • A large variety of cards and several different projects mean your strategy will have to change and adapt from game to game.
  • The closed resource loop where using resources means you give your neighbor those resources is an interesting mechanic I'd like to see in other games, too.
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • Sacrifices elegance for complexity without any benefit for the experience.
  • The theme feels pasted on and only very loosely tied to the mechanics.
  • Iconography was confusing.
Final Thoughts:
There are some really interesting things going on in Space Explorers.  Each turn you can either add a Specialist from the pool of specialists to your hand or you can recruit a Specialist to your team.  After your turn is over you can complete a project if your team has the skills required for the project (set collection for points).

Adding Specialists to your team is the meat of the game and where the most interesting things are happening, mechanically.  Each Specialist has a cost in research (resources) needed to recruit to your team.  Each Specialist also has one or two skills that determine what department they can be recruited to on your team.  If you already have specialists in that department the new one you're hiring will be cheaper to recruit.  You need to make up the remaining research by utilizing the skills of Specialists already in your team, by spending research tokens in your supply, or by discarding specialists from your hand (this counts as two of any kind of research).  Using research tokens means you pass them from your supply to your neighbor's supply, so spending them helps the next player.  These are pretty unique ways to implement resource management and set collection.  I don't think I've ever played a game that uses these mechanics and I found them very intriguing.  However, some of the people I played with found the iconography confusing.  I'm not really sure what could be done to improve the iconography, but I had experienced gamers repeatedly mix up research and skills.

I really love the theme of Space Explorers and the artwork does a wonderful job of instilling a sense of the early space race era.  I also like the set collection, resource management, and engine building mechanics in this game.  However, the theme feels very tacked on and the mechanics seem overly complex without a corresponding depth to the gameplay.  I never felt like I was actually hiring a team of workers or working toward building a space exploration project.  Instead I felt like I was manipulating resources and cards with symbols in order to get points.  The theme seemed very secondary.  While my group was playing we kept comparing the game to Splendor, not because the theme or mechanics were similar, but the gameplay experience seems to scratch the same itch.  However, Space Explorers sacrifices the simplicity and elegance of Splendor's design.  The result is a game that has some innovative mechanics, but the added complexity doesn't result in a more rewarding experience.  I'd like to see the mechanics introduced in Space Explorers in a game with more depth.

Overall, Space Explorers is a game that I enjoyed and wouldn't mind playing again, however it doesn't provide a better experience than similar set collection, resource management, and engine building games like Splendor.  New gamers will be able to pick up Splendor much more quickly and experienced gamers won't find additional depth that matches the additional complexity.  If you want to play, count me in, but this isn't a game I'd ask to play if there were other options.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.


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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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