It’s 1898 and the century is drawing to a close. Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria has decided that by the turn of the century, Britain shall have placed a man on the moon and incorporated it into the great British Empire. So time is ticking, and all the Leagues of Adventure wants to be the one who launches that rocket and wins the admiration of the Queen and the Empire. In the game Leagues of Adventure: Rocket Race you all race to the finish line, trying to build the best rocket you can before your opponents and pray lady luck is on your side so that your launch is successful. Now strap on your goggles and gather your best scientists, it’s time to race for the moon!
There are two different ways to play this game, Standard and Advanced. When I first thought about getting this game as an add-on for the kickstarted Cadaver (which I reviewed here) I didn’t much care for the Standard gameplay as it’s an auction/bidding game at its core and I’m not a big fan of auction games. But then I watched a play through on Youtube of the Advanced rules and thought “Yes! This is a game I’d like to play.” It completely got rid of the bidding and became a kind of resource management game which is much more up my alley. Of course I will go through both versions for you, so you can see the differences for yourself.
First of all, the Standard game is for 3-6 players. It could technically be played with two but the bidding mechanism kind of falls apart with just two players. The components in the Standard game are really simple: a deck of cards, two dice, and 10 cog tokens per player. What’s in the deck and what do we use the dice and cogs for? Just keep reading and I will explain everything!
The aim of the game is to build a moon rocket and successfully launch it. In the deck you will find four different types of rocket components. A complete rocket has to consist of one capsule, one steering mechanism, and one form of propulsion. You can also add up to three different accessories if you want. The kind of card you’re looking at is made clear both with a small icon in the upper left corner as well as with text underneath the title of the card. Ignore the stuff on the left side in this Standard game, but remember the big number in the bottom right corner.
In the deck you will also find event cards. These events can either give you an advantage at some stage in the game, or mess with your opponent. Some of them have a lot of text on them, but if you look closely the two different paragraphs will start with either (S) for the Standard game, or (A) for the Advanced game. You just choose the one corresponding to the kind of game you’re playing.
So how do you acquire these components and events? By bidding more than your opponents! At the start of the game you choose a starting player – easily done by rolling the dice. Then the first card of the deck is turned over. The starting player places a bid of up to 10 tokens (or passes) and then everyone else around the table also bids or passes. You have to bid one more cog token than is currently the highest bid. Once everyone but one player has passed, that player takes the card and places all the cog tokens s/he has bid on the card. These tokens are not available to bid with at the moment. A new card is turned over and the bidding starts all over again, beginning with the previous auction winner.
So what about those tokens that were put on the card? Yes, you can look at these as the time it takes to finish the component (or getting ready for the event), or incorporating it into the rocket. Each round after the one you bought the card you get to remove a cog token from each of your cards. So, if you buy a card – that round you cannot remove anything from the new card, but one token from each of your other cards and added back into your pool, while your opponents do the same. This is the way you get tokens back to be able to bid on more cards. Once a card is free of tokens it can be used. Even if a rocket is supposed to consist of one of each of the three basic components, you can buy several of the same. So basically, the higher you bid, the longer it will take to build your component and launch your rocket. So it is a fine balance you have to keep.
Before each bidding round, anyone can declare that they want to launch. Players can launch simultaneously. To launch you put your finished rocket on the table in front of you. If you have more than one of a basic component you choose which one to use. Remember that big red number in the bottom right corner? That’s the component’s reliability rating. You add up all those numbers to get your rockets overall reliability rating. Now, grab the two dice and roll! What you want is a result that is lower or equal to your reliability. You managed that? Congrats! You have reached the moon and Queen Victoria will heap praise on you. Now, if two or more people launched at the same time, whoever rolled the lowest while also succeeding wins.
But what if you roll higher? Then you have failed. You shuffle the cards of your rocket and draw one at random – this is the faulty component! Throw it away and keep going. If you have spares you can launch again on the next turn. But there is one more catch – if you roll double sixes when you try to launch (this goes for all launches) you automatically fail, even if you have a reliability rating of 12+. You were simply unlucky at launch. Maybe a bird got stuck in the engine or something. Weird things happen.
And that’s it! The Standard game is pretty straight forward. There is an alternate way to launch that will make the game last longer, but if you are curious about that I urge you to just get the game. I personally have never played with that rule.
