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Jan 03

Space Junk: Description and Review

Space Junk, by Mike Friesen and Leif Steiestol, is game in which 2-6 players assume the role of contestants on a futuristic reality show competing for fame by racing around the Earth and collecting the most valuable junk in space.  True to its reality TV inspiration, Space Junk pits a wide array of misfit contestants in a no-holds barred battle for fame in an outlandish setting.  Will you have what it takes to ride your war Christmas Tree outfitted with a trebuchet, a bag of Cheetos, a clown wig, and a porcupine to glory?  There is only one way to find out!

Players race around Earth earning points for each lap and gathering all of the Space Junk they can find!

Players race around Earth earning points for each lap and gathering all of the Space Junk they can find!

The goal in Space Junk, like any reality show, is to become the most famous contestant.  In Space Junk, fame is acquired in one of three ways:  Earn five points for each orbit of Earth, three points for each successful hit during the combat phase, and by adding up the total value of all of your junk at the end of the game.  The player who most successfully manages these three goals will be the winner.

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At the start of the game, each player randomly selects one of the contestants to play and takes a ship board.  Like any “good” reality show, there is an eclectic group of characters out to take their shot at fortune and glory.  Regardless of whether or not you play as the Aging Rockstar, Redneck, Nerd, or the ever popular Trailer Park Queen all contestants have three attributes and one special ability.  The attributes are as follows:

Movement:  This is the number of spaces that the contestant adds to its ship’s movement around the Earth.

Attack:  This is the amount of attack strength that the contestant adds to its ship when attacking another player.

Search:  This is the amount of added search capability that the character has when looking for Space Junk.

Each piece of space junk has also has values for these three attributes.  Some junk cards will have an asterisk next to one of these values.  If a card has an asterisk the player may choose to damage the card to gain a one round boost to the appropriate attribute.  A card showing an asterisk next its movement value may be used to increase the ship’s movement by 3 for the round.  A piece with an asterisk next to its attack rating may be damaged to increase the ships attack by 4 for this round.  Lastly, a piece with an asterisk next to the search rating may be damaged to increase the ship’s search by 2 for the round.

20140102_183902Each player then places their contestant on their ship board and adjusts the tracks for movement, attack, and search to the appropriate values.  All players then receive a random piece space junk to be their starting fuselage and add all three of its values to the ship’s totals.  The fuselage is the only piece of junk that adds its values to all three attributes.  All other pieces must be placed in either the movement, attack, or search sections of the ship and only add to that row regardless of their other scores.

Once all players have received a character and their initial piece of junk, they select a color of spaceships for scoring and movement and the game begins.

Space Junk is played over six rounds.  Each of those six rounds is divided into three phases:

Movement Phase:  In turn order each player selects one of the three rings around the Earth (center, middle, outer) and moves a number of spaces clockwise equal to their ship’s current movement value.  For each full orbit of Earth the player receives 5 fame points.  In the event that a player ends his movement on the same space as another ship he has the option to ram into the opposing player.  If a ram is attempted the active player receives a +1 bonus to the die roll.  Each player adds +1 for every piece of junk they have equipped that has an “R” designation to show its bonus for ramming.  Once the bonuses are totaled, both players roll a six-sided die and add it to their total ramming score.  The player with the highest total wins and immediately chooses any non-fuselage piece of junk from the loser’s ship to equip in the same area or place in their cargo hold.  Both players then adjust their attribute tracks accordingly.

Attack Phase:  During this phase, each player may fire their weapons at one other ship.  The attacking player subtracts the number of spaces to their target from their attack rating and rolls one six-sided die, adding the result to their attack total.  Divide this number by 5, scoring one hit for each full five that goes into it.  For example, if your attack rating is 8 and the target ship is 3 spaces away your modified attack rating is 5.  If you roll a 6 your total is now 11 and you are able to divide it fully by 5 twice and thus score 2 hits.  Gain 3 fame and roll one die for each hit scored to determine what sections of your target’s ship are damaged.  If the results of your dice rolls correspond to a section or sections of your target’s ship containing a piece of junk, turn the piece 90 degrees to indicate it is damaged and will be discarded during the Search Phase.  However, the player still retains the attributes from the piece until the end of the Search Phase.

Search Phase:  During this phase, each player draws a number of junk cards equal to their ship’s search value, but not in excess of the max search allowed by their ring.  The center ring allows for a maximum search of 3, the middle 6, and the outer 9.  Once a player draws the appropriate number of new junk cards he must discard all damaged (rotated 90 degrees) cards.  At this point the player may completely rearrange his ship, including the fuselage, into whatever configuration that he feels will be the most beneficial by using the new cards, old cards, and any cards previously stored in the ship’s cargo hold.  After all players have completed the restructuring of their ships the round ends.

