Welcome to the Moon - great replayability, but those markers...
Game: Welcome to the Moon
Designer: Alexis Allard, Benoit Turpin
Publisher: Blue Cocker Games
Player count: 1-6 players
Set-up time: ~ 4 min.
Play length: 25 min. (most maps) - 40 min. (campaign chapter)
Win condition: win/loss
how the solo game works
Shuffle and divide the stack of cards into three (or count out 21 cards if you want to be precise), shuffle the A, B and C Astra cards in one of those stacks and put the other two on top. Pick an adventure, pick an opponent (levels 1 through 8) and give them the corresponding adventure card for AI scoring. As in Welcome To...: draw three cards, pick one for its number and one for its action. Give the leftover card to your AI-opponent for them to score (usually at the end of the game, or in case of the first adventure: immediately). Play until you've met one of the end conditions: score all three mission cards, run through the deck twice (the second time without the cards the AI gathered so far) or exhaust all of your system errors. Tally scores for yourself and your opponent, and see if you've won.
You can play the eight adventures as you see fit, or you can start a campaign, which has you playing the adventures in a row.
General rules are explained first, followed by the solo explanation. Then for each adventure the extended ruleset is explained, again followed by a solo section. This usually works out, you get the hang of looking for cards that will score you or the AI extra points, and you'll be able to follow along the multiplayer rules pretty well. Except for adventure #8, for which I could hardly follow the multiplayer rules because I kept wondering where the solo would be headed. And there are instances where I'd have loved the explanation to be a bit lengthier for solo play, with more image sections to clarify because I've scratched my head a few times. But overall the rules are pretty clear.
missing in solo
I don't see why you should want to play this with more people than just yourself. Not even in the last adventure, which has the highest player interaction of the bunch. This is a paper-and-pencil, flip and write, pattern building campaign game which works just as well on your own.
The 8 different maps are all variations of the known Welcome To...-mechanic: fill in numbers in ascending order, try for bonusses and whatever you do, don't focus on everything at once. This is the same, but the variations are really smart, the maps are cool to look at and there's no map I don't feel like playing again. I loved the grid in adventure ..., where you'll need to add numbers in ascending order both from left to right and top to bottom at the same time, while trying to connect satelites and getting your greenhouses going. I love the skyscrapers, where you can only add numbers next to an already added number. I think the final battle is a great twist, having two sheets and alternating where you can put your symbol, and for the complexity of the rules there the AI remains easy to manage (although you do need a cheat sheet for this one). And the three horizontal tracks where you can only mine if you've filled all numbers vertically, so you might have circled loads of water, but if you don't succeed in mining your column, you're screwed. Even without the campaign, this would have been highly satisfactory content.
But there is a campaign, and I love it. Without giving too much away, in the first campaign round you'll typically choose between two options, resulting in a missions choice. It's quite straightforward, nothing too fancy, and I thought I'd be done after 8 chapters, but I was wrong. I was nearing the 8th adventure without having touched the two mystery decks that sat in my box, so after I finished my first playthrough of the last adventure, I was in for a nice surprise. I thought the eight different adventures were enough of a validation for the pricepoint (I bought Welcome To... at € 18,-, Welcome To The Moon was € 30,-), but there's even more to be had! Including -- SPOILER ALERT -- small expansion cards for the maps.
The tuckboxes. I love the insert. The box is filled to the brim (well done on getting the right box size! Way better filling that Welcome To...) and those tuckboxes work wonders with the different card decks. No plastic needed, which is another big plus for me.
For a game that is a flip and fill, someone did an awfull job choosing the markers that came with it. It's not like you're only writing some scores down, you use that marker all the time. There's no eraser -- ok, I can deal with that, there are more games that don't come with one (but seriously, just get some of those Rolling Realms mini wipes in there, can't cost much). The cap doesn't stay on the back, so I keep misplacing the cap and having to look for it for 10 minutes while I try to keep the marker from rolling away. Seriously. What cap doesn't want to stay on the back end of the pen?! Last -- very important -- beef I have with this particular marker, is that it writes too thick. I'm someone who is capable of tiny handwriting, but this marker doesn't let me. And what's worse: if I need to write a 6, it can't be a small 6. It would be illegible because the marker is too thick. But it needs to be small, because the spaces on your sheet do not account for big fat sixes! The thickness of the marker does not match the width of the spaces AT ALL. It makes the rulebook all the more frustrating, where there's neat and slender handwriting instead of the clumsy numbers you're slathering on. Is it just me, or is this annoying as hell?
A second negative is the amount of time spent on the rules during the game. In the campaign you'll be playing a new map each game, which keeps you from getting a game in that really flows. I keep having to look up small rules because with every map stuff changes. It makes for great replayability, but the hovering between your map and the rulebook also keeps you from really being in the game.
Buy yourself a thin whiteboard marker. With an eraser cap if you're splurging. My favourite is a Staedtler Lumocolour whiteboard pen size M (1.0 mm), or the Pilot V-Board Master, ultra fine (.8 mm) -- with an eraser cap. Or just take your Rolling Realms or Silver and Gold markers, those work beautiful as well.
I played Welcome To... around 20 times without getting bored, so it's not hard to please me in the Welcome To-realm, but the replayability for this game genuinely surprised me. It's not just those 8 different adventures, that are very different indeed without losing touch with their heritage, it's also the 8 levels of AI you can play against, and the campaign that has you choosing your path and that found a way to logically get back to adventure #1 after finishing #8, and adding something to make it worth your while. Toss out those subpar markers, and enjoy!