Well this is a first. A preview of an unreleased game. Certainly I’m not known for doing these, but on this one occasion (and who knows, the odd extra one now and again) I’m going to write about a forthcoming game from Perihelion Games called Periorbis otherwise known as Asteroid Miner.
This was completely new to me when I was first given a copy, I didn’t know this game existed beforehand. I did some research to find out more and generally I noticed it was getting a lot of positive buzz. However one phrase in particular stood out in a Rahdo review and I think it’s been used in others as well that gave me cause for concern. It was described as “Power Grid in Space” – cue the Dun Dun Dun music!
Anybody who has paid attention to my podcast or knows me from game groups will of course be fully aware that Power Grid is one of my most hated games of all time coming in at No 6 on my recent Top Ten Hated list from Episode 29. So to hear that phrase mentioned I will confess did fill me with a sense of foreboding and dread. Please don’t let this be some space auction game with dodgy turn order mechanics, please, please, please!!
However further inspection suggested that there’s more to Periorbis than meets the eye. Integrity and objectivity is what it’s all about so let’s dive in and see whether my initial fears were justified.
Designer: Jase Allan, Dave Morton & Gareth Newton-Williams
Publisher: Perihelion Games
# of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 120 Minutes
Now straight off the bat let me make it clear that I was given an early prototype of the game. As such the component quality obviously isn’t as good as the finished product will be and I already know that the artwork has changed significantly from what I’ve been seeing. Therefore I’m not going to comment on component quality as it wouldn’t be fair.
This is a preview and thus it will be more concerned with a general overview of the game and how it feels to play to give you an idea if Periorbis is one you should check out on release. I should also point out for disclaimer purposes that I’ve had no previous contact with the designers of Periorbis and no “reward” system is in place.
In Periorbis you are taking the role of competing interstellar mining companies and naturally the object of the game is to have the most victory points. This is achieved by mining, transporting and selling more precious ore than the other players from the various asteroids that orbit the Earth. You will need to establish bases on the asteroids, hire and send employees out to do the mining and fulfil contracts to earn money and points.
This sounds pretty generic so far, but here’s the twist. Due to the orbiting nature of the asteroids, not all of them are within reach on any given turn. Your ships can only travel so far without upgrades and an asteroid in low orbit on the first turn might not come back round until 2 turns later. And if it’s out of reach you can’t send out or retrieve anything from the asteroid. That poor employee is going to have to sit around on the asteroid until it comes back into orbit – hope he packed enough sandwiches for the trip!
So you’ll have to plan ahead and be as efficient as possible with your mining operations. New recruits will allow for improved skills and research can improve your ships allowing you to reach higher orbits. Earn big points by fulfilling your contracts, but don’t default on your agreement or you could lose points. By the end of the game whoever has the most points from everything they’ve achieved is the winner.
Preparing For Space Travel
Setup can be a little fiddly and complex, but compared to some Euro games it’s not as bad. Right after you’ve done the player boards, starting employees and money you’ve then got the task of marking all of the available ores on each asteroid with cubes which can take a while. It’s all nicely laid out in the rulebook, but bear in mind that the setup will scale based on the number of players and also whether players opt for a long or short game. Credit where it’s due though, the rulebook is laid out very well with pictorial examples of how the more complex rules on fulfilling contracts and using employees work. Not perfect, but Periorbis could have been a huge burden to grasp without it as this is most certainly not a game you can just “play and learn as you go along”.
Wait For It, Wait For It, And GO!
The theme in this game isn’t dripping, but it’s stronger than it appears at first glance. What holds it in place is the orbit mechanic where asteroids are out of reach on certain turns. This is probably my favourite part of the game as it really does force you to think ahead several turns when deciding on your actions. Are you willing to leave your employee stranded in the outer reaches of space quietly mining away while you focus on research now? Do you have time to wait for him to come back round before the contract expires and you lose out on the money?
As you can see, there’s a lot of scope for planning your move and it’s little decisions like this that elevate the strategy in Periorbis to something more interesting than having everything available to you every turn and you picking and choosing. For instance if an asteroid is out of range, you can’t transport anything or anyone on or off it. A savvy player could use this as an opportunity to mine the asteroid dry unhindered while they do other tasks. It is quite amusing when players joke about the misfortunes of their employees who are stuck in space with no way to get home, almost in a Monty Python style fashion.
