One look at Core Space: First Born all set up and you will know why I wanted to try it out. The table presence for this sci-fi miniatures game is off the charts. You have walls, terrain elements, cool-looking miniatures, and piles of tokens. But is there a game in here or is it all flash (Ala Plunder: A Pirates Life)? Time to find out!
Core Space: First Born is a cooperative, RPG style game for 1-4 players that takes 60+ minutes to play.
There is a lot going on with Core Space: First Born, so I’ll just give you a high-level overview of the gameplay. While there are expansions for this system to enhance your game, the core box comes with one team of traders and a 10-mission campaign. The missions can also be played standalone if you’d prefer.
But a crew is comprised of one or more traders, usually 3-4. Each player can control 1 trader, or one player can control more. Once you are on a mission, the game is played out over a series of phases. The round starts with a hostility phase where a peg is added to the hostility tracker and an event card is drawn. Events can be good or bad and will vary depending on the hostility level.
Then the Trader phase happens. This gives every player character (called traders) 2 actions. The main actions you will be taking are moving (4 squares), attacking (ranged and melee), and searching. Attacks are handled via die rolls, with hits needing to bypass armor to do damage. Range attacks will roll more dice depending on the range and the weapon used. Interestingly, every turn you make a ranged attack, one of your ammo pegs are added to the hostility tracker, making the rounds more dangerous the more noise you make.
When you search, you can either search a room and draw a random token, or open up one of the objects near you to gain the items that were placed in there during setup. Items will need to be stored on your player tray and it can only hold a limited number of them, so you’ll need to choose carefully if you want to keep that backup weapon or something with higher resale value.
After the traders are done the First Born phase happens. This phase begins with the spawning of new adversaries. The higher you are on the hostility tracker, the more bad guys you can expect to arrive. Then, a simple AI will have the First Born moving towards the players and attacking. Finally, there is a cleanup phase and the new rounds starts.
Missions end either with the death of the traders or when the survivors escape to their ship, hopefully having completed the mission goals.
The rulebook for Core Space: First Born clocks in at over 100 pages and I was a little overwhelmed when I first flipped through it. Thankfully, there is a great Learn to Play book that walks you through an intro mission to teach you the basics. Having played that, I got a much better feel for the game, and doing an actual mission wasn’t that much harder.
One of the most difficult parts about getting ready to play the game has to be the terrain. While it looks absolutely amazing once set up, getting it there is a bit of a chore. It took me an hour or two to just punch out and assemble all the pieces. There are no instructions in the rulebook, so I had to find a tutorial video from the publisher to get it all figured out. But it involved a lot of tedious punching and gluing. And once you are ready to play, it’s probably another 30 minutes of setting up the board: making sure pieces are in the right spot, putting clips to walls, filling terrain, etc…
However, once you are finally playing the game, it’s a lot of fun. Turns are quick and the hostility tracker is a great mechanic that not only adds tension to the game, but gives players a sense of escalating danger. I also like the large variety of loot you can find. You start the game with a pea shooter and a few swim packs, but you can find rifles, shield belts, alien tech, and even the occasional rock worm larva ready to bite your hand. There is definitely no shortage of interesting finds to discover.
But the downside of that is that this game is severely lacking a player aid. Even after a few games, we were constantly flipping through the rulebook to look up the many, many icons. This game joins Race for the Galaxy in the halls of “Icon Overload.” And not only do the items have icons, but the player skills do… and each skill has multiple levels. So if you have 2 dots in one skill, you need to look up what it does, and then what each of the levels of it does. Constantly having to hunt for this information definitely dragged our playtime out.
I’m going back and forth on whether I’d consider Core Space: First Born a “lifestyle game.” Something like Gloomhaven, Battletech, or one of the many other legacy or skirmish games are the type of game you play a lot and requires a large time commitment. Core Space: First Born definitely has a learning curve, but it also has a great campaign system. In between missions, you’ll level your character up, find out what happens to traders you left behind, and even go shopping. The game has an RPG feel with a narrative story, character progression, and a ship phase where you have a lot of decisions to make. There is so much to do in this world that it definitely all can’t be experienced in one session.
Core Space: First Born has a lot going for it. It looks fantastic on your table, the gameplay is really engaging with tons of options, and it’s pretty expandable. That being said, if you are looking for an easy-to-get-to-the-table, one-off dungeon crawler (ala Mansions of Madness), this isn’t it. But for those that want a campaign-style game with a lot of depth, Core Space: First Born fits the bill.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great sci-fi board game with tons of options to keep you entertained.
• Building and setting up the terrain is very time consuming
• Desperately needs a player aid