As an elementary student, I loved learning about our solar system along with the missions of NASA, and to this day I am still fascinated by astronomy and space exploration. When I first saw a picture of Leaving Earth a few months ago I was excited, but as I looked closer at the picture, I saw cards with rockets having several numbers in different corners. I thought to myself, this is some sort of “math” style game with a pasted-on space theme. I scrolled on by dismissing it as not a “real” space exploration game. Then, about a month ago, I saw more and more posts about Leaving Earth. People were writing about planning missions to different planets and calculating payloads. Many of the comments still referred to the game as too “mathy” so I decided to take a closer look at the game and went to the publisher’s website www.lumenaris.com for more information. After reading the first few pages of the rulebook and following the website demo, I knew this was a game I wanted to try. It had nothing to do with set collection or cribbage style play, but was all about emulating the early days of the space race! What about the math I heard some people refer to? The math is all about calculating the thrust needed to complete your mission. You are a rocket scientist, ground control, and a mission planner all in the same game!
Leaving Earth is about risk management and mission planning. It is about running a government space agency with a limited amount of funds and the expectation of beating your rivals in the space race. You will have to weigh risk with reward by deciding how much money to use toward testing and perfecting technologies with how much to use toward acquiring the necessary components needed for the available missions. It is a race against time as you have 20 years to complete the available missions, and some missions can take 6 or 7 years. Which means you will have to launch your spacecraft well ahead of a safe launch window.
Leaving Earth setup is simple and straightforward. The location cards are laid out according to the book. The planets, planet’s moons, and our moon all have several location cards. Each one presents a different condition on the surface. You randomly select one and place it in its set up location with the unexplored side face up. You have to survey the location or attempt to land on the location to reveal the conditions. The random locations’ condition help keep the replay value high as you never know if a mission can truly be completed from game to game until the location is explored. Sometimes conditions are favorable and sometimes the conditions prevent any spacecraft from landing.
Once the locations are in place every agency is given 25 million dollars and the space race is on! The heart of Leaving Earth is buying technologies and then either thoroughly testing them or taking chances to try and be first. When a technology is bought for 10 million dollars, three outcome cards are placed on the technology card. Outcomes can be success, minor failure, or major failures. It costs five million to remove minor and major failures and 10 million to remove a success. Every dollar spent on testing means delaying launch for actual missions but can guarantee there will not be a catastrophic failure later in the game. Testing also requires you to purchase components to conduct the test, so buying and testing one Saturn rocket could cost $25 million dollars (15 million to buy the rocket and 10 million to remove a success) on top of the 10 million to buy the Saturn technology. The rocket used for testing is then discarded. As you can see, testing alone can require serious budget allocation for many years.
Even before testing begins you will need to evaluate the missions available for the game and determine which technologies you will need and how many components of each one. Let’s talk about the missions first. There are several different mission levels (easy, medium, and hard) and several missions in each level so missions will be different from game to game. This keeps the replay value high and keeps the game from feeling repetitive. The game has 4 different difficulty modes, and each mode determines how many of each mission will be available. You can make the game as easy or as difficult as you want, allowing you to master certain aspects of the game before moving on to more difficult maneuvers and concepts.
Ok, so we have our missions. We know we are going to need technologies, but how do we figure the exact amount? This is where Leaving Earth truly distinguishes itself from any game in my collection. Each location card has a maneuver difficulty to get to another location card. To get from Earth to Suborbital Flight is a maneuver difficulty of 3. So what does that really mean? It means you need to generate enough thrust from your rockets to cover 3 times your payload mass. Let’s break it down a little further. Let’s say you want to send a probe into suborbital flight. Earth to suborbital flight is a difficulty of 3. A probe has a mass of 1 and an atlas rocket has a mass of 4. So, your total spacecraft has a mass of 5 and is performing a difficulty 3 maneuver meaning you will need to generate 15 thrust to move from Earth to suborbital flight. Remember, the required thrust to perform a maneuver is mass multiplied by difficulty so we have: 5 X 3 = 15. Looking at the atlas rocket card we can see it generates 27 thrust so we have plenty of thrust to move to the next location. Rockets fire one time, and then are discarded. Now, if we hadn’t perfected atlas rockets we would have to flip over an outcome card. A major failure would mean the entire craft is destroyed, a minor failure would mean the rocket never generated enough thrust to launch and is now damaged, and a success would mean our craft made it to suborbital flight. If we had the landing technology we could then test the landing of the probe, however, certain locations such as Earth and Venus do not need the landing technology to land a craft. Oh, for those that are not fond of math you can use the handy payload charts provided. No math required! What is the fun of that though?
