Publisher: Outer Limit Games
Game Designer: Stan Strickland, Mike Strickland
Artwork: Santiago Reinoso Muñoz, Mike Strickland
Ages: 14 & up
Playing Time: 90-180 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $59.00
Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis is a 1-5 player 4X space themed game from Outer Limit Games that just launched on Kickstarter. In the game, players assume the role of an agent from one of five different alien races, vying for power in the Tau Ceti star system.
Alien races from across the galaxy have been drawn to the Tau Ceti system by a mysterious signal whose origin has never been established. Trade flourishes in the system, making it a hub of interstellar trade and commerce until mysterious crises begin to occur on the planets, causing unrest and economic uncertainty amongst the various races. Will you be able to avoid a crisis affecting your homeworld or will you manipulate the unfortunate events on other planets to work in your favor?
Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis is densely packed game full of chromey goodness; the kind that makes Ameritrash fans squeal with glee and all of it has a purpose. Even though I played just a prototype, I was very impressed by the overall look and quality of the work put into the components which gives me great hope that the final product quality will be very high. As you would expect, with this much in the box, the game has a sizeable footprint on the table.
The 3D models in the prototype were nicely detailed, sharp to look at and really made the whole map pop when playing. Outer Limit Games is planning to use Moddler to produce the mini’s and I’m excited to see how they turn out when the game is funded.
The map is modular and puzzled together by each player in turn laying out a piece at a time. The pieces for the map were hand cut, some roughness was evident as expected but they went together well forming very interesting and often times, quite challenging maps. The graphics on these pieces are outstanding and capture realistic views of space, the planets of the Tau Ceti system and assorted hazards like asteroid fields and cosmic rays (nebula).
There are several decks of cards for handling crises, specialists, two different types of exploration and interplanetary mission cards. Each character and their assigned ship has its own mat that is chock full of information and tracking slots to keep you busy each turn.
The rule book, while mostly done, is still in need of some work to be easier to understand and comprehensive. Further expansion and greater clarification on many of the rules and mechanics are needed because in its current state, I found it rather confusing at times which led to some fiddliness. I hit up designer Mike Strickland for assistance on several occasions and he was always there with a quick answer, taking notes on the areas we found in need of improvement.
Analysis and Evaluation
Tau Ceti offers a lot for players to do in the Tau Ceti system, pick up and deliver missions, running commodity trading routes, engaging in exploration to spread your sphere of influence and more. There’s something for everyone here, as you would expect from a 4x game and yes of course, there’s combat too!
Exploration is very important in Tau Ceti, not only to score points but to build your influence, decreasing your risk of falling prey to a debilitating crisis affecting your home world. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also produce or reverse-engineer commodities into resources to upgrade your ships systems and resolve crises on planets to earn more points.
All of this is playable in about 30 minutes per person give or take, the bigger a game is the longer it will take to play but have no fear, this is not TI3 long we’re talking. Expect your first play or two to run a little longer as everyone learns the rules and the ins and outs of the mechanics and once the rules are grokked, the games run as advertised at around 30 minutes per player. Factoring in setup and takedown time, a five player game will run about 2.5-3 hours, long but definitely manageable.
Players take on the role of one of five characters, each with their own unique specialties and ships that will require slightly different strategies. Captain Borzon for example is the only agent with strong militarily capabilities from the start, making him better at direct combat but lacking in the sciences used for exploration. Reverse-engineering however does level the playing field here; we’ll talk about that a little further on.
I recommend reading the rulebook which is available for download here for a deeper look at the mechanics I cover in this preview, there’s a lot to take in. As mentioned before, the rules are developed but the rulebook itself is still a work in progress and so may seem a bit confusing in spots.
The game lasts 10 rounds with the potential for an additional 2 more, these rounds each represent a Tau Ceti year and are broken into three phases:
During the brief enlightenment phase, potential crises are triggered and as indicated in the games title, are the major driver affecting the state of the Tau Ceti system, both directly and indirectly. Each player gets a crisis and specialist card, discarding one into a crisis deck. The cards are revealed and if a specialist card matches a crisis card, that crisis is cancelled out. If no crises are cancelled out then the highest numbered crisis becomes the active one. If you can hold onto them, these cards are worth points at the end of the game and can also be used in the action phase to resolve a crisis, matched with the correct knowledge tokens.
A planetary crisis forces commodity prices up, which is good for the trading business but is not good if that crisis is on your planet. These crises limit your economic influence and cause damage to any ship that enters your planets tile, including your own as long as the crisis is present.
