Forget Fallout and Wasteland Express. Those and other post-apocalyptic worlds look positively rosy in comparison to the desperately gloomy premise for Exodus Fleet…
Exodus Fleet is set in a future where the Earth has suffered and failed to recover from a devastating nuclear conflagration. Nearly a century after the war, the nuclear winter has only just begun to dissipate but it is all too clear that the planet and its entire ecology has been damaged beyond recovery or repair.
As the world descends further into doomsday chaos, a handful of factions have formed around the globe with a plan to evacuate tribes of survivors onto spacecraft to be ferried to new worlds.
Exodus Fleet with no particular place to go
In this game, we’re not going to be on a trek searching out those new worlds or new civilisations. We won’t be boldly going anywhere at all. Other than some extra-terrestrial mining, the entirety of action in this game is focused on assembling the Exodus Fleet and transporting resources and people onto the ships that are notionally in orbit.
Designed by Gabriel J. Cohn and published by Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG), Exodus Fleet is a space-themed resource management and bidding game. There’s a strong element of engine building as players mine resources, use them to acquire more ships and then use those ships’ special abilities to generate valuable discounts on the cost of further ship builds. There is currency in the game (“XU”), and there are circumstances where this can be used to generate points (for example, by building a Casino Ship) but XU currency is mostly just used to bid for the most advantageous position for each turn’s actions.
All players have a starting Command Ship. This ship, and those that players acquire during the course of play, each have a pre-set value in terms of the income they bring in each turn and a specified hold capacity (the number and types of resources and ‘tribes’ of people they can carry). Subsequently acquired ships can be ‘neutral’ or they can be ships identified with one of the five factions. You can buy ships identified with factions other than your own but you will want to try to collect ships aligned with each other because bonuses are scored which reward a player incrementally for controlling multiple ships from the same faction.
Exodus Fleet: The Admiral decides…
The number of rounds varies according to the number of players (a two player game is played over 13 rounds while there are only six rounds when playing with five players) but, in all cases, a round involves each player taking a turn at being Admiral. As Admiral, the player picks one of the five available actions to take and then everyone has to take that same action. When the Admiral card passes to the next player, that player can pick any action except for the one taken in the immediately previous turn.
This mechanic of one player choosing the action for everyone is not unique to Exodus Fleet – something similar occurs, for example, in the use of strategy cards in the action phase in the more traditional 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) space game Twilight Imperium (designed by Christian T. Petersen and published by Fantasy Flight Games). However, in Exodus Fleet it is the very heart of the game. When you make your choice of action as Admiral, you will have an eye not just to your own personal advantage but also as to how the choice of action will impact on the other players.
One of the five actions available to the Admiral is to take income. For this action, every player simply takes the XU income specified on their ships, except that the Admiral also receives a bonus (extra income and either two resources or an Explorer Card, which is likely to reward the player with some sort of bonus). This may be an attractive option for the Admiral early on in the game but you’ll probably think of this as something of a wasted turn if you find yourself having to take this action in the latter rounds of the game. The other four actions all involve players using the money they have to bid in an auction for the position they take in the pecking order for that action. For example, in a five player game, the top two places for the Transporter action permit players to transport up to 2 tribes onto their ships, provided they have the requisite energy, water and biomass. The third and fourth slots permit transport of 1 tribe and the fifth (bottom) spot excludes the player from transporting that turn but compensates them with money and a free resource.
Exodus Fleet: Bidding for best advantage
Bidding in the auction goes around the table, one single bid per person, with the Admiral bidding last. Bids can be higher or lower than those made by another player but they cannot be the same (though players can bid zero and, in effect, opt out). The requirement for unique bids introduces into Exodus Fleet a subtlety of strategy often absent from other bidding games, especially when playing this game with five players (the maximum) as it enables players to put the squeeze on each other. The compensation for coming last is worthwhile early on in the game but will feel increasingly paltry as the game progresses. This means that, for a game with no direct player vs player conflict, Exodus Fleet can turn out to be quite a cutthroat game towards the end, when it can make a huge difference being forced or tricked into fifth position in a five-player auction…
In play, you will find that you will be taking a growing interest in the resources that other players have at their disposal; sometimes to the point that this can slow down the bidding in the auctions. If I know, for example, that an opponent doesn’t have enough resources to transport more than one tribe, then I know he’s unlikely to bid higher than me for one of the more desirable spots that allow the transport of two tribes. It must have been the designer’s deliberate intention that players have access to full information about their rivals’ resources; otherwise, this game would have come with player screens in place of the supplied player boards. The bidding mechanic is the crux of the game, however, and there’s a chance you may prefer to play with players not able to rely on such complete knowledge of their opponents’ resources before placing their bids. If so, it’s a relatively easy tweak to create your own makeshift screens, or cannibalise them from another game, so you can try playing with less open information on each other’s resources. If you buy this game, it’s a house rule variant that you might want at least to try.
Exodus Fleet ends where others begin
A lot of folk are attracted to space games and this one looks the part, with attractive card artwork, beautifully clear iconography and an interesting theme, despite the fact that you have spaceships but you’re never actually moving them. Exploration in this game simply means picking the random cards from the Explorer deck. The game doesn’t bother with the stage in the process of actually relocating folk on other worlds. For some players, that may be a thematic disappointment. The game is enjoyable to play but, thematically, it builds only to the point where other games begin. You end the game having built what feels like the ragtag fleet from Battlestar Galactica. Maybe what’s needed is a sequel game from TMG where players actually get to use the fleet they’ve built and take it to the stars…
So is this a game to add to your collection? Though it’s a resource management game, you’re actually spending a good proportion of the game time in Exodus Fleet taking part in auctions. It obviously feels very different with just two players, but with three, four or five players you can expect a game typically to involve at least a couple of dozen auctions and perhaps as many as 30. If bidding in auctions isn’t a mechanic that appeals to you, then this is not the game for you even if you otherwise love the theme. If you enjoy the tension of the auction mechanic, especially with its ‘take that’ element of excluding the player in last place, then you’ll definitely want to check this one out. For me, it scores a creditable 6/10.
I mentioned, however, that Exodus Fleet feels different as a two player game. That’s a point that needs emphasising. Playing with two, players still bid for first and second position for the action selected by the Admiral. Although the top position is better than the lower one, both are positive and players are never excluded from taking the action. This fundamentally changes the dynamic of play, reducing the significance of the XU currency and making this play more like a conventional resource management engine builder. There will be folk who love his game as a five player auction game but hate it as a two player game; and there will be others who dislike the multiplayer auction element but enjoy this as a game for two…
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Selwyn has been playing, collecting and writing about board games for more years than he readily admits to. He has written about and reviewed games for Games & Puzzles, Spielbox and Tabletop Gaming, and his Board's Eye View page on Facebook includes short reviews and commentary on both old and new games.