Publisher: Spartacus Publishing
Game Designer: Casey Clark and Gabe Ivan
Artwork: Thom Thurman
Ages: 9 & up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $25.00
Parental Advisory: Safe for children over 12
Nearspace is a two-player 4X deck builder from designer’s Casey Clark and Gabe Ivan of Spartacus Publishing that has just launched on Kickstarter. In the game, players compete head-to-head as leaders of the Terran Alliance or the Alpha Centauri Regime, both factions fighting for the survival and supremacy of their empires.
The vastness of space is explored, resources exploited and battles are fought with fleets of warships built by each empire and represented on the table by polyhedral dice. An interesting concept used before in games like Quantum, the difference in Nearspace is that these are dice you provide from your own stash, with every shape and color of polyhedral die represented from the D4 up through a D20.
After failing to fund this project in 2013 Spartacus Publishing revamped it and lowered their funding goal by 30% while offering some great early bird funding levels.
Summary of Content
The cards I received in the preview copy were poker size 269 GSM clay coated stock from The Game Crafter and are replete with a mix of very nice images from different artists, each with their own unique slant and several gorgeous images from NASA/JPL that dovetail nicely into the games theme. I would expect the same quality, if not better, should the project fund.
A 16 page rule book covers gameplay from start to finish and is laid out in a logical and easy to follow manner with good explanations, allowing you to get to playing right away.
Analysis and Evaluation
Nearspace is designed to be a small game that you can take anywhere with the only add-on being whatever dice you have in your collection to represent your ships. Most gamers have a nice assortment already on hand but if you don’t, you can always pick up the pound o’ dice on Amazon to cover all your needs.
The 54 card demo copy I received for review came with recommended deck lists to use for both empires, which saved time and allowed me to get right into the game. I would venture that these would be included in the Kickstarter version as well, to help new players wade through the 105 cards planned for the full game.
The main ‘board’ consists of a 27 card play area, twelve cards from each player’s deck of 30, lying face down making up the sectors of space that you’ll travel through. The exceptions to this are each empire’s homeworld and a center neutral space anchor card. Next to the homeworld lies the register and resources, the register is for terraforming projects and the resources are the remainder of your starting deck from which you will draw from when replacing cards from the play area or the register once a successful terraforming project completes.
Your homeworld nets you 5 construction points (CP) which you use to begin building your fleets, engines and terraforming projects. The player’s also have an ‘engine’ die; the engine is the d20 that provides you movement points and more than one can, and must, be built to increase movement points for your ships.
An interesting design feature of Nearspace is how every shape and color of popular polyhedral dice has a specific role with corresponding bonuses. The game has ship types for d4 through d20 while further distinguishing them by color. A dozen colors represent as many different roles from assault ships to replicators and stealth ships, each with a unique bonus with a 13th acting as a catch-all for those ambiguous dice that have no obvious main color.
Ships enter service when all of their facet points are paid by CP. For example, a d6 is a gunship and becomes available to use once you’ve built it to its full six point strength. The exception to this is a blue ‘fabricator’ die; it can be built for only four CP in this instance because blue costs two less CP to build.
The first couple of turns you’ll spend your CP building ships to explore sectors and get more CP, generally using a pair of d4 fabricators for only 2 CP each. It’s also good to begin building a white d6 on the first turn with the remaining two points since white gives a +1 to defense as its role is shield and can help protect the homeworld if your opponent tries to rush it on the second turn.
Movement in Nearspace is determined by rolling your d20 engine dice. Each ships movement costs the size of its facet, so an engine dice roll of 12 would allow you to move a d6 two sectors at six points per movement. Moving into an unexplored sector allows you to flip over the card and if there are construction points on it, you must stay there to establish presence so you can recover those resources.
Along with cards that grant CP and other bonuses for attack and defense, you’ll have negative cards in your deck that you may uncover when exploring. Some of these can be a bit nasty while others won’t harm you under the right circumstances.
Since you build your own decks, you’ll know what cards you’ll be facing but not when. Due to their low movement and cheap construction costs, d4 replicator ships are a great way to uncover your cards quickly and if they get destroyed you’re only losing 4 facets per fighter.
The review copy was meant for the short, 20 point deck variant rather than the full 30 point deck, so all of the games I played moved quickly as fleets were much closer to one another sooner. Victory is achieved by either 100 facets of ships destroyed (80 in the quick variant), annihilation of all ships and the ability to construct more or capturing and holding your enemy’s homeworld for three turns.
Combat is easy to resolve, each side rolls the dice involved in the battle, matching the highest dice rolled to that of their opponent. Whoever has the highest roll in each pairing wins and the destroyed dice go to the graveyard of the owner. Ties are bad however, both dice go to the graveyard as both ships mutually destroy each other. Once 100 facets of dice are in the graveyard, the game is over through conquest.
This is where having a large dice collection is important, I’ve actually won games by having more dice than my opponent as I snatched up the majority of the d20’s, d12’s and d10’s when we pooled my dice for the two of us. This left my opponent without a chance at building the bigger ships but they couldn’t complain, they were my dice right?
Make sure you bring plenty of dice because once they’re in the graveyard, they’re out of play. Of course you can house rule things and just keep a running tab on the score while reusing the dice but there’s something so enjoyable at gloating over those kills, except if they’re yours of course!
Mechanically Nearspace plays well but there’s nothing differentiating either faction so you don’t really care which side you’re fighting as. With no benefit or special power to being either faction, they’re nothing more than flavor really. I would love to see advantages and limitations to both sides; this would cause you to have to tailor your decks with those positives and negatives in mind. Hopefully this can be addressed during the Kickstarter.
There wasn’t much in the way of ‘take that’ type of actions aside from combat or taking control of your opponent’s resources. Since you build your own deck, you have as much chance of dealing with a negative card as they do and you’re more likely to find it while exploring your section of the board. A way of dealing a card to your opponent would have been a welcome addition here, possibly tying in to faction abilities if they were added.
Although the full version of Nearspace will have 105 cards, if there’s nothing making each faction unique the game will likely come down to one or two optimized decks that everyone will be playing. The randomness of the draw will be the only unique feature then.
For the price point, Nearspace is a decent little deck builder disguised as a 4x game that you can easily carry with you anywhere you go, but don’t forget your dice. If you’re looking for a quick, space combat oriented deck builder with lots of dice slinging, grab it for when you need to scratch that itch and want to take your dice out for a spin around the galaxy.
It is a pretty fun, lite game that is simple and fast to play. Through a clever use of roles and colors for standard polyhedral dice, it is a different variant to the standard deck builder and the art on the cards is really nice. Games last between 45 minutes to an hour but will go faster the more you play and get better at building your deck.
Lacking unique faction characteristics is a real miss for Nearspace but one that could and should be added in the future and would increase the overall game value, I’m sure some variants will pop up over time on BGG but it would be nice to see what Spartacus Publishing can come up with and how it hopefully enhances the game.
The 105 cards planned for the full deck are more enough to keep two players happily gaming. However, when two players have their own decks you’re likely to see a lot of similar cards played by both sides once the better cards are sorted into solidly built decks. Differentiating the empires could go a long way in keeping the decks more unique and increasing the variety and replayability.
Company Website: Spartacus Publishing
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