Mothership: Manage Explore… get Conquered?

I got the pleasure of reviewing Mothership this month. If you have never heard of it, its a locally developed game by Australia’s own Peter Sandersen. It was his first ever Kickstarter and we previously did an article on its gameplay after Toby played it at PAX2016.

“The great Space Disagreement of 5406 has forced your entire colony to flee into the dark depths of outer space. You’re not alone. Other colonies too seek refuge from the war. All scramble to harvest the valuable resources on undiscovered planets. Your mission: destroy all other colonies. Diplomacy is boring. Shoot first, confirm if they were enemies later…”

I got handed the 2nd edition release and a number of expansions to check out. After a successful Kickstarter and a successful fulfillment period, everything is now available for retail!

“Shoot first, well kid…I’m in.”

So what is it? Mothership is a space themed strategy game about colonizing planets and beating out rivals to become the dominate force in the galaxy. I think I can feel some eye rolls coming… “Not another one” you might say. Well here’s why Mothership is worth the time!

In Mothership you start with a fleet of ships and an open map of planets just waiting for you to take control. Players have a set fleet and the last one standing is the winner. Ordinarily I am not a fan of elimination games. Peter Sandersen predicted that sentiment, the game comes with a Victory Points mode of play.

You get one Colony Ship, one Mothership, three Fighters and two Bombers. These and the tech tree that you research throughout the game give you the tools you need to capture new worlds, fight for your opponents and stave off brutal attacks. There’s a catch, these resources can not be renewed. Use them wisely or your colony will wither and fail.

Mothership has a hex map that’s extremely customizable. In this customization lies the key to why the game is quite good. You can balance the map any way you like vary the locations and types of planets and obstacles. Balance is key, if one player has an advantageous start position it can skew the game significantly. Check out the Mothership App if you want to see some recommended layouts for the number of players you have.

Whats in the box?

The core box comes with various add-ons to up the complexity as needed. Depending on how you arrange the map and what parts of the game you include, you can customize the difficulty and speed with which a game can be completed. On our first run through we played bare bones and were quite happy at the end.

Here it is with a number of different modules.

When you capture planets, they return resources at the end of your turn. In your following turn you can then upgrade your fleet via your tech tree and then continue your conquest. The tech tree offers options for better ships, more capabilities on your Mothership, planetary defense and even WMDS.

Your Mothership is your most powerful ship and has a customizable stat line. Each turn you have 15 energy cubes to dedicate to its three systems, engines, weapons and shields. Use the tech tree to get more energy as the game progresses. Or race across the board with all of you energy in engines, capturing some planet before anyone else. You can turtle up and take the game at a slow defensive pace or risk it all guns blazing in full on confrontations. Choose wisely, you don’t want to get caught far from support with a canny enemy dogging your every move.

The standard version of the game uses action cards that give you small bonuses you can play to effect outcomes of various moves and events in game. These can be purchased and are awarded each time you claim a planet. They add that little extra spice and can turn the tide of battle.

The spice must flow.

But there’s more. In the Core Box there are alternate modes of play, solo rules and extra modules. This results in a lot of extra variability. Artifacts adds hidden special items on each planet. The players that control those planets get the artifacts abilities. Development Cards add a planetary growth aspect to the game. No longer would you have to fight for access to planets. Improve the ones you have. Influence is a game module that allows you to subvert the normal rules for success and pervert the course of other players plans.

Moons add in the opportunity to make more desirable planets or as standalone low value planets that have to be developed to make they useful. Victory Points mode makes ships respawnable and makes the game a little more friendly and inclusive. Solo mode introduces a challenge where you must race to defend your Colony ship before time runs out. There’s also a team play mode, so you can play with your bestie on your side.

That’s all in the core box!!

Dont worry… there is more!

I also received three expansions of the four currently available. The first is the 7-8 player expansion which comes with the tokens and ships for an eight player game. It also has a bigger map in it allowing for eitght players or for more spread out longer games for smaller groups.

The other two expansions I received were Into the Vortex and Call of The Void. The final is called Beyond the Expanse, it adds in NPCs like animals that live in the vacuum of space, pirates, space stations and trade enclaves, as well as more planets.

Into the Vortex comes with three more modules to add to the game. Class Cards which make each player slightly different with unique abilities and technology. Nebula tiles for the game board that act as tarpits and slow down your ships. Finally Worm Holes which allow instantaneous transport to other corresponding worm holes on the board.

Call of the Void introduces four modules to the game. Black Holes that can devastatingly destroy ships that stop too close… or zip them to another location on the board. Neutron Stars which represent an impassible hazard that sucks away the abilities of your nearby ships. Distress Beacons which when explored can give a reward or punish you for your charity. Finally there’s Objective Cards which add extra elements of reward and cost benefit analysis, encouraging players to take risks.

Just the core game is pretty huge but coupled with all these expansions with multiple modules each, there are thousands of iterations of game play. Its incredible value. The other value is the game itself. The components are good quality and there are a lot of them for its modest price tag. The card stock is good, although I wish the tech tree had come with the inlaid panels like the Mothership board, there is nothing more annoying than scattering your cubes everywhere while reaching for another corn chip.

The best part of the components is the box itself which comes with a vacuum formed inlay that fits all the game components, and expansion components. There’s also a nifty honeycomb structure so you can leave all your ships on their stands snugly clicked into the bottom of the box. That’s clever design from someone who has suffered the same frustration I have with packing away component heavy games.

I really enjoyed the game play of Mothership. Its well done, simplistic, and with the ability to expand. I have so many games we just don’t play in this genre, because they can drag out excessively. If you wanna play a shorter version of Mothership… customize it.

It is also good to see a much larger style of game from an Australian developer. This one has been well play tested and there doesn’t seem to be any issues with the game itself, or the modules we have played so far.

It is very rare to come across a game that is made in such a way that is both simple and complex in a way that players can alter to suit their needs. Mothership is a breath of fresh air in a style of game that is often so monolithic, folks just don’t play it. Well I know one thing… I’m gonna play it… so many more modules to explore!!

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