Game Review: Out-of-This-World Tile Placement “Luna Capital”

luna capital game - box artWhat if our exploration of the moon didn’t stop with Apollo 17 but actually revved up? By 1977 we could have had colonies on our lunar neighbor, all ably managed by the popular Lunar Colonization Authority. That’s the premise of Luna Capital. Manage your colonization efforts, create the most appealing colony, and your region of the moon will be selected as the Luna Capital.

Luna Capital is a new game is from game publisher Devir, designed by Jose Ramón Palacios and beautifully illustrated by Albert Monteys. It’s a 2-4 player tile placement game where you’re simultaneously trying to expand your own little corner of the moon and stymie your opponents who are trying to develop their regions. You play as one of four development organizations; Astro Burger, Moon Paradise Real Estate, Luna Taxis, or Space Royal Cruise.

There’s also a solo mode where you play against a rudimentary automaton called “Harrington & Sons”. It’s the latter I tried and review here; solo mode against the automaton.

LUNA CAPITAL: PARTS AND COMPONENTS

The game is fun to set up with a number of pop-and-assemble cardboard storage units. It’s designed to have a card box and a tile rocketship tower, but my copy also included the components for a full tile management tray too, which I built and then found was quite useful for keeping things organized and ready for another game.

You’re building out a map of your region with Construction cards, then placing tiles on each space on the map to deploy buildings, facilities, landing pads, research asteroids, and even set up some sales offices to help sell those lovely new lunar condos you’ve built. Let’s start with the building tiles:

luna capital game - tiles

Left to right, they are a Sales Office, a Water Condenser, a Greenhouse (this one specializing in pears), a Meteorite, and, finally, a combo Hydrogen Condenser and Selenite Robot Factory (denoted by the icons on the top right). While some of these will grant you points by simply being present in your colony, most require adjacency for the best score, notably including everything with a heart icon (three of the five tiles, above).

The main playing board is two-sided; the multi-player game has four card slots, whereas the solo mode (shown) only has three. Here’s my starting setup, I’m playing Moon Paradise Real Estate:

luna capital game - starting board setup

The green and red cards are Concessions, with the three available for this particular game shown along the top. In the card dispenser on the left are the Construction cards, each of which shows a 2×2 segment of your lunar region. Notice that each also has a number on the top left, 1-10. Every Construction card also has one or more sectors already filled in with an object or building. The three cards spread on the bottom are my starting hand; the leftmost card is a #2 and has a Hydrogen Condenser, while the other two have Meteorites and are ranked 7 and 2. The middle card also has a second spot filled with what’s known as the “Lunar Scaffolding”. Some buildings can be placed there, but others cannot.

Notice especially the Project Tower rocketship; that’s filled with phase A, B, or C tiles (depending on game status). Those tiles are individually spread below the Construction cards on the board, first one tile, then two tiles per, then three, then four tiles per card at the fourth step of each of the three phases. In total, if you’re doing the math, there are 12 rounds in the game.

Finally, in the photo above, there are triangular tokens immediately below the card deck – those are Logistics Redistribution Tokens and let you swap any two tiles on your colony — and the tiny yellow Selenite Tokens that let you ignore the numeric ranking on any one Construction card. Why does that number matter? Because when you start placing cards to create your colony, you can only place them left-to-right in ascending order. So 2,3,7,7 is fine, but 3,5,1 is not.

The Concessions are a bit puzzling iconographically:

luna capital game - concession cards

The leftmost will earn you a 7 point bonus if you can line up three Water Condensers in a row horizontally or vertically. The middle will earn you 6 points if you have three columns of cards with a Sales Office somewhere on each card (Note: you can only have a maximum of three rows, but each row can be as long as you’d like, as long as you follow the always-ascending number rules). The third Concession is worth big points, and it’s tough: five or more greenhouses.

In solo mode, they’re worth full points as a bonus if you achieve them at the end of phase A, half-points if you achieve them at the end of phase B, and nothing if you achieve them at the very end of the game. Plan ahead!

