Worker placement games are really not my thing. The Advanced Search function in BoardGameGeek tells me I only own two these days; Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017) and One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020). A while back I owned Raiders of the North Sea (Garphill Games, 2015) but traded it away because it felt like “COO of the North Sea.” So why even back the game?
One big reason: I trust Gunter and Uwe Eickert of Academy Games. The good news is that One Small Step didn’t let me down. Indeed, it may just be the giant leap I needed to jump into more worker placement games.
This is how the publisher describes One Small Step:
Command the United States or Soviet Union Space Agency in this engine building, worker placement Eurogame for 2 to 4 players.
Place two kinds of workers – Engineers and Administrators – to gather resources, draft cards, and launch unmanned and manned missions all in an effort to be the first to achieve a Moon landing!!
Coordinate your actions with your teammate in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks. Gain upgrades to your space program, but be aware that your rival may also gain those same upgrades with every success you achieve.
Blast into space and have fun learning about the development of the United States space program. One Small Step as also perfect for a US History curriculum at home or in the classroom.
Mercury – A Quick Race
I feel that One Small Step is a medium-light Eurogame. Most important to the RockyMountainNavy home, the game can be played in two hours or less; making it perfect for our Saturday Night Family Game Night. It’s not that the game is too short; it really is a race. The first team to move six Moon Path Spaces wins. Six moves! The game forces you to take risks to stay ahead of your opponent. You know, like the real Space Race!
Gemini – Team Worker Placement
I already mentioned that we are not really into worker placement games. One Small Step challenges our prejudices in a very good way by delivering a different kind of worker placement game – team worker placement. The team aspect is very important to the RMN home because we usually play three-players on Saturday Nights. In One Small Step there are two teams each with an Administrator and an Engineer. A side can be played by one – or two – players. Workers placed on an Earth Space or a Card Draft space each use the space differently (and sometimes they can’t use the space at all). At first I was worried that the game would exacerbate the Alpha Gamer problem but with players that understand the social contract of the game it really proves to be no problem. Indeed, looking at one player trying to play both workers can be entertaining as they try to use both in the best possible way but always seem to come up short with too much to do. Two players, on the other hand, allows each player to concentrate (and negotiate with their partner) to optimize their move.
Apollo – System Engine(ering) Your Way to the Moon
Much like the Apollo missions, One Small Step is uses game mechanics that build upon one another. In addition to the worker placement where Administrators and Engineers use the Earth Spaces and Card Draft spaces differently, the Event Cards themselves have many different uses. When in the Card Draft space they become another area for your worker to, uh, work. When in your hand you use them as a Development Card to gain a bonus. Certain cards are Personnel Cards reflecting those special individuals that make an outsized contribution to your agency. The multi-use cards make every card worthwhile; it can be frustrating seeing a Development Card you need in the Card Draft area where you can use only the action space.
The Event Cards are not the only cards in One Small Step. I really enjoyed reading the history of each Satellite and Crewed Mission card. More practically, I also was impressed by how the designers related the history of the cards to the resources needed to complete the mission. The same can be said about the Hazard and Advancement Cards – they each just make sense and fit the thematic narrative of the game.
I said before that the first to the Moon wins in One Small Step. That’s not strictly true; the first to the Moon triggers the end of the game. Victory in One Small Step is scored in Victory Points that one gains in many different ways. While focusing on VP seems easy, the truth is that the Media is probably the most important track in the game. The Media Track determines initiative; a higher Media Track means that agency moves first in the different Phases. But one cannot stay at the top forever. Eventually an agency gets too high on the Media Track and has to take a Media Bonus that 1) awards a one-time bonus but 2) reduces the agency’s position on the track. It’s a simple mechanic that accentuates another great thematic element of the game.
Sputnik – Seeing Red
While learning One Small Step is not that difficult, one challenge that must be conquered early on is interpreting the extensive symbology of the game. At first I was overwhelmed; indeed I think Gunter and Uwe knew this could be a challenge since they included two Summary Sheets in the game and the back of the rule book is a Symbol Reference. Early plays can come to a crawl as players struggle to understand the symbology and then decide if the action/event serves them well. That said, the symbology in the game does have a certain logic to it and once you catch onto the basics of the “language” it becomes surprisingly rich in the information communicated.
A major part of the Deluxe version of One Small Step is the many plastic miniatures. Honestly, they don’t do anything for me. The wooden worker meeples, chits, and cubes look perfectly fine on the table. I actually think the simpler approach of chits and cubes makes the game more understandable as too many little “gadgets” get too fiddly on the board.
“We choose to go the moon….”
One Small Step has earned itself a spot in the Saturday Night Family Game Night rotation. It is in many ways a perfect game for that occasion; it plays fast enough for three or four players, it is fairly easy to learn and teach, and it teaches history (an important point that Mrs. RMN likes to see when a game lands on the table). We have not tried the Mission Command or Hidden Figures expansions yet. I’m sure they will add interesting elements to the game without needlessly complicating the mechanics.
It’s true; in my house it’s One Small Step for boardgaming, one giant leap for fun!