Publisher: Sorry We Are French / Hachette Board Games UK
Designer: Hope S Hwang
Artist: Oliver Mootoo
Release date: 2018
Favouritefoe score: 9/10
* Fast * Fun * Worker Placement * Set Collection * Card Drafting * Tableau * Engine Building * Euro *
USA v Russia? The Space Race had nothing on Ganymede!
Straight up, this game thunders past at the speed of light. I don’t even realise it’s over until someone else points out the fact that they have triggered end scoring. So absorbed am I in onboarding my ships docked at planet Ganymede that finding out it is over comes as a shock!
And that is quite a strange thing to say for a euro game, particularly one that kicks off with an engine idling quietly on the table in front of you.
But Ganymede is no ordinary resource management export from euro land.
Published by SorryWeAreFrench and arriving in the UK for the first time thanks to Hachette Board Games UK, Ganymede is a race wrapped up in worker placement bundled up in resource management.
No eliminations. No direct meddling. No in-your-face confrontations. This is a pacey, spacey, euro game where you are trying to be the first to embark upon intergalactic space exploration. Trouble is, the forward operating bases are on Ganymede. Your mission therefore (should you choose to accept it, that is) is to get bums-on-seats on shuttles taking off from Earth which are bound for the big G.
I mentioned above that there is no direct interference. On that basis, everybody has their own player board showing their reputation track, two docking spaces, and route the from Earth to Ganymede via Mars.
On your turn, you will be strategising and planning out how to recruit the settlers you need from the pool, move them onto Mars, and then board them onto one of the two ships waiting on Ganymede.
Once a ship parked in a docking space has reached full capacity (either 3 settlers of the same colour or 1 settler of each of the 4 colours), the ship can take off, and you receive the victory points indicated together with any immediate or end game bonus action associated with it. When someone has launched their 4th ship, the remaining players take their final turn to end the round, and everyone counts up their points.
With no people to kickstart your planet hopping, however, you need to get recruiting. And this can be done in several ways. Either you can take a Settler Tile which will award you any number of meeple/movement/reputation point combinations. Or you can select and use an Earth or Mars Shuttle Card to move settlers to the respective planet if you satisfy the requirement on the chosen card. Alternatively, you can discard already collected Settler Tiles in order to perform a basic action (1 per tile discarded).
Basic actions are limited but sometimes you only need one small step……..
1. Recruit one settler and place them on Earth
2. Swap a settler for one of another colour
3. Increase reputation by 1 space
4. Draw a ship card
5. Move a settler from one place to another
The first few goes are likely to be about getting a few settlers on your board. After all, Shuttle Cards are only up for grabs if you can satisfy the exact requirement on the relevant planet. Plus, with less in your arsenal at the start, you are more at the mercy of the luck of the draw piles. But, and unlike a lot of engine builders, options very quickly begin to present themselves. With only a few settlers dotted around the planets, Shuttle Cards and Ship Cards rapidly become viable, useful options to consider.
And a lot of this I think is down to the ability to combo-chain the effects of Settler Tiles. You see, each settler tile will have one of 5 different icons printed on them as well as a unique action. If you select one which matches the icon on a previously collected one (or even two Settler Tiles), you can multiply the actions on the latest tile by the number of matching tiles you have. And being restricted to holding a maximum 3 Settler Tiles at any one time, you will on at least several occasions find yourself focussing in on matching icons in order to combo boost your moves on a single turn.
Another chance to chain comes in the form of the Shuttle Cards. As well as their primary purpose of moving people from place to place, they can also act as multipliers. When you pick a Shuttle Card and use it to shuffle settlers, you then have the bonus action printed on it at your disposal. Having completed both, you don’t discard the card. Rather, you place it under the relevant part of your player board. If you subsequently pick another Shuttle Card with the same icon on it, this slips underneath the first and its bonus action can then be multiplied by the number of cards in the column. Plus, get one of each colour under your player board, and you get a massive row bonus in the form of a freebie ship launch. The power of this move really should not be underestimated in a game requiring only 4 launches in total!
I LOVE these chain effects. And I LOVE that they start to happen early into the game. Shuttles triggering multiple moves which result in ships taking off that then rewards points and free settlers or reputation points which then grants bonus basic actions……….the potential cascading effects are epic.
Deep Space Decisions!
As you may have gathered, Ganymede is about making smart choices. Not only about whether to plump for a Settler, Shuttle, or Ship on a given turn. But also about which ships are going to have the greatest chance of being filled, and what combo of budding Buck Rogers are going to get to them on time! It is all well and good selecting snatching fantastically point and bonus action heavy Ship Cards from the pool. But if you can’t get the right settlers to the relevant dock in time to trigger take off, they are basically space junk. And with a maximum hand of 4 ships at any time, you have to choose wisely.
Those end game bonuses aren’t to be sneered at either. Having played a number of times in the last week, my in-game choices are often heavily influenced by what will enable me to maximise Ship Card points. And with some Ship Cards featuring several times, there is the chance to score for the same achievements more than once if they take off in time! Cleverly (and in the interests of balance), those weightier on straight up VPs have fewer bonus points, whereas those with lower VPs give the chance to make up the difference with immediate actions or end game scoring boosts.
Not only that but you also need to keep tabs on what Settler Tiles, Ship Cards and Shuttle Cards your opponents might be going for. With one peeper on their player boards and the other on the pool of potentials, you might get eye-strain, but it will be worth it. Swiping an epic tile or card that then acts as the root of a domino-effect action sequence (or prevents one on their part) is a sweet moment indeed.
In terms of theme, I think Ganymede does well. No doubt a real mission would involve far more than a few boards and cards (although having said that the first moon landing was achieved with less tech than that found inside a pocket calculator), But as the game progresses, I do get caught up in the feeling that I am actually putting these colourful little meeples onto ships and sending them off into space.
On that point, I will say that there is no getting around the fact that this game is colour dependent. Whilst the icons are different shapes, the corresponding meeples are blue, yellow, red, and purple. As such, people with colour vision deficiency will find it tricky to play without some DIY meeple doctoring. Generally though the components are fine – colourful cards, chunky little meeples, and good sized boards. The rule book is a little bit “flicky” i.e, the first few plays resulted in a lot of back and forth between the pages. But I think most of that was due to the need to confirm and reconfirm the symbols and their meanings. And this becomes a lot less of an issue as familiarity with both increase. The box is also huge compared to the other bits and bobs, but the inclusion of extra baggies to help with organising is a useful touch.
Overall, I REALLY like Ganymede, and it is a game that I want to play over and over again. It isn’t an epic tale of space exploration that will see you pouring over potential moves for hours. But then again I don’t think it is meant to be. It plays fun and it plays fast – almost too fast as it always leaves me wanting more. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I opened the box, but it is without doubt a brilliant mini euro game set in space.
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]