Designer: Greg Loring-Albright
Publisher: Plain Sight Games
Play Time: ~60 min
Type: pick up and delivery, hand management, tile placement
Hyperspace Smuggler is a pick up and delivery game with a clever hand management and tile laying aspect set in a futuristic space world! Players take on the roles of space station smugglers tasked with traveling to (distant) planets to pick up precious cargo and deliver it safely back to the main space station. But be aware! There are other smugglers and custom officials who are looking to steal or confiscate your cargo! Players must navigate through different obstacles in space, finding shortcuts through warp gates, and hiding in nebulas and asteroid fields, in order to make it back to the space station. The shortest route might not always be the safest!
Check out the Kickstarter campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gsalbright/hyperspace-smuggler-a-tabletop-space-adventure-gam?
Why review Hyperspace Smuggler?
I was very honored to be contacted by Greg the designer saying he had a review copy left and sent it to me that very day. For transparency reasons, I did receive a free copy in exchange for me honest review. I am dedicated to experiencing, reviewing, and publicizing Indie developers, designers, and writers, in the board game and book publishing industry. Because of this, I will always do my best to make time to get Indie games to the table, provide constructive feedback for designers, write a detailed review, and promote the game/book on social media.
The theme and mechanics of Hyperspace Smuggler has two very simplified 4x style mechanics and thematic pieces. In a 4x game, players explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate, usually set in a science fiction universe. Hyperspace Smuggler has the players explore and exploit (to some extent) through tile laying and collecting cargo from planets. While very abstracted, I am always up for a social justice conversation in the world of board games and how it may relate to our real situation in the United States. 4x and other games centered on space expiration and resource gathering can be thought of as scifi colonialism. Players are discovering planets in the universe and taking their resources for themselves to score victory points. I won’t spend this entire time pointing out all the problematic systemic issues that are established by colonialism, but we can see in our own country as well as many countries around the world still suffering from the affects of colonialism even after hundreds of years. Whether it’s assimilation to western culture, established systems of power in the government aimed at oppressing indigenous peoples, or stripping the land bare of all resources, the affects are destructive and traumatic to the people originally there.
Again, Hyperspace Smuggler is very abstracted, especially when compared to a recent game like Mombasa, where players are supporting diamond companies, exploiting different regions in Africa for their resources. Players in Hyperspace Smuggler simply take a cargo card when they discover a planet. However, the larger conversation is what happens in the space between discovering the planet and gaining precious cargo on the ship. Were their indigenous folks on the planet? How did the player acquire the cargo? Was it consensual or a fair trade? Why is a player “wanted” after visiting a planet? What happens to the people / lifeforms on the planet now the player has left with the cargo? All these questions can be used to start conversations about the harmful nature of colonization. Whether you want to have that dialogue is up to you.
Component Quality /2
I cannot comment on the component quality since I received the game in prototype form. Usually, I weigh components as 20% of my overall review, but in this case, until I see more finalized components, I will leave this section out. To see previews of what the artwork may look like or what fully published version comes with, check out the Kickstarter page or the game page on Board Game Geek.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a science fiction person, but wow do I love space themes in board games! Space exploration and resource collection theme works in this game, but the mechanics were not tied as tightly to the theme as I would have liked. For the most part, with the different actions – tile exploration, tile affects, special abilities, and victory conditions – many other themes could have been used. Moreover, ship battles did not feel very thematic, with each player flipping over one laser card. Although other themes could have been used, I am very partial to science fiction / space themes and part of my engagement and fun came from flying a ship around in space!
The one mechanic where the theme does come through loud and clear is the hyperspace travel. When I take an action to refresh and draw hyperspace cards, I feel like I am charging up my engines. Then on my next action, I warp! To the other side of the galaxy! I really like the thematic integration of warping and besides the hand management, I think this is the strongest piece of the game.
In the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, pick up and delivery is one of my least favorite mechanisms. I find them to be rather tedious, running out to some location to pick up resources and traveling all the way back to drop the off for victory points. It becomes a race without an effective catch up mechanism. After reading the rules, I thought the game mechanisms sounded interesting because there was a layer of hand management and tiles laying exploration on top of the pick up and delivery. The rules are very simple and allows accessibility for all levels of players. I first played a two player game of Hyperspace Smuggler (depicted below) to get experience with the game and to learn to rules in a more kinesthetic way. On a turn, players must take two actions and have three choices of action to take: movement by engine, movement by hyperspace, and refresh. Also, a player may use their special ability on their turn during the appropriate action.
I first want to talk about movement and the main mechanic of hyperspace warp. Like other exploration games, a player can play an engine card to move one space orthogonally. If there is no tile in the space, a player draws two from the stack and chooses to play one. Players are looking for planets in order to get resources, but other features appear when exploring such as nebulas (protecting a player from opponent’s ships), astroid fields (causing a player to discard a laser card in order to move onto the tile), customs stations (confiscating cargo from players), and of course empty space. Once a planet is visited, a player marks the planet with the cube or their color and takes a cargo card. This is to remind them they can no longer pass into or through that tile, creating a boundary. Other players treat this tile like empty space.
The other way of moving is by hyperspace warp. Some of the tiles have a dice symbol with pips. If a player is one on of those tiles, they can use an action and a warp card to move to another tile with the same die symbol. I love this mechanic! As the game progresses more and more pathways are opened up to the player via the warp action. These new tiles could change certain paths to make them more safe or more dangerous. I really like seeing innovative and unique changes to well established board game mechanics and I think the warp mechanic in Hyperspace Smuggler does that for pick up and deliver.
