Space Explorers: Age of Ambition
Marc Andre’s Splendor is possibly one of the best known modern board games. Many other games have found success in the engine-building formula Splendor pioneered, and one of those is the space exploration card game Space Explorers. Designed by Yuri Zhurvlev, Space Explorers probed this genre with a heaping dose of additional complexity. While this may have pushed it past the casually interested crowd that made Splendor a common site on store shelves, it nonetheless found a welcoming home in the arms of board gamers. We enjoyed it, too.
Space Explorers new expansion, Age of Ambition, offers seven expansion modules for the base game. A game is best suited to ages 12+ when including the expansion, but the time remains a relatively tight 40-60 minutes. 25th Century Games once again delivers the goods on this title.
Age of Ambition recommends including no more than three modules from the expansion in the base game when playing. In fact, the box even includes a set of selection cards if you want to randomly choose your modules.
Choose three modules and set them up with the base game according to the Game Setup Order, which includes specific rules for each module. The order of setup might matter, depending on the modules included.
The modules decrease in complexity from 1-7, with Module 1, Space Powers, being the most complex.
Because each of the modules requires specific setup, we’ll leave you to discover the details in the rulebook.
For the most part, Space Explorers plays the same way with the expansions involved, with only a few small adjustments. Since seven modules yields literally thousands of potential combinations, it’s impossible to explain every possible permutation. Instead, we’ll touch briefly on the types of mechanics each module adds. You can use your imagination on how these modules would mix together.
Module 1 – Space Powers
When using the Space Powers module, each player selects their Space Power board. In addition, four of the Specialists in the Research Center get a tile representing one of the four Space Powers. The tile shows the Power and the additional resource they require.
If a player recruits a Specialist from the Research Center with a tile that is not their Power, they must pay the extra cost on the tile to recruit the Specialist. They then put that tile in the International Section of their Space Power board and continue recruiting as normal. Then, they place a new tile of that Power on an empty Specialist in the Research Center.
If the tile on the Specialist the player recruits is their Power, they pay no extra cost and put the tile in the Development Section slots starting at the left. After filling the three Development sections, all tiles go in the Collaboration section.
The Development section slots provide each player with unique asymmetric powers they can exhaust their tiles to use. Once there is at least one tile in the Collaboration section, a player can clear the Development section of tiles. This allows them to put fresh tiles in its place and use powers again.
Each unique set of tiles in the International section provide end game victory points.
Module 2 – Prominent Leaders
Every Space Power has influential leaders and this module represents them. When putting Specialists face-up in the Research Center, only put five instead of six. In addition, put two Leader cards face up.
Leaders are recruited just like Specialists, but there are no discounts for recruiting Leaders to Divisions with Specialists in them. Additionally, players can put Leaders in any division.
In addition to the purchase cost, Leaders have a Commitment at the top of the card. If the player completes a Leader’s commitment, it provides additional end-game bonuses. All leaders have at least one skill icon that takes on the color of the Division they are in.
Like the Specialists, you might need help decoding the icons. Fortunately, the game includes a player aid for Module 2.
Module 3 – Impending Crises
This module adds six crisis cards to the game: three bad and three worse, indicated by icons. These Crisis cards affect everyone and range dramatically. The game includes a player aid for Module 3.
Create a deck of three randomly selected bad crises on top of three randomly selected worse crises. Turn the top two cards face up. One is the Ongoing Crisis, the other is the Upcoming Crisis. Put the Crisis marker on the top spot of the Ongoing Crisis.
Any time a player completes a project, takes at least one Specialist card into their hand, or recruits a third Specialist to a Division, move the Crisis marker down one box. When the Crisis token moves off the Ongoing Crisis, it moves to the top of the Upcoming Crisis. This becomes the new Ongoing Crisis. Reveal a new Upcoming Crisis.
This adds a new end-game condition: The game ends if the Crisis token moves through all six Crisis cards.
Module 4 – Strategic Goals
Strategic Goals offers unique play conditions for every player. There are eight goal tiles per Space Power. Each player chooses five for their Power randomly and places one above each Division. Players flip these tiles whenever they complete the goals.
Each completed goal awards one victory point for each card underneath it in the Research Hub.
Module 5 – Executive Talents
As a manager with particular Executive Talents, you have special abilities in recruiting or resource gathering. Each player takes two Talent tiles and picks one to represent their personal asymmetric talents for the entire game. These talents range dramatically but are always helpful.
As with everything else, these talents are indicated by icons. The Space Explorer’s Manual will be key to decode them.
Module 6 – Remarkable Projects
Remarkable Projects swap in at the beginning of the game, replacing about half of the regular Projects. These Projects are unique and have variable end-game scoring mechanics, unlike the base game Projects which are worth fixed points.
Module 7 – Higher Directives
With Higher Directives, each player has a briefcase token in addition to their normal resource tokens. When spending resource tokens to recruit Specialists, a player can include a briefcase token to double the value of another resource token. It isn’t a true wild, but can be used as an additional icon for a token they are already spending.
In our first play with the Age of Ambition expansion we played with Modules 1, 6, and 7 (recommended). It was clear from the get-go that Yuri doubled down on what made Space Explorers successful. Just like the base game, you’ll be referring to manuals to understand the iconography. Even after you’ve played the game a bunch in short succession, still keep at least the player aids handy.
We found the Modules could largely be placed in three categories:
- Modules 1 & 3 offered significant game changing mechanics that you had to consider with every move you made.
- Modules 2, 4, and 5 provided additional mechanics that amended the core gameplay in consequential ways to offer different flavors and ways to win, or make the game a little easier.
- Modules 6 & 7 were changes that were seamless with the base game and could easily be considered variants, not necessarily expansion modules.
This isn’t a bad thing at all, since we’re not always in the mood for the same weight of game. But regardless of what we chose, none of the mechanics felt out of place, which is commendable.
One of the best features of Age of Ambition is that if there is a module you don’t like, you still have six others. There’s a ton of replayability in the box, and not mandating various modules go together provides lots of flexibility.
While I enjoyed the changes of Space Powers, it was the module that diverged the most from the base game mechanically. For us, Space Explorers is a complex enough game, so we won’t play with this one often.
I felt Prominent Leaders and Strategic Goals embodied the aspirational feel of Space Travel without adding completely different mechanics. Crises, on the other hand, seem to have a depressive effect on the entire game. I want space travel to feel like a noble goal we’re all working towards, even if not together.
The Space Powers and Remarkable Projects shined a light on other nations’ participation in the space race, and sparked my curiosity about their efforts towards space travel.
Finally, module 7 seemed superfluous to me. I felt like it could have been a small promo pack instead. But given all the content in the box, I guess it doesn’t hurt to include it here.
The bottom line is, if you like Space Explorers and you want more of it, you really can’t go wrong with Age of Ambition. It’s a well-crafted second effort in the IP, and the game is better for it, no matter what flavor of the pie strikes your fancy.
25th Century Games provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Space Explorers: Age of Ambition for this review.
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Space Explorers: Age of Ambition
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 12+
Playtime: 20-40 minutes (we say 40-60 minutes)