Ten years in the making, (first as a series of physical prototypes) Outpost Luna is an original card and tile-based strategy game from Ariton (creators of Spaceward Ho!) in which players race to be the first to build three cities on the remote Outpost Luna.
Select a plot of land, gather resources and build towers, factories and housing structures based on the blueprints provided to you by the Earth Federation. However, your builder bots had better be quick, because you aren’t the only construction crew on the outpost and every blueprint is fair game and it’s first build, first serve.
Players start out the game with a hand consisting of a single card and a pool of 5 others from which they may select two more cards to build up their hand to a total of three cards (which will be played consecutively over their next three turns). Each card contains a choice of either one or two actions that may or may not be able to be performed by the player. These actions could be anything from moving a unit, building a city, building one of the various structures, attacking another player, producing resources, etc.. On his or her turn the player may elect to perform only one of these actions (or none) before the card is discarded. Other players cannot see your cards so they don’t know what actions you may have queued up and on the start of your next turn, you draw more cards to build up your pool and place a new (third) card at the end of your hand.
In a two-player game (of which I played the most), the game board consists of 20 tiles laid out in a 4 x 5 grid, with up to 32 tiles on a 4 x 8 grid in a four-player game. The first move that each player is required to make is a “move unit”, which puts one of that player’s three builder bots on the board, revealing the resource type that is available for mining (gold, coal, water, stone and brick) on their selected tile as well as several adjacent land tiles.
As I mentioned before, your goal is to be the first to build three cities based on the blueprints, which list a minimum quantity and type of structures which must be present on your land tile in order for you to build that particular city there. Once a blueprint has been claimed by a player (by using a ‘build city’ action to actually construct that city) that blueprint is discarded and replaced by another. Which is devilishly wonderful, because it means someone could have spent their last three turns and all of their resources building two towers and a factory on one of their land tiles to satisfy a certain blueprint and if you beat them to it, you can steal it and then that piece of land may not even be close to satisfying any of the other blueprints, effectively sending your opponent back to ground zero.
Building structures on your land requires resources and the quantity and type(s) of resources varies by ‘build’ card, so not all players will necessarily be trying to collect the same types of resources at the same time. There are quite a few more rules and nuances, but hopefully you get the gist.
When I first saw the game board and all of the cards, I was a little overwhelmed and concerned that it might take me a bit of time to get comfortable with the gameplay, but thanks to a clear and well thought-out tutorial, I was up and playing in minutes and by my second game I was already experimenting with multiple new strategies. If you have specific rule questions outside of the tutorial, you can consult the full instruction manual (which is oddly only available in PDF format on Ariton’s website and not view-able directly within the app.)
Two player games against the AI can be fairly quick allowing for some nice shorter play sessions. However, there is an option to play with up to four players locally with a combination of humans and AI, or online asynchronously via Game Center. The game only has one level of AI, which seems to vary in its skill level from game to game, but trends toward the beatable side. Electing to play a three or four player game (instead of the default two) certainly adds to the challenge as now you have more people competing for the resources and trying to build the same blueprints from underneath you.
One thing that I really like about Outpost Luna is that it caters to a lot of different type of gaming strategies and can be as deep of an experience as you want to make it. One player my decide they want to diligently collect resources and gold (which can be used to bolster an attack or help protect the player from attack) and just systematically build their structures on a single blueprint, hoping to be the first to complete it. While another player, may not bother to build anything, instead biding their time until they can use an attack action to steal away all of the hard work of another player. Other players may concentrate on maximizing the special characteristics of the factory and housing structures to improve resource production and fortify their plots of land. Finally the remaining players will fall somewhere squarely in the middle.
If I had one complaint it is the lack of ability to easily undo certain actions in the game, but I’ve already mentioned this to the developers and they are aware of these limitations and actively working on ways to improve undo (there are some workarounds now).
A nice mix of strategy and luck, Outpost Luna is an entertaining and original iOS board game that is easy enough for kids to learn, but allows more competitive players to have a thoughtful gaming experience, especially once they’ve become familiar with all of the possible actions and can plan ahead more. The race for blueprints along with the ability to attack other players to steal their land and core mechanics of planning your actions and keeping them secret until executed all add up to a fun and competitive atmosphere. I’m not sure how hardcore strategy board gamers will feel about this one, but I’ve found it to be a pleasant App Store surprise…now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cities to build.