Pulsar 2849 is a game where you’ll explore space, patent technologies, claim pulsars, and more. It can be played with 2-4 players. The goal of the game is to be the player with the most points at the end.
Note that this review will be focused on the two-player experience as my wife and I have not played with more than two. There are slight modifications to the setup and play of the game with 3 and 4 players, but the overall core of the game remains the same.
What’s in the Box
There are a lot of components that come with Pulsar 2849. You have four sets of ships, plastic tokens, pulsar claim rings, and 100/200 point score tokens—one set for each player in a different color. You also have gyrodyne tokens, transmitter tiles, exploration bonus tiles, planetary system tiles, and die modifier tokens. There are multiple board tiles that go around the circular board (called the star cluster board) such as goal tiles, the player order tracker, the tile that holds the gyrodyne tokens, the tile that holds the die modifier tokens, the technology tiles, and more. Some of these components, such as the star cluster board and goal tiles, are double-sided. You also have engineering cubes, tokens that represent four cubes, and nine silver dice along with one red die. Last, but not least, you have the rulebook and player/scoring aid cards.
First, you’ll place the star cluster board. It is double-sided, with one side having a few dead-end locations, which changes how movement works. No matter which side you choose, you’ll need to place planetary system tiles on the open star (sun) spaces. You’ll use all the tiles except one.
You’ll set out the gyrodyne tokens and dice modifiers on their respective boards. You’ll set out three goal tiles, randomly picking which side of the tiles to use. You will also have to set out three random technology tiles, one from each numbered group. These are double-sided as well. Place the time marker token next to the bottom row of the technology tile that has a 1 on it, for example, A-1.
Next, place out three transmitter tiles. These will be shuffled into groups A, B, and C. Group A will be placed on top, followed by B, then C on the bottom. In a two-player game, set out 7 of the 9 silver dice in the center of the star cluster board along with the red die.
Placing Tokens and Ships
Each player puts one of their plastic tokens on the star cluster board. This token is used to keep track of each player’s score, which goes around the outer rim of the board. The first player will start with 5 points while the second player starts with 6.
In a two-player game, each player will have two ships on the player-order track on the dice board, instead of just one as in three-and four-player games. This affects the order dice are drafted, which I’ll explain later. The first player will have his/her ships placed in spots 1 and 3, while the second player will have his/her ships placed in spots 2 and 4. Each player will also take a random HQ board to put in front of him/her but can choose which side to use.
Each player will place two tokens in the center of the initiative track on the dice board but in reverse order. The same will be done for the engineering track. Both players will also receive one +/- die-modifier token.
Finally, your third ship will be placed on the board in a starting location of your choice marked with a ship icon called an entry gate. This is also done in reverse order. Once you leave that space during the game, you will not be allowed to fly back to it or to any other entry gate.
Pulsar 2849 is played over eight rounds, with three phases in each round. These phases are the Dice phase, the Action phase, and the Production phase.
The first player will roll the seven silver dice and place the results on the die board. Next, she’ll have to determine which die is the median die and where to place the other dice. For example, if you roll 1,2,4,4,5,6,6, the median die is the second 4. If you rolled 2,2,3,5,6,6,6, the median die, in this case, is the 5.
At this point, the first player will cover up that space and count how many dice are to the left and right. If there are more dice to either side, she will place the median marker in the designated space to the left or right of the space containing the median die. If there is an equal amount on each side, the median marker will be placed on the exact space of the median die.
Now, following the order on the player order track, each player will draft a die. For the first round in a two-player game, player 1 will draft a die first and third, while player 2 will draft a die second and fourth. This order can change as the game progresses.
When you select a die, you will have to move one of your player tokens left or right on either the initiative or engineering track. This is determined by whether the die you selected is to the left or right of the median marker. For example, if the median marker is at 3 and you select a 2, you’ll move one of your markers to the left one space. If you select a 5, you’ll move one to the right 2 spaces. If you select a 3, none will be moved. If the median marker was to the left or right of the median die, then selecting the median die will move you one space left or right respectively.
Time to Take Some Actions
Once both players have selected their two dice, each will take two actions starting with the first player. The player will have a variety of choices at her disposal, with each being able to be done twice.
Flying Your Ship
You can move your ship around the star cluster board for the number listed on the die you choose to use. If you pass through a planetary system tile, you will flip that tile and be able to claim a brown planet. If there are no brown planets, then you’ll claim a blue planet. If there are no open planets to claim (each one has a player token), then you will not claim any planet.
If you land on a tile you’ll claim a blue planet first, then a brown planet, then no planet if all planets are claimed. In a two-player game, there are planets on these tiles listed with either a 3 or 4 next to them. This means these can’t be claimed by either player and will need to be covered with a token from a player color not being used.
You’ll notice on the bottom of the planetary system tiles that they each provide a reward, such as engineering cubes or the ability to use the bonus red die. You will only get these bonuses if you land on the tile, not if you pass through. Also, the planet that you claim must be a blue planet, not a brown planet. Instead of the bonus on the planetary system tile, you can take an exploration bonus tile. These usually yield points.
When moving your rocket, you may also land on a pulsar. You may now claim this pulsar by putting one of your claim rings around it. If you have a gyrodyne token in your possession, you may immediately put it out for free. You can also wait to put it out on a later turn, and it still won’t cost an action to do so.
With claimed pulsars, you can spend an action to get your gyrodyne spinning by flipping over a gyrodyne token. Doing so will give you points during each production phase. These points can be increased based on technologies you claim, or even the position of the time marker next to the tech board.
