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International Space Station

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ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008

Hey all.

So, while Pompeii sits on the sidelines until I can attend the NYC play-test in early January (or until you all have some more pre-testing comments!), my mind of course wanders.

Last night I had a very vivid dream about a card-laying game about the International Space Station. It kind of played like Infernal Contraption, except everyone was working on a single machine, which of course is the ISS. Players were competing for prestige, and got it by adding components like Living Modules, Science Labs, Solar Panels, Power Generators, etc. The players in my dream seemed to enjoy it, so I wonder if it could work in the real world, too. :)

I'm interested to hear you guys' reaction to this. Could any of this work? How could I build tension when players are working together to create something? I could just make it a co-op, but it always fascinated me how much the ISS, and space exploration in general, sometimes seems like a governmental vanity project dressed up in vague terms like "advancement of science" and "international cooperation." I'd really like players to feel like they're competing to make the biggest contribution to the ISS.

Some more details:

Higher-level items would require prerequisites; you can't build a science lab until you've got space for the astronauts to live, and both require a certain level of available power. Also, low-level components can be swapped out, or augmented by, higher level ones, once the prereqs are met. There might also be a monetary cost, taken from some sort of budget, but I'm not sure how to control the money flow (dice? a fixed amount each turn? your prestige already collected?), or if it's even necessary with the prerequisites idea.

Other ideas:

- each module comes in a variety of colors, indicating its country of origin; some percentage of the prestige goes towards the color, and some directly towards the player who built it. Each player is also secretly (or not) one of these colors; thus any component you build also helps your opponents directly, besides making it easier for them to construct their own addition to the ISS. Players are thus both governments (colors), and companies (tiles laid). This creates a fun meta-game of trying to figure out which color each other player is, so as not to help them too much by playing their tiles.

- negative cards that destroy, or threaten to destroy, various components unless players are able to prevent them (somehow; see below?)

- positive cards for one-shot use of various components, like a science experiment that awards more prestige points depending on the quality of the lab facilities on the ISS, or a particularly amazing photograph based on the longest length of the structure, or a "green initiative" that awards points for using solar panels more than battery generators (that's kind of lame)...

- Perhaps these good cards are singular mission cards, dealt out at the beginning of the game and scored at the end, or perhaps there's a separate draw deck for them, so a player could choose to pursue a building-focused approach or a mission-based approach, or perhaps there's only one deck containing both components and missions, and you must adjust your strategy based on what you draw (this is probably my favorite option, and also probably easiest to make rules for and, eventually, produce).

If I really wanted to go crazy, I'd make a game like this a subset of some sort of resource-gathering game, and set in the future. Players whip around the solar system, trying to collect the necessary resources from planets and moons to pay for improvements to their, or the group's, space station. Possibly this uses some sort of "slingshot" mechanic (which I want to explore in a game somehow, but that may be for another game).

So, anyway, thoughts? Brainstorms? Or is this just Carcasspace?

comfect's picture
Joined: 11/13/2008
I quite like your idea of

I quite like your idea of having different colored components that can help a player other than the player who built it...maybe have each player as a country and the colors represent the national origin of the company that made it (so if the Americans pay for/install a part made by a British company, both nations get some prestige?) That could work as an explanation for why players receive points for both national and company actions.

I don't think this would be too much "Carcasspace" if you didn't want it to be. The mission/component deck idea seems particularly like it would diminish that worry (especially if you let people have a hand of cards, unlike in Carcassonne). Would the missions be general (ie at the end of the game [or right then] whomever built the largest/most X) or specific (ie you drew this, score for X)?

Interesting game idea.

Gogolski's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Other stuff to think

Other stuff to think about:

Players need to get the equipment at the ISS. => Because of budget reasons, the space shuttles will be launched less in the future, so new stuff to be added and crew changes will happen with russian rockets.

The ISS has a crew (normally three persons, in 2009 there will be six) that stays for 6 months or longer. Players could lobby to be elected crew-member or commander...

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
Re: different colored

Re: different colored components
Nation of origin is much cleaner, I like that. Like the Canada Arm on the US-made-and-launched space shuttle, giving prestige to both Canada and the US whenever it's used. The only reason to make it about companies vs. governments would be if the players' countries were kept secret, and the main reason for that, besides making "guess the player's country" a possibly-fun meta-game, would be to keep people from Analysis Paralysis: "If I play the green Living Quarters, I help Steve; if I play the blue Lab, I help John... John's winning but I really want better Lab facilities..." On the other hand, does making the countries secret, besides being a bit anti-thematic (really? you didn't know that Rolls-Royce power inverter was built in Britain?), add to the AP problem? Would it be less, or more, paralyzing if you knew exactly who was winning at any given moment?

