Timber & Bolt, $25
Astronauts need to work together to travel to places unfit for human life. Teamwork is key.
That’s also true in Spaceteam, a cooperative card game in which a group of three to six people work together to fix a constantly malfunctioning spaceship. Everybody is on the same team, so you win and lose together.
And just like when things start going wrong on a real spaceship, it can get messy. There are no turns in this game: everything happens all at once. You have five minutes to get your ship in working order by uncovering six Systems Go cards. Do that and you win. Take too long and you lose. It’s that simple.
The game centers around two decks of cards. Those Systems Go cards are buried in a Malfunction Deck, which includes a long (long) list of things that are going wrong with your ship. You also have a Tool Deck, which contains the items you need to fix what’s going wrong.
For instance, one malfunction card might tell you that you need to dislodge your zeta panel, which you can only do with the X-throstle tool and a booster-type tool. You’ll then look through your tool cards to find those items.
If you don’t have them, your teammates might. So you’ll have to get it from them. But you can only pass the cards to the person next to you, so you’ll have to coordinate. You’ll also have to deal with the fact that you’ll have between two and five other people all yelling different tools they need at once—and with the fact that some of the malfunctions only show you a picture of the made-up tool without telling you the name.
To top it off, there are other kinds of malfunctions, too. They’re called anomalies, and they give you additional challenges. Maybe you’ll have to avoid using your thumbs for the rest of the game, or switch seats with everyone, or—without speaking—get your teammates to realize you’re floating in space and physically pull you back to the game table.
It’s a lot happening at once, which is exactly why Spaceteam is marketed as a “chaotic” card game.
We spent a loud, raucous hour giving the game a go. Here’s what we thought.
Matt H, Content Manager: Hope you’re all good and rested from our chaotic spaceship experience yesterday. Now that you’ve had some time to recover, what did you think of the experience?
Matt M, Director of Research: This game is Go for Launch! I enjoyed the within-game strategizing for how best to communicate with all of you. I can’t talk and listen to all of you at the same time.
Matt H: It really does stress the teamwork and communication skills! Even though it’s just a game, it’s kind of stressful to be doing so much at once (though in a fun way, somehow?).
Jaret, Postdoctoral Associate: My biggest concern with the game is the build quality and appropriateness. The game is very interesting and involved but a card game might not have been the best format for this type of game. On the other hand, having it in card format only allows the game to be very transport friendly. This is a game that can be carried anywhere without too much fuss.
Matt M: Yes, we can carry it anywhere. That said, I imagine that we would not be particularly popular with those around us when I repeatedly shouted that I needed a Quasipaddle for forty-five seconds only to discover that the reason no one was helping me was because I’d been holding the Quasipaddle in my hand the entire time. Multitasking is hard.
Matt H: I should also mention that there is a version of the game for phones in which everyone downloads an app and uses that instead of a deck of cards. That might be one way to avoid the wear and tear issue without losing portability.
Katy, Director of Marketing: Parent weighing in here: what I love about this game is that either everyone loses, or everyone wins—and whether everyone wins or not definitely depends on teamwork. So if you’ve got more than one child and family game night tends to turn into competition so cutthroat it makes you nervous…this game might be a good change!
Plus, the entire crew gets to sit around a table together, basically shouting at each other, pleading for help, and struggling to describe the crazy tools the game features: “I need the big whisk with the thingamagiggy at the end of it!” “Give me the old-fashioned vacuum cleaner with the gun on the end!” “Who has the ping pong paddle with the seltzer maker attached.” It’s somewhat insane and very fun! Think of it as a team-building outlet for family chaos.
I also feel compelled to add that Jaret is a game connoisseur (and that’s putting it mildly) so when he says he has a problem with the build quality, it means he saw some wear and tear on the cards that the rest of us would need a magnifying glass to see. But then, I’m old and need better glasses. 🙂
Elizabeth, Webmaster: The instructions need improvement. Why is there a blank anomaly card? Do you take your tool cards with you when you rotate seats? What happens when a player runs out of anomaly or tool cards?
But I like that it is fast paced and that it can be played with a fairly wide range of ages (I would guess eight and up).
Evan, Social Media Specialist: I’m still amused by our lame attempt to avoid complete chaos. We thought maybe having just two players at a time yell out what they needed and resolving their anomaly cards first before rotating around the table would make it easier to hear. Turns out, it did make it easier to hear, but it also slowed the game down just enough for us all to end up succumbing to the temptation to ask for tool cards out of turn. Eventually, it all ended up back in a state of chaos.
Matt M: Yes, but I could not play it (well) right before bed. I need to be awake. I would be interested in trying more iterations of order. I refuse to believe chaos is the most efficient way to play. Perhaps like a real space ship, we needed more of a command structure to keep us all in line.
Evan: I’m thinking, if nothing else, this game could be a great tool to illustrate to students how difficult it is to get things done without some kind of structure in place to regulate who speaks when. Maybe some day a teacher will be able to calm a rowdy class by letting them play this game a few times and experience the frustration of losing. Then again, they may very well put us to shame and backfire the teacher’s plans.
Following Matt’s train of thought, it would be cool to see an update or adaptation of the game that alters the rules to reflect more closely how these situations really play out during space missions. Like one set of players plays ground control, having access to the tools and the knowledge of how to fix things, while the other set of players are the astronauts, who can more clearly identify the problem but need to communicate with ground control to resolve it.
Matt M: Hah. That reminds me of the 30 Rock episode where Jack has the instructions and must explain them to Liz, who has to follow them and build a train with LEGO.
Katy: I am still perplexed about the lack of duct tape as a tool! Isn’t that what saved the Apollo 13 mission? Heck, I won’t even make my morning coffee without duct tape nearby just in case.
You know, you might be onto something there, Evan. Maybe teachers should buy this game to illustrate to their classes how difficult it is to get anything done when everyone is talking at the same time?
Matt H: Maybe a good motto for the game is: embrace the chaos. When we first started, Evan, Elizabeth, and I were being very meek about things. But the game is a lot more fun when you just absolutely go for it. I’m not sure that’s a good winning strategy, but it is a good fun strategy.
Have you played a good board game or video game, read a good book, or seen a good movie? Submit a review to Insights by the time the next issue comes out, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Spaceteam. Find details on the submission page.