19/06/2021

Moonrakers: A mercenary deck-building and negotiation game [Review]

As the member of the most ill-famed outlaw band, The Moonrakers, up to five players can take the ship’s steers in this deck building game. The game was successfully funded in Kickstarter, whooping almost US$ 410 grands from approximately 6,000 people. We had the chance to review their Exclusive Edition, exclusively available for the backers, thanks to IV Studios.

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This statement will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

I know some of you may not be a fan of the Board Game Geek rating system, but just for this instance, let’s appreciate how Moonrakers reached the average of 8.1 points. With the unreliable rating process, the apparent question for us would be “Is the game really that good?” Well, we are here to give you our thoughts on this matter.

I think we have a lot of ‘how to play Moonrakers’ video out there already. I trust you to do your own due diligence, so let’s skip this step and jump ahead to our remarks.

FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE MOONRAKERS

Blue does not actually belong to my favourite colour palette, but the deep and dark shade we have this time definitely fits the artwork covering the box. With some Moonrakers’ ships soaring past planets and moons, it depicts the sci-fi and futuristic theme perfectly.

As far as I know, the retail edition brings a more lilac-ish colour covering its smaller box. With the lack of physical presence in my hands, there may be some other major differences that I do not know. If you have one, please do share the picture with us!

Still talking about the appearance, we can see that the box for storing Moonrakers is big but not a massive one. Nevertheless, looking at the interior, all components snug perfectly within the provided insert. That means no need for zipped bags to store them, and that’s actually a lovely characteristic to have. Another good news: we have proven that the insert also accommodates sleeved cards. I suggest this should be the industry’s standard by now!

Moonrakers game comes with a rulebook and a short comic that tells the tale about the foundation of this mercenary band. I suggest reading the latter one before going deeper with the how to play. Not only because it brings an interesting background story, it also helps to provide a more immersive gaming experience.

Anyway, the rulebook articulate all things clearly, and it comes full of images to illustrate all possible cases in Moonrakers. We can always consult back whenever we meet some questionable actions and flows during the game. It was an absolute breeze to fully comprehend and start playing afterwards. If you are more of a learning-by-doing type, the book is a great help, too.

NICE COMPONENTS, BEAUTIFUL ARTWORK

Once again, I am defeated by a good-looking board game. The way the art team illustrated all elements in Moonrakers is top-notch.

They vividly show the life in the outer space as mercenaries, thanks to the effect and colour selection on all artworks present in the game.

With that being said, I confirm that there is a lot to look at and savour during the gameplay.

We especially like the colour coding on the cards to divide the card types. Thanks to this division, the colours help us to swiftly recognize what cards do what things faster.

The artist also decided to go extra miles by illustrating different artwork for each unique character, equipments, and so on, and impressive effort that deserves a standing ovation. Looking at both the player and main boards, the user interfaces really give the feel that we are actually steering some spaceships in the uncharted system. Combining the story from the comic book and this aspect, Moonrakers becomes one of the most enthralling games we have ever played.

I do not have any complaints regarding the components, too. The miniatures are pretty basic, but they do the job as the trackers, so nothing to whine about. The coins are made of metal, and they are heavy, giving us the satisfaction when we feel them in our hands. The board is rather thick and sturdy, and they will surely survive more sessions in the future. Once again, consulting back to my previous disclaimer, my copy is the Kickstarter Exclusive Edition.

GAMEPLAY AND WHAT WE LOVE THE MOST FROM MOONRAKERS

Playing our first Moonrakers was a smooth ride, too. The game is straightforward and easy to understand. Deck building is Moonraker’s primary mechanic, and it is coupled with the negotiation aspect. All players start with the same deck composition, and through the game, some new cards are added into the deck. What cards get into the deck depend on the play style that suits each player as a mercenary gang.

All players will engage in some tough negotiation and backstabbing moments. Each turn, a player becomes the mission leader, deciding either to fulfil a contract or to stay at home.

The bargaining begins only when there is a job contract on the table, and the leader decides to let the other players jump on the board. As the negotiation process begins, all other players will try their best to convince the leader to take them into the mission. The haggling consists mostly of how to divide the workload and the rewards from the contract.

The way to win in Moonrakers

Earning the first ten Prestige points ensures your victory in Moonrakers. Due to the majority of the game forces players to engage in the negotiation, racing to be the top earners is a bit tricky. It makes us become co-dependant with the others to get to the top.

Sometimes, it is a better option to do the contract alone. All shares of rewards belong to you alone. However, it’s not as easy as you may think. Become too greedy, and it would backfire. Maybe you think you can do the Level 4 Contract alone while wishing the dice cast in your favour, but then they show multiple Hazards, and you have not enough Shield card (the green one) in hands.

You may still successfully complete the contract, but still… Instead of reaping the most rewards, you then lose Prestige points. And by doing so, you are also losing the momentum.

Being slow and steady does not mean you can win the race, too. Restraining your greed is good, but getting the Prestige points inch meal, virtually one by one per turn cannot be called smart either. This may be a good time to recall a popular quote from Warren Buffett.

Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful

Warren Buffett

Truth be told, completing Contract is not the sole way to gain Prestige points. We have to make sure the Objectives are taken care of as well. For me, completing Objectives is a tad easier. Because unlike doing the Contract, we do not always have to rely on the other players to fulfil our secret mission. Besides, they give plenty of Prestige points to leave the other gangs behind your tail.

Spending action point to play cards

During the turn, each player has an ‘action point’ and can spend it to play a card. The number of cards played depend on the requirements printed on the contract. Players may still play some other cards even after the requirements are satisfied. This is sometimes necessary if the Hazard dice inflict some ‘damage’ and need to get neutralized by playing additional Shield cards.

At this moment, a question of how to finish a Contract that needs multiple cards when we only have an Action for each turn may sprout in your head. In Moonrakers, a Thruster card (blue colour) exists, and that gives the player two extra Action points. This card usually begins the ‘action tree’ during each turn while satisfying the Contract.

Upgrading decks and Ship

Since we are limited to one action point per turn, it is in our best interest to upgrade the deck and ship to deal with the Contract more efficiently.

Players purchase these available Upgrades located in the middle board by paying the Credits and take whatever their money can afford.

Some Upgrades relieve the Action cost of some Card types. It reduces the number of Thruster cards needed to keep the ‘tree’ going. This is helpful since there is a hand limit in Moonrakers.

Apart from relieving some Action costs, the Upgrades add some other effects to utilize during the game, too. However, the ship can only hold four Upgrades at the same time. Choosing them wisely is a necessary move.

The Upgrades bring some additional cards with them. These cards are added to our deck, and they stay there for the rest of the game. Besides the additional cards from the Upgrades, we can hire Crew members as well. Some Contracts need you to have them to finish the job, so do not forget to enlist!

FINAL THOUGHTS

The positive vibe ‘Holy molly’ was my first reaction for Moonrakers, and it has been like that ever since. Even after another multiple gaming sessions, I can still enjoy the game so much. The negotiation part is definitely something I am always looking forward to, besides the nice component and beautiful artwork, of course. Thanks to the vast amount of different card combinations and the negotiation aspect, this game has a high replay value. Three players at minimum are needed to enjoy this game to the fullest.

One final suggestion from me: use a timer when playing. Some negotiations dragged the gameplay too long, so we tried our best to limit the downtime, and the timer does this job.

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