LUNA CAPITAL: GAMEPLAY

Each round consists of picking one of the three possible Construction cards and the tile or tiles immediately below them, then placing a single Construction card (either one of those in your hand or the one you just picked) then placing all of the newly acquired tiles.

In a multiplayer game, the Construction card would be replaced after each player’s pick, along with the tiles, but in solo mode the automaton chooses the remaining card and tiles that are furthest from the Construction deck, but not denoted with the Last Delivery Marker (the light green cube with the red printing that’s along the top). Once the automaton has chosen its card and tiles, the Last Delivery Marker moves to the slot from the card you chose this turn, then new cards and tiles are added to fill the tableau, and one additional tile per card is added as you step to the next stage. If you already have 4 tiles out per card, you’ll bump to the next phase, replacing all the tiles with new ones; A tiles to B tiles, or B to C. After you’ve finished the round with four C tiles it’s game over, you’re done and it’s time to calculate scores.

In practice, Luna Capital is pretty straightforward, with most of the complexity related to actual placement and planning as you develop your colony. Let’s go through a bit of the game process so you can get a better sense. To start out, the initial setup: Three Construction cards and three A tiles, one under each card. This means that it’s the very first round of the game:

luna capital game - cards and tiles

If I pick the leftmost #1 card, I get a meteorite and a greenhouse (tile). The middle column offers a #2 card with a meteorite and a water condenser, and the right column has a #10 card with a sales office and a tile with a second sales office! The lattermost might seem the best with its easy 4 points (2 per sales office) but the others are more strategic.

Avoid choosing the card in the space that also has the Last Delivery Marker (the first spot, above), if possible, because it will require you to discard one of the Construction cards in your hand. Each card in your hand is worth 3 points, so that’s relatively costly unless the card and tiles it delivers are worth more than that for your grand development scheme.

I’ll start building up my colony by really focusing on those life support machines, which are scored based on being adjacent to similar. I pick the card and tile from the middle column but actually start my colony by playing the #2 card in my hand that already has a Hydrogen Condenser. With the Water Condenser tile placed, my nascent colony looks like this:

luna capital game - first card played

If I place another Water Condenser orthogonally adjacent to the current unit, it’s worth points. Same with the Hydrogen Condenser. If I place another Construction card to the left or above and put a Water Condenser in the right spot, I can really start to create an adjacent network of similar facilities, a high-point strategy for the end-game scoring.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE AUTOMATON?

Turns out that the Automaton isn’t really an automaton at all; it simply picks the Construction card and associated tiles furthest from the deck that isn’t the Last Delivery. It’s not building a colony, so the cards and tiles just pile up on the side of the board until the endgame scoring.

The rhythm of the solo game, then, is fill in the cards and tiles, add another set of tiles or move to the next phase, pick, place, pick automaton card and tiles, iterate.

Rather further along in the game, you can see that the set of options expands quite a bit as the tiles come out, incrementing under each Construction card round after round:

luna capital game - mid-game

At this point, all of the Construction cards are basically the same, an asteroid, but the tiles, oh! those tiles! Do I pick a greenhouse (pears), hydrogen condenser, oxygen condenser, and construction tile that lets me destroy (and then subsequently build something else) on a square in column 1? Or oxygen condenser, wildcard greenhouse, Selenite construction facility (which lets me ignore the ascending requirement for construction card placement) and water condenser? The downside of column 2 is that it’s also where the Last Delivery Marker is sitting, meaning I’d have to give up one of my Construction cards if I chose that. Hmm… maybe that third set of tiles would be most beneficial?

The game continues with you expanding your colony by placing Construction cards (which have to be orthogonally adjacent, no overlap, no zig-zag patterns) and tiles on the spaces thereon. Eventually…

luna capital game review - almost done solo

Notice the pile of cards and tiles on the right; that’s the automaton. Not much AI is involved in blind hoarding, that’s for sure. 🙂

More importantly, notice that I’m doing a pretty good job of building up my colony and that I have a big set of adjacent water condensers (they look like bubblegum machines) and an even bigger set of hydrogen collectors (the blue pyramids). You can see that there are very few open spots on my densely built colony, and I have to choose between one of the three Construction cards and a full set of 4 tiles to make my move!

