A most enjoyable Rocket Race from Hans im Glück for 2-4 players aged 12 years plus designed by Greek game designer Jeroen Vandersteen
Found online for around €50.00
Nache Ramos, the illustrator, should be commended for his visualisation of the 'space race' especially the front cover of the box which brings back childhood memories of the 1950's - 60's comics I used to read in my youth; things like Dan Dare © and Flash Gordon ©.
The cover art ensures that of all the games on the store shelves LIFT OFF! will be the one that immediately catches your eye and draw you to it. A lot of games have artwork that is superior to this as far as dynamics, colourisation, action, detail etc are concerned, but it's the brilliance of the subtlety that is actually so striking.
The components and artwork continue with the 50's theme and gives the whole game that wonderful retro look and feel, just like opening an original 'Snakes & Ladders' or 'Buccaneer' and then the game-play takes over and brings LIFT OFF! into the 21st Century.
The game is a clever mix of card play, card drafting and resource management, plus, of course, using the funds you raise to help you build the most successful space agency (having the most points) and win the game. It is played in Turns and Phases, has a cost 'board' that changes the value of the Mission cards and for added adventure there are End Game cards that players strive towards completing (in secret of course) for extra VPs.
Players each begin with their own Mission Control 'player board', a two-piece Rocket (2D shaped card), a Laboratory at Level One and 10 x $100.000 in notes (small card tiles) plus a set of wooden rockets which are used as markers for the various Tracks, Cost, Weight, Income and Scoring etc. The game moves along at a fair pace, though perhaps not 'Rocket-speed' at least until you have mastered the mechanics.
A lot of games like to show you their version of the setup which is generally the most comfortable for all, but at the same time it isn't 'set in stone' so players may do what they feel happiest with. In LIFT OFF! the positioning of your personal pieces, including Rocket and cards, is specific and necessarily so; everything has its place and none more so than the Mission cards.
The player's Rocket sections are placed to the left of each player's Mission Control board next to the Laboratory card. On one side of each piece there are icons that affect the Cost and Weight Tracks on the Mission Control board. The Round begins with drafting the specialist workers (cards) with each player selecting one card to keep from the three they hold and passing two on, clockwise or anti-clockwise by choice. From the new three cards you now hold one is chosen to be passed on and two kept, the trade will give each player three Specialists ready to work for them. These cards are played out to aid you, generally allowing you to activate one or two effects or take 2 money and pass. If you activate the effects you can do it in any order, they are shown one above the other.
Specialist cards have a colour sash in the top right corner. If it is Yellow, the benefit shown in the sash (or banner if you prefer) doesn't come into effect until the Mission portion of the Round. If the sash is Blue then it's effect is immediate. The sash does not affect the other effects shown on the card. When we first started playing we found it was easy to forget the sash when selecting the cards to draft but the more we played the more we realised that the bonus offered within the sash was often more useful than either of the effects on other cards; it really is a case of careful selection rather than just quickly passing cards without taking full notice. It's also important to remember not to discard the Specialist cards until the end of the Round. It's also important, if you have a German copy of the game, to get the Mission cards translation pages from Boardgamegeek.com; for owners of an English language copy it is simlarly sensible to go to BGG and print these cards off anyway, they do help with planning which cards to play.
The rules I found on BGG are a pdf copy of the original German language rules but translated to English, naturally. The Mission cards are completely translated, title and text as well as the illustration, but the other cards are not as fully translated, in fact they are not separately shown, only the types of effect - you have to match the effect shown on the card against the brief illustrations on pages 9 & 10. If you have a colour printer - a laser printer is better than an ink-jet mainly because each page also has a coloured background (often several different coloured boxes) which uses a large amount of toner (these rules would probably decimate an ink-jet's supply of ink) - and you have the available paper and toner spare then I suggest you reprint pages 9, 10, 11, M1 and M2, possibly even print them 2 or 3 times so that all players have a reference copy to make the game go just that bit smoother.
The MISSION cards are in four separate decks that have specific slots on the board for them with discard spaces underneath. Decks 1 and 2 are used to from the start with decks 3 & 4 coming into play later. When you obtain a Mission card you place it face up to the lower left of your Rocket denoting that it is 'on Earth'. When you have the resources to launch your Rocket you may take a Mission or Missions with it, moving it to the top left of your Rocket, known as 'In Space', and thus activating the card's effects. This is one of the reasons the player's setup is specific to the game. Note that although you 'launch' your Rocket it never actually moves.
The TECHNOLOGY cards are colour coded and illustrated for easy recognition. Fuel (red) Power (yellow) Oxygen (blue) and Bio (green) the colours have been chosen because they were the colours always found in games of yesteryear but take note that they are not associated with the player's colours and shouldn't be considered as such even though it is easy to think that each player would be given a deck of their colour. Technology cards determine the technical knowledge the player's Space Agency and are found on Specialist cards from where they canbe collected.
LIFT OFF! is fairly complex without being complicated. I know that I have said this before about games but it is a good stock explanation that gamers understand. There is a lot to consider, many options, some obvious and some which are optional, there are strategies, there is luck, but most of all this is a themed game that works perfectly well with the chrome that it has been given. It isn't a game where you can say something like it's okay but it would have been better using this theme or that theme and it isn't an abstract game where you are doing things simply because you can and that by doing so you gain VPs. It is well structured, enjoyable, looks good and has components sturdy enough to take the amount of playing it deserves.
I have already said that I like this game because of its 'retro' look but that is just the visual eye-candy, the real draw to LIFT OFF is the number of options, the building of your Rocket (there are Upgrades to add Boosters or extra Tanks, each with the Black and Red icons that affect the players Mission Control boards), the Specialists, the Laboratories and the calculated use of the special effects are amongst these options. I also really like the true option, the Construction of the Space Station. This has no effect on the game and is freely built by the players giving away the necessary resources for no influence, no VPs, no cash in fact for nothing at all except fun as there is no specific structure or design to the Space Station, in fact Hans im Glück ask that you send them photographs of your constructions. It's quite unusual and actually quite a pleasant distraction to have players spending resources to build something that has no influence or value in a game.