Claiming Transmitter Tiles
Another action you can take is to claim a transmitter tile. Once you claim a transmitter tile, you take and place it in front of you with a player token on the die space used. Some transmitters require two dice. Once you fill both spaces, or if the one you took only had one die space, you immediately flip it over. This means the transmitter tile is now active.
Once active, some of these tiles give you instant rewards such as points, while others will give you rewards you’ll receive during each production phase, including points and engineering cubes. Some of these even have half a red die face on one or both sides. Should you combine two active transmitter tiles with the half die faces combined, you’ll be able to take an immediate bonus action with the red die based on the value you made. For example, if one side has three dots and the other has two, you’ll be able to take a bonus action using a five.
You can apply a die to an item on your HQ Board. This could give you extra points, some gyrodyne tokens, die modifier tokens, or other bonus.
There are also the tech boards. Two players can ‘patent’ (i.e., claim) each technology on a board level. Each level begins with each round, so if you are in round 5, you’ll be able to claim a space on the tech board anywhere from that row and below. Some spaces only have one die face available. In a two-player game, this means only one player will be able to get that piece of technology for the whole game. All spaces on this track give varying rewards for the player/s who claim them.
Claiming Die Modifiers
You can also spend actions to claim die modifier tokens. You have a choice of either a +/- one die modifier or +/- two die modifier. These allow you to change the value of the dice you took during the dice phase. You cannot combine both.
Claiming Gyrodyne Tokens
If you need a gyrodyne token, you can spend an action to claim one. There are small, medium, and large, which are worth 1, 2, and 3 points respectively. If you are the first to get two gyrodynes of the same type (two mediums for example) on claimed pulsars, you will get a 7-point bonus. If you’re the second player, or you are the same player and just happened to do this twice, you will get a 4-point bonus.
Claiming the Red Die
Finally, you can spend four engineering cubes to use the red die as a bonus action. You will copy one of the three remaining dice that were not drafted during the dice phase. If you already used the red die from a different bonus, you will not be able to do this. You can only use the red die once per turn.
After all the actions have been performed by all players, you then move to the production phase. This is where you will determine the new player order based on the initiative track, how many engineering cubes and points each player gets based on the engineering track, check if any technologies produce any points or other rewards, score points for spinning gyrodynes based on their point value and any other bonuses, and gain points and/or engineering cubes from online transmitter tiles.
Any transmitter tiles that you did not claim are discarded and replaced with three new tiles. You’ll slide the time marker up to the next row of the tech board, opening up new technologies to patent in the next round. After eight rounds, you’ll proceed to final scoring, where the person with the most points is the winner. If there is a tie, the person who is first on the initiative track wins.
A Husband’s Final Thoughts
This game is a lot of fun. I love that you have so many different choices and all of them feel equally important. Your whole goal is to score points and you can do so in a variety of ways. You can claim pulsars and get gyrodynes spinning so they’ll give you points consistently throughout the game. You can go for transmitter tiles that just give you points instantly or take those that give you points in each production phase. You can try going for the different goal tiles. Exploring planets gives you points. HQ boards and some options on the tech boards can give you the ability to perform gate jumps, which gives you points for each gate of a certain color you travel through.
All that choice means you open yourself and others up to analysis paralysis. I would recommend if you or anyone you know struggles with AP, do not play this game. Not only are there plenty of choices to use the number 2 on a die for example, if you have die modifier tokens, now that 2 could be a 1, 3, or 4. A person that struggles with AP will grind this game to a halt.
Moving your ships around the board is one of my favorite aspects of the game. It feels like you’re exploring an entire galaxy when your claiming planets and pulsars.
As with most games, most of the components are either plastic or cardboard. The quality though is top notch. The cardboard used for the tiles is thick. The plastic for the ships and tokens feels solid. The dice included are deceptively light. You look at them thinking they’ll be heavier due to their size, but they feel as if there is nothing inside of them. The different outer boards are rounded to fit around the star cluster board.
The artwork for this game is gorgeous. It really brings the sci-fi/space theme out front and center. The box art does a great job of drawing you in to find out more about the game. The different player colors look great on the board. The use of pink, white, and blue throughout the surrounding tiles and on the star cluster board gives the game a look that you usually don’t see in a space-themed game. I do wish there were more colors for the planets you discover besides blue (Earth-like) and brown, but since those color planets affect a part of the game, I understand why.
Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone that likes games where they get to score a lot of points. I would also suggest it to anyone that enjoys games with a space/sci-fi theme. Actually, I’m just going to suggest you get this game period. There are tons of choices you can make and plenty of opportunities to score points. Once you get used to the flow of the game, it doesn’t take too long to play with two players. You can probably finish a game in about an hour once you’re familiar with the rules, and that includes looking up the different tech board and HQ options. This is just a great game that you shouldn’t pass up playing.
A Wife’s Perspective
Well, I certainly don’t need to add anything to the gameplay or components part of this review as I think Chris covered everything thoroughly. I just wanted to add that I also very much enjoy this game. I am not a sci-fi or space junkie like my husband is, but I still think it is a lot of fun. It’s also a game where you can make a comeback even if you are way, way, way behind. (Like I have been before.)
The game is gorgeous, and there are a million ways to win. Ok, maybe not a million, but plenty. Even with only two actions to take each turn—three if you manage to score the red die—the game still feels very robust. And it is quite hard to choose the right thing to do with your two actions. However, it is a good thing that you don’t have more actions otherwise a game would last all day. In closing, I definitely recommend this game. It’s a lot of fun with even more replayability.