That covers the basics of Leaving Earth. The first to perform a mission takes the mission card, and the agency with the most mission points at the end of 1976 wins the game. The real challenge in the game is planning missions that require sending an astronaut out to a planet then back home to Earth. You need supplies, and account for the mass of those supplies. You will need technologies such as life support and have to calculate anywhere from 5 to 8 maneuvers. It is challenging but very rewarding.
I was really worried the replay value of Leaving Earth would be low. It seemed once you knew how to get to a location it would be a constant repeat. Rest assured, that is not the case. With numerous missions, several different possibilities for certain locations, and the variations in outcomes of technologies, each game presents a fresh set of challenges. Plus, there is always the push to try and complete missions faster, and at a lower cost. For those worried about the math, I can say it is no more difficult than trying to calculate victory points in other games. In fact, I have done more calculating figuring out who won in a Euro than calculating mission payloads. Plus, with the handy payload charts pretty much all math is done for you if you wish to go that route.
I love Leaving Earth! It truly captures the feel of the space race while feeding my fascination of space exploration. It is a game rooted in science but anyone who likes risk management, and resource management, will be right at home as well. It can be played multiplayer competitive (where it really shines), multiplayer cooperative (still fun), and solo (more precise mission planning and less of a race feel with much less risk taking) which makes it a fantastic game at our house. There are 4 difficulty settings and playing a very hard game can be a little lengthy at almost two-hours, but medium or hard games can be knocked out in about an hour. If I had to find fault in anything it would be not having enough component cards, mainly Saturn rockets and ion thrusters, and the odd size cards which will drive gamers that like to sleeve, such as myself, nuts! The components and box are not the best quality, but considering it is not a mass-produced game I think they suffice. The absolute worst is cutting the sticker holding the box lid down to open the game for the first time.
Tony’s Pros and Cons
Pros: Easy setup. Very engaging, challenging, and rewarding. Good replay value. Great job of replicating the feel of the space race. Makes you feel like a rocket scientist! Not difficult to learn.
Cons: Game box is small and not the best quality. Odd size cards (although not a con for people that do not sleeve their cards.) Component quality isn’t the best but isn’t the worst either. Rules don’t cover every aspect of the game in detail. Not enough of certain component cards for hard or very hard multiplayer games. Be ready to proxy a few Juno rockets for Saturn or Ion thrusters.
Tony’s Epic Scale: 3.5 (Had to go to half scale for this. Rules are a little more advanced than most of my 3s but is manageable. There are a ton of components!)
*Epic Scale is on a scale of 1 to 5 and is a combination of number of components and ruleset)*
Value: 9 (Easily worth the price and shipping from the publisher.)
Art: 7 (Nothing fancy but is perfect for the theme.)
Setup/Teardown: 8 (Not the fastest but you can be playing in 5 minutes!)
Re-playability: 10 (You will be planning missions in your sleep….trust me!)
Fun Factor: 10 (I can’t believe how fun this game is after 10 plus plays!)
Overall: 8.8 (Yes, it is that good!)
A software developer by day and avid game player by night.KickStarter has recently rekindled my love of board games. Now I am looking to help the little guys of KS get their games noticed and funded as well as demonstrate how easy or difficult a game is played its first time through.