Fly me to the moon, and let me play (board games) among the stars.
Earth is done for. It’s time to jump ship before we’re all reduced to rolling dice for water in an irradiated wasteland. Jump on a ship is what we mean, of course, as we head out for a better life in our local star systems. There’s just one problem: We can’t afford a rocket. Fortunately, picking up these six space-themed board games -- many of them Game of the Year contenders by our account -- will have (marginally) less impact on your bank balance while still sending you soaring through the night sky.
6 stellar space-themed board games
Ready for liftoff? Not so fast, space cowboy. In our galactic tour of space-themed board games, we’ll be taking you through the all-important training phases on Earth before we launch across the solar system and beyond in search of dice-rolling, card-shuffling, and meeple-moving fun. We’ve also included a galaxy brain rating to let you know the complexity of each game we included.
The Search for Planet X
Galactic tour phase: Peer-reviewed planning.
Hands off that ignition button! Before you blast off into the unknown, it’d be prudent to do some research. You see, we’ve heard rumblings that there’s a secret planet out there -- lurking silently at the edge of our solar system. In The Search for Planet X, players take the role of rival astronomers on the hunt for this missing heavenly body. Observe the skies and make logical deductions in a race to find it (and the envy of your peers) first.
The Search for Planet X makes use of a digital app through which players take turns performing scans and attending conferences. Gathering information, you’ll build up a picture of what’s hidden in each segment of the circular board. Publish your findings and you could earn a healthy dose of points. Doing so, however, makes that information public to your data-thieving rivals as well. Part treasure-hunt, part logical-deduction puzzle, it’s the perfect foundation for any space-based board game collection.
Galaxy brain rating: 2/5
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Galactic tour phase: Training and preparation.
So we know what’s up there, but are you ready to handle it? The Crew is the only cooperative game on this list, and it’ll test whether your teamwork can handle the space race ahead or if you’ll be kicking each other out the airlocks within five minutes. It’s built upon a trick-taking core -- the lead player determines a suit, and the highest card played from that or the trump suit takes the hand.The difference here is that you’re working together to help each other win specific hands.
Things start simple, demanding a few players win certain cards over the course of a game. Before long, however, you’ll be balancing those conditions with orders and rankings which determine who is allowed to win hands and when. Oh, and did we mention that you’re not allowed to talk while playing? Radio contact in space can be so unreliable.
The Crew’s booklet features 50 missions to overcome, with the challenge increasing progressively in each. The theme is largely set dressing for the abstract game underneath, but you can certainly spot a star-like twinkle in the designer's eye with just how many easter eggs are present.
Galaxy brain rating: 1/5
Welcome to the Moon
Galactic tour phase: We made it off Earth!
You might have heard about NASA’s aborted Artemis 1 launch and plans to establish a permanent moon base. We think they’re aiming small. In Welcome to the Moon you won’t just settle on that lunar light in the sky, you’ll suburbanize it. The flip-and-write format -- turning over cards from a stack and scribbling one available number into a box on your personal sheet -- merges with a campaign structure as you pack up your rocket, plot a gravity-well path, and then establish a home on our major satellite.
As with other Welcome To… games you’ll have to fill numbers in ascending order, but Welcome to the Moon features eight different scenarios with bespoke rules and structures to adapt to. Each can form a link in the campaign’s chain, but they also serve as solid games in their own right. It pays to pack plenty of entertainment for a long-haul space flight, and Welcome to the Moon crams a generous amount of game into one affordable box.
Galaxy brain rating: 2/5
Beyond the Sun
Galactic tour phase: Time to find out what else is out there.
Look at that box! Studded with stars and mysterious planets to explore. What excitement lies in the great beyond? Truth be told, Beyond the Sun is kinda like managing a spreadsheet. Wait! Before you start booking it back to Earth, we promise this is more fun than it sounds.
For all its otherworldly intrigue, Beyond The Sun is one giant tech tree at its heart. Invest in the base-level research, and you’ll begin shipping dicey people off to new planets. That, in turn, increases your production, allowing you to spend more on unlocking higher, fancier, and sometimes ethically questionable tiers of technologies. Human experiments anyone? In space, no one can hear your subjects’ legal teams!
Moral quandaries aside, upgrading and expanding your capabilities is immensely satisfying, even if it is just shifting little cubes and discs on and off tracks for a couple of hours. Players will naturally diverge their engines into vastly different machines by the end of the game, begging for the chance to replay and refine on future runs.
Galaxy brain rating: 3/5
Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy
Galactic tour phase: The inevitable galactic war.
The good news: You’ve discovered that aliens are in fact real -- we’re not alone out here! The bad news: They’re just as selfish and war-prone as we are. If humanity does make contact with another sentient species, you can be near certain that we’ll try to eat, get freaky with, and fight them. Probably in that exact order. Thankfully, Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy provides the perfect tabletop battleground in which to practice interstellar power tussles. You’ll have to find other outlets for your alien-eating and smooching fetishes, sorry.
Taking command of a burgeoning spacefaring empire, Eclipse sees you drawing and placing space tiles as you settle new planets, upgrade your ships, and boost your economy. Trouble is, your neighbors are all doing the same, and their ships might have bigger missiles than yours. Negotiation is as much a weapon as the guns on your craft, but it’s worth making sure that your supply of the latter is topped up in case the former falls through.
Eclipse is an impeccably crafted 4X game that’s ideal for PC strategy nerds. The second edition also brings much-needed art improvements such that you won’t need to apologize to everyone’s eyes each time you lift the lid on its weighty box.
Galaxy brain rating: 4/5
Roll for the Galaxy
Galactic tour phase: The fate of everything in a roll of the dice.
Look, aliens, we’re agreed that all this war isn’t doing anyone any good, right? Let’s try another approach. Einstein didn’t think God played dice with the universe, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t. In Roll for the Galaxy’s classic engine-building design, everyone tosses a hand of dice on the table before assigning them in secret to actions like exploring, building, and shipping goods.
You’ll only be able to bring one action online personally, but you can piggyback off other players’ choices. As such, you’ll need to predict and pre-empt your rivals to maximize dice efficiency each turn. Things start off slow, but plonk down a few planet tiles and you’ll soon be churning out the goods to ship off for major victory-point hauls each round. Remember, it’s the galaxy at stake, so roll well!
Galaxy brain rating: 2.5/5
Got your own space-themed board games to suggest? Pilot your craft over to our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages and say hi! The Going Analog Podcast will keep you company for the journey and all your future travels through the cosmos.
Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deck builders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to email@example.com.