I had originally thought that missions would be one-off events, specific events, especially if shuffled into a combined component/mission deck, but I like the idea of keeping a few in reserve that are scored at the end of the game, and making those award big points. This also has the benefit that holding those powerful missions decreases your effective hand size, like the "dent" cards in Snow Dogs, and thus limiting your options. I think that the only fair way to do "whoever built the most [x]" general missions would have to be to hand them out at the beginning, and that's less interesting to me.

And definitely players would have a hand. I hate the draw one / play one Carc with no hand, it makes it entirely too random.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
Crew Hm, crew commander. What

Hm, crew commander. What would he get to do? Draw two? Veto a card played by someone else? Maybe there are a bunch of positions, and they rotate through the players just like various nations' astronauts rotate through positions on the ship. So you'll want to play your Lab mission when your guy is the head scientist, or build something when your guy is the... engineer? mission control officer? hmm, I may need to do some research.

As for the rockets, I could appropriate the Red Planet mechanic, where various rocket ships get loaded, but I think that complicates things needlessly. Food for thought, though, thanks!

Sundog's picture
Joined: 12/09/2008
Disaster & Sabotage

I think a looming disaster or sabotage would add some tension too. What if there was a lifeboat that could only accommodate one or two astronauts? Maybe there are playing pieces for the astronauts which move from module to module. If fire starts in a module (on purpose or by accident); then it starts spreading to each module in succession; can one of the astronauts lock off the module - or is it a race to the lifeboat? I think this may be adding another level of play & complexity. Ironically, I like fast simple games. I really like all the previous ideas!

Edit: after several hours of browsing BGG aimlessly; look what I found:

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
There are no new ideas under

There are no new ideas under the sun, or orbiting the Earth, it would seem. :)

I like the idea of sabotage but I don't want it to get out of hand and take over the gameplay completely, lest it become Sucking Vacuum (which actually sounds fun, just not the game I'm creating).

I imagine a few Mechanical Failure cards that simply render a given component unusable for a turn, or until specifically fixed. This is useful if you think your opponent is going to need that Lab for an upcoming science mission, or clearly has been waiting for the upgraded Living Quarters before adding a Galley. A bit of "take that" is always fun in a tile-laying game.

Possibly a card or two that might eat up a module permanently, thus robbing the color of prestige ("No wonder the Fuel Cell caught fire and exploded -- it's made in China!") and possibly with a chance of spreading to another component. In the continued spirit of trying to avoid extra bits, you would spin the card to determine the direction of spread. Theoretically the entire ISS could be destroyed, but much more likely is that the problem will eventually be fixed or spun off into space, eliminating the card.

fecundity's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
In a similar vein of linking

In a similar vein of linking to existing games: This discussion makes me think of Starbase Jeff:

Obviously, your suggestions will make for a more complex and realistic game. Starbase Jeff does suggest one way in which the actions of one player can benefit other players, though. Sometimes players need to pay other players for access to openings-- one player gets access, the other gets money.

dannorder's picture
Joined: 10/20/2008
Building pods on a space

Building pods on a space station has a lot of potential as a building game. Sucking Vacuum sounds more like a Zombies!!! type tile-laying game where the tiles are largely insignificant in play compared to the fighting than an actual construction game.

I like what you've sketched out with prestige being shared between the person who played it and the nationality behind it, but I don't think having the cards colored per player is the best way to do it. People like to pick colors, and you'd have to have colors spread out among the same cards to make it fair that way. Plus what if there aren't enough players for all the colors: would you have to remove certain cards from the game, and how would that effect play?

What I'd recommend is something where people have hands, and then can play cards face up to indicate that those components have been sent up in space on a rocket and are waiting to be added. That way if someone ahead of your next play can fit it in, they can call it international cooperation and steal some of the prestige, otherwise on your next round you can play it and get it all. I think the strategy there picks up, because if you see what's queuing up you can put cards out that make it difficult for that owner to play it. Then perhaps other cards don't have to be launched/queued and can be immediately added to the station, either as connector prices to facilitate the more important ones or as events.

If the card isn't in front of the player but perhaps added to a shared space dock building queue, a colored token can be placed on it to show who built and launched it to keep track of prestige when it's played. And if you have a shared dock for all building projects, maybe they have to be played in order of the queue, in which case you can add a dock which doesn't increase prestige but gives more flexibility in what can be played when.

There are lots of ways you could go on this. Tile placement makes more sense for constructing than for revealing a supposedly pre-existing station you are trying to escape (as in Sucking Vacuum) but somehow don't already know the layout of. The more it models construction the better I think it'd work.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
Starbase Jeff, prestige, and upgrading

Starbase Jeff
Ah, Cheapass. Such a good philosophy on paper (why pay for bits when you already have them?); I just wish some of your games were a bit more complex and rewarding.