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In between rounds is a sub-phase, that I suppose is technically optional, in which players give a brief confessional about how things are going for them on the show and how they feel about the events that transpired during the last round.  No extra points are scored during this phase, but it does help to add to the overall fun-filled attitude of the game.  The example given in the rulebook is as follows:

        “My name is Bubba Johnson and I’m riding this here tricycle to glory.  I’ve got an armadillo to comfort me and crush my foes.  I’ve also got me a shopping cart stuffed with some items just for backup.  Best not get too close or ma armadillo just might bite ya!”

Players are encouraged to talk in character to the best of their abilities and improv a fun take on the current state of the game from their character’s perspective.

After the sixth full round, each player totals up the fame value of all the junk equipped on his ship and in the cargo hold and adds it to the fame he acquired during the game through orbits and successful attacks.  The player with the highest total is declared the winner.  In the event of a tie, all players involved in the tie equip their ships to the best of their ability and the player with the highest combined total of all three attributes wins the tie-breaker.

A ship board as it might look during the game.

A ship board as it might look during the game.

My Review

Space Junk is a humorous, relatively light strategy game, that is best suited for families and social gamers.  While there is a certain amount of strategy:  how to take advantage of your character’s strengths, which ring to orbit, who to attack, how to configure your ship, what to store in cargo, there is also quite a bit of randomness.  Primarily in what junk players discover from searching and the hit locations during the attack phase.  As such, if you are looking for a hardcore brain burner Space Junk is not really the best choice that you could make.  However, if you are looking for a quick little goofy game that is highly thematic and you have a group that is ready to embrace the reality TV aspect, Space Junk will likely be a winner for your crew!  I put on my casual gamer hat, played a couple of games with my wife Heather and two step-kids, Katie (15) and Jarrett (almost 14) with all of us having a blast!  While I am more of a hardcore gamer by nature, I do enjoy games like this as well, if they are quick, funny, and still have enough meaningful decisions to keep me engaged.  I am happy to report that Space Junk succeeds on all of these counts!  As a result, I give Space Junk and overall rating of 6.75 out of a possible 10 when stacked against all other games.  However, it is worth mentioning that while not the highest of ratings it does come with the caveat that Space Junk is an excellent casual/family game and I would strongly recommend it to that sort of gaming group!  Given that my tastes lean more towards heavier, less random games, that 6.75 should really be considered out of a possible 8.0 as it succeeds so strongly at what it is trying to accomplish.

Among Space Junk’s many positives, is that it is easy to learn and teach.  This is my most important requirement for a game of this sort, as I do not want to spend too much time to figure out how to play a highly random casual comedic game.  Space Junk did not suffer from this issue at all as it took only about 20 minutes for me to learn and 10 minutes to teach to the family.  The flavor text on the junk cards was also very popular with us as we got a kick out of the diverse references.  My wife and step-daughter were particularly fond of the Disney references.  Yes I’m talking about you Pride Rock!  While much of the junk would clearly be useless in any sort of space battle, it is most certainly not useless when comes to nurturing the comical tone of the game.  A key moment came for us when the wife knocked out the boy’s friendly alien and porcupine for which he swore revenge.  In the next round vengeance was his as he, “hit her right in the guppy!”  It is “aha” moments like these that make for memorable game play and we have all been walking around saying things like, “Don’t hit me in the guppy!”  Last but not least, Space Junk is fun to play and had us laughing out loud during and after we finished.

While we did enjoy Space Junk, there were also a few minor issues that we had with the game.  As I mentioned above, there is a great deal of randomness, which leaves certain things beyond your control.  The wife and step-daughter were a little saddened that there were only two female characters from which to choose.  Admittedly, the copy I received is of  the high quality prototype level of production, and should not be judged by the components, as there may or may not be different characters available in the final version.  I also would have liked some sort of turn order change as the player going first each round is at a bit of a disadvantage.  He can negotiate with the other players to not shoot each other, but once his turn has passed there is nothing he can do during this round if they renege.  Yes, he does get the first opportunity to ram another player, but he will be forever vulnerable to players shooting after his turn.  Still, these are minor concerns overall and do little to detract from the fun of the game.

When the designer Mike Friesen first contacted me about reviewing Space Junk, I knew right away that I would be interested.  I told him that the name alone had me intrigued, and I was right to feel that way.  While I am a highly competitive gamer, I also have a “tweaked” sense of humor and Space Junk hits that sweet spot quite nicely!  There will always be a place in my collection for games that are both humorous and provide a quality gaming experience.  If you of a similar mind, I suggest you give Space Junk a look, you never know what you might find!

 

If you are interested in Space Junk, it is currently an active Kickstarter project that still needs backing.  To be clear, I am in no way affiliated with this project, but I will say that all of my dealing with the people at Lamp Light Games have very courteous and professional which is always a good sign regarding Kickstarter campaigns.  If you would like to learn more or are considering backing Space Junk click the widget below.

Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review.  No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.

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