Upgrading your ship can allow you to travel further distances and carry more stuff which is definitely a recommended course of action otherwise you just end up restricting yourself too much. I do wish there was more scope to what you could research besides these two aspects but I was never expecting a full blown tech tree, though that would be awesome.
There’s also a missed opportunity to give players unique powers, maybe specific to their chosen company. Your only starting differentiation of note is a random choice of one specialist employee that has a slightly improved skill in a particular area, which may gear you towards a specific early game strategy. There was an expansion on the Kickstarter page that didn’t reach its stretch goal, so maybe there’s hope in the future for some additional elements to be included. I know such concepts are difficult to balance, but I feel they should be a staple in any game to improve on replay value.
Fighting Off The Competition
Player interaction is something that is generally lacking in most Euro games or at best it’s done indirectly with players taking spaces and resources before someone else does. Certainly here there is only indirect interaction between players, but don’t think that this is a case of multiplayer solitaire. Asteroids have limited space to build bases or ore to mine. There are only so many employees available and contract ships can only carry so much before they bunk off and get replaced.
As such there are plenty of opportunities for screwing the other players over and it definitely has more of an impact on this game than most as getting messed over is costly. This can lead to the player who gets left alone having a much easier (and in some ways more enjoyable) experience. Scores tend to be remain pretty close though by the end.
Even In Space It Gets Crowded
The box states 120 minutes for the game length with 2-6 players. Therefore be aware that this is not a short game. Well, unless you actually play the short game variant where it essentially cuts the length in half. This is maybe a good way to go for your first game so that you understand the basics before delving too far into long term strategic considerations. However you may find that you don’t get to achieve a great deal in the turns available so if you enjoyed your first try, you’re going to quickly move on to the full game and stick to it for the complete experience.
I did not test this with less than 4 players, but 4 seemed like a pretty good sweet spot for balancing competition and time taken. The game scales so it’s not like a 2 player game gives you complete free roam over the asteroids, but personally I would probably stick to a minimum of 4 for a little more interaction. That being said, be careful when playing this with more than 4. Because you’re planning turns ahead, this can lend itself very easily to analysis paralysis and drag the game out to the 3 hour mark and 2 hours is about as long as I want to spend on the same Euro game if I can help it. However the competition between players is greatly increased and if you’re comfortable with that, you’ll enjoy a full player count, but you won’t be getting many games done that night.
Was My Fear Justified?
This is an economic game through and through which is not my favourite genre, but I was at least glad to see that the similarities to Power Grid are few and far between. There are no auctions of any kind and there is no market to buy resources from (though incidentally that was the only bit of Power Grid I liked) other than the available employees which reduce in price the longer they are left out.
Where there is a similarity though is the potential for artificial manipulation of turn order. Generally speaking the person that is losing will go first and thus have the advantage and the player who is winning will go last. That’s fairly standard and probably the best way of doing it; however there were occasions where you see people deliberately hurting themselves in points in order to bump them up in the turn order. This I find a bit counter-intuitive in games and it’s a bugbear for me so you can see why I can’t stand it in Power Grid as it’s the main crux of winning there. But it does allow for some additional planning on your turn and most players generally like this mechanic.
Well first of all right off the bat, I do not think of Periorbis as Power Grid in Space. But that’s a good thing as I would more than likely hate it otherwise. I’ll say again that I don’t usually go for straight up economic games, but this is definitely one of the best examples I have played. The updated components (see below) from what I’ve seen are pretty decent, the board is nice and functional and the rulebook makes teaching the game a lot easier than expected.
There’s not a lot here that’s particularly different from other games in the genre, but the one key aspect that is different is also the best thing about it. The orbit mechanic is the defining feature of this game and should be your first consideration as to whether Periorbis will appeal to you. It rewards careful short and long term planning and works thematically to the games advantage.
It’s not a game for me genre-wise, but I feel there is a solid design here and I don’t doubt that fans of economic games are going to find this unique and interesting. Check it out when it’s released later in 2015.
You Will Like This Game If:
- You enjoy economic games – if this is your genre, you will love this.
- You like the sound of the orbit mechanic – it’s this games bread and butter.
- You enjoy screwing other players in Euro games.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
- You or others suffer from AP as the game is already quite a long affair.
- You aren’t a fan of the genre – it’s unlikely to suddenly convert you.
- You feel that turn order manipulation is a bugbear in games.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.