Yeah, SBJ does look a little like what I imagine ISS would be: tiles or cards in various colors, other players being helped by your actions, quick gameplay, space station theme. The main difference, of course, is that in SBJ you're only playing tiles in your color, and that tile laying itself seems to be the extent of the gameplay. But I may shamelessly raid some of those photos for inspiration for component pieces. Thanks!

As the prestige element further develops, I'm thinking of justifying it this way: your nation is either launching (when you lay a tile) or home of the company that developed and constructed (color) a given component -- sometimes both. Whenever a component is added, prestige naturally goes to the nation that launched and installed it, and the nation that was proud to host the company that developed it ("The ISS's new lab equipment, recently installed by the US Space Shuttle Endeavor, was made right here in Britain, home of the world's most precise zero-G test tubes! Now if only they could learn to spell 'Endeavour' properly...").

Standard placement of, say, Living Quarters:
Place LQ mk. I: 2 prestige to player, 1 to color
Place LQ mk. II: 4 prestige to player, 2 to color
Place LQ mk. III: 6 prestige to player, 3 to color

The goal here is to give players ample incentive to place components on the ISS, even if they're not their color. Different components might have different ratios, although that might get a bit fiddly. If the colors were kept secret, then I might reverse the ratio, or at the very least even it out -- is he playing that for the color, the launch bonus, or both?

New tiles can upgrade old tiles, but it will cost prestige to do so ("You don't think our standard Russian Living Quarters are suitable for your fancy French butts?"). And of course, only upgrades are allowed; no downgrades! So, the rules would work something like this:

LQ-I -> -LQ-II: 3 to player, 2 to new color, 1 to old color
LQ-II -> LQ-III: 4 to player, 2 to new color, 2 to old color
LQ-I -> LQ-III: 5 to player, 3 to new color, 1 to old color

Note that nobody remembers who launched the now-obsolete component, but the flags of its country of origin are pasted all over the thing. It's a shame they'll burn up along with the rest of the component when that old bucket hits the atmosphere.

At the end of the game, there's a final round of prestige awarded, with each component still on the ISS netting its color 2 prestige points, with possibly an additional award to whichever nation contributed the most to the ISS as it stands at the end of the game.

Note that you could replace your OWN components here, grabbing some hefty prestige bonuses for doing so ("Japanese Power: representing the cutting edge of ISS energy generation since 2002!"), but at the cost of that final count.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
Launching components


Good point about unused component colors. I think that they could work fine, though; you'd just ignore points awarded to non-player nations. Additionally some number of components might be colored gray -- "other" nations not worthy of competing on the scale of the major contributors to the ISS.

But I really like the idea of playing cards face-up in front of you and hoping nobody jumps on them before you get a chance to add them to the station. It's very thematic and removes a lot of the fiddly math. It also reminds me a bit of Loot, where you lay down merchant ships and hope they make it safely to port before they're waylaid by pirates, which you can also play on other players' (or your own) ships.

You'd get two actions per turn, because otherwise there'd be little reason to ever launch your own stuff; you could just steal other peoples'. So you could launch two things, build two things, or launch one and build one already in transit. You could not launch and build a component on the same turn though. I think I like this plan a lot -- it also dovetails nicely with mission and event cards, because they could affect launched pieces ("Rocket Malfunction" springs to mind immediately, of course; other sneaky things like seeing a bunch of Lab pieces go up and then stealing the Head scientist role also become viable strategies).

The ISS: Putting the "national" in "International Co-Operation" since 2000!

comfect's picture
Joined: 11/13/2008
I like the idea of

I like the idea of gray/colorless sections you could add just for prestige (perhaps less prestige, because you didn't cooperate with another great nation?) and using the colored ones of the non-playing colors as gray in a less-than-max-players game.

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
Game Journal Posted

Thanks for all your help, guys. I have some preliminary rules up on the new Game Journal. It's four pages long, which is probably about the maximum level of complexity I want. I'd really love to hear your thoughts.

kj's picture
Joined: 07/24/2008
Re: International Space Station

Seems like a great theme!

Maybe you need cooperation along the way, but it really is just a competive game. Sort of like trading in Settlers is cooperative.

Could the travel up from the earth and back be part of the game? And maybe you have to buy components from other players, or travel capability. Or maybe you need extra astronauts (more than you would have) to build some components. Some payback for the help but you get the points (if there are points) for laying the tile.

Larac's picture
Joined: 12/29/2008
Power is a main Concern

On ISS Power constraints are always a major issue.

So that could be used as a Resource and the Manager Corrects an Error Card that makes a played card not work, until a ReEng card is played.

Perhaps use a small marker for a powered Module and you can only add with the Resources you have left and the Prereqs that are powered.


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