21 June 2019
From Han Solo and Chewbacca to Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity, deep-space smugglers are among the most beloved characters in science fiction. It seems that wherever human civilisation spreads across the stars, there are roguish entrepreneurs ready to make a few bucks with a spot of less-than-legal trading.
Scorpius Freighter gives players the chance to hop into the cockpit for themselves and attempt to forge their fortunes as daring cargo ship captains operating on the wrong side of the law and the far side of the galaxy.
Its action unfolds in the Scorpius Sector, governed by a despotic regime that controls all commerce between its three inhabited worlds. You and your opponents are ostensibly well-behaved agents of the repressive rulers, shuttling supplies between planets. In reality, though, you’re not averse to doing a little unofficial business on the side, and you’ll aim to complete lucrative missions to become the most prosperous smuggler in the system.
On each turn you’ll choose one of a selection of available actions by moving a government spaceship around one of the planets on the central board. It’s a setup that will feel familiar to anyone who’s played rondel-based games like Mac Gerdts’ Antike, but it’s never felt more thematically appropriate than here, where it represents spacecraft dropping out of orbit to perform different tasks. You’ll take on cargo contracts, arrange under-the-table missions, train your crew and add a variety of new upgrades and gizmos to your freighter.
It’s these last few actions that give the game its depth and sense of progression. You’ll begin with a four-member crew, each with different abilities letting them take more powerful actions, or granting you new ways to score points. But you’ll only be able to take advantage of their skills if you unlock them during the game, and it means you’ll need to think carefully about the potential strategic edges they offer.
For your first few games, you’ll command pre-assembled crews with a collection of skills designed to broadly complement one another. Once you’ve gained a little experience, you and your opponents will draft crew members before you play. If means that even before you take your first turn, you’re spotting synergies and potential tactical approaches in a way that feels almost akin to drafting a deck in a collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering.
Just as your crew has a powerful effect on the way you play, you’ll incrementally improve your ship to open up new options and opportunities over the course of the game. Adding more storage space for different types of goods makes it easier to complete different haulage gigs. Building new engine drives, docking bays and fanciful sci-fi gadgets grants you a host of useful advantages.
It means that your ship gradually takes on its own character, and with some advanced game options that subtly ramp up the level of challenge for veteran space-dogs, there’s plenty about Scorpius Freighter to keep you coming back for further adventures.
PLAY IT? – YES
Scorpius Freighter strikes a brilliant balance between thoughtful strategic planning and the story that unfolds as ships become more powerful and crews gain valuable experience. Its interlocking elements may seem complicated at first, but the game’s iconography and player aids mean it doesn’t take long to master its rules and focus on becoming the galaxy’s most notorious smuggler. Add a respectable dose of replayability, and this is a universe that’s well worth getting into trouble in.
Designer: David Short, Matthew Dunstan
Artist: Víctor Pérez Corbella, Jay Epperson, Matt Paquette
Time: 45-75 minutes
This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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