Mothership – Tabletop Combat

I think it’s best to not mince words here.  When we finished playtesting Peter Sanderson’s Mothership – Tabletop Combat, we immediately asked each other when we could play again, and all admitted that it’s perhaps the finest boardgame we’ve ever played.  It might sound like we’re hitting the hyperbole REALLY hard here, but the experience of playing Mothership is fun, exciting, and just about flawless.

Mothership – Tabletop Combat exudes craftsmanship and attention to detail from the moment you open the attractive box.  All ship and planet pieces are high-quality plastic with detailed carving, making each unit both enjoyable to look at and immediately recognizable, which is essential for quickly and easily maneuvering around the board and creating and executing strategies with ease.  Since events can unfold rapidly, it’s a plus to be able to adapt your plans with a quick glance at both the board and your opponents’ control panels (which I’ll describe in greater detail below).  The cardboard asteroid belts are similarly of high quality and will withstand many, many playthroughs.  The game board is solid, though some in our group thought it was less vibrant than it could/should be.  I thought the stars and nebulae were actually colorful and well designed, but your mileage may vary.  The cards are of decent stock featuring clean, if simple art which actually serve to enhance the clever references found in the flavor text.  The control panel cards, which allow you to adjust your Mothership’s engine output, shields, and attack power (and is therefore your most important piece in the game aside from the colony you need to defend) present information extremely clearly and concisely.  While there’s a lot to parse, you never feel overwhelmed while adjusting your various settings, which is partially due to the aforementioned control panel, but it equally aided by the very well-written instruction booklet.  There’s a knack to writing directions that are both informative and entertaining which Peter Sanderson has seemingly mastered.  The tone is light, featuring several soothing “don’t worry about it, it’s all explained on the cards” sections while also adeptly passing along the rules and strategic options open to players.  I find it telling that we only had to refer to the manual a few times once we started playing for the first time, and clarifications of possibly tricky rules are easily worked out, barely slowing the pace at all.  If I have any complaint or suggestion about Mothership’s presentation, it would be to replace the control panel markers (currently wooden circles) with similar sized cubes as the current tokens are difficult to pick up and manipulate quickly.  As this is an incredibly petty complaint, you can see how pleased I am with what comes in the box.

Playing Mothership is a joy.  The rules are very easy to pick up on the first go, to the point where my almost 9-year-old son grasped both the core concepts as well as fairly advanced strategies rapidly.  Understanding the relationships between movement, combat, and system settings becomes second nature by about the second or third round of play.  As you progress, you’ll determine why your current strategies are or are not working in a flash.  A nuanced yet accessible tech tree upgrade system lets you easily convert your ships to your preferred play style.  Resources are easy to gather via capturing planets or destroying enemy craft.  Those resources can be used to progress along the tech tree which allows you to add bonuses to combat rolls or improve movement, or they can also be “sold” for action cards which can grant more immediate bonuses in the form of one-time interactions which can prevent players from moving or save a ship from an untimely demise as in the standard rules, defeated ships are permanently removed from play.  What’s amazing is the fact that even if everything goes wrong, you’re never more than one or two lucky actions away from being right back in the thick of things, making collecting those action cards incredibly important.  In our first game, two players got into a brawl in the center of the map and subsequently lost their mothership, leaving only fighters and bombers.  Both players were still able to play fairly effectively for quite some time afterwards, making the endgame incredibly interesting, as there was almost no way to determine who would prevail.  Combat is easy to resolve using die rolls modified by any boons granted due to tech upgrades or action cards.  Much like with Blood Bowl, those unlucky at dice can tip the odds in their favor by adding additional ships when attacking opponents or attempting to capture planets, but the risk is that if you lose a dogfight (or fail to “defeat” an asteroid field should you try to traverse one in order to save a few turns when attempting to assault an enemy colony base), you lose EVERY ship involved.  The systems are almost too elegant to adequately describe.

The core rules allow for a variety of setups, a cool solo mode, and even an alternate win pathway based on collecting victory points rather than mere survival.  These modes make you adjust your strategies accordingly, and give the game even more life.  Mothership brings out the best in players, as good-natured trash talk is likely, and since you can potentially still win even without despite being at a heavy disadvantage, no one is really left feeling like they have nothing to do until they’re actually eliminated from play.  Mothership is more than worth the price of admission.  The game is feature complete in the box without having to make additional purchases, is infinitely replayable, and is a joy and a blast to experience.  Absolute highest recommendation, and BRING ON THE EXPANSION!

If you’d like to purchase Mothership – Tabletop Combat (and you do), you’ll want to go here.