Anyone who knows why Nick Fury wears an eyepatch, knows that cats in space is not such a whacky idea! Okay, maybe that isn’t the best argument, but cats are cute right! So why not put them in astronaut suits and get them to explore new planets! This is exactly what you do in MLEM: Space Agency and this is my vague excuse of an introduction to this push-your-luck board game!
Roll out the neoprene game mat and place the rocket marker and failure token on the relevant spaces. Then place goal tokens, point tokens, the rocket board and dice nearby. Finally give everyone a player board in their choice of colour or cat and the matching astronaut tokens. You can add in some of the variants at this stage too.
When placing the astronaut tokens on the player boards I tend to encourage people to place them on the boards in the same order. It’s not in the rules but I think it makes it easier to see who has what tokens left when playing the game. It’s an optional faff, but I kinda like it.
That’s your set up complete, you are ready for blast off!
MLEM: Space Agency is ultimately a push your luck game, mixed with a touch of area majority.
All players will choose one of their astronauts (should’ve been called catstronauts or astrocats) to place on the ship for this mission. These all have special powers. The active player then rolls the dice.
Each space on the board has dice symbols that can move the ship forward. If you don’t roll at least one of these, the ship crashes. All astronauts are rescued though and return to their players’ board. The crash marker moves along and the active player moves around the table. Assuming you push your luck and succeed, the ship moves forward along the flight path. Any dice used for movement get discarded and will not be available for future rolls. Except there is a side of the dice with a comet symbol, if the symbol matches the space on the board, using these for movements retain the dice for future rolls.
Once the spaceship gets passed a certain point, starting with the captain, players can choose to jump off. If you jump off at a moon, you will get the victory points on the space. These are allocated to whoever disembarks first.
Planets work differently. Players will need to have area majority to score the most points on these. Tiebreaks are worked out with priority given to whoever jumped ship first.
If the captain jumps off first, the remaining dice get passed to the next player who becomes the dice roller. The captain can never have zero dice, so you will always add one from the pool in that instance.
In addition to planets and moons, players will also race towards common goals. There are a couple of optional modules included in the box which offer additional scoring. The game ends when any player runs out of astronauts or the crash marker gets to the end of the track. Points are tallied and the winner is announced. Purr-fect!
What it’s like
I like games with a push-your-luck element, especially when it feels like you have a little bit of control and aren’t just praying to Lady Luck. This control comes in the form of the astronaut special abilities. These are really clever and a welcome addition in MLEM. It might rule out some younger players, however eight plus feels about right. These abilities add extra strategy to think about. One even adds a little spice to the proceedings as whenever it leaves the spaceship, it also takes a die with it, thwarting those carrying on!
While there is downtime between chucking some dice, especially at higher player counts, you are still invested on other people’s turns, as you try to work out when the optimum time is to abandon ship.
The lure of the top of the board is strong, like a siren calling from a distant galaxy. However, this isn’t necessarily the way to score mega points, in fact often claiming moons and planets to meet the common objectives can pay more dividends over the course of the game. Certainly less kudos than getting to the 6top of the board, but kudos doesn’t win the game! I always appreciate different routes to victory and this certainly offers that.
I like extra content that you can add into a game when it comes in the box and MLEM offers a few of them. I wasn’t a big fan of the ‘Secret Missions’ one though as it felt really unbalanced. With this, one player could be trying to get to the closest three planets to get the same amount of bonus points as another player trying to get cats on the furthest planets. You get four cards to choose from and keep three, but it didn’t mitigate the luck of the draw enough for me. That’s okay though, the UFO and Exploration variants will mix up play enough for most and I’m looking forward to playing those more.
This is another beautiful production from Rebel. I know the designer Reiner Knizia didn’t envisage cats in space for this game, but it is a really cool theme The artwork really binds it all together so neatly into a lovely looking package. All the components are really good, from the chunky custom dice to the player boards, from the point tokens to the spaceship.
The included neoprene playmat really sets a wonderful backdrop for the game as it rolls out along the table. It does mean that MLEM takes up a bit of real estate on the tabletop, but I don’t care!
The rulebook was a breeze to get through and transferred to the table really intuitively. The insert of the box is the same as in ‘Chronicles of Avel’ with a separate compartment for stowing things. If I’m honest I haven’t really got a grasp of what should go where so it sort of gets slung in baggies in the box!
It’s a really soft and smooth box too, which sounds like it is full of innuendo, but seriously this is luxury matt finish! The highlights of gold foil makes the box art tart in me happy!
Final thoughts on MLEM: Space Agency
MLEM: Space Agency adds a nice Knizia twist to the push your luck genre and I like it. The gameplay can feel a little slow at times, but equally can have you on the edge of your seat too. It depends how you play it. Generally there are peaks and troughs.
I have a slight concern MLEM may get a bit repetitive in time. I haven’t got bored of it yet though and think it will stay on the shelves for a good while. It has proven popular with the boys and it’s nice that all five of us can play. I look forward to introducing it to more casual board gamer friends too. The visual appeal is an easy sell to most people!
All in all, I can see us, and plenty of other families, having fun with MLEM: Space Agency.
Number of players: 2 to 5
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 8+
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 2 minutes
Designers: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Rebel Studio
The theme of cats in space will be enough for many people to buy this game. Certainly the box art tart in me wouldn’t judge! If you need a little more persuading, pushing your luck while having a little more to think about is solid family fun. In that instance, MLEM could rocket up your list of games to try – it is easy to gravitate towards it!
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Pushing your luck
- Gorgeous looking with cats in space
- Sits up to five
- Different ways of scoring points
- Push your luck
- The ‘Secret Missions’ add-on
- The size on the table
Need more games?
If you already own MLEM: Space Agency and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Can’t Stop
- Quacks of Quedlingburg
- Into the Blue
- Shoot for the Stars
Buy MLEM: Space Agency
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