Congratulations! Your team of four Founders just got dropped on an alien planet. Their goal is to create a self-sustaining outpost but the clock’s ticking: They only have eight days to get the base shield up and running before a destructive meteorite shower arrives! Not only that, but the base needs to be able to produce its own resources at a minimum level to sustain all personnel before that eight days runs out too, or they’ll just gradually realize that on an exoplanet, no one can hear them scream…
Exobase is a fun worker placement and resource production game with a strong theme and reasonably straightforward gameplay. It’s designed by Mike Berg, who also created the thematic artwork, and fits into a highly portable box. It’s solo only, and setup takes just a couple of minutes. So far in my playthroughs, it’s also a really tight game, where I keep attaining the winning conditions just as my last pre-meteorite storm turn wraps up. You will need a reasonable amount of table space, however, because, by the end of the game, you’ll have a dozen or more cards face-up on the playing surface. Let’s jump in, spacers!
EXOBASE COMPONENTS AND BASIC CONCEPTS
The game starts with a basic four-component base of operations, denoted by the tiny dots on the edges of the cards. Line them up to create the heart of your growing base. You’ll then need to attain resources that will allow you to build new locations, each of which will add to the capabilities of your base in various ways. Here’s a typical Location card, one of the starters (as denoted by the dots on the edges), Greenhouse:
Each person on your development team can do one of three different things in a round: Work, Build, or Upgrade. Work spaces are denoted by a green border (There are two on the above card), Build spaces are denoted by a red border, and Upgrade spaces are orange (as shown above). Work spaces are easy: You move to that spot, you get to harvest the specified resources. Locations need to be powered, however, so the lightning bolt spot must have a yellow power cube for it to be online and usable.
Which leads to the obvious question: What’s the upper line? That’s the upgraded Greenhouse. Builds and Upgrades show the corresponding resource cost, followed by the one-time benefit, and don’t forget they might need more energy too. In this instance, upgrading the greenhouse will cost two minerals, one metal, and two water, along with another energy cube. The benefit is that production of both water and food goes up one (a critical measure) and Founders (your base personnel) harvest 3 food each time they visit, not 2.
The Lab is one of the possible locations you can add later in the game, and it’s a bit more complex:
Since this location isn’t yet part of your exobase, the required first step is to build it, which is the red-bordered space on the lower left. You can see this costs 2 minerals, 2 metals, and 1 food and yields a production increase of any one resource (a tremendously valuable benefit!). But what’s that red cross with the ‘1’ in it? Turns out that some tasks are dangerous, as denoted by the red cross icon. The number within indicates how many Danger Dice need to be rolled in addition to the resource costs listed to accomplish the task: In this instance, building the lab will require a single D6 be rolled by the Founder doing the construction. Rolling a 1-4 causes that Founder to lose a point of health. Get to zero and they’re out of the game.
Those are all the key concepts of Exobase covered – building, upgrading, danger rolls, production, and harvesting resources – but let’s look at some additional components, starting with the Founders themselves. The game includes eight different Founders, from which you randomly choose four for a game. Here’s my team:
Each has a distinct color and matching pawn, a health tracker on the right side (I have a red cube on their topmost point as everyone starts out healthy and ready to go), and both Passive and Instant abilities shown on the lower portion. Instant abilities can only be used a finite number of times, again denoted by the presence of the red cubes (there are black squares to indicate how many times an ability can be used; remove a red cube each time you do so, until there are none left).
For example, Burman, on the left, has a passive ability of “Other founders in an adjacent or same location get +1 to danger check rolls” and has an instant ability “heal 2 [health] on any founder. May be applied after damage is taken.”. One of the most helpful of the Founders is Aoki (green, on the right) because she instantly increases food production capability by +1 and reaps an additional food every time she works at an agricultural location. Once per game, she can also add 4 food to storage, very helpful when you learn that among other things, food = healing.
One possibility during a turn is that Founders can be moved to tackle specific Tasks. They are denoted by the vertically oriented side of the cards and typically reap big resource rewards but at the price of risking the Founder’s health. Here are two example Tasks:
The Pump offers a Founder the chance to harvest one water at the cost of rolling one danger die or two water after rolling two danger dice. The Mine offers even better resources: Two minerals or 1 metal at a danger level of 1 or four minerals or two metal at the risk of two danger dice. Once a Founder has utilized a Task card, they can optionally take it out of play and slide it under their Founder card so that just the bottom portion is revealed: These are either instant one time or ongoing improvements. The Pump Special Ability is that particular Founder will be able to use minerals as metals when building or upgrading, while the Mine Special Ability makes them tougher: They lose 1 less health any time they’re injured from a danger check.
The strategic nuance here is that the reverse of Tasks are Locations and if you pull a Task card out of play, that Location will never be available to build and add to your gradually growing exobase. One or two cards might be a good tactical move, but loading up your Founders with additional abilities will deplete the deck so fast that you might not be able to win.
