Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Aureliano Buonfino,
Andrea Crespi,
Lorenzo Silva,
Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Returning to my days of computer gaming, I have been rather fond of a PC-game called "Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space". The game was playable by up to two players, and the players were put into the director seats of the NASA and the Soviet space agency. Starting from scrap, the players had to manage their budgets to develop technologies and train astronauts in order to compete in several space missions. The player who was first able to successfully complete a mission usually was rewarded with a better income in the following season, but ultimately the players competed to be the first nation to accomplish a successful lunar landing. Being a game with simple VGA graphics, I remember the game quite fondly despite its age, with one of the highlights being the use of real names and the inclusion of real video footage for all missions taken by the players.

As it seems, the design crew of CRANIO CREATIONS now has taken us back to the beginning of the space programs, since their newest boardgame 1969 now challenges the players to compete in the race to the moon. However, in order to include even more players, the original two competitors now have been supplemented by Germany, France and Canada, and so up to five players now can try their skills as space directors.

While the completion of the lunar landing is most prestigious for the players, it is not the factor on which the game is won. Instead, the players accumulate prestige points on all their space missions, and the player who has accumulated most prestige points after a total of 7 years (rounds) will have won the game. Thus, the participation in space missions forms the central element of the game, and, as the guys from CRANIO CREATIONS seem to have developed a liking for dice games, the resolution of a space mission depends partly on the roll five mission dice.

A player must chose a different mission to try each round of play, and when a mission has been choosen and the mission costs were paid the player rolls the mission dice in order to see how many successes (green), neutral results (blue) and failures (red) he gets in this mission. The number of failures then is substracted from the number of successes in order to reach the final sum of successes, and if the result of this calculation is positive the player may take this number of steps on the corresponding mission track of the gameboard.

However, this result is not yet final, because the player may get a bonus if he has scientists which are researching the technologies needed in this particular mission. On the other hand, the other players may reveal Intelligence cards which may bring a loss of one or more steps for the active player, and he may only counter these losses by revealing some Intelligence cards on his own. After all these modifications have been added and substracted, the player will place one of his flag tokens on the space of the mission track which he was able to reach, and he will score prestige points according to the value printed at this space.

The flag placed on the mission track is used for two purposes. On the one hand it is a reminder for this player that he may not try this mission again for the rest of the game, and on the other hand each flag on the mission track means that a player who tries this mission at a later point must reduce his final yield of prestige points by one for each flag already present on the track. This is a nice reflection of the fact that the players are participating in a space race in which it's most rewarding to be the first to accomplish a mission. However, the fact that a player only may try each mission once means that he must consider carefully whether he is really ready for this particular mission, or whether he should invest a bit more into acquiring scientists and / or Intelligence cards at the risk of one or more other players trying the mission earlier.

Each round the mission phase is preceded by the investment phase, and in this phase the players may spend money to buy Intelligence cards and hire additional scientists. The players receive a fixed income at the beginning of every round, and money also can be saved from one round for the next, but if a player runs out of money he may also spend previously earned prestige points to increase his budget. The value for spending prestige points this way increases from round to round, but of course these points will be gone when the final scores are added up and the winner is determined after the seventh round.

The Intelligence cards which can be acquired are pretty straightforward, since they are randomly drawn and display just a numeric value between "1" and "3". As indicated, these cards may be used by the players during the mission phase either to increase their own mission result or to decrease another player's result, and for these actions the card values will be used to see how successful the action is.

Much more varied is the acquisition of scientists, since the available five different kinds of scientists may be used to conduct research in 12 different fields of study. Six of these fields of study are technologies like the Launchpad or the Lunar Module, and each scientist present will increase a player's score of successes when he tries a mission in which these technologies come to bear. However, as indicated the player can hire different types of scientists, and apart from the basic scientists the players can go for a more famous scientist who will earn additional prestige points at the end of the game, or an even more expensive genius who counts twice when calculating the number of successes. On the other hand, it is also possible to hire cheap rookies, but being unknown newcomers they will cause the loss of some prestige points when the game is over. Each field of study only may be occupied by a maximum of two scientists, and since scientists cannot be moved or removed the players need to choose carefully which scientists they want to purchase.

Other fields of study deal with other factors of the game, and so the research of Intelligence means that the player gains free Intelligence cards each turn, Robotics reduces the cost to hire additional scientists and Simulation allows the re-rolling of mission dice. The research of Investors on the other hand reduces the cost of missions, and Ground Control allows the change of neutral mission dice results to successes. Once again, the strength of each of these fields of studies depends on the scientists which have been placed there, and due to this correlation the players have a certain degree of control on their fate because they can decide which scientists they want to hire.

Being the ultimate goal, the lunar landing mission takes a special position in the game, and so the players can score a great number of prestige points if they are able to score a high number of successes in this mission. All six different technology-related fields of study come to bear in this mission, and so a player who has placed good scientists in these fields of study can count on getting a fair result of additional successes. In addition, the players may get bonus successes for each other mission they were able to perform at the highest level, and so the lunar mission means an ultimate tests for a player's balancing skills, since now it will be seen whether the player was able to juggle the game's mechanics in a way to get a high yield of prestige points without loosing too many points on the way.

As indicated earlier, the feeling of competing against the other nations is nicely reflected by the fact that a player who comes late in trying a mission will earn less prestige points than his competitors. In addition, the authors of 1969 have tried to add some more direct means of player interaction, and this has been implemented by the use of the Intelligence cards and by the possibility to purchase spies - a special kind of "scientist" which can be placed into other players' fields of study. Once placed, these spies form an obstacle because they count for zero successes and cannot be removed, while at the same time the player who has sent the spy profits from an additional bonus success in his own field of study. However, it remains a matter of taste whether these covert actions really can be seen as a valuable increase of direct player interaction, or whether they actually serve as a balancing mechanism, effectively giving the other players a chance to pick on the leading player. Deep rooted strategists might reject such a mechanism because they will feel betrayed for not receiving the best result for their strategic efforts, but perhaps players with such feelings should better skip tactical dice-games altogether.

However, 1969 certainly will appeal to players like me who have a soft spot for games like Kingsburg. The game starts with a short phase of decision making in which each player tries to decide on a general approach to the question which fields of study should be researched, and later on the players are confronted with the task of developing appropriate reactions for other players' actions on the mission board. As indicated, 1969 takes an approach similar to Kingsburg, since both games challenge the players to find out whether they can successfully implement some of their early decisions.

Overall, the game has succeeded in positioning itself on a rather strong position due to its entertaining mechanics which reflect the background story of a race for space quite well. Some tension builds up when it comes to the determination of a mission outcome, and due to the use of the Intelligence cards all players remain involved even though it's another player's turn. This degree of tension holds up right until the last round, and so 1969 can be recommended without reservations to all fans of modern semi-strategic dice-games.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany