Thursday, November 6, 2014

Meet Me at the Table: Card-Based Sci-Fi Tabletop Games

I found, when working on this article, that it's difficult to really categorize tabletop games. Typically, you can theme out games for certain things, but Sci-Fi games are already themed! So many of them deal with space themes or focus on a certain type of strategy. So with this series of articles I am compiling, I am fluctuating between game mechanics and game genres.

This first list of games are card-based games that utilize a general theme of Science Fiction. They encapsulate everything from space to futuristic landscapes, time travel to aliens. Not only are these game strong in theme, but their challenge and replay value are highly appreciated within the game community.

Among the Stars (2012)

If you think the political upheaval in the world right now is bad, then you should check out Among the Stars (Stronghold Games) for a better perspective on things. Alien races have been warring with each other, but are now being threatened and cannot fight back, so they choose to attempt to make peace. An Alliance is formed and a grand and peace-affirming space station must be built. This space station is supposed to generate an atmosphere of cooperation by "promoting trade among the races, strengthen diplomatic relations, and defend against this impending threat."  It is your job to help them create a beneficial and peaceful Alliance by developing the best space station possible.

Among the Stars is a deck drafting game, which means that you draw cards and attempt to develop your space station by collecting the right amount of cards to amplify your status. While you create your station you can earn victory points for card placement. At the end of four years (not literally), the winning alien race is determined by the total amounts of points that you earn. The cards are shaped in such a way that it helps you build the best possible station and you get bonus points for how you choose to place them. Sometimes the cards will require you to purchase them or work with reactor cubes to help do this. The components, though, are easy enough to handle and the print and graphics are visually engaging and simple to comprehend.

Many people joke about the game being 7-Wonders IN SPACE! And sure, it has its similarities, but it's its own game and stands on it's own two card corners. I adore 7-Wonders, so this game for me is challenging enough, but keeps the games going and the flow keeps everything exciting. The game is best played with 4 people, but can accommodate 1-4.

Time: Roughly 60 minutes       Suggested Age: 10+

Android: Netrunner (2012)

Android: Netrunner is a futuristic game of hackers, powerful corporations, and the war they wage upon one another on a cyber battlefield. This might be the most distinct entry on this list. First thing to note is that this is a 2 player game ONLY. It also features asymmetrical play (the way the hackers and corps play their sides of the table are entirely different). Lastly, this is what is known as a "living card game", a wonderful recent development in the card gaming world that creates the feel of collectible card games and personal deck construction without all the collectible nonsense of buying packs of cards and getting random stuff you may or may not want (and spending waaaay more money than you need to in order to enjoy a game).
The corporate player spends their turns and their vast resources advancing hidden agendas and protecting their data servers with advanced and sometimes deadly security programs known as "ice." Meanwhile, the runner plays David vs. Goliath as they use their incredible individual talents and precious hardware to jack into the net and subvert the corporate player's security measures and engage in some very profitable (but potentially deadly) corporate sabotage.
Android: Netrunner brings back to life one of history's greatest collectible card games, 1996's Netrunner from Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering). The base game provides tons of exciting, tense 1-on-1 gameplay with plenty of variety in the disparate hacker and corp decks (3 hackers and 4 corps), and while there are numerous expansions to the game, you can feel free to pick and choose the expansions that appeal to you and feel safe knowing you get ALL the cards you need with one single purchase.

 Time: 45+ minutes       Suggested Age: 12+

Chrononauts (2000)

 Did you ever wonder what would happen if you went back in time and killed Hitler or didn't elect George W. Bush? Chrononauts gives you the opportunity to hypothesize on what coulda-woulda-shoulda in history. Looney Labs' Andrew Looney (Fluxx) created this crazy and intriguing look at the effects of time travel. Each player has a secret identity and has their own secret mission to accomplish while traveling this crazy and loopy timeline of regrets and successes. As if this wasn't enough, you'll also sample some of the greatest artworks and artifacts in history. . . well. . .until you destroy them.

There are three different ways to win and/or end the game. First, we have to focus on our immediate goals in order to win. One - Going Home: You can match up the events on your ID card and make it to that timeline. Two - Completing Your Mission: At the end of your turn, your three mission artifacts must be on the table in front of you to complete your mission. Three - Achieving Power & Success: If after completing your turn, there are 10 cards in your hand, you win. That does not include your identity and secret mission cards. Finally, we have to pay attention to what everyone else is doing, which leads us to ending the game without winning. Four - The game immediately ends when 13 paradoxes are revealed. Everyone loses. No time to fix the flux capacity and save the clock tower. . . but let's face it, you won't be around to know what you've done!

Don't worry about seeing yourself and tearing apart the space-time continuum, paradoxes abound and are very dangerous. Sadly, there's no Doc Brown, but you'll find a way to have enough fun to fill all your time traveling needs. The games plays 1-6, but is best played with 4-5 players.

