Gravwell: 2nd Edition Review
In space, no-one can hear you scream. Luckily they can hear you shouting “Oh my god, I can’t believe you did that! You absolute nerf-herder!”, because you’ll be saying things like that quite often when you play Gravwell: 2nd Edition. The original Gravwell was released in 2013, and quickly became a family favourite. Renegade Game Studios have made a few tweaks and given it a lick of paint, and here we are.
My God, it’s full of stars
The first thing players of the original Gravwell will notice is the new artwork. One of my favourite board game artists, Kwanchai Moriya, was brought in to spruce things up, and it looks gorgeous. It keeps a similar aesthetic, but the cards which drive the gameplay look clearer, and I prefer the look of the game board.
If you’ve never played Gravwell before, it’s a cross between a race game and a tug of war. Each player chooses a card from their hand and plays it face-down. The cards are flipped, then resolved in alphabetical order (each represents an element). The majority of the cards pull you towards the nearest object – be that another ship, or a piece of space junk – while a few push you away.
This is where the game gets interesting. The card you played may have moved you towards the next ship, just a couple of spaces ahead, and slingshotted you off towards victory. However, if that next ship played a card with a symbol that gets resolved before yours, they might have moved away from you, leaving the nearest object as a piece of junk floating behind you. Gravity doesn’t care which way it pulls, so off you go backwards, careening through space, back towards the start. Imagine the frustration, and smug satisfaction in your opponents face.
Form an orderly queue
The guts of Gravwell: 2nd Edition are built around one of my favourite mechanisms – action queuing. You’ve probably experienced it in at least one game, from Gloomhaven and Dungeon Lords through to Colt Express and 6 Nimmt!. In an action queue, players play their cards face-down, then when they’re flipped, some value on them gives them an order to be resolved in. Trying to guess what the other players are going to do, and then choosing your own counter-move, is as frustrating as it is exciting.
There’s a small amount of magic that happens when everyone’s played their chosen cards. When the cards are flipped, everyone’s eyes scour them so fast it looks like people watching a table tennis match. I love the sounds of delight and despair when everyone figures out what’s going to happen next, it’s real tabletop chemistry.
At first glance it might look like it’s just a game of chance, but once you figure out how it all works, you soon realise that the game is about the people around the table. It’s pure mind games. From the second round onwards, the new hands of cards are chosen in a drafting system, and if you’ve got a good memory you’ll know four of the six cards that other players have. Trying to remember them definitely helps, but it’s hard to do, which I think lends to the fun of the game. That’s what Gravwell is – a fun game.
Vive la difference
There are a few key differences between the original version of Gravwell, and this second edition. First of all, each ship has four special ability cards. These get charged when certain things happen in the game – ending your movement next to a piece of space junk, for example – and give you one-off special actions and abilities. I like these, they add a small amount of asymmetry to the game, which makes things really interesting, and means you can make tactical plays as well as just racing.
The second and third main changes work together really nicely. The first is a new fuel card type, the multipoint repulsor. These cards push every other object on the board away from you, but they only come into play at higher player counts. Higher player counts is the other big change, as Gravwell: 2nd Edition now supports up to six players! If you’ve played with the chaos of four before, this takes it to a whole new level.
When you play with more than four, you can choose to start from the inside and work outwards, as is the norm, or flip things on their head and work from the outside, inwards. It’s not too different at first, but when you get to the third round or so, and ships start crossing paths, it’s galactic mayhem, and it’s hysterical. You’ll need reminders of who is going in which direction, but that’s okay. Playing Gravwell is meant to be a fun experience. It’s a light-hearted game which gets people talking and laughing, and it’s a great social lubricant (for want of a much better expression).
Gravwell: 2nd Edition is really good fun. It’s much lighter than games I’d usually go for, but that’s one of its biggest strengths. I could take this to a family gathering, and teach everyone how to play in five minutes. It’s also a great game to start or end a regular games night with. It’s not too taxing, it plays out in about half an hour, and you can chat while playing. I recently took it to a local convention, and universally people enjoyed it.
It’s worth saying that it’s a far better game with three or more players. You can play with two, but it’s a really dilated experience. What makes the game fun is the chaos of ships and objects pulling each other hither and thither, and when there’s only two of you and a couple of pieces of junk, space feels too empty. One silly thing that I really enjoy is the way people count out their spaces when they move. Everyone – and I mean everyone – I’ve played with does that thing we all did with Monopoly or Snakes & Ladders, where you pick your piece up and tap out every step on the board. There’s no need to, because every fifth space has its number printed on it, but it’s a game that makes you feel like a kid again.
I’ve played enough times now for my cards to show the first signs of wear, which goes to show how much I enjoy it. It also shows that I really ought to sleeve the cards. Gravwell: 2nd Edition would make a brilliant addition to a fledgling collection of board games, and the super-cool minis and gorgeous board mean anyone and everyone can find something to enjoy. If you enjoy games like Jamaica, you’ll love Gravwell.
Review copy kindly provided by Renegade Game Studios. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Gravwell: 2nd Edition (2021)
Designer: Corey Young
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Art: Kwanchai Moriya
Playing time: 30-45 mins