Review: Outpost Luna

By Dave Neumann 04 Feb 2014 0
There are eight-million stories in the lunar city, This will be one of them. There are eight-million stories in the lunar city. This will be one of them.

If Outpost Luna was a physical board game, instead of an original digital one, I would expect the box cover to have a glowering European noble staring at me, like so many dry euro games do. Have you seen the cover of Caylus or Hansa Teutonica? Of course, Outpost Luna's noble would have to be wearing a 1950's style bubble helmet because it attempts to hide that "trading goods in medieval times" feel with a sci-fi theme. It doesn't work. This game is more euro than Belgium.

But you know what? It's a really good euro.

The goal of Outpost Luna is to be the first to build three cities on a far away planet. The game board is made up of tiles and grows or shrinks depending on the number of players. It's a good mechanism for balancing different player numbers but, even so, I found the game to shine with 2 players and get a little long with more than that. Each tile represents a different resource obtainable from the landscape: iron, rock, water, gold, and bricks. Apart from the tiles, setup will also reveal blueprints for cites that can currently be built. The cities can contain items like housing, factories and towers. Your (very euro game job) is to convert resources into these buildings. It's that simple.

Getting from A to B, however, is handled in a fairly interesting way. The game uses the little-used mechanism of programmed/delayed actions. You are dealt a hand of cards and you play three cards down. You will play the left-most card each turn, and each turn will refill the right-most spot. This causes an card that you played this turn to not fire off its actions until 2 turns later. It's a good system, and one I haven't seen used since Wings of War. The only issue I had with the system was how little stress it generated. This mechanism is ripe for setting up failed moves by having a card that looked great 2 turns ago now be useless. This forces you to lose a turn at best, do something you don’t want to do at worst. It could be a tension builder, but Outpost Luna avoids this by having most cards split into 2 separate actions. It’s rare that you can’t use one of the two actions, so any sense of “oh, shit, why did I play that card?” is lost.

What you can't see in this picture is that my green guys are riding tauntauns, and the yellow guys are Imperial probe droids. What you can't see in this picture is that my green guys are riding tauntauns, and the yellow guys are Imperial probe droids.

That’s the game, really. Play your cards to launch or move your probes (you have three), play cards to gather resources from your tiles, play cards to build buildings, play cards to obtain more resources or blueprints, or play cards to attack other player’s probes. Yes, I said attack other player’s probes. I know, I know, I said this was a euro, but don’t get all excited.

This isn't Eclipse...there are no dice. In fact, the combat system actually makes the game feel more dry. Some cards have Attack actions and a number. That number, plus any gold you spend is your military might. On your turn, players can secretly assign gold to each of their probes for defense. Compare the numbers. It’s a system that seems to work okay early in the game, when players have little gold to spend. As the game progresses, however, you can stockpile quite a bit of gold and attacking other players seems less and less likely to succeed. Add to the fact that defenders also can be holding Defense cards and that certain building increase their defense value, and you can see that late game conquest isn’t really doable. On top of that, cities can’t be attacked. Conflict in Outpost Luna has a very limited appeal.

That's one small step for man, one giant...oh, wait, let me grab those bricks. That's one small step for man, one giant...oh, wait, let me grab those bricks.

Despite its flaws, however, Outpost Luna is a good, medium-to-light-weight euro along the lines of Lords of Waterdeep or Settlers of Catan. My biggest disappointment with the game is the lack of tension. I know that Agricola haters don’t like the fact that you never seem to have enough actions or resources available to get done everything you need to get done. Even the lighter Lords of Waterdeep plays with this a little, by having you compete for specific resources each turn. That tension is what drives those games forward and makes their decisions interesting. Outpost Luna lacks that tension. The game lacks scarcity to the point where obtaining the resources you need becomes almost unbelievably easy. The only tension I’ve felt in my games is toward the end of the game when I have all the parts of my city built, but just can’t draw a card that allows me to build my final city. I can get the same kind of tension while playing Go Fish with my kids. It’s not the kind of tension that usually drives modern board games, where the tension is built on making the best decision based on what’s available to you each turn.

It’s not entirely devoid of tension, as it is, at its core, a race game. Get three cities before everyone else and you win. So, at the end when everyone has 2 cities and are trying for their third can be thrilling. It’s just that all the thrill is packed into the endgame instead of being stretched over the entire experience.

Outpost Luna is a good euro game that, with tweaks, could be a great euro game. While that may sound like faint praise, consider that I have a basement full of physical board games of which I can say the same thing and I still love them all. I’m not quite sure I would say that I love Outpost Luna, but if it was a physical game I’m pretty sure I could find room for it on my shelves, grumpy spaceman on the cover and all.

Review: Outpost Luna

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