Several expansions are available for the game, such as Lost Identities and The Gore Years. Also, if you're really needing that 80's fix, Back to the Future: The Card Game is a skin of Chrononauts

Time: Roughly 30 minutes       Suggested Age: 10+

Legendary Encounters (2014)

Legendary Encounters was one of the of the elite and hottest games at GenCon 2014 this year. Following in the footsteps of Legendary: The Marvel Deck Building Game, Legendary Encounters channels the Sci-Fi classic film franchise - Alien. This game uses all four alien movies to initiate your missions and dictate the aliens you'll fight, as well as what your objectives will be. Objectives are based directly on the movie as actions you would see the characters in the movies have to complete or things they would encounter while they were trying to take down the Xenomorphs.

Below is a picture of the game map that helps guide your deck building game. You have action cards, recruitment points cards, and cards that represent the different characters from the movies. The recruitment points help you to purchase more of the character cards. These character cards have special abilities that help you in your conquest and meeting the objectives. The action cards allow up to fight the alien or battle objective cards. Lucky for you, this game is a co-operative game and you work together to fight the monsters and meet the goals of the game.

The objective cards also hold points that you will total up at the end of the game. The hive cards go into the dead enemies pile. Yet, there are effects that will kill your characters and your people, so there is also a dead character pile. So many piles and cards! Essentially what it boils down to is that you need to read the extensive rules before you play. Once you have read the rules and engaged in the elaborate set-up, the game plays quickly. The card text is simple to decipher, but the iconography might offer some problems that require the rules. It has multiple replay ability due to the randomness of the cards drawn.

So how do you end the madness? If at least one of your up-to 5 players is left alive to complete the scenario objectives, the game is won.I recommend playing with 3-4 players to give you better odds, but it does increase the rate at which hives and objectives are cycled through the game. But despite having the numbers to succeed, if all of the players die, it's "GAME OVER MAN! GAME OVER!"

 Time: 45+ minutes       Suggested Age: 10+

Eminent Domain (2011)

Eminent Domain, from relatively young but respected Tasty Minstrel Games and their head designer Seth Jaffee, is a game of interstellar empire building in the form of a extremely streamlined deckbuilder.
Five stacks of cards sit in the middle of the table for all players to access on their turn. These cards represent the surveying of new planets, military conquest or peaceful colonization of those planets, production and trade of goods upon the worlds in your empire, and research you can conduct to enrich your civilization in various ways (as well as make your deck more unique and dynamic).
On your turn, you can play a card in your hand for its simple action and then you must take one of the cards from the central table and take its "role." The role is another relatively simple action that you can boost with identical cards in your hand. The catch is that all other players at the table can follow your lead in this role and benefit from it as well. In the end, whichever player commands the galactic empire with the most influence (through goods trading, planetary control, and civilization upgrades) is the winner! This game plays 2-4 and it is recommended for 3 players for the best play possible.

Eminent Domain has several expansions: Escalating and Exotica, and there are some promo expansions out there, as well.

 Time: 45+ minutes       Suggested Age: 10+

Race for the Galaxy (2007)

Race for the Galaxy is an absolute masterpiece of game design and the richer, heavier spiritual cousin to Eminent Domain. Both games are a 4X space game played entirely with cards. Both share the mechanic of a player's actions on their turn benefiting both themselves and their opponents. Both involve the cards in your hand as currency to achieve your goals.
Race for the Galaxy stands apart from Eminent Domain in several significant ways. Whereas Eminent Domain is a deck building game where most of your deck is made up of 5 very simple and generic role cards, Race for the Galaxy is a hand management game where everyone draws from a central deck and the complexity and uniqueness of individual cards is much more prominent. Eminent Domain has individual player turns where the other players piggyback off of your actions. Race for the Galaxy is a simultaneous action selection game where what you choose to do for your turn has far greater consequences. Finally, in Eminent Domain the cards themselves are designed to be tossed away to amp up specific actions. With Race for the Galaxy, you have to pay for actions like colonization and you are forced to make tough choices, discarding cards you might really want to hold on to. 

Race for the Galaxy is not for newcomers. It features very little text and tons of iconography to remember, but it is an absolutely amazing gaming experience. I would recommend you give Eminent Domain a try and if you find yourself enjoying that game and think you can handle a greater challenge, give this one a try. The game plays 2-4 and is best played with 3-4 players.

Time: 30+ minutes       Suggested Age: 12+

 Share your thoughts on Sci-Fi card games or your thoughts on this article here or on twitter @adventgeekgirl (#RRSciFiMonth).

The next article is slated to be released on Thursday, November 13 and will focus on games that utilize the theme of ships and crews.


  1. I've played and enjoyed Chrononauts (with 2 players) and all of the rest sound like games I'd like to try. Usually I play with my brother so most likely we'll try Netrunner.

  2. Wow, what a thorough article - I had never even considered Sci-Fi card games before! I remember playing Magic: The Gathering, but other than that I really only know the normal deck of cards :)