ONWARD TO VENUS
A Martin Wallace game published by TREEFROG GAMES based on "Dr Grordbort" created by the extremely artistic New Zealander, Greg Broadmore. It is designed for 2-5 players of Young Adult Age and upwards.
The boardgame is available in two versions, Standard and Limited Edition. The difference between these two versions is that in the Standard version the player’s pieces and coins are cardboard counters which in the Limited Edition are replaced by wooden mouldings for the specific items, Spaceships, Ray Guns (a Dr Grordbort speciality), Tanks, Factories and Mines with wood counters Gold (5s) and Silver (1s) for the money. Once you are used to playing then the wooden pieces are excellent as they provide that extra pleasant visual aspect to play. However while learning the game it would have been nicer (but probably financially impractical) to have had the cardboard counters to use, mainly because the counters have useful information on them that obviously are not on the wooden pieces.
The players take a set of coloured pieces to represent their Empires, by Nation. Red for British, Blue for France, Purple for Russia, Yellow for German and Green for the USA. Each player also has a set of four Nation specific game cards. All game cards are one-use and then discarded and players may never hold more than 10 cards, discarding immediately, before playing, if more cards are held.
You need a reasonably large playing surface as there is no board but 8 Planet Discs instead. The Planet Discs have to be set out in the correct astronomical order:-
Mercury, Venus, Earth (slightly upwards) and Moon (slightly lower and directly beneath Earth), Mars, Ganymede, Titan and the Kuiper Belt. During play at the start of each round and at the start of the game Planet Tiles are placed on each planet according to the chart; number of tiles according to the number of players, with some planets receiving an extra tile; for example with 3 players the planets, in order, receive the following number of tiles: 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2.
All player’s have a factory on Earth with their other available pieces orbiting Earth; from there they can fly to other planets. To move military units (Ray Guns) players need at least one Spaceship (any number of units can travel on a Spaceship) and Spaceships can move to the nearest planet(s) that are one space away and continue to do an action on that planet, or the Spaceship can fly two spaces and wait in orbit. The other, stronger, military unit, Tanks, cannot fly to other planets on Spaceships unless specific orders (from a card) allow them, they can however land on the planet they currently orbit.
Tanks and Spaceships are produced on any planet where the player has a Factory, but Humans (Infantry units) only ever come from Earth.
Players can split their forces so that a Spaceship can travel to one Planet with some military units and another Spaceship (or Spaceships) can go to other Planets. However you may only move one Spaceship (and cargo) in a Turn. Obviously if you are going to attack a Tile on a planet the larger your force the better your chance of winning, but also if you have all your units in one Spaceship you can find yourself more than a couple of moves away from the tile you want when it is drawn from the bag and placed on a distant planet. There is room for pre-movement planning and careful distribution of your units will give you an overall better chance of being in the right orbit at the right time. Strategy can be defeated by bad luck but it is better to have some strategy than to go at it like a Sandstorm on Mars.
These two illustrations of EARTH are both exactly the same setup except that one shows the cardboard counters in position and the other the pertinent wooden pieces.
The game is played over just three Rounds and should take about 20-25 minutes per player if they all know the game mechanics. ONWARD TO VENUS revolves around controlling the various planets by having the most VP value of buildings on them – each planet has three numerical values for the highest, second and third VP values which are scored at the end of the game. For the first two Rounds the players score no VPs but instead gain money for each of their Factories and Mines.
There are a couple of unique game mechanics in play, at least I haven’t seen them before and Martin Wallace is renowned for his clever and different game mechanics. The first of these is the “end of round” mechanic which has a number of Black wooden cubes (card tiles) placed on the separate PASS card. There are one cube/tile (Pass Tokens) per player plus 2 extra. The game is played in Action Turns. Players perform one Action and then it is the next player’s turn, going clockwise from the start player. When a player cannot or does not want to take an Action they instead take a Pass Token. When play comes back round to them they are not out of the game and can take an Action or they can take another Pass Token. The player who takes the last Pass Token ends the Round and will be the First Player for the next Round.
