Short review: SpaceCorp


Summary: A multi-layered, easy to run, 4X-esque game that plays extremely smoothly solo.

Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. A quartet of gaming concepts that hold a special place in my heart.

I approached SpaceCorp 2025-2300AD with great expectations. The near future, hard sci-fi inspired, space colonisation theme is classic 4X. Plus the game has a strong pedigree in designer John Butterfield, is published by GMT Games and comes complete with a dedicated solo mode.

And yet… no matter how hard I looked, I could find no death ray amongst the wealth of top-notch components inside the box.

Multiple game boards each representing a unique era, a rule set that gradually evolves bringing new challenges, and era-specific components. But no death ray.

On examining the solo rules, I noticed something odd. Victory is measured in terms of profit, units are described as ‘Teams’.

That is when I realised my error. The Corp in the title refers to Corporation (as in Evil Corp) not Corps (as in Galactic Marines).

In SpaceCorp the galaxy is conquered through legitimate business practices, not military force.

Player turns focus on clever use of cards, both in hand and on the player mat (known as Infra) and the positioning of Teams on the board.  A combination of cards in hand and the continuing benefit of the Infra determine the actions available to you at any one time. 

There are plenty of actions to choose from. Researching to gain more cards, moving Teams – essentially workers – to new locations to Explore and Build, discovering new benefits in the form of Breakthroughs and Adaptations, playing cards for instant ‘Edge’ effects, Upgrading, Producing and more.

The catch is you can only take one action at a time. Plus, those Teams need to be in the correct places to take certain actions.

Meanwhile, as the Teams are making their tentative first steps, your opponents are busy creating their own interstellar empire.

My opponent is generally the game’s very clever solo AI. Each era in SpaceCorp has a unique card deck that players use to perform actions. During solo play these decks double up as instructions for the AI: Move here, Build there, use this Edge effect. Simple, easy to follow, a breath of fresh air when compared to some solo games from GMT. 

Not that ‘easy to play’ equates to ‘easy to beat’.  The competition typically starts with a bang, take your eye off it and you will soon be trailing behind. After playthroughs now counting well into double figures, I have beaten the AI just twice.

This lack of success may be a result of my inability to think more than 2 moves ahead. A common criticism of SpaceCorp is that it’s too easy to win. Clearly, I haven’t experienced this myself.

Other criticisms do ring true for me, however. The Infra – essentially the engine of your game – can feel under-powered at times.

And, of course, there is no death ray. This is 4X with its teeth removed, closer in feel to a particularly thematic economic game than the usual combat-centric GMT fare. SpaceCorp may stray too far into Euro territory for some.

Nevertheless, SpaceCorp is a firm fixture on my solo game playlist. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of my favourite games of the last few years.

Words: Neil Bunker