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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Drive Dangerously in Death Roads: All Stars, Score Low in Klink, and Head to the Stars in MLEM: Space Agency

by W. Eric Martin

Not every GAMA Expo 2023 attendee had a booth. I happened to run into Krzysztof and Michał from Rebel Studio while in the exhibit hall, and Krzysztof sort of gestured at his bags in an I’ve-got-the-goods kind of way, and I nodded, and we headed into the hallway to check out the wares.

Given my love of Reiner Knizia designs and Rebel’s solid work on the 2022 Knizia title San Francisco (which I previewed in June 2022), I was most excited to see MLEM: Space Agency, which will debut at SPIEL ’23.

Mock-up front cover

Here’s an overview of the game, which I believe is for 2-5 players. As I mentioned earlier, I lost notes for games I saw on Monday and Tuesday at GAMA Expo 2023, so all of the following is from memory:

In MLEM: Space Agency, you want to place your “catstronauts” on planets and moon throughout the solar system — and if they happen to venture beyond the Oort Cloud to the Milky Way at large, so much the better.

Each player in the game has a team of eight cats, each with a special power. Each turn, one player is the lead and places a catstronaut of their choice from their remaining crew on the spaceship, after which each other player does the same.

The player then rolls six dice, and (ideally) chooses all dice of one value that matches a listed value for the spaceship’s current location. On the starting space, for example, you can choose 1s, 2s, or comets. You move the spaceship ahead equal to the sum of the chosen dice, then decide to either abandon ship — placing your catstronaut on the moon or planet next to your space — or keep moving ahead. Each other player can abandon ship as well, assuming that space exists. (Each moon can hold only one catstronaut, for which that player receives a fixed amount of points, whereas planets can hold any number of catstronauts, with points being awarded at game’s end based on majority scoring.)

Non-final game board and components

If the lead catstronaut abandons ship, the next catstronaut on the ship becomes the lead. Eventually either all catstronauts on the spaceship will have found a new home — possibly even on a comet exiting the Oort Cloud — or the lead catstronaut will fail the die roll, sending everyone on board back to Earth.

When all eight catstronauts of one player have been sent into space, the game ends.

From the overview I got, MLEM: Space Agency feels somewhat like Cloud 9/Celestia in how players collectively rise, but instead of taking turns as lead, only one player is in charge each round — until that player abandons ship, that is. You advance on the track based on the matching dice, so you have variability in terms of movement and choices since you might be angling for a specific location. The catstronaut powers — which you are invited to decipher from the image below — give you a way to score when you shouldn’t or otherwise bend space to your advantage.

For those not familiar with “mlem”, here’s a wiktionary definition: “The act or sound of extending the tongue to lick something, especially one’s own nose, without opening the mouth fully.” Surprisingly, none of the cats on the cover are mlemming, but we’ll see what the final game looks like in October 2023, then await the inevitable “BLEP” expansion module…

• In another example of a trend I noted regarding Lucky Duck Games (link) and Flat River Group (link), Rebel Studio is picking up a crowdfunded design for distribution, giving new life to a game that otherwise would have ended with a fulfilled campaign and no retail presence. The game is question is Death Roads: All Stars by designer Jasiek Łuszczki and publisher The Knights of Unity.

Here’s an overview of this 1-5 player game:

In 2082, mankind is divided. The rich and the lucky ones live in large, automated metropolises. The poor dwell in the outlands, struggling to survive. What gives a chance for a better life is the Death Roads car tournament, the main prize of which is citizenship. However, drivers’ lives are at stake! Are you ready to risk it all in the Divided States of America’s most daring trial?

Take part in a dangerous race! Pick your car, a driver, and a set of deadly weapons. Your decisions will determine which unique cards you will be able to play, so be prepared for every possibility. Adjust your gear, accelerate, shoot, and bash your opponents; do everything you can to be the first — or the only one — on the finish line!

A crazy and deadly drive from West to East Coast will be full of unexpected road events. You will also have to be careful about the skids that can ruin your plans. In Death Roads: All Stars, every move is important and can bring you closer to victory or demise.

• If I recall correctly, Rebel Studio will also handle distribution of Apex Legends: The Board Game from Thanos Argyris, Michalis Nikolaou, and Glass Cannon Unplugged — and since Rebel is an Asmodee studio, that likely means Asmodee will handle distribution for this game outside of Poland.

I forgot to take a picture of the components that Krzysztof and Michał spread across the tiny table at GAMA, so here’s a pic from Glass Cannon’s Michał Ozon from the Rebelkon Games Fair:

The buildings consist of a thick paper loop inside another thick paper loop. Imagine one loop for the four walls and another loop for the top and bottom connected by two walls. To create a structure, you unfold the loops and slide one inside the other; for storage, slide the loops apart, then fold them and slide them into the proper space in the box.

The Kickstarter campaign for this game launches on May 17, 2023.

• Finally, Rebel Studio has a take on the “golf” card game genre, that is, a game in which players try to have the lowest score possible, but in Darrell Cannon and Damian Syta‘s Klink, you seem to have more agency than I’ve seen in other games along this line. An overview:

Your goal in Klink is to have the lowest score possible to win the round. Win enough rounds, and you win the game!

The deck consists of cards ranging from -5 to 10. On a turn, take two cards from the deck, look at one of them, then decide whether to keep the cards or offer them to another player; if you offer them, that player can look at one card of their choice, then keep the cards, or offer them to someone else. If the final player is being offered the card, they must keep them. Whoever ends up with the cards takes the next turn.

When a player has ten cards in front of them, the round ends, and everyone reveals their cards. If you have two cards of the same value, they cancel one another. Whoever has the lowest score wins the round.

Klink includes special event cards that change the rules of play.


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