Space Station Phoenix Review

18 October 2022
Build it up, break it down

They say it takes a village to raise a board game and, by his own admission, Gabriel J. Cohn’s Space Station Phoenix started life as a “giant and slow-moving mess”. Almost a decade of playtesting later, as well as input from Rio Grande Games, it’s finally been brought to market. So has it managed to rise from the ashes?

The name is actually also a pun on this engine builder/destroyer’s very premise: dismantle your spaceship fleet to get metal for a showier space station. The reason for doing so is woolly – aliens have discovered Earth and want to profit from it. Perhaps a more topical backstory may have worked better here, such as aliens farming eco materials to help Earth tackle the climate crisis. Surely other intelligent life would be smarter than to be obsessed by money?

But where storytelling is insufficient, slick mechanics are abundant. In spite of the intimidating amount of components, play is relatively straightforward. Set-up is variable – both for each player’s nine ships and their singular ‘hub’, which gifts special powers. Ships offer different actions, whether that’s dismantling a ship in exchange for the metal needed to build a space station sector, exploration for resources (needed to recruit aliens and humans, who operate the sectors) or for scooching up the diplomacy board in pursuit of in-game bonuses. Naturally, progression doesn’t come for free as playing a ship costs cold-hard GEMs (Galactic Exchange Minerals). When actions have been exhausted, players cash in on the ships they have, as well as earning any bonuses triggered by staffed areas of their space station. The game ends when a player competes all sectors of their station, gets 40 points or when the alien job centre empties.

It’s all a careful balance between keeping ships and scrapping them that requires considered game management. Even if you do make a mistake, hope isn’t lost as you can raid the shared board or “borrow” another player’s ship. You’ll pay opponents for the privilege, but it’s worth it to scupper their turn.

Interaction also comes when vying for alien recruits. Certain colours can only work in matching sectors, but gold aliens and humans are dream employees who turn their claws/hands to anything so are in high demand. Aliens are picked at random during set-up, creating interesting feast or famine scenarios depending on what’s needed.

Variable play is Space Station Phoenix’s real selling point, especially the hubs – a mix of basic and advanced. The latter have stricter stipulations to direct strategy – largely helping, occasionally hindering. Bar a couple of hubs that seem particularly hard to win with, these are evenly matched. It’s an exciting way to explore the game’s many facets – one time you’ll be playing a GEM-led strategy that pays to frequently go to income, another you’ll be keeping ships intact. Don’t be put off by the unsexy, text-filled reference guide – it’ll be called upon many times and does a tidy job of explaining the hub (and sector) intricacies.

Such complexity doesn’t mean sessions overspill and outstay their welcome. In fact, time became irrelevant during this tester’s practice games as players disappeared into a flow state – undistracted and totally absorbed by the task in hand.

Fittingly for an engine builder, it’s the mechanics of Space Station Phoenix that make it soar. It has versatility to justify the £80 cost. It has simplicity that’s fast to learn. It has depth that demands repeat attempts at mastery. It’s only really the lack of story/purpose, bland alien meeples and fiddly pack-up that stop this being a must-play. Otherwise, the rebirth was worth waiting for.

Jenny Cox


Space Station Phoenix deftly mixes engine building with engine destroying. Whilst its thin storytelling is somewhat of a disappointment, the array of varied play makes up for it with plenty of reasons to set up ship (and dismantle ship) over and over.

Buy yourself a copy here


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Another starry-eyed engine builder, Space Base has similar repeat play thanks to its chunky deck of ship cards. There’s also the interactive element as players can profit from each other’s turns.   

Read the full review here

Buy a copy here

Designer: Gabriel J. Cohn

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Time: 60-120 minutes

Players: 2-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £80

What’s in the box?

  • Diplomacy board
  • Neutral ships board
  • Home planets board
  • 4 Player boards
  • 4 Scoring reference tiles
  • 54 Ship cards
  • Cloth bag
  • 4 Reference guides
  • 24 Human meeples
  • 100 Aliens
  • 96 Space station parts
  • 4 Action markers
  • 24 Player tokens
  • 108 GEM pieces
  • 120 Resource cubes
  • 16 Larger resource cubes
  • 8 Score track tokens
  • 14 Terran expedition dice

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