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Empty Space: A Race to the End of The Universe

Empty Space

Empty Space
(Image courtesy of Peter Collins)

Many consider space to be the final frontier when it comes to exploration, discovery, and potential settlement. As we humans have already discerned, space is not nearly as empty as it looks from the ground. In the game Empty Space, players send out their probes to search the universe in hopes of discovering new exoplanets to explore. These space probes will be traversing multiple galaxies and nebulae such as the Dust Angel Nubula, the Butterfly Nebula, and the Starburst Galaxy while dodging black holes and charting the way for the subsequent rocket ships.

Empty Space was designed not just by Peter Collins, but with the aid of his two teenage daughters and some tweaking from their mom! The art used for the game is actually made up of real images of space instead of illustrations. Personally, I love this as it shows the beauty of the cosmos and gives the game a more “real” vibe. In addition to the aforementioned nebulae and Starburst Galaxy, players can find images of moons, planets, space stations, comets, asteroids, and even stars!  The game itself is self-published by the Collins family and is playable for 1-4 players. Each game typically ran my group between 20-30 minutes.

Empty Space Custom Set Up

A custom set up that added a lot more difficulty to the game.
(all photos, unless otherwise stated, were taken and edited by KristaG)

One of the coolest parts of this game is that the players can literally set up their universe more or less however they’d like as long as the 4 Exoplanet tiles are placed at the end of the created map. For learning the game, however, it is recommended that the Universe Cards be shuffled and placed face down in a 4×7 grid. The Exoplanets should also be placed face down with 1 being placed randomly at the top of each of the 4 columns. Once this is completed, each player is dealt 4 Universe Cards to form their opening hand and the remaining Universe Cards form a draw deck. The first 2 cards of this deck are dealt face up to create a drafting pool. The Space Probes and Rockets are set aside for later use. Before starting the game, each player chooses 2 Universe Cards to flip face up. Then, beginning with the youngest player, all players will take turns exploring, researching, and racing towards the exoplanets.

Empty Space Game Play

The Yellow Space Probe will have to either pay a red card to move onto the Enterprise Nebula, pay 3 same color cards to “Change the Universe,” or try to move forward and hope to come across another yellow card in order to advance freely.

On a player’s turn, they can choose to either Explore or Research. When researching, the active player will draw 2 Universe Cards. These can either be drawn from the top of the draw deck or chosen from one of the cards from the card pool. The player will then play as many cards from their hand as they’d like. Cards can be spent on buying a space probe, revealing the Universe, or changing the Universe. Each of these has its own cost and conditions that are explained in depth in the rulebook. At the end of their Research phase, a player may also discard any unwanted cards. When Exploring, the player may also play cards. However, they do not get to pick up any new cards on their turn. Instead, they are able to move their pre-purchased spacecraft across the universe. Moving, like in the real world, requires fuel, so if a player’s craft needs to move onto a space that doesn’t match in color, the player may spend a matching colored card in order to enter the space. Should a player enter a black hole, the spacecraft is destroyed and removed from the board. On that player’s next turn, they may place it on the bottom row for free and begin exploring again. Once a player reaches the exoplanets, they must land their space probe on the exoplanet that is the same color. As soon as this is completed, the player must then reach the exoplanet a second time – this time with a rocket. It is important to note that a player can only ever control one color of space probe and rocket. The first player to get their probe and rocket to the correct planet wins the game.

Empty Space Apollo Cards

The Apollo rockets are used as wild cards!

Empty Space is, in a nutshell, a quick race to the edge of the universe. What really sells it for me is the artwork and the ease of teaching the game to others. For example, the game is almost entirely language independent. This made it really easy to teach the game to a group of mixed ages and reading levels. Space Explorers is also a very useful tool for learning about space itself while mixing the theme with some color matching skills and mechanics. I feel this is a great game for space enthusiasts, aspiring young astronauts, and anyone in the mood for something quick and light. Empty Space is currently being crowdfunded and offers both a deluxe version (with a box) and a “value” version, which is far more portable for gamers on the go like myself as it comes in a drawstring bag. One of my favorite things about the game (other than the allowance for creative setups) is the inclusion of the Apollo rockets in the game as wild cards. I thought this was a really nice touch — especially with the timing of the game’s release! With the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing quickly approaching on July 20th, this is the perfect time to catch the tail end of the Kickstarter campaign!

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