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Space Race

I recently (that is, at 6:45 this morning) decided to work my way through Brenda Brathwaite & Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts online courses. The first lesson is fairly introductory, but perhaps the most important thing that it does is insist that its students make a quick and rough “Race-to-the-Finish” boardgame prototype on paper. The idea (Brenda’s, apparently) being that many students out there feel an “invisible barrier” preventing them from designing—that they’re not creative enough, smart enough, experienced enough, and so on. I can vouch for such feelings myself, so I gave the exercise a shot. Five minutes later, I had Space Race (I do so love 1980’s-inspired rhyming or alliterative titles).

Obviously, I’ve had Red Rover on the brain quite a bit lately, so I felt that a voyage to Mars would lend itself perfectly to the “Race-to-the-Finish” theme. Inspired by Erin Robinson’s (somewhat more complex) Paper Treehouse, I decided to make the game available for printing online. Of course, it’s easy enough to just scrawl on a napkin or a passed-out forehead, so I leave the playing environment up to viewers like you.

Space Race game board

The game board. That’s right, I did “Text To Path,” all for you. Don’t mention it.

Players: 4

Time: 5 minutes per game

Requires: Game board, 3d6, 1d20, a pencil, a token (optional)

Objective: To be the first country to land a rover on Mars.

Setup: Print out the game board. Each player chooses a nationality: United States (U), Russia (R), India (I), and China (C) Mark each nationality’s initial at the starting point on Earth (position 0). Choose a starting player. They are the Skipper on the first Round (to keep track of the Skipper, you may use a token).

Progression of Play: Play proceeds in Rounds. During each Round, players each take a turn in sequence to perform one action. A Round begins with the Skipper rolling 3d6. The Skipper takes their turn, then each other player takes a turn in sequence. A player, during their turn, can choose to take one of the pre-rolled 1d6 OFF OF THE TABLE and advance by that amount (the die is now out of play for this Round). OR A player, during their turn, can choose to ABSTAIN from taking a 1d6, thus effectively skipping their turn and leaving the die on the table. However, ONLY ONE PLAYER may abstain per round. If another player has already abstained in the current round, the remaining players MUST choose and advance by one of the remaining 1d6, regardless of whether or not this is a favourable move. Players must land precisely on Mars. If, for instance, a player is at position 20 and they can ONLY take a die showing a 6, that player has effectively overshot Mars and gone into prolonged Solar orbit. In other words, that player loses, and can be removed from the board. When each player has taken a turn, the role of Skipper moves to the next player (move the token if one is being used), and the new Skipper rolls 3d6 to begin a new Round.

Special Considerations: Venus Slingshot: If a player, during their turn, lands EXACTLY on Venus (position 8), that player experiences a gravitational slingshot around the planet. That player must IMMEDIATELY roll 1d20 and advance by the indicated amount.
When a player loses: If a player has overshot Mars, they can be removed from the board. HOWEVER, that player must still become Skipper in sequence, and they still make a choice during their turn in each Round. Therefore, a player that has lost may yet deprive another player of a die needed to win the game; or abstain from picking a die, thus forcing another player to overshoot Mars.

Resolution: As soon as one player lands exactly on Mars, the game is over, and that player is declared the winner. If all players overshoot Mars, blame is appointed as judiciously as possible.


This game was effectively feature-complete in all of five minutes. That was kind of cool.

I’ve only playtested on my own for the moment, but it seems as though there’s enough wiggle room for some strategising (abstaining in order to land precisely on Venus) and backstabbing (forcing people to overshoot Mars). That this came out of a hastily-scribbled prototype and four dice is pleasing to me.

Haters to the left, feedback down below.