When SpaceCorp was announced on the P500 for GMT Games in November, I immediately added it to my growing list. A Sci-Fi themed game from GMT designed by the great John Butterfield? An easy decision for me as I have played and love some of his other designs, including D-Day at Tarawa from Decision Games. I reached out to John for an interview earlier this year, but due to schedules and other considerations, we just couldn’t get together. But now, we have finally finished up the interview and are ready to share more about the game. All graphics used in the interview are playtest versions. Nothing has been finalized yet.
Grant: You usually design great wargames. What sparked your interest in designing a Sci-Fi themed game like SpaceCorp?
John: I love the subject matter of human expansion out to the stars and have wanted to design a light multi-player space exploration and development game for quite some time. Besides, my game design credits include such science fiction titles as Stargate, Freedom in the Galaxy, Voyage of the Pandora, Universe and Delta Vee.
Grant: What was your inspiration for SpaceCorp?
John: I made a few unsuccessful attempts over the years to design a game on civilization building in the stars, inspired by the Avalon Hill game Civilization. Two years ago, it occurred to me to focus on just the first steps of that story – exploration of the Solar System and the nearby stars. As I developed the idea, I read the book SpaceCorp, the first volume in the Galactican series by Ejner Fulsang, leading me to focus on corporate competition, exotic elements and the search for exo-DNA as driving motivations.
Grant: The game appears to be played over three eras. Why did you design the game with a separate board for each era? What does this element add to the gameplay? What are the changes in game play from Era 1 to 2 and then Era 2 to 3?
John: Three reasons for this approach:
• First is the vast difference in scale between exploring the solar system and the nearby stars, too much difference to depict on one board. The three boards telescope in scale: From Earth to Mars, then the entire solar system, then the stars within 15 light years of Sol.
• Second is inspiration from the game 7 Wonders. That game occurs over three rounds of play each in a different era with its own deck of cards – a simple way to immerse players in cultural and technological advancements. SpaceCorp similarly occurs in three “Acts”.
• Three Eras allow the introduction of more advanced play in stages. The first Era introduces the basic concepts of the game. The second Era adds travel between remote planets, radiation penalties, genetic advancements and tech breakthroughs. The third Era introduces interstellar travel, generational time and colonies.
Grant: What do the regions represent on the game boards?
John: A region represents a large area of space, growing in scale from board to board. A region may have one or more sites. For example, on the Planeteers Board (Era 2) the Jupiter Region has four sites, one for each of Jupiter’s four largest moons; while the Neptune Region has just one site, the moon Triton.
Grant: One thing I’m curious about is why a distance chart showing distance between sites is necessary? Also, how does movement work?
John: Players play movement cards of varying values to move their pieces, called teams, from site to site on the board. The total value of the cards played must equal or exceed the distance of the move, calculated by adding up the values shown on regional borders, plus one for leaving and arriving at a site in a region. The chart on the board shows distances to all sites from the starting site (Earth in Era 1), to save players calculation time. When moving between sites other than Earth, players make the calculations.
Grant: What are the various actions that are available to players? How are Action Cards used?
John: In each of their turns, the player plays cards from their hands to perform one of the following actions: Move a team, explore a site, build a base at an explored site, research (draw new cards), upgrade (place a card on your HQ as infrastructure), produce (gain profit from sites with production capability), genetics (advance your genetics marker toward the goal of gaining adaptations), revelations (toward the goal of gaining tech breakthroughs) and establish a colony (in the Starfarers Era).
Grant: How are discovery tiles used on the game board? What type of discoveries can be found on Discovery Tiles? What type of immediate awards are there?
John: When a player performs the Explore action, they draw a discovery tile and places it on a site occupied by one of their teams. The discovery tiles reveal such finds as exotic elements, water, abundant ores, microbial life and natural wonders. Tiles include benefits such as immediate profit awards, or a modifier to the cost to build a base on the site, advances to genetics or technology, or a production value which the player can convert to profit after building a base on the site.
Grant: Please describe the HQ board and what is tracked on it? What type of technologies are available for players?