Finally, I place my last card and tiles and it’s the end game. Here’s how I ended up:

luna capital game review - end of game solo

This gets me to the end of game scoring…

LUNA CAPITAL: ENDGAME SCORING

The scoring is a bit tricky because it’s really all about tracking the little icons on the played tiles. All “heart” icons are vital systems, but each then has another shape within to denote what type of facility they are. Habitats are categorized as one dot, two dot, or three dot. The greenhouses have an inverted glass jar icon behind the heart, an embedded geometric shape icon in the heart, and a fruit icon. Greenhouses can be one of three fruits or a wildcard that can grow any. Why is the latter important? Because in addition to scoring based on adjacency, greenhouses get bonuses for each “full set” of fruits you can grow; pears, apples, and lemons.

In the end, I ended up with a set of five adjacent water condensers, which translates to 15 points, and a solid 10 hydrogen condensers, worth 40 points all by itself. Four adjacent greenhouses that, together, can grow one full set of fruit, 4 sales offices worth 2 points each, and I completed one of the Concessions worth 7 points. There’s a handy score pad that makes this much easier to calculate.

Meanwhile, how about that “Harrington & Sons” robot that was trying to defeat me as a quasi-automaton? All of its tiles and cards are spread out and grouped together:

luna capital game review - automaton scoring

The rules state that all items are scored as if they were adjacent, so he has two water condensers, five hydrogen condensers, five oxygen condensers (three tiles + two cards with the facility pre-built), five sales offices, etc etc. He also has far more meteorites than I do, with his six tiles and four additional on cards: Having the most gets him a 10 point bonus!

Where the automaton scoring rules are problematic, though, is that he’s considered to have achieved all three Concessions for max points. On the scorepad, it works out like this, with me in column 1 and the automaton in column 2:

luna capital board game review - scorepad

I lost. Even with that terrific 40 point score for the 10 adjacent hydrogen collectors and having achieved one of the concessions. In fact, I’ve played Luna Capital a bunch of times in solo mode and never once beaten the automaton.

THOUGHTS ON LUNA CAPITAL

luna capital game - box artI really like this type of puzzle game where you’re trying to optimize tile placement by planning ahead and being nimble in your strategy as new opportunities arise. This is a fun multi-player game, and difficult too, but as a solo game, I think the best strategy is to either play to try and beat your previous score, play as multiple players, or to hack the automaton rules.

My preferred approach would be to have the automaton never achieve any of the Concessions (23 points in the above game) or to roll a die to model it failing on each Concession since it’s incredibly hard to achieve all three as a player before the end of phase A (achieving it in a later phase means you only get half the point value). Maybe a D6 with 1-2 being “attained”, 3-4 being “half points” and 5-6 being “failed”.

The game also really needs a cheat sheet as I found myself endlessly flipping through the rule book to remember the nuances of different tile placement and which buildings could go atop the lunar scaffolding spaces. Maybe lunar scaffolding could be reserved for an Advanced game and ignored in the basic game to sidestep that one complication?

Finally, with such a great theme I was surprised there wasn’t an overall bonus for having one of each vital system built. Why label them as vital if you don’t have to build ’em for your lunar colonists?

Otherwise, all told, I have had fun playing this game, the parts are great quality, the artwork is splendid and it’s a great challenge to plan out your lunar colony over the 12 rounds. If you’re a tile placement fan, Luna Capital might be a solid option for your library. Just beware that the solo automaton, as included in the base rules, is not very good and very ready for some tweaks and house rules.

LUNA CAPITAL from Devir Games. Coming to a distribution channel near you soon. Meanwhile, check it out on BoardGameGeek.

Disclosure: Devir sent me a copy of Luna Capital for the purposes of this review. Thanks!

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