Light Speed

Published by Cheapass Games, designed 2003 by Tom Jolly and James Ernest.

This is one of the new "Hip Pocket" games from Cheapass Games. These are cheap little card games that could quite literally fit into a small pocket. I bought my copy from a high-street shop for 3.50. Light Speed is a game for 2-4 players which earns its title from both the theme and the manner of its playing.

There is an asteroid floating in space containing some valuable rare element sought by rival powers. These rival powers all have the same idea: to send a load of mining space ships to the asteroid and mine it before someone else does the same. Ships appear out of hyperspace, fire their lasers, and depart. The lasers beam up the vital element from the asteroid, or they hit other ships and damage them.

The game divides into two parts: the playing and the scoring.

In the playing round, the table starts empty but for the asteroid card floating in the centre, and each player has a shuffled pack of cards in his hand. Each player has the same number of ships, one each of ten types, but doesn't know what order they will come up in. One player places down his first ship card, starting a general free-for all, as all the players place down ship after ship wherever they like on the table so long as it doesn't overlap any other ship. Speed is essential, because once one player has placed down his entire fleet, he declares this, and no one else may place any more ships. Judgement is essential too, however, because hurriedly plonking ships down in ill-considered places is likely to end up with unfortunate consequences in the scoring round.

Once the placing down of ships has ended, the scoring round starts. This is far and away the slower of the two rounds. Players have to find the fastest ships on the table (those with the lowest speed numbers), and work out what they are doing, before moving onto the slower ships. Once these ships have been found amongst the mass, the players look at which way they laser beams are pointing, as pictured on the cards. Lasers that hit the asteroid mine the asteroid and accumulate the vital ore (referred to in the rules simply as "rock", but this surely must be very special rock), while others might fire uselessly into space, might hit other craft (allied or enemy), or might hit the shielded sides of enemy ships and have no effect.

The winner of the game is the one who has scored the most points by either mining rock, or destroying opposing ships. The game's rule-sheet claims that each round takes less than a minute to play. The first round is certainly fairly fast, although I and my fellow players were more considerate than frantic in our deployment. The second round takes quite a while, though, and is a lot less fun. With practice, both rounds would get faster. All the decision-making, strategy and pace is in the first round, and the second round is just an exercise in bookkeeping. Ideally, one would want an automated system to handle the second round, though of course this is impossible with a card game.

The cards are printed in colour on one side, and this is the only way the fleets are distinguished, which might make it a bit tricky to play for colour-blind players or those using poor lighting. The cards are small, which actually helps the game rather than hinders it, because you need a fairly large amount of space to place them all down as it is. My main criticism with the cards is that they have sharp corners which are likely to suffer from the thousand natural shocks of speed card play. I imagine that they exist mainly because it is cheaper to produce such cards than cards with rounded corners, although I suppose that they might make adjudicating whether a laser shot is a hit or not a little bit easier.

To play, you need some markers of different colours to represent mined rocks, and damage points. I use glass flower-arranging beads.

The idea of the game is a good one. It is certainly a different type of game from the norm, and it is quick, and so might do for a game to be played after another more meaty one. The scoring does not take ages, but it does take a lot longer than the playing, and this is a frustration. It is quick to learn, and thanks to the considerations of shield deployment, asteroid mining, avoidance of hitting friendly ships, and relative speed of craft (a ship can be blown up before it gets a chance to shoot), there is enough to think about for a variety of strategies, and those with super-swift hands are unlikely to beat those with wiser minds.

Since the game is so quick that it has an inconsequential feel. It might be a good idea to play a few hands of it and combine these into a total game, keeping the score from previous hands, or perhaps continuing the game with ship cards that survived previous conflicts.


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