John: The primary purpose of these player mats, called HQs, is to hold cards played as infrastructure, infra for short. Certain cards offer an option to be played as an upgrade infra action. When a player does so, they place the card on their HQ instead of playing it as a one-time action. Infra can be used by the player on an ongoing basis whenever performing an action of the type shown on the infra card. Players can play cards as infra to upgrade their move, build and explore actions. For example, a Move 2 card played as infra then gives the player a +2 to every subsequent move action.
Grant: What are Edges and how are they used?
John: Edges are special cards playable at specified times outside the normal action sequence. An Edge may allow you to steal a card, take an extra turn, block another player’s action, or gain extra profit for a contract.
Grant: What is the purpose of bases and how do they boost values of specific actions?
John: Building a base is the third action in the sequence of developing a site in SpaceCorp. First you move a team to a site, such as Phobos, then the team explores the site, revealing discoveries. Finally, you conduct an action to build a base on the explored site. Bases represent your permanent presence on the site and allow you to conduct actions originating at the site such as production (if you discovered resources on the site) or moving your team from there to an unexplored site. The only action a team can perform when on a site without a base is to move back to a site with a base. There are nine different base types players can build, each with prerequisites and additional benefits. For example, you can build a Spaceport base at a site with no gravity. A spaceport adds to the allowed distance of a move action from a site. A refinery base can be built on a site with resources and increases the profit from production performed there.
Grant: I understand that if you use another player’s base they receive rewards. Why was this included in the design?
John: Although the players are in competition with each other, they are also doing business with each other. Players can use other player’s bases and infra. You might need to use another players spaceport to gain the extra move value you need to move your team to a remote site. Or you might use another player’s build infra to amass the build value needed to construct a base. When a player uses your base or infra you are rewarded with a free card draw. Nothing is free.
Grant: How does an Era end and what happens if the game is to continue?
John: Each Era ends when the players have fulfilled six of the seven contracts available in that Era OR when the Era’s card deck runs out, whichever occurs first. When an Era ends, players retain their infrastructure played, their profit, and the production capability of one base per player. Also, players who explored the furthest in the completed Era will begin the next Era with a head start via advantageous placement of their teams. The completed board is then cleared of pieces and the board for the next Era is set up.
Grant: How do players win the game? Are victory points scored throughout or only at the end? What type of goals do they have such as contracts, etc.?
John: The player with the most profit wins the game. There are several ways to gain profit – discoveries, producing resources, being the first to achieve genetic or technological breakthroughs and fulfilling contracts. Each Era has seven contracts offering profit for the first base built on Mars, or bases built in three regions beyond Jupiter, for certain combination of infra upgrades, and various other objectives. In the third Era, interstellar colonies can generate profit, depending on the type of colony established. At the end of the game, players earn additional profit based on the number of colonies established.
Grant: What game variants are included? How does the solo variant work?
John: Players can choose to start and end the game with any of the three Eras. This allows play of short games consisting of a single Era lasting about an hour, or games of two Eras, or the full three Era game, lasting about four hours.
Solo SpaceCorp is played as one continuous game through all three Eras. You play your side exactly as you would in the multi-player game, while the actions of competing organizations are represented by the solo system controlling your aggregated competition. Between your actions you draw cards, referring to the special solo section of the card to reveal where competition teams appear, what they discover, when they build bases, and how much profit they gain. At the end of the Starfarers Era, you win the game if you have more profit than your competition.
Grant: What has been Players response to the game? How has the game changed through playtesting? Please give a few specific examples.
John: At this point (July 2017) we are in late playtesting stages for the multi-player game. Players like the narrative qualities of the game and the wide range of strategy options available over the course of the three Eras. I am very fortunate to be working with Chad and Kai Jensen on the development and refinement of the game. Chad is the designer of Combat Commander, Dominant Species, Urban Sprawl and the upcoming Welcome to Centreville. SpaceCorp has benefited from his considerable experience with multiplayer games. Some discoveries, edges and action effects have been tuned during testing to increase their positive impact while reducing the tendency to pick on a single player.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions John. We appreciate your work and I personally am really looking forward to playing SpaceCorp. If you are interested in ordering the game, it is still on P500 on the GMT Games’ site at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-613-spacecorp.aspx