Onward to Venus is a game by Martin Wallace, published by Treefrog Games and distributed by Asmodee. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, based on the Doctor Grordbort graphic novels by Greg Broadmore, players will be building a steampunk type empire throughout the many planets and moons. Players will be trying to gain influence over these different celestial places by building factories and digging mines. The player that can best monopolize these planets and moons will be declared the winner.
To begin, the eight planet tiles are laid out as shown in the rule book. Players will then select an empire, receiving the corresponding cards and counters for their chosen color. Players will then place 4 of their infantry counters and 2 spaceship counters in orbit around Earth. They will also place one of their factory counters on Earth as well. Each player is given 12 British pounds. The rest of the money is placed to the side to form the bank. The game cards are shuffled and each player is dealt 2 cards. These are added to the 4 cards that they received earlier. The remaining deck is placed face down to form a draw deck. The Pass card is placed where all players can see it with the Pass cubes placed close by. All of the game tiles are placed in the cloth bag. The alien tiles are placed to the side within ease of reach. The first player is determined and play now begins.
The game is played over 3 periods which consist of 6 phases each; place pass cubes, draw and place game tiles, player action, crisis resolution, collect income and re-set military units. The first phase is to place pass cubes. This is done by taking a number of pass cubes equal to the number of players plus two and placing them on the pass card.
The second phase is to draw and place game tiles. This is done by taking the bag of tiles and randomly drawing the appropriate number of tiles as determined by the number of players and the planet. The back of the rule book has a chart that detail the numbers for each. These tiles are then placed face up on the appropriate planet.
The third phase is the player actions. In this phase, players will take one of five actions in turn order. Those actions are move military units, claim one tile, build military units, perform action on one card and take one pass cube. To move military units, a player is allowed to move a number of infantry and spaceships that are on the same planet as a group, up to two planets away. However, if they do not use their full movement, they may claim a tile from the planet that the units moved to. To claim a tile, a player can claim a tile without a defense value by simply replacing the tile with a military unit. Players may also claim a tile with a defense value by first determining the combat point cost by rolling the 3 dice, keeping the 2 dice with the highest and lowest values, calculating the difference between the 2 dice and adding this value to the defense value of the tile. The player must then expend combat points equal to or greater than that number. Combat points are gained by moving a infantry or spaceship unit onto the planet, moving a tank to the planet from orbit, playing game cards that have combat points or modify combat points. The player will also lose a military unit for any skulls rolled. Players can buy military units by paying the appropriate cost and then placing them in orbit around the appropriate planet. Players can also perform action on one card. These special cards are marked with “Action” in their text and count as the player’s action. Finally taking a Pass cube is done by taking a cube from the Pass card and then drawing a game card and adding it to your hand. If a player takes the last Pass cube they also take the First Player marker. The player action phase ends and play proceeds to the next phase.
The fourth phase is crisis resolution. To do this, players check to see if any crisis tiles in play are marked with a skull. If there are, then 3 dice are rolled, keeping any skulls shown. Then beginning at Mercury and working your way backwards, the players will place one of the kept dice on each crisis tile with a skull on it. This is done until the kept dice are spent. Crisis effects are resolved on each planet based on the crisis level as described in the rulebook. Once effects are resolved, the kept dice are placed to the side.
The fifth phase is to collect income. To do this each player will see how many mines and factory that they control and will then receive a set amount of money for each.
The sixth phase is the re-set military units phase. In this phase, any military units that are on a planet are moved into orbit around that planet.
All of this continues until the end of the 3 periods. Players then add up their victory points from each planet. This is determined by how much income each player earns from the planet. The highest income gains the first position victory points and so on. Players also gain points for big game tiles, crisis tiles and alien tiles. The player with the most points is the winner.
There are lots of really nice looking pieces to this game. From the Planet tiles, player pieces and game tiles to the game cards, coin tokens, dice and pass cubes. The theme of the graphic novel plays out in each piece, especially the cards. I love the look of each planet tile and how realistic they look. Everything else has the whole steampunk feel to it that I really enjoy. There a lot of quality involved in every piece. The cards have some very beautiful looking art and each one draws from the theme heavily. Even the coin tokens have that steampunk feel. Everything is sturdy and well made, even the cloth bag and dice. I really love the look and feel of this game.
9 out of 10
The rulebook, like the components draws heavily on the theme of the game as well. There are lots of great pictures and examples throughout. The book begins with a thematic introduction by Dr. E. Grordbort. It’s a great addition especially for fans of the series. The rules are explained in great detail and are very easy to read and understand. As I described earlier, the theme of each planet’s crisis effect is laid out for ease of reference. There is a section dedicated to the explanation of the cards, in case something is unclear. The back of the book has a great reference page for almost everything you need to refer back to. I really like the big pages of art and the feel of the book. It’s really well designed and looks beautiful. Another quality piece to this game.
9 out of 10
This is a really fun game that is full of theme. I’m a sucker for anything with a steampunk theme and this one doesn’t disappoint. The main concept of the game is of course area control, much like El Caballero or other games of that type. It also has a little bit of a pick up and deliver feel, at least to me. Delivering your military units from one planet to another gave me that feeling. The game is really not that difficult even though there is a fair amount of strategy involved in the game. There’s a fair amount of player interaction through combat and such. I really enjoy the crisis effects and the uniqueness of how they effect each planet. It’s very thematic and draws you deep into the game world. There is some randomness with it but when it happens it’s really cool. The cards are interesting but can really seem to overpