Orbital Velocity – Sending Satellites to the Skies
An educational game about achieving orbit.
Orbital Velocity is a game for 2 or 4 players by Pratap Ramamurthy and Swetha Ganapathi Raman. Players work together to get rockets up to orbit – but the player who gets there first will win the orbit and place a satellite there.
How to Play
In Orbital Velocity, two teams compete to get their satellites into orbit. For the purposes of the game, each orbit can only hold a single satellite, so the first team to each orbit wins the round.
The game starts with a race for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and a single rocket for both teams to share. More rockets will be available in later rounds.
Every player starts with a hand of five cards.
On your turn, choose a rocket and play a number card to move it forward; or play a number and a decelerate (minus) card to move a rocket backward. After moving the rocket, draw back up to the hand limit of 5.
To achieve orbit, the rocket must land exactly on the correct orbital velocity. If the rocket lands exactly, the moving player (team) may put their satellite on that orbit.
If the rocket overshoots, it is lost! Not only that, the player who moved it cannot draw cards this turn, and their hand limit is permanently reduced. (They can increase their hand limit by landing a rocket at the “parking orbit” velocity in a future round.)
If all the available rockets have been lost this round, no one wins the orbit. Put an empty holder in that orbit and move on to the next round.
Each round has a higher orbit and one more rocket than the last round. But as orbits get higher, the orbital velocity goal gets lower. LEO requires a lot more power than a Lagrange point orbit!
At the end of five rounds, the player (or team) with the most satellites in orbit wins! If there is a tie for the number of satellites in orbit, the team with the highest orbiting satellite wins.
As an educational game, Orbital Velocity is very good. It’s quick to pick up and understand, but the more we’ve played, the more strategy we have uncovered.
I love the graphic design. The colored cards have a strategic purpose, and the decelerate (minus) cards have little booster rockets obviously firing in reverse. The satellites slot into their holders for orbit perfectly, and I love the way they look when they’re all lined up along the various orbits on the board.
The strategy is more nuanced than it appears; after the first round, there are multiple rockets available, which leads to more choices. Card color coding combines with the number distribution (lots of 9 and 8, few 1, 2, 3), to encourage making educated guesses about your opponent’s hand.
Since low numbers are relatively rare (mirroring how much more difficult it is to be precise in your rocket movements!), we’ve often tried to get a rocket very close to the goal velocity, hoping that the other team will be forced to either overshoot or make a different choice.
But in the end, luck is still a major factor in achieving orbital velocity. You can only do so much with the cards in your hand, and an unlucky draw can leave you without options.
In team play, luck is the determining factor – you have no control over what your teammate plays, and no secret communication is allowed – you have to talk to the whole table. We aren’t experienced players of The Mind so this was tough. Play the odds as best you can, but realize that there will be three other plays made before your next opportunity to make a move. This can be frustrating when it only takes 4-5 moves to get any particular rocket from the launchpad to the goal, and you and your teammate aren’t successful in your mind-meld.
We enjoy playing Orbital Velocity, but unfortunately, it’s not quite enough for our kids to pick it up and play just for fun.
It’s been incredibly valuable for our homeschooling, though, since the science of orbital mechanics is everywhere in this game. From the names, to the card distribution, to the decreasing velocity for higher orbits, everything here reflects the real-world science that we want to teach. And Orbital Velocity does this without turning the game into a chore.
After we played, our kids began asking questions. Why do we send satellites out to orbit the earth at different heights? Why is Low Earth Orbit faster than Geosynchronous orbit? Where did the name “Molniya orbit” come from?
This is exactly what we want to see in an educational game: a spark to learn more about a topic. Orbital Velocity would be a good addition to classrooms (or dining room tables that function as classrooms) or a catalyst for anyone to learn more about real space exploration.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Orbital Velocity from Orbital Velocity Games for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Number of Players: 2 or 4 (2 teams of 2)
Age Range: 10+ (we say 8+)
Playtime: 20-30 minutes