Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League by Heinrich Glumpler
Z-Man Games, 2007
Out of Print
When I asked my wife, Heather, which game she wanted to play for Day 11 of my 12 Days of Gaming, she rattled off a list of options.
“Uncharted: The Board Game?” she suggested.
“Well, is that your favorite?” Knowing that Heather isn’t a particular fan of tabletop games, I wanted to explore something that she–even she–enjoys.
“It’s my favorite theme,” she clarified. “I sort of feel like deck-building.”
“How about Dominion, then?” I asked.
“If you’re really nice to me, I’ll play Archipelago,” Heather replied. “Or how about Castles of Burgundy?” Somewhat surprisingly, Heather appreciates Stefan Feld’s baroque game designs as much as I do.
I still remember the first time Heather chose Perry Rhodan. On a whim, she decided to browse board game deals on Amazon, and Perry Rhodan caught her eye. “Do you want this game?” she asked. “It’s only $20.”
I knew almost nothing about the game, so I spent the next few hours researching, watching video reviews, and comparing it with other games at a similar price point (never take me shopping). Unlike Heather, who tends to pick things up on gut instinct–she’s discovered some of her favorite authors just because she liked the book cover–I seldom make a purchasing decision without exhaustively weighing the probable outcome. In the end, we decided to order the game, I with some trepidation, since Perry Rhodan is a 2-player game in a style that doesn’t normally grab my attention–if Heather didn’t like it, there wasn’t much I could do.
Luckily, she did like it, and it’s entered into the rotation of “games Heather will play” (see above). Playing in roughly a half hour, it’s simple enough for her to enjoy while offering some nifty ship customization that maintains my interest. There’s also an official solitaire variant from the designer, but as a connoisseur of that sort of thing, I’d rather get my solo kicks elsewhere.
Originally published as part of the KOSMOS 2-player series, Perry Rhodan takes inspiration from the popular, long-running German science fiction series of the same name. I’d never heard of it, either, but the Perry Rhodan novels have apparently been running since the early ’60s and sold more copies worldwide than any other sci-fi series in existence. Although the books sound similar in spirit to Buck Rogers, you’d never guess from playing the board game, which has players flying around the solar system ferrying goods and passengers as merchant kings of the cosmos. (In fact, Glumpler’s original design had nothing to do with the Perry Rhodan universe, which was pasted on afterward by the publisher.)
At its heart, Perry Rhodan is a race: the first player to accumulate 70 megagalax, a spacey currency, immediately wins the game. (In an oddly grim bit of graphic design, the points track depicts the players’ ships spiraling into the center of the sun.) This generally happens by picking up a shipment of goods on one planet and dropping them off on the destination planet. Each planet only likes one type of good, depicted clearly on the cards themselves, so there are no complicated exchange rates to keep track of. Players might also have passenger cards in their hands that they can play on the right planet for a few megagalax. Once you’ve dropped off your cargo, you’ll probably immediately load another set of goods and fly out again.
It sounds simple enough to be boring, but a few clever innovations make things a lot more interesting. First, there’s the way you actually fly from planet to planet. Once per turn, the active player can fly by rolling a normal six-sided die and spending that many “flight points” in movement. It costs a point to land on a planet, a point to re-enter orbit, and a point to move from one planet’s orbit to the next in line. That is, if you’re moving toward the sun. Flying away from the sun costs double the flight points as your ship fights against gravity. This tiny wrinkle makes a big change in how the game actually plays out, making inward routes much more appealing than outward ones. You’ll also get a number of cards in your hand that can be played as “interventions,” most of them altering movement; for example, Sun Tunneling allows you to fly directly from the innermost planet’s orbit to the outermost planet, while Transmitter Gate Activation switches your ship’s position with your opponent’s.
Then there’s the fact that the goods cards are double-sided, showing a different type of good on each face. Whenever you drop off goods at a planet, instead of discarding them from the game, you simply flip them over, showing their new destination. Occasionally, when unloading goods, you’ll flip them over to find that two or more goods match on both sides. If that happens, you must remove that pair of goods from the game–effectively, as the game continues, shipping opportunities become scarcer and scarcer.
The most interesting element of the game, though, is how you upgrade your ship. In addition to one flight action and up to two interventions, each player receives two planetary actions per turn. These planetary actions can be loading goods onto a container, unloading cargo for points, or installing a ship upgrade. These ship upgrades make up the half of each player’s deck that aren’t interventions, and have a variety of effects, from extra containers, free flight points, allowing the loading and unloading of cargo from orbit, or increasing the number of cards you draw at the end of each turn–essential if you want to make proper use of those interventions. The problem is that these ship upgrades, in addition to a planetary action, cost you megagalax–the same megagalax that you need to win the game. And the more upgrades you’ve already installed, the more expensive new ones become.
Installing upgrades will make your ship more efficient, but there’s going to come a point when the cost outweighs the benefit, when paying 8 points to add another cargo bay ends up losing you the race. That’s the final twist that makes every game of Perry Rhodan interesting.
(P.S.: By the way, Heather and I ended up installing nearly identical upgrades this game; however, I got them onto my ship a few rounds earlier, which may have been decisive in my victory, although it was a few intervention cards played at the right moment that gave me a solid 15-point lead…but the less said about that, the better.)
((P.P.S.: The “boards” shown in the above photographs didn’t come with the game–they’re part of an amazing series of component upgrades designed by BoardGameGeek user Scott Everts.))