Being an elf or a mage and vanquishing dragons or casting imaginary spells is great, but what if you a game existed that had you playing as a NASA scientist?
You don’t have to have a degree in rocket science or years of astronaut training to get into Xtronaut's new board game, Downlink. Modeled after NASA’s New Frontiers program, which sends spacecraft to various targets in the solar system depending on the science needed, the game challenges players to think like the heads of international space agencies.
"You can't go where you want; you need to go where the [National Research Council] Decadal Survey says where the priority science is," Xtronaut collaborator Dante Lauretta told Space.com.
Just in case you need more cred, Lauretta is the principal investigator of OSIRIS-Rex, one of NASA’s New Frontier missions which should reach the asteroid Bennu (the one that blew up the internet when everyone though it was going to smash into Earth) on Dec. 3. He was the brains behind the mechanics and science of the game. Michael Lyon, whose experience in space law includes making a $20 million flight to the ISS possible for the first space tourist back in 2001, figured out the rule book and administrative aspects.
Xtronaut will have you building and launching rockets, spacecraft and science instruments, coming to grips with the reality of scheduling, limited resources and budget restrictions, and deciding which cosmic object to explore next. You will play as one of six space agencies, including NASA, the ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan), Roscosmos (Russia), CNSA (China) and ISRO (India).
Prepare to go through some serious tests of strategy and patience, because you’re not only going to have to make astronomical decisions. Launching logistics are the focus of the first phase, in which you band together or compete against each other to actually blast things off. As you get to the more advanced stages, science actually happens, such as the search for subterranean oceans on a frozen moon. You’ll need to outperform the other agencies and make the most discoveries to win.
"It's really interesting, and I've watched a lot of play-testing," Lauretta said. "The level of strategy in the game is very high."
Xtronaut knows how to put the universe on a game board. Its previous games Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration and Constellations: The Game of Stargazing and the Night Sky are both award winners, with Constellations receiving the prestigious Mensa Select award.
You can preorder Downlink on its Kickstarter page until Dec. 15. Watch out for future Xtronaut games, because the next one could be the tabletop version of the OSIRIS-REx mission.