Friday, February 24, 2012

Outpost 20th Anniversary Edition: Board Game Review

Economic Engine and Auction games are two of my favorite styles of games. Assessing value and build a competitive advantage is skill important within economic games. Add in the auction element complicates matters because price structures become more variable given current market availability and demand; however, the toughest aspect of auction games is to keep the ego in check. Winning auctions does not always translate in winning the game.

Last year I managed to purchase an OOP copy of 2038, an 18XX game, set in space designed by James Hlavaty and Tom Lehmann. My favorite thing about 2038 is the randomness of exploring hexes on the board, which is a novel twist to the 18XX formula which usually is highly deterministic and lacking luck. By now you are wondering, "What's the point with this 2038 tangent?" Stowed away in my 2038 box were mail order instructions on how to obtain the advanced rules for another game called Outpost.

In previous posts I have shared space themed games are among my favorites.  I have fond memories of watching Star Trek: TNG on Sundays with my dad. Maybe that's why I like space so much. Therefore, I will use a space theme for my review of Outpost, by using references to a space themed cartoon show and favorite of mine: Futurama. Though I must admit I do not like the post cancellation episodes. They strive for mediocrity and have delusions of adequacy. Now, moving onto the review of Outpost.

Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Good news, everyone. Tomorrow, you'll all be making a delivery to Ebola 9, the virus planet. 

Yes, good news indeed. Stronghold Games recently released Outpost: 20th anniversary edition, a 2-9 player game, is a reprint of a classic James Hlavaty game originally printed and released by TimJim Games in 1991. TimJim games while not visually most attractive games by today's gaming standards are quite fun. They are a good buy on eBay or conventions especially since TimJim Games folded in 1998. 

My Outpost game play experience has been limited to games with six players. Though, I suspect I would not want to write a review about playing 2 player game Outpost. This version of Outpost is played with the advanced rules from the 1st edition and includes optional game play cards designed by Tom Lehmann known as the "Kicker" cards from Kickstarter. 

Bureaucrat Number 1.0: D-D-D-D-Don't quote me regulations. I co-chaired the committee that reviewed the recommendation to revise the color of the book that regulation's in. We kept it grey.

The original artwork was pretty close to military grey or ocean grey and had plain spartan white cards with black print. The new edition includes space themed artwork and color. The upgrade in art is roughly tantamount to when Hollywood starting using Technicolor. 

Zapp Brannigan: Brannigan's law is like Brannigan's love: hard and fast.

Outpost is not the fastest game, but is it rewarding. The first time playing my gaming group managed to play Outpost between two and three hours, closer to three. The game was lengthened by ten minutes after people could count their cards correctly and the resultant mockery.

The basic premise in Outpost, each player controls a planetary upstart colony and races to build an empire. Each player begins the game with 3 factories and 3 workers. The factories manufacture production cards or the currency used in Outpost when run by either humans or robots. The resources are drawn from matching factory type deck. Each card has a number value and these cards are used to purchase upgrades. The upgrades can earn players victory points and ends when a player is the first to reach 75 victory points. 

Managing game variables within Outpost is key to winning. At the start of the game players start with:
1. Hand Limit of 10 production cards
2. Maximum of 5 human workers. This is known as Colony Support.
Purchasing upgrades can expand your hand limit or number of workers. Some special production cards do not count towards your hand limit.

The basic turn order is quite simple (these are not the rules in entirety):
1. Determine Player Turn Order. This is done by player VP's
2. Replenish purchased colony upgrade cards. This is accomplished by dice rolls and changes the cards available for bid. Sometimes multiple cards of the same type are available for bid.
3. Distribute Production Cards: Collect money from your factories. This is what makes the game fun because the draw deck for each factory has production cards with an average value. Players draw cards corresponding to the factories they run. Sometimes high cards are drawn other times players are stuck with low value cards and could not even afford a small can of Slurm let alone being able to competitively bid.
4. Discard Excess Production Cards
5. Perform Player Actions: This is the core part of Outpost. In turn order a player, starts an auction for an Upgrade Card or Kicker Card. Additionally, they may Buy New Factories, Buy additional workers  (Colonists or Robots), and finally assign what worker operates each factory.
6. Check for Win: Check to see if a player reached 75 or more VPs.

Moon Rover Ride Narrator: No one really knows when, where, or how man landed on the moon... 
Fry: I do! 
Moon Rover Ride Narrator: ...but our Fungineers imagine it went something like this. 
Fry: That's not how it happened. 
Leela: Oh, really? I don't see you with a Fungineering degree.

The rules are quite straight forward and don't require an advanced degree. After a few rounds every player should know what they are doing and won't require extensive rule referencing. Printed on player’s game boards are the names and the average production values each factory manufactures. Additionally, when new upgrades come into the game to be bid on players can simply reference what is printed on the card. Basically, RTFC. Though, I thought the print was too small.

In my first time playing I wasted at least one bid because I expanded my colony support or maximum number of workers too high. I never maxed out on factories, in effect wasting money I could have used else. I safeguarding in case I wanted to have extra production. It was the wrong bet.

This game is not like 18XX games where holding onto excess money is a wasted opportunity because held money produces no income. Holding onto money in Outpost can be a strategy for buying higher VP cards. As an example, in our first game for more than half the game I was behind by at least 20 VPs, but later in the game I bought a top-end factory (Moon Ore which produces production cards with an average value of 50) and then purchased the Moon Base for 200 and earned 20 VP's. Everyone thought I was way behind until performing this action.

In addition to upgrades giving players VPs, they are prerequisites for players to be allowed to buy upgraded factories and the upgrade cards also grant purchase players discounts for future purchases for certain types of cards. One fun upgrade card is the "Wiley Trader" this allowed a player who owned the card to choose a player trade them a card and take a card from them of the same type, but a higher value. Hate play can be fun.

Bender: Bite my Shiny Metal Ass

Lost my first game of Outpost and worst yet the guy who had to leave for work would have won the game that day. He was utilizing the titanium strategy to win. Producing small victory points each turn. I came in second and possible first if I didn't screw up discarding some cards I should have held onto due the hand limit exclusion rule. 

Thumbs Up:
Tense Auction Game; combines the fun of St. Petersburg and Power Grid.

Tight game mechanics.

Thumbs Down:
Plays a little long and auction games with fewer than three players usually not that much fun.

Not much bad about Outpost

Available for purchase from my friends at Funagain Games and under $50. Orders over $75 ship free. 
Outpost English Rule Book

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