Previewing: Conquest of Orion

Chances are, at some point in your life you’ve played with a deck of playing cards. A mere 52 card deck, maybe you played some Rummy or War or Crazy Eights as a kid. When you got older, maybe you gravitated towards poker games and the variety of possibilities that genre offers. Perchance you instead added a little wooded peg board and decided to play Cribbage.

And then there’s the decent possibility that at some point someone taught you a trick-taking game like Hearts, Spades, or Bridge.

Trick-taking games all work with a different parameter set of rules and goals, but the premise behind a trick-taking game is always the same: players receive a set number of cards as their hand. Each turn players play a card in an attempt to win  – or in some cases not win – that set of cards (i.e. the trick). Each suit will have some significance at some point in the game, and often there is a “trump” suit wins over the others. Trick-taking games are common with playing cards, and just because your parents and grandparents may favor playing them over World of Warcraft doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. They have, after all, stuck around for centuries for a reason.

They must be still popular in the future too, because that’s where we’re going in Conquest of Orion. Orion is a sci-fi themed trick-taking game where players are humans have finally made it out to the eponymous stars of the constellation. And in typical human fashion, we now have to fight over it.

Like the classic games of Bridge and Spades, Conquest of Orion is played in partnerships of two. In this four-player game, each team is trying to work together to generate the most points through three rounds. Just like any good trick-taking game, however, there are differences that make this one unique.

Its special deck of cards comes in four types: Planets, Colonies, Industries, and Ships. The first three types are known as System cards. Each system card has a numerical value and a number of stars (that correspond to their worth at the end of the round). System cards look a lot like this:

Prototype Colony card shown on left. Rendition of final product of Planet card on right.

Prototype Colony card shown on left. Rendition of final product of Planet card on right.

Ships, on the other hand, are not worth any victory points. Instead, they are the permanent trump suit. It’s easier when the military is on your side.

At the beginning of each round, players are dealt a hand of ten cards. For each trick, players must try to play a System card of a type that hasn’t been played yet. If they can’t, they can throw any System card. Likewise, Ship cards can always be thrown, regardless of what other players have played. If no Ship is present at the end of a turn, the highest System card wins the trick. If Ships are present, the highest Ship wins. At the end of the round, the two-player teams pool their winnings and try to make “sets” of System cards by having one of each type. For each complete set made, that team scores points equal to the stars of those cards. Then a new hand is dealt. The team with the highest score after three rounds wins.

Now, if that were all Conquest of Orion offered, it’d simply be a re-skinned game of playing cards with kings and queens removed. Luckily, there’s a bit more to it to satiate our reaching for the stars.

First is that the Ships all provide different abilities when they’re played. This may help remove cards you may not want your opponents to have, or it can help solidify your own. It can also cause ties though. What happens in a tie? Why a full-on battle of course. If two or more Ships are tied for a number, the trick is left in place and another round begins. Unlike a normal round, though, players can only throw trump (Ships), and the highest wins. Unless there’s another tie. But that’s not terribly common. The winner of this round wins both tricks.

And speaking of special abilities, players also get the option of selecting a separate Leader card each round. Leaders provide each player with a bonus or special ability for that round, helping to change the game tactics up from session to session. Are you the Diplomat? The Pacifist? The Agent? We shall see.

At the end of the day, Conquest of Orion is a fairly simple trick-taking game with a decent sci-fi twist to it. The Leaders make each game play out differently. Unless one player ends up with the lion’s share of Ship cards, there’s a fair amount of balance between the teams. There’s often also a good line of dialogue between teammates. After all, you don’t want to be wasting good cards trying to fight your ally. You have enemies for that. If you’re a fan of trick-taking games and/or a light card game with a sci-fi theme, Conquest of Orion may be one you’d want to check out. Feel free to warp on over to their Kickstarter and take a look.

Photo Credits: Card Pile by Becky Lai.