Setting up the game involves putting the four starting Locations together, then laying out four Locations and three Tasks (the fourth Task is actually the remainder of the deck and yes, the top card is playable). There are some additional tracking and gameplay cards along the bottom too. Add the four randomly chosen Founders and here’s the tableau:
The top left are Tasks, top right are the four starting Locations that comprise your initial exobase, middle left are available Locations to build and add to your base, and the lower left are the four Founders. The resource tracking card with the black background is Storage (actual resources you can utilize) and the white/green background is Production (part of the win condition is to move all production into the green zone). The top right of the white-backed cards is the time tracker and the other four are reference cards.
As you can see, it needs a fairly good size table for play; all the cards are standard playing card sizes! The dice are smaller than usual, however, which might or might not have been a nod to minimizing the box size.
The only step still required in the above picture is to distribute the colored cubes appropriately. Your base starts with four yellow energy cubes, 3 of which are immediately deployed to power up the non-Power Station Locations. Red cubes track Founder health and Instant abilities. Five red cubes will also track Production and Storage for each of the different resources.
Ready to start? Move the Founder pawns into the Hab:
Each turn consists of four steps: Morning, Placement, Hazard, Night. Morning is when production converts to available resources, placement is when you move your Founders to specific locations to either Work, Build, or Upgrade, Hazard involves rolling 1D6, adding the current day (from the tracker card), and trying to survive the hazard (as listed on the reference cards). Night moves all Founders back to the Hab, allows healing (two food = +1 health), and replenishes the Location and Task rows as needed. You will run out of cards before the game ends, so it’s critical you are tactical in what you do when.
To win, you need to power up your shields and move production for every resource into the green zone. Here’s a closer look at the production card so you can see what I mean:
I’m poised to win in the above, with all resource production advanced into a green slot. Notice that it’s the minerals that require the most upgrades to attain a self-sustaining production point, while gas (red circle) is the easiest.
EXOBASE: PLAYING THE GAME
That’s an incredibly long description of components, setup, and interplay, so how about the game itself? Turns out that once you get the hang of it, you can go through a game in about 20-30 minutes, so it’s a perfect lunch break game for work if you have a big table! Each turn you’ll want to anticipate what Locations you want to build and collect the resources required, but remember that the real goal is to increase your production so you can power up the shield and win, so looking at the benefits of each is critical too.
Still, you start by harvesting resources, which I’ll have Chuganov do by moving him to the lower of the two spots on the Mine:
Fortunately, I rolled a 6 on the danger die so the two minerals are harvested without incident. Time to move someone else to a different spot…
It’s now a bit later in the game and I have more resources, so Burman’s going to head to the Thorium Reactor to build it. With Generators, the yield is more energy cubes, which are critical because each Location has to be powered up to bring it online. Burman is not quite so lucky, rolling a 3 on the danger die and therefore taking an injury while building the Reactor. Still, the four energy? Totally worth it:
Once all four Founders are deployed, it’s time to move to the Hazard phase. This involves rolling 1D6 and adding the current day, then looking up on the Hazards cards to identify the corresponding hazard that befalls your team. If it’s the end of day one and I roll a five..
5+1 = 6 which means that one of the Founders receives a freak -2 health injury. There are never benign events and some can end up targeting a specific Location too (the red crosshairs). Basically it’s like one of those classic comic book transitions “And then…” each turn. If you lose a resource and don’t have enough in storage to fulfill, you have to subtract the corresponding number of health points from one or more founders. ¡No bueno!
You can have more than one Founder on a card too, as shown below: Burman (red) harvested two minerals from the Machine Shop (one of the starting Locations), then Li (purple) moved in to upgrade the Location, paying 3 minerals and 3 food, but increasing the production of both minerals and iron. Li also gets really lucky and rolls two safe results with the double hazard dice:
I proceeded apace, having my Founders get injured, heal, build, upgrade, and try to survive the daily hazard phase. I finally powered up the shield and moved all of my resources into the green on the last turn before that darn asteroid shower arrived. Here’s my final exobase:
The more I play Exobase, the more I like this fast, simple, and straightforward solo game. The theme is great, and once you figure out all the iconography, it’s logical and engaging. One of the most tactical challenges is to decide whether you want to convert Tasks into upgrades for individual Founders or keep the cards in play to eventually utilize them as Locations. Then keep in mind that you need to keep producing energy to power those newly built locations too, and you’re well on your way.
Randomly choosing four out of the eight Founders, each of which has different abilities, keeps things lively, and the dice rolls add enough variety that each game will play out differently. My Founders were very lucky early on, avoiding all injuries, but then the dice turned and every roll produced an injury. Still too easy? You can score your wins and try to surpass your previous best play. You can also flip over both the production and storage cards, offering tougher end game criteria. I’ll eventually get to there, but I really like that so far I’ve managed to win at the very last moment in each of my play throughs.
Definitely a keeper and one to acquire for your solo gaming collection. It’s also great for travel and while at work or school because the box itself is small and very portable. However, as I have said, you’ll need a big table!
Disclosure: Mike kindly sent me a copy of Exobase for the purposes of this review. Thanks, Mike!