This backpack pick sends us back to 1962 in an alternate universe where two nations battle each other for the supremacy of Space in Space Program from Octopus 08 Games.
Designer Thomas Canning brings us this abstract card driven game for 2 players that pits the nations NSF vs. C.E.S.R. against each other in a race to be the first to develop their space program. The cards are referred to as blueprints to add to the theme of the game. The card(s) placed into the pyramid are each referred to as a dossier.
The game is based on building a pyramid of cards with increasing card values placed in each level. For example, cards that have a value one can be placed in the first level of the pyramid. On the second level, a card of a value of 2 or 2 cards of value 1 each stacked on top of each other. Each player receives their own deck of cards known as the drawing board and each has the same types and values. The player controlling the C.E.S.R. goes first. As players place their cards into the pyramid, they each verbally declare the total value of the cards. But, there is an element of bluffing and deception that is added to the game. Cards are placed face down into each level and so you can attempt to play a card or cards that may or may not equal the total value of that level of the pyramid. An example would be, on level 2, placing a card of value 1 and value 3 face-down and declaring 2. In the game round, each player has 2 challenge cards that can be used to challenge cards placed in the pyramid. The challenged card(s) are revealed to show their values. If a challenge is successful, the card(s) in question are removed from the pyramid as well as any cards that the removed card was supporting. Your challenge card is returned to you face-up and can be used again in the round. If the challenge is failed, the card(s) in question are placed back-face down and the challenge card is returned face-down showing a failed challenge. Cards also have special abilities on them that can be used. Rather than placing a card into the pyramid, it can be played for its special ability. Examples of abilities are: revealing a dossier, blocking an opponent’s pyramid to prevent scoring, protecting your dossier, switching cards, and doubling values of certain cards. There are also Wild cards in each deck that are used to make any value.
The end of the round is triggered when one player places their last card(s). If there is a challenge card remaining, it can be used at this time. Points are added up according to each level. For example for each dossier in level 1, scores 1 point each, in level 2, 2 points each and so forth. Points are recorded on the scoring board by placing cubes over the appropriate spaces. To start a new round, shuffle up the respective decks and repeat the process. The game ends after three rounds and the player with the most points is the winner.
Space Program is a clever, quick-playing game that combines the elements of card play and bluffing. By risking bluffing, players can quickly play out their deck of cards faster in an attempt to win. However, if a player is caught, it can cost a lot of points. I like the balance of the game with the options to play dossiers into the pyramid or playing cards for their abilities. The abilities for the cards blend in well for this 2-player game. For being an abstract game, you do feel the tension between the two nations as they race to develop their own space programs. Risk vs. reward is huge in this game with the bluffing aspect heavily supporting the dossier placement.
The game plays rather quickly, playing in typically under 30 minutes. It takes up a small footprint when playing, making it a great choice for a game to take on the go. With it being a 2-player game, this is a nice choice to play at a meetup with a friend for coffee, play it with your spouse, kids, or a co-worker over lunch.
It is for these reasons, I choose Space Program as my backpack pick. If you are interested in finding out more about Space Program, you can click this link –> https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/space-program