Game Reviews

Outpost Luna

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| Outpost Luna
Outpost Luna
| Outpost Luna

The Moon is the brightest, clearest object in the night sky. It's an ever-changing window onto another luminous pockmarked world. No wonder it's held such fascination for humanity down the ages.

Being a game developer, Ariton chose to express its fascination with the Moon in digital boardgame form. Of course.

In Outpost Luna, you're colonising the titular planetoid by sending robots to do your dirty work. And very dirty work it is, too, this whole grubbing for minerals and scrapping with other lunar landers for the best plots.

Bag 'em up

To this end, you're given a curious grab bag of mechanics with which to work. You have a hand of dual-use action cards from which you must select a card two turns ahead, forcing you to make a plan but offering a little bit of wiggle room if things go awry.

Via your selected initial actions, you'll deploy and move your robotic probes. At first, you're exploring an unknown landscape. As more and more probes land, though, tiles are flipped over and the resources they contain exposed. You'll need these resources to build structures, and later the cities that help you win the game.

After that, your card choices will be dictated by the need to gain resources. There are various ways to do this, but the most common is to mine for resources in the spaces where you have probes or in adjacent plots. And this is where things start to get interesting. That's because if two probes share an adjacent space, neither can mine it.

What to do, then, if someone camps out on a resource you need? The meek might skulk off to another space where she can collect what's required, sure. But if you've got an attack card, you can try to push the occupant off.

Success isn't guaranteed: your opponent might have a defence card, or have secretly allocated gold to bolster her position. But if you win, you get the space and, crucially, any structures already built there.

Black holes

Ariton stitches this all together into a coherent whole. With the ability to contest spaces, the dev introduces some spatial strategy alongside the number crunching. Ariton takes measures to prevent an aggressive free-for-all, though, and to ensure the victor is usually the most competent strategist.

However, these are pretty basic design milestones for any modern boardgame. Ariton does have a trick up its sleeve, though. And that's the aforementioned three-turn advance planning. Unfortunately, it's something of a mixed blessing.

The idea of forcing players into forward planning seems appealing, putting a twist on a by-the-numbers resource-management game.

And it definitely makes you plan ahead, dragooning you into chaining cards to collect the necessary resources before building something, and guaranteeing a tense turn between gathering everything required for a victory city and actually building it.

But it's also terribly frustrating, leaving you wholly unable to react to board changes that you had no way of seeing coming. And since forward planning consists almost exclusively of totting up the resources available for collection, it feels more like hard work than fun.

Inexorable gravity

Indeed, you end up feeling that this game is more of a strict logic puzzler than an organic strategy game. All games are based on mathematics, of course, which is why they translate well to digital formats. Most game makers, however, do their best to obscure those roots from the player. Ariton chooses not to here.

It doesn't help that the game is pretty basic in terms of presentation and function. There is a slick online mode, but the graphics are amateurish, the AI is only moderately challenging, and some important usability comforts - like an undo feature - are absent.

And the theme collapses pretty quickly, too. You might want to believe you're a high-tech robot probe, digging in the dirt of an exotic moon. But when you're digging up bricks and constructing factories, you start to feel more like a building contractor.

There's a solid game experience at the core of Outpost Luna, but it's not especially novel. This will likely appeal to a relatively limited audience who enjoy mathematical puzzles. And there just isn't enough on top of those restrictively shallow foundations for me to give this more than a qualified recommendation.

Outpost Luna

A mechanically competent but rather soulless exercise in economic management