On Day 2 at Origins, we saw this great looking Sci-Fi themed game called Pulsar 2849 at the Czech Games Edition booth in the Exhibition Hall and asked where we could get a demo. They pointed us to the Czech Games Edition demo room, imagine that, just outside the Exhibition Hall and we made our way there expeditiously. The game looked really interesting laid out on the table, even though it was clearly in prototype form. The game uses a dice drafting system to allow players to use various actions to explore the universe claiming pulsars, discovering new planets and constructing mega improvements to see who can be the best explorer in the universe.
Each player has a player board that contains information about various technologies that can be upgraded using the dice that have been drafted to give bonuses to various actions. For example, in the above picture, the center most technology on the bottom row provides the player with an energy crystal and a token that can be used to increase the pips on a dice by +2. When I play these type of dice allocation games where the pips on the dice are used to take certain actions or move, I love to have these type of tokens to allow me to do what it is that I want rather than having to do what the dice dictate to me.
Each round, a number of dice are rolled based upon the number of players and then are sorted according to their values. Players then take turns drafting dice that will be used to take actions. Their actions seem unlimited as there are lots of choices and includes such things as adding an additional ship to your fleet, visiting an unexplored star system, tagging or claiming a pulsar with one of your identity rings, which then allows you to improve that pulsar later to gain points, or advancing on your personal technology track as previously mentioned. At the end of the round, the turn marker (seen below in the middle of the picture with the red crystal placed on it) advances based on the dice rolled that turn, and when the marker reaches the end of the track, the game will come to an end. We didn’t finish a complete game but did play about 3/4 of a game and it took about an hour so I would guess that play time is somewhere around 90 minutes for a complete game.
Players score points each round based on what they’ve discovered and explored, and everyone has hidden goals that they want to achieve as well, while also trying to claim the right to public goals that supply additional endgame scoring. I found that the game was somewhat of a point salad as we seemed to be scoring 10-15 points per round once we got going. I could definitely see that scoring early was a big thing as you would get more points in round 1 for placing an improvement in a pulsar than later and that those points would slowly decrease each round as the game moved on.
One other element that I really liked was the first player track and how it is manipulated throughout the game. As you claim various dice, there is a fancy calculation that kinda determines the mid point of the values of the dice. If you select dice that are lower than that mid point, you are rewarded and get to move up one of two tracks shown in the middle of the above board in the picture that affect the turn order and number of energy crystals you will receive. If you want to go for the higher numbered dice, prepare yourself to pay a penalty as you will be forced to move down on the aforementioned tracks. This was a really cool mechanic that encouraged drafting choices to not simply be about grabbing the highest dice to fuel your actions. Sometimes it made good sense to simply take a 1 or 2 pip dice, that would gain you energy crystals or allow you to move up on the turn track, rather that power game and go for the numbers. Really ingenious mechanic to make the drafting matter on another level.
I have seen several threads on Board Game Geek where people are comparing this game to Roll for the Galaxy and I personally don’t see it. In Roll, you simply place your dice in the action spaces that you wish to use and it involves no movement at all. The things they do have in common is exploration, which is comparable to Roll for the Galaxy’s settling action, and technology development, which is similar to Roll for the Galaxy’s development action. The big difference is that those actions in Roll are more generic while in Pulsar you are choosing specific technologies or actions from a smorgasbord of choices.
We really liked the game and look forward to it hitting the market sometime next year…maybe. A well designed space exploration game with some very interesting twists that will keep me coming back to the table.