In our Solar System’s asteroid belt, there lies a giant ball of metal, ice, and rock called 16 Psyche, which is hypothesized to contain about $10 quintillion worth of iron and nickel. Imagine the impact on our world to be able to mine those vast resources in space then bring them back to Earth—it would quite literally upend our entire planet (for the positive, mostly).
This idea of mining the belt has been explored in a variety of media, most recently and notably The Expanse series of novels. Of course, in order to mine those rocks, there needs to be a space for people to live, and that is where Cosmic Colonies comes in, putting you in charge of these new asteroid colonies. Let’s drill down into what makes Cosmic Colonies work!
The goal of Cosmic Colonies is to fill up your asteroid with various buildings, in the form of polyominoes, and harvesting the resources where the buildings are placed. Points are awarded by collecting sets of each type of building, bonus points for specific buildings (with each player having a different building bonus), and by covering up the various terrain types. Gameplay takes place over 8 rounds, which are divided into three phases.
Each round contains two Action Phases, where players will gather resources and construct facilities. Players select a worker card from their hand and reveal it simultaneously. Each worker has its own priority value, with these values setting the turn order per round. Workers with high priority tend to have weaker powers but give players the opportunity to act earlier in the round. On a player’s turn, they can either collect one of four different types of resources or pay resources to place a building onto their asteroid. Since both, the resource and building pools are limited each round, players have to act decisively to get the options they desire.
During the Refresh Phase, the resource and building pools are restocked for the subsequent round. Next, all players pass their used worker cards clockwise to the next player, allowing these used workers to circulate around the table for all players to access, and providing players with the opportunity to hold onto a worker until an opportune moment for use. After 8 rounds, the player with the most successful colony (as measured by victory points) is declared the winner.
Cosmic Colonies comes with both a basic version and an advanced game, which provides more complex workers that provide different powers depending on which Action Phase they are played in, as well a more strategic twist on terrain scoring. There are also some additional variants, as well as rules for solo play.
It needs to be stated upfront: we are absolute suckers for polyominoes and will play any game that has them, or a variant on them. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing because we played the heck out of Tetris both on the Apple II and on the OG Game Boy, but there’s something so satisfying about finding the right shape and the right spot and seeing everything fit together according to plan. With the scoring in Cosmic Colonies dependent on how many resources are being covered up by tiles at game end, players get that dopamine hit from nailing a tile placement.
On the subject of scoring, Cosmic Colonies contains a pleasant equilibrium in ways to earn points between sets, bonuses, and covering resources. Naturally, covering resources is just going to occur over the course of the game, but there is a nice balance between deciding to go for set collecting or whether to focus solely on the buildings that earn you bonus points. Since the availability of the buildings is limited from round to round, it makes timing and executing your buys that much more important, providing a lovely depth in what is a simple game on the surface.
While we would not necessarily consider the card-passing mechanics as a “draft” in the strictest definition of the term, Cosmic Colonies provides that kind of feeling to players. We especially loved the use of the priority values on the workers to determine the turn order, providing interesting choices affecting both short-term goals and long-term strategy. We did have a minor quibble that it seemed that some of the worker powers were very effective only in specific game states, and therefore ended up sitting and taking up a spot in hand for quite a while. We recognize the enormity of trying to get a balance of so many cards and powers, but we were slightly let down in this regard.
When choosing between the basic and advanced rules, we recommend that experienced gamers skip straight to the advanced rules, which allow cards to have variable powers depending on which Action Phase they are played in. We found this extra layer of rules to be minimal in terms of complexity while amplifying the importance of the choice of the right worker at the right time.
We were only able to play with two players due to current events, but we did feel like the two-player game was a bit limited on multiple replays (although we definitely still loved playing.) With more resources and buildings available during a game with 3+ players, playing Cosmic Colonies seems like it would open up and relax a bit more at that player count. We will definitely revisit this in the after times.
Cosmic Colonies tickles us right in our sweet spot of gaming enjoyment. A light game with a great sci-fi theme, along with some drafting and polyomino laying, this is the kind of game that can and should find its way onto your table.
Final Score 4 Stars – Cosmic Colonies is definitely a go for launch! This game rocks, and you should pick it up “ore” else.
• While listed as 2-players, really needs 3+ for best gameplay
• Worker powers varied in balance