Second, I want to talk about the captain special abilities. These are given out at random at the beginning of play. I have not personally played all the special abilities but I believe all the special abilities have been played by someone in my games. I want to give a disclaimer for the next section by saying Greg told me the captains have been tweaked recently and often. I am not expert in game design but a few of the powers seemed more useful during the game than others. For example, the ability to warp to any tile with a warp symbol regardless of the number of pips seemed unbelievably powerful when thinking about creating paths to and from the central station. Also, I played with the power where I could keep the tile I did not pick when exploring. I strategically kept planets to play at opportune times when I thought I was safe from attacks, allowing me exclusive access to cargo. In contrast, other abilities did not seem useful or the players did not tailor their strategies to use them to their fullest advantage. The gunner ability comes to mind. Unless that player is playing a highly confrontational battle strategy, the special power is close to useless.
Third, I want to talk about space battles between players. If a player enters a tile with another player on it, a battle must occur. Battle is pretty simple: both players play a laser card simultaneously and the higher number wins. Since laser cards are valued 1-24 without duplicates, there will always be a winner. If one player does not have a laser card, the other players wins but must burn a laser card. If neither player has a laser card, the battle does not occur (this rarely happens). A player must play a laser card if they have one. If there are more than two players on the same tile, the aggressor (current active player) can choose the order of battle, which could be very important.
What happens when a player wins a battle is a little convoluted at first and seems like it needs a flowchart. Okay, it’s really not that complicated but probably the most complex ruleset in comparison to the rest of the rules. The winner may take a cargo from the other player if possible (the winner must have room in order to take cargo). Or the winner may choose to exhaust the other player’s special ability. If the special ability is already exhausted, the player must discard their special ability. There are rare cases where cargo may change hands multiple times during a series of battles and there could be battles which have no real outcomes (i.e., a situation where neither players can take cargo and have no special ability card in play).
If a player starts on a tile with another ship, they have the option of starting a battle anytime as long as they stay on that tile. This caused, in almost every single game I played, a “back and forth” battle over pieces of cargo because the player who initially attacked and stole cargo did not have enough actions to get off the tile of battle to safety. The player who lost the cargo simply refreshed to draw more laser cards and attacked back on his turn. This happened many rounds until someone had a bad laser card draw and lost on their turn. This who scenario seemed… clunky at best. I really like the player interaction because it does force players to think about the routes they take back to the central station, but in my opinion, battle didn’t really work out…
Last, when the user takes the refresh action they may discard cards from their hand and draw back up to the limit of 7. This brings in the clever hand management mechanics. Should the player draw more hyperspace cards, movement cards, or do they think they will be in a battle soon and draw mostly laser cards? In addition to drawing cards, the player may refresh their special ability card. If they have no special ability card and they are on the main space station, they can take a new special ability at random.
Many questions came up during my plays and I do want to point out I know and understand this game is still undergoing development. Further, the designer Greg has been very responsive to all of my questions and feedback. I really think he has something here with a pick up and delivery game that doesn’t feel like a slog to the finish line. The hyperspace warp makes the game fast and light with multiple paths back to the space station. I like the core mechanics and where the designer has taken the game so far and I look forward to the finalized version of the rules.
Hyperspace Smuggler was very engaging throughout my plays. Since there was (at least in my games) a decent amount of player interaction withs ship battles, I paid attention on other player’s turns. Further, turns were so simple and short, there is very little room for analysis paralysis. The game had strategy as well as tactics and more choices that simply go out exploring until you find cargo. A viable strategy could be hanging around the base until someone else picks up cargo in order to steal it in battle. Also tactically, a player may change her strategy due to where another player moved, causing a barrier back to the base or presenting an opportunistic time to steal cargo.
Part of the engagement has to do with the hyperspace warp mechanic. Part of the reason why I dislike pick up and delivery as a mechanism is the sheer amount of time it takes to go pick and then finally deliver the resources. Then, I have to do it over again. The warp mechanism makes moving around the game area fast, once established warp tiles are discovered. This creates a ramp up feel with the game. When more pathways are opened up through warp fields on the tiles, the easier it is to navigate around the different barriers.
I think this game would be most engaging for those who prefer lighter, quicker games or those just entering the hobby. I am not sure how the game will hold up after playing it over a period of time. Will there be enough variability in the exploration that I won’t mind the pick up and delivery aspect? Are there enough special abilities that I will feel the variety of play style? Will I get tired of the back and forth battle for some pieces of cargo? I am not sure of the answers to my questions and it will differ depending on the player. Over the course of my plays to write this review, I have been fully engaged with all of them, except for the two player game with the majority of back and forth battles.
Overall, I had fun playing Hyperspace Smuggler. The groups I played with were light-hearted and okay with the direct confrontation of ship battle. We got into the theme which made the experience that much more fun! The game time is right on (about an hour) and does not over stay its welcome. However, I am not sure how this game would have landed with a group not as willing to let down their barriers and get into the theme or those who do not like direct confrontation.
Overall Rating 5.8/8 (~7/10)
I enjoyed my plays of Hyperspace Smuggler and very much enjoyed teaching and sharing the game with others in my game groups. Despite some of the qualms we had with the rules and clarification of some of the mechanics, the games ran smoothy and I felt like I was able to fully experience all aspects of the game. For a game I would not necessarily gravitate towards in a friendly local game store or even at a game night, I was pleasantly surprised. I could see Hyperspace Smuggler fit a niche of a filler, gateway pick up and delivery and hand management game. I am excited to see the results of all the hard work Greg put into designing the game and running a crowd funding campaign to produce the game!
If you like pick up and delivery games, games that are light and could be taught to new gamers, or the space exploration theme, please consider pledging on Kickstarter!