The second and just as important, possibly more so, unique game mechanic is how the dice are used. To gain access to a Planet the player simply moves pieces onto it, but that strangely actually has no effect. It is not about moving units onto the Planet it is about taking control of one (at a time and per Turn) of the Game Tiles on that Planet. Some tiles can just be overrun, such as the Factory tile. A player needs no more than one military unit to move out of orbit and land, then they can exchange the Factory tile for one of their own Factories.
Some Game Tiles, such as Mines for example, have a defence that has to be equalled or beaten by the value of military units and maybe additional cards. Cards show the explosion icon and count one towards combat per icon. Tanks have a value of 2 and Ray Guns and Spaceships are valued at 1 each.
The three dice are rolled and laid out in ascending order. The middle numbered die is removed and the lowest die is subtracted from the highest, the Skull symbol counting both as a “0” and as a casualty. The resulting number is added to the value of the Game Tile and that is the number the player has to equal or beat to win. If a Skull symbol shows then whatever the result, win or lose, the player must put one of their attacking units back into supply. To clarify, a roll of a Skull, 3 and 6 would give a result of 6 (lose the 3 and take zero from six) whereas a roll of 2, 3 and 6 would give a result of 4 (lose the 3 and subtract the 2 from the 6 = 4).
When a player wins a tile they take and keep it if it has a VP value or discard it if they have the piece to replace it. I am sure it has been scientifically worked out, but their does seem to be little coordination between the strength of a tile and its VP value, in fact all tiles (exception Aliens) with a VP value only give one VP each whatever their strength.
Some of the Game Tiles are Tension Tiles. If there is a Tension tile on a planet with buildings the workers in those Factories and Mines are unhappy, there is unrest. This means that they are subject to a take over from an opposition force. The value of the Tension tile, shown on the tile as a question-mark, is equal to the value of the building being attacked. The Tension tile is discarded after combat.
After each Round all units on planets return to orbit (excluding buildings of course), the planets receive their Game Tiles and the Pass Cubes are returned to the Pass card, and after the final Round the player with the most VPs (from tiles and planet control) is the winner; there are tie-breakers built in. When the last Pass Cube is removed each Planet is checked for Crisis Resolution if there is a Crisis Tile on the planet. This is done using a chart in the rules booklet and every planet has its own possible outcome. Players should note these before the Round ends as Crisis tiles are subject to combat. Defeating and removing a Crisis tile generally gives up a VP and reduces the possibility of a disadvantage occurring due to the Crisis.
ONWARD TO VENUS is a very good and quite different strategy game and a clever use of some of the Planets in the Solar System. It needs a reasonably large playing area as there must be room around each planet for pieces to be in orbit and of course each planet has to be far enough away so that it is obvious around which planet the pieces are orbiting. The combat dice results are a little too random seeing as they range from zero to six. The specific Nation cards, handed out (not shuffled and dealt) at the setup do give different advantages, maybe not exactly balanced though. It also dissuades players from using their favourite colours which is, from my experience, often very personal. For instance, I like to play either Black or Green and hope that the game I am playing only has one or the other as player colours. If someone else uses my favourite colour I have been known to move the wrong piece, on several occasions and in many different games – it’s a mental thing I guess.
Until I received the game I had never heard of Greg Broadmore or Dr Grordbort, though there is a lot of interest and devoted sites on the internet. Greg Broadmore is in fact a brilliant concept artist and sculptor who has worked on such cinematic successes as the Chronicles of Narnia, Tin Tin, Lord of the Rings and the tension specific District 9.
Martin Wallace, now living the life with his wife Julia in New Zealand, is a prolific games designer with numerous top selling and highly rated games to his credit. With Julia they formed Treefrog Games from the original company Warfrog and with Julia taking on the lion’s (lioness’s ?) share of the paperwork Martin is free to give his full time towards design and developing