If you cannot resolve a crisis in the enlightenment phase, you have a few options to tackle them, along with carrying out your other strategies in the action phase, the heart of the gameplay. Any crisis can be resolved by obtaining three knowledge tokens of the correct type through exploration; matching a specialist card with the correct knowledge token or two players can combine knowledge to jointly resolve a crisis and together earn victory points.
Knowledge is gained through exploration, which has the dual purpose of spreading your cultural influence for victory points while also diminishing your chances of facing a planetary crisis. Being expansionist explorers in Tau Ceti pays in points and lets you indirectly screw your opponents by letting them take the brunt of the crises. Smart players will load up on commodities that can be traded when the prices skyrocket, but as with any good investment, it’s all speculation. Will yours pan out?
Spreading influence quickly is a great tactic but with limited exploration points and a full table, they will be everyone’s first targets and will be claimed rapidly. When the exploration points are all controlled, you’ll be forced into the battle phase to wrest them from your opponents.
The combat system is simple and quite fun, there’s a little more to it than the simple IGOUGO and whoever hits more wins. You have to manage your limited shields, protecting the systems that are most vulnerable each turn while also trying to get past your opponents shields and defense computers.
You roll as many d6’s as your weapons systems dictate, as low as one to as high as four dice are used and each number rolled is associated with a ship location. If it is unshielded, your opponent rolls against their computers skill to see if their countermeasures avoid the hit. If they do not, a hit is scored and once a system has one more damage token than it can absorb, it’s destroyed and the battle is over. There is no player elimination in Tau Ceti, just temporary setbacks that cost time and money to recover from.
I really enjoy the combat a lot; it keeps things moving at a good pace while still giving you light ship management to handle during the fight that conveys a sense of commanding a starship in battle nicely without bogging things down.
Also in the action phase, you can do interplanetary missions or run commodities between planets to rake in the Tau (money), produce resources for system upgrades and for those resources you cannot produce, you can reverse-engineer commodities into resources you need for different upgrades.
Nearly all actions in Tau Ceti cost energy, a resource that you will need to manage wisely throughout the game. Movement is not reliant on dice rolls but the capabilities of your propulsion system, which is one of six upgradeable systems on your ship.
Reverse-engineering lets you gain resources in areas you don’t specialize in, giving you access to upgrades your specialties don’t allow. To reverse-engineer you buy the commodity needed and use the reverse-engineer action, gaining the resources needed for certain upgrades. This levels the playing field, allowing everyone to build their ships up to carry out different tasks but it takes time and money, so you’ll need to balance your actions each turn to not squander any.
To go along with multiplayer, there is a solitaire mode. I’ve only tried the one AI that was included in the prototype for Captain Borzon, being the militant one he’s going to jump all over you for doing mainly peaceful expansion based on his decision tree.
I like the way the AI is designed, the scripted responses are fitting for his character but it’s not very challenging in its current iteration. He reacts to what you do but doesn’t really generate a lot of points to where you feel in danger of losing. I found I could just reverse-engineer on a planet location early, upgrading my weapons and shields quickly which let me defeat him in battle rather easily. If I didn’t do that, I could retreat, giving him the de facto win and one victory point but even that didn’t end up coming close to defeating me.
The solitaire gamer that I am was a bit disappointed by the lack of challenge here but it is still in development, so I’m looking forward to seeing the changes made to increase the challenge and with an NPC ship offered as an expansion, I fully expect it to be ironed out come time for production.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on here in Tau Ceti with many options to explore each turn and it manages to do it without becoming a brain burning, complex game. Do you horde those specialist and crisis cards you receive every enlightenment phase for points at the end or turn them into bigger points by resolving crisis which could end up helping your opponents in the process? Is it worth it to risk expanding your influence or is it better to build your strength and take what others have earned by force? Do I snatch up a bunch of commodities early and wait for a trade bubble? Decisions, decisions.
The tile system gives you a new map layout every time, so each game is a fresh challenge but the trade-off is the large footprint of the game, something for those with limited table space to keep that in mind.
Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis is an ambitious title for Outer Limit Games first outing that has both impressed and excited me to see how it is further refined during the course of the Kickstarter project and production.
Merging several different mechanics together, Tau Ceti is a solid game that offers a deep and highly replayable experience for space-faring gamers that gets a hearty two thumbs up from me!
I quite enjoyed the game’s premise, rich mix of options and interesting mechanics that kept me thinking and engaged in every game. Given the detail of the prototype, I’m confident that the final product will be outstanding which would push this score even higher.
It’s a solid game with strong replayability that offers deep strategy and a lot of fun, I cannot wait to see the finished product when this is funded!
Company Website: http://www.outerlimitgames.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/outerlimitgames
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/OuterLimitGames
Note: A preview copy of this game was provided to me.