This review is also available on Zatu’s out of this world blog, here!
Taking something and improving it is part and parcel of daily life. The endless trials for perfection, improvement and variety. It sounds mad… but everything is in the direction of progress! Play a game again? For enjoyment, but to also improve strategy. Redraft a review? For consistency, but also to ensure I’m actually writing something coherent. So how do developers and designers strive for perfection? A weird one. But I feel Oink Games’ Moon Adventure is a movement to remix and change up Deep Sea Adventure! Moon Adventure is a 2-6 player cooperative game that takes around 35 minutes to play.
Playing the Game
To start up, players need to lay out all the moon token tiles in ascending order with the lunar rover and associated card at the end. Players then place their base at the start of this run. All players receive five storage slot cards, three oxygen tank cards and a meeple in a colour of their choice. You then deal out a role to each character and set it up according to its unique ability – as necessary. Place the remaining oxygen refill tokens and tile replacements nearby. Finally, turn over the remaining oxygen cards into a discard pile and place a storm card on the top. The game is now ready to play.
The aim of the game is to collect enough positive samples to achieve victory whilst also retrieving the lunar rover and bringing it back to base. If any players cannot make it back or collectively don’t collect enough samples, they lose.
What’s The Difference Between Space and Sea?
Moon Adventure runs a very similar system in concept to Deep Sea Adventure, but has added mechanics with extra layers of complexity. It’s cooperative for a start! On top of that, it includes unique roles, scaled difficulty based on player count and numbers of dice rolled based on card spends. In its visuals and core elements, it’s incredibly similar. However, it’s unwise to go renegade in this game. Oxygen isn’t collectively shared but is everyone’s responsibility.
Taking a Turn
On a player’s turn, they spend oxygen cards from their personal storage to receive dice to roll. The result of this gives that player action points to spend. Actions come in a variety of flavours: movement, taking moon samples, placing oxygen refill stations, exchanging things from storages, smoothing the lunar surface (developing a route)… all of these aimed at helping players survive and achieve the necessary number of positive samples. These actions cost action points dependent on the action’s value. Movement costs one whereas placing a refill station costs three. Players need to work together and independently to both divide and conquer and look after the collective.
As the game progresses, players will take new oxygen cards and will need to move the discard into the draw pile. This is the main way storm cards are introduced into the deck. Players draw cards and refill their storage tanks full of oxygen cards when ending their turn on a refill station. This becomes somewhat push your luck, as players can draw as many cards as wanted… but drawing a storm card breaks the refill station – preventing players from using that station in future. Though this will seem a minor set back, there are limited refill stations available for players to use.
The final phase of the game is when a player enters the lunar rover. At this point, all players should make their way back to base. However, they must also be conscious that the player in the rover can only take the move action. Though each one of these actions moves two spaces, their oxygen is limited. It’s worthwhile all other players using the smooth action to ensure that player can make much speedier progress! If all players return to base and retrieve the rover, they check their samples. These are either ticks or crosses. If the number of positive samples matches or exceeds the threshold necessary, they win! Any other outcome, including not all players making it back, is a loss.
How It Feels to Play
Moon Adventure has almost entirely replaced Deep Sea Adventure in our house. Almost. It’s cooperative twist on the tile laying, risk management system works gorgeously to get players discussing and negotiating in all the right ways! It’s genuinely impressive the way an already fantastic game has had it his twist and enhancement added to it. But to say it’s wholly dependent and comparable to the original is to sell it short. This game is fantastic within its own right!
Moon Adventures unique roles add an extra layer of responsibility to the game itself. Sure, you can play it vanilla and have everyone run the exact same strengths and weaknesses… but it detracts from the need to cooperate. You’ve got classic space characters such as the Carrier who carries one extra storage, or the Engineer who controls the robot… You also have the less conventional folk such as the Mood Maker who straight up gets three extra AP. Nonetheless, each has a more specific responsibility and strength. Something they’re more attuned to doing than others. And it’s where the cooperations really stands out.
Knowing you’re the “Oxygen Guy” and your job is getting the OGS systems out for folk to refill is a big thing. As is knowing you’re the “So Much AP Guy” so you’ll be the one adding taking extra risks. It’s no small thing as it’ll become an integral part of any and all plans. You’ll share the load, discuss who’s doing what and establish your plan of attack at every turning point. Be that on the fly or as an established long term plan. But there’s risk with this – as there is with any and all cooperative games…
Houston, You Are The Problem
When we play Moon Adventure, we have a saying. Don’t be a Houston. Thematically it’s beautiful and we’re trying to trademark it, technically it’s a fancy way of saying “Don’t Quarterback!”. All cooperative games have this element to them and it’s an issue across all of them and there’s often a way to mitigate it. Sadly, Moon Adventure doesn’t have any mitigation we’ve seen as your tanks, storage and dice result are easy public knowledge. The only way we found to reduce these risks is to simple not be a Houston. Don’t dictate, don’t instruct, don’t coach and don’t kick off when it all goes wrong. These probably an acronym here, but don’t be a Houston works just as well.
The Difficulty of Breathing
There’s no dressing this up. Moon Adventure is difficult. A true challenge that cannot be mastered nor perfected, only taken as it comes. Each dice result is chaos, each card draw is random, each tile flip is a coin toss! There’s things you can do to manipulate the odds in your favour, but inevitably you’re going to have to push your luck to ensure the chaotic outcomes of each sample take is backed up and supported by more risky actions.
The rules of thumb is that the further along the path you to, the more likely it is you’ll get a positive sample. Not guaranteed, but likely. This forces you to be daring and take those risks. Forces you to be a hero and strive for success in the face of certain death. Your unique roles will support this, but Moon Adventure is a difficult game. It makes a success even move beautiful and much more meaningful.. but these will be few and far between. If you’re wanting that spicy challenge and steep difficulty incline then I’d argue this beauty delivers in spades! No mastery, only you and your team fighting against the chaos. And it’s excellent!
In A Nutshell
Moon Adventure is like Deep Sea Adventure, but stands alone in its own rights. It’s a difficult, tactical mash of cooperation and risk taking. A set of tasks to be delegated across a team based on a their unique skill set. Fast paced and excellent fun, Moon Adventure is the cooperative big brother to the established classic and, for me, it’s a no brainer purchase for any gamers who thrive on both challenge and cooperative player interaction.