In this version of the game you are still building rockets and attempting to launch successfully the same way, but it’s how you get the rocket components that differ. It is no longer a simple bid for the top card of the deck, no no. This time it’s all up to the scientific knowledge of your League. There are four leagues to choose from: the Lunar Exploration Society, the Aegis of Terra, the Society of Aeronauts, and the Daedalus Society. Each have a different scientific skill level in the three major scientific disciplines of the game: electrics, mechanics, and chemistry. This is important when you are rolling for a scientific breakthrough. But let’s just go through the actions you can choose from and I’ll explain as we go along. This time, setting up the game is a little bit more complicated than simply putting the deck in the middle of the table and giving everyone some tokens. Instead everyone now joins a League and get their corresponding card. Each player also gets a Workshop card and three cog tokens to use as markers for the card. The deck is of course still put in the middle of the table but the top five cards are all flipped and put in a line. This is the Market. More on that soon.
A turn consist of two parts, during which you can choose one of several actions. First you can choose between Launch, Scientific Research, and Acquiring an Event (for free this time). Launching works the exact same way as in the Standard game, except that you launch on your turn rather than together. Events are now free but it means you can’t get more scientific knowledge during that turn. You simply grab the event and move onto the second half of the turn (more on that soon). Doing Scientific Research is where it’s at with this game. Each player has a Workshop card with three rows of numbers from 1-4. The top is for Electrics, the middle for Mechanics, and the bottom for Chemistry. When you do research you choose one discipline to advance one step. Then you roll a die and compare the result with the inherent skill of your League (which can be found on the League card). If it is equal or lower to the value of a specific discipline you’ve made a scientific breakthrough and get to move the cog token one more step. If you roll a one that means all three disciplines! Why is this important? Let’s move onto the second part of a turn to find out…
You see, during the second part of your turn you can acquire a component of the ones face up in the middle of the table. Instead of having one card everyone bids on, there’s now a market of five cards you can buy from. You compare your scientific knowledge with the values along the left side of the card (remember, the ones we ignored for the Standard game). They have the same icons as on your Workshop card, and in the same order. When you buy a card you move the cog token on your personal Workshop card back however many steps equalling the cost of the component for each scientific discipline. The component card is immediately replaced. You can keep buying components as long as you can afford them. If you do not want to buy a component at all you may instead choose to discard a card from those face up. This way you can get a better card in there for your next turn, or mess with your opponent. But as soon as you buy a card you cannot discard any cards that round.
Another type of card has been added to the deck for this Advanced game: the Workshop Accessory. They can be upgrades to your workshop, or assistants. Each card shows a number and an icon in the information box. This is how much the upgrade or assistant will increase the scientific skill of your League, making a scientific breakthrough more likely in that particular discipline. While it costs research to get this, it might prove useful in the future. You’re not building your rocket right this instant, but it will be easier to procure components for the rest of the game.
For the Advanced game there is a kind of running start alternative. Instead of starting with zero points in your workshop, you can start with whatever your League has as scientific skill. This way you can buy components right away. I never play with this alternative either, as I like the research. But in a game with many players it might be a good idea. In a two player game, which is the only way I’ve played Advanced, gameplay is quick enough for it to not be needed.
What do I think?
The Advanced game isn’t really that much more complicated compared to the Standard. It’s just a different game, using the same components and end goal. At the start of this article I said that I didn’t like the thought of an auction mechanic being the core of a game, but after playing the Standard version with 3+ players a few times I have really warmed up to it. The added mechanic of your “money” effectively being locked time markers really works. Since you only have a very finite numer of cog tokens you can’t actually keep buying things, and when you actually can afford a splurge it ties up your money for several rounds. There is no way to lose or get more tokens, and as such no one will get an advantage in terms of wealth and be able to always buy out everyone else. It’s a very neat and well thought through bidding system.
So I got this game as an add-on for my Cadaver kickstarter pledge. It’s by the same publisher of course, and the theme of Rocket Race spoke to me and had a really good price when bought together with Cadaver. Naturally I can’t help but compare the two. I must say that I prefer Rocket Race way more. Both themes are perfect for me, but for some reason crazy steampunkish inventions are just more fun. The invention ideas are great, the illustrations neat, and the flavour text can be really fun. The mechanics of the game are also really good. As I said before, I was surprised by the fact that I really enjoyed the bidding mechanics in this, and the Advanced game with its science research is nice too. As for components it’s pretty standard. Decent card stock, thick cardboard tokens (even though the printing is a bit off on a lot of them), and good plastic dice. But I must say, I always appreciate custom dice! Instead of a one pip these have rockets, so that’s really nice.
Overall I think that this is a great filler card game. With two ways to play it also makes for some versatility and replay value. If you are in the market for a nice card game and you like sort of steampunky stuff, I think you will really enjoy Rocket Race!
- Title: Leagues of Adventure: Rocket Race
- Designers: Robin Elliott, Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams
- Publisher: Triple Ace Games
- Players: 2-6
- Time: about 20 minutes
- Type: cards, set collecting, bidding, resource management, dice
- Size: small
- Release year: 2014