Game Notes: Rocketmen

Rocketmen Cover

We just finished our first game of Rocketmen.
Including learning the game together, it took us something between 2 and 3 hours to finish the first game. I expect this time to go to around 2 hours with two people and some practice maybe as fast as 90 minutes. But I doubt that.

This is a deck building game about the space race. It feels quite unique in its composition of mechanisms. The biggest difference to every other deck builder I have ever played was that by the end of the game the draw deck had been bought up completely. ZERO cards left in the market and it doesn’t end the game (at least not without variants–I haven’t looked up what those do) and it includes a continuous deconstruction element as you play cards to your planned mission… more on that below.

The game ended very close with 31 to 29 points…

Rocketmen Setup for 2

In any case, each player’s starting deck has 12 mission cards. Each player has 6 mission tokens. There are different types of missions (spaceships, satellites, asteroid mining, space hotels …) and 3 different destinations to got to (Earth Orbit, Moon & Mars). Many missions allow to choose the destination.

There is a mostly random market of 6 cards. The draw deck for the market is constructed per player in the game and it’s very tight–as noted above we ran out of stuff to buy. There are two “eras” of tech one can buy and in between the tech cards are disaster cards like climate change that give VP to whoever “solves” each disaster (by buying it or using associated cards like Solar Panels solve Climate Change) but the disaster cards are just dead weight in the deck (see VP in Dominion).

Each card you play can provide either rocket engines, 1 of three asset symbols (or a joker) or money. Some provide both money and a symbol, a few cards provide nothing… many cards have special effects that either help with buying cards, discarding or drawing cards, during a mission. You can buy as many cards as you have money and assets (cards can cost assets, too). Engine cards are separate from the market, one can only buy 1 engine per round.

Buying cards is half the game. The other half is playing them on your launchpad. But first you have to play a mission. Playing a mission or cards to the launchpad

To launch a mission–you can try once each turn but you’ll probably want to build up over several turns–you need enough engines to get to your mission destination (it’s on the card something between 3 and 12 or so engine points). Each destination can be reached easier if you have certain assets. Computers make it easier to launch into earth orbit. Composite Materials make it easier to reach the moon and the third one (DNA?) is needed for Mars.

Each attempt starts the mission track at 0 with (~)6/8/12 steps needed to reach Earth Orbit/Moon/Mars. Initially, advance as many steps as there are the matching assets as part of the mission. Then draw from a special “Mission Sucess Deck” to advance further. Each destination has a max number of cards that can be drawn (3/4/5). If at any point before the last card you decide you aren’t going to reach the target (12 steps to Mars, 8 to the Moon and 6 to Earth) you can abort. Abortion costs though, you’ll need to discard cards from your mission as many as you drew from the Mission Success Deck minus 1. If you draw the last card and don’t reach the destination: mission failure, discard all cards from your mission and the mission. If you reach the destination, place a mission marker on that particular mission spot, gain VP and the mission specific “achievement” (permanent bonuses include money, engines, assets or +1 handsize). Successful missions get taken out of the game into your junkyard.

The game ends either when a certain number of VP are reached by a player or someone plays all their mission tokens–unless one destination has no mission then all players need to finish all their missions, preventing someone from an early end with just doing Earth missions over and over again)

What I liked about the game:

  • the on-going element of deck deconstruction which is one of my favorite mechanisms in deck builders. It’s really satisfying to play stuff to the mission to get it out of your deck. Only to land back with a huge oomph after a success or failure.
  • after an initial bit of irritation the small number of cards proved interesting, one cannot get to Mars without taking some risk there just aren’t enough cards…(we both completed one Mars mission successfully)
  • the race element shines when you play certain cards that take advantage of your opponent’s mission planning and then they just complete their mission and you are sitting on your Industrial Espionage with nothing to show for it.
  • While not as intricate as Leaving Earth in simulating the space race, it does evoke the theme.
  • The puzzle how to build up your deck and which cards to buy and which to get rid of and how to use them each turn continued to evolve throughout the game with turns getting more and more interesting including all the usual deck building tropes of discarding, drawing, junking cards… allowing for a (limited) number of combos.
  • As your deck grows and you have a few mission rewards to boost you every round, you can take on more difficult missions much quicker. The game really picked up the pace at some point as we had kind of learned how much luck we would need or had cards to mitigate bad luck…
  • It ended really close. I am not sure if there are truly multiple ways to win as the number of VP available in the game is very limited but the competition for them was open until the very last round.

However…

  • the start of the game dragged on and on, though this may be because it was a first game
  • play time was seriously too long, we’ll need to see if this changes with more plays
  • The cards are so different and unique that it was really hard to follow what my partner was doing. There are only a very small number of cards that are in the game twice for two players and those are in different “eras”
  • obviously as a card junky I want more different cards (not really a complaint this is also part of the appeal–see above)
  • the materials, sure I opted for the cheapest version but the board could have been a bit nicer. The box is full of air to accomodate the people who went with minis…it wasn’t really expensive so complaining about materials feels a bit wrong
  • I really really wish they had not put the game title on the card backs and the board and if they had to at least omit the designer’s name. Just saying. I know what I am playing at any given moment and if I don’t then it’s probably Cosmic Encounter and not Rocketmen.

So most of my complaints are possibly due to this being the first game. I’ll want to play again soon making this an 8/10 for now but eventually it’ll drop to a 7. I am glad I got to play this and we’ll see how exciting further games are.

By Yashima

Writer of code and stories