I hope to see many copies of this at gaming conventions, clubs, and will make sure it sees playtime on my table regularly.
Publisher: IV Studios
Designer: Austin Harrison
Designer: Max Anderson
Game Type: Deckbuilding
Game Type: Temporary Alliances
Game Type: Hand Management
Initial Year of Release: 2020
Age Range: 14+
Expected Playtime: 60-120
Number of Players: 1-5
Theme and What is it?
Moonrakers is one of the hottest new games is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter Campaign. The Campaign ends October 1st, 2019. Even if you don’t find the game by then, pre-order it on the backer kit or find a way to get a copy post campaign!
In Moonrakers, players take the role of a mercenary captain attempting to hire the best crew members, outfit their ship with the best parts, and complete dangerous contracts. Most of these contracts are so dangerous that a single ill-equipped ship won’t be enough to succeed. Moonrakers forces players to negotiate with each other and divide the contract rewards in a way that keeps everyone happy.
Moonrakers is a deck building game. Players start with the same cards in their deck but will end up with different decks as they gain new cards during play. The active player will select a contract and can invite others to join for some negotiated split of the rewards. If their attempts to team up fail, they can always stay and protect the home base. Protecting home base gives a mostly pathetic set of rewards but a new secret objective that they can do later for an extra point.
After the execution of contracts, the active player gets to purchase crew or ship upgrades. Ship upgrades add new basic cards to the deck and give special powers for use during execution phases. Crew have very special powers and are also specifically needed for some contract requirements. These decisions are the most strategic part of the game that doesn’t require cooperation between players.
Moonrakers already had a huge amount of $$ invested into it by Kickstarter backers when it arrived on my doorstep for review. I was interested in it from day 1 thanks to it being a deck builder. Deck builders are my favorite category of gaming hands down. But with that much money going into a game of this type on Kickstarter it has to be special. That assumption was correct. Very correct.
Most deck builders have relatively light direct player interaction. Hate drafting the market vs building your own engine to epic levels is the extent of it. The others with more interaction are always take-that style make people discard, lose cards, sacrifice things, steal their stuff, or otherwise hinder their non-deck related goals/points.
Moonrakers has found a totally new way to increase interaction. Politics. Negotiation of rewards. And the stonewall you hit once your points are too high and no one wants to risk you finishing an objective card even when they get a lot of rewards in the deal for letting you take part in helping on a mission.
Game Build Quality
The copy I have in front of me is a prototype. But, it is a gorgeous prototype. The metal coins are so worthwhile. I am very impressed they had them available for the prototype instead of only in the final product. Since most of the game is just cards, it is hard to mess that up from a quality standpoint.
Moonrakers doesn’t have oddly shaped cards that are hard to sleeve and the Kickstarter promises 310 GSM heavyweight blackcore card stack with an aqueous coating and linen finish. If you have never had the pleasure to shuffle cards manufactured in this way, let me assure you, IT IS GREAT!
Most of the cards have a minimalist approach to art overall. A unique silhouette of the crew member, a glimpse into the tactical map where a mission will occur, and the basic blueprint for a ship part are all you should expect on a card. There are far more visually appealing games in the world. But, do not take this as a negative. I am actually giving this a higher rating for artistic direction than I do for some of those other games because of how it works within the game.
The artwork isn’t distracting and still offers something cool for me to look at. Many players will agree with me while others will feel very underwhelmed on the artwork.
Good news! The pictures included on this review should be enough for you to tell if you are in my camp or in the need flashy and detailed visual input camp.
Since you can only play a single card on a turn (unless you play reactors that let you gain extra card plays), so much of your decision making is balancing probabilities. The thrusters allow you to draw more cards. But you cannot execute playing your cards and drawing until after you commit to the contract and terms of any alliances.
Going alone is highly rewarding, but almost always will require you to draw at least one required card during the execution. Your chances of getting the correct card are for you to figure out and decide if the risk is worth it. This to me is the core of Moonrakers gameplay and fun.
To my friends that played it with me, the fun is in the negotiation and potential for distrust between players. You want people to cooperate with you and you want to get extra resources when it isn’t your active turn. But you also don’t want to help others too much and want to cut off the help at the right time before they can make the final push to 10 points solo.
One player saved an objective for failing a contract as an ally. He made a deal at the end of the game that would help him and another player both hit 10 while leaving me out of the deal entirely to lose. They would then need to compute the tie breaker and neither was certain who would win it.
They both gleefully tied for first and found out the winner later. Only for the most epic backstab in history as the person with the objective intentionally tanked the contract while holding everything necessary. But, in the process, he gained the last point to win with his objective.
Age Range & Weight
Moonrakers is a 14+ rating. Normally I would claim this is absurdly high for a game of this complexity. But, this time I think it might be fair. The entire game requires players to self regulate what is a fair deal for each player cooperating in the contract and when to intentionally not help (or sabotage) someone else. A few times someone joined a contract intending to sabotage it or be okay if the other players finished it without them and they still got their, agreed upon, cut of the loot.
I can see this being quite disappointing if players are too friendly or too unfriendly towards each other than is fair. Younger players are much more likely to have difficulty with determining what is reasonable or let themselves get pushed into pathetic reward deals.
Overall Moonrakers is a simple game to learn and play. The rulebook was well constructed and clear. I would make a note that they designed the game with 3-5 players in mind with 4 probably the ideal count. There will be solo and two player variant rules included that will use a deck of cards players can use to ally with for a reduced loot reward. Those are likely to be okay but not nearly as epic as the 3-5 player game.
I understand why Moonrakers is raking it in on Kickstarter right now! I highly recommend you get in on the campaign while you can. If you like deck building games, this is relatively simple for how the cards work together but still brings all the enjoyment of far more complex games.
If you are good at figuring out how likely you are to draw what you need to finish a contract based on what is currently in your hand and discard pile, you will really enjoy this one. If you enjoy determining when to take a risk and when to take a safe steady growth option, this is excellent.
The primary Kickstarter campaign ends October 1st, 2019. There will be ways to find the game even after the campaign ends. I hope to see many copies of this at gaming conventions, clubs, and will make sure it sees playtime on my table regularly.
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