by: Globus the Elder
“Everybody ready to say goodbye to our solar system?” – Cooper
Do you remember watching commercials, as a kid, for a board game? The enthusiasm that they show, for what, upon playing the game, is a relatively mundane event? You talk your parents in buying the game, unpack it and setup, and experience the random haul around the board until someone won, wondering what aspect of the game got those TV people so excited.
I had never experienced that enthusiasm. I have enjoyed games, loved the play so much that as soon as it ended I wanted to go again, but those exclamations always eluded me.
Watching the players get legitimately hyped over what was happening was breath of fresh air, and while your mileage may vary, this was a great time for us.
Gravwell is a simple game with few components, which is all about timing and strategy. Each player gets one of four colored ships, all of which are placed on the Singularity, at the center of a spiral. They also receive the matching Emergency Stop card. Two derelict ships are placed on designated spaces on the spiral. The goal is to move your ship from the Singularity to the Warp Gate at the end, using Fuel cards. Easy, right?
There are twenty-six cards, most of them standard Fuel, plus a few Repulsor cards, and Tractor Beam cards. You shuffle this deck, and make stacks of one face down card and one face up card for the number of players times three (There will be some cards left over). Starting with the youngest, each player in ascending age chooses a stack, and adds them to their hand, continuing in this fashion until each player has a hand of six (In later rounds, the players draft based on who is closest to the Singularity on out to the Warp Gate, with players in the Singularity drafting youngest to oldest).
Each player then chooses a card from their hand, and places it face down in front of them. Once everyone has done so, they are flipped, and resolved in Alphabetical order (Each card has an element on them, some real and some made up).
On each card is a number. The standard (yellow) Fuel cards move you towards the closest ship not in the Singularity. This may cause you to move away from the Warp Gate. If there is a tie for closest, you check for how many ships are ahead and behind you, and move in the direction of the most ships. Should you happen to land on another ship, you advance additional spaces until an empty space is found.
The (purple) Repulsor movement works the same, in reverse. You move away from the closest ship, following the other rules stated above.
The (blue) Tractor Beam cards pull all other ships toward your ship, following the tie breaking rules. This includes the Derelict ships.
Should you decide that the card you played will put you in a bad situation, once per round you may play your Emergency Stop, voiding your card, moving you zero spaces.
Once all players have resolved their last card, the cards are shuffled, and new stack created. Advance the round marker and a new draft begins.
The six ships are nice looking minis, and the cards and board have the futuristic flavor. Theme is there, but there aren’t many components to show it off.
The rulebook is a difficult read. While most games build on previously acquired information as you progress through the rules, here I was going back and forth trying to make sure I understood everything that was happening. Note to game developers: separate rules from examples.
The dynamic flow of the game, with changing positions and cards producing effects that may opposite of what a player intended, may not appeal to all players. It takes getting used to.
The included variants are less than appealing, and other than Hard Core, where you may only use your Emergency Stop once per game, don’t seem to add depth.
This game is, in a word I rarely use, fun. I rate this a Buy. I find the quickly changing board state and limited information engaging, with its touch of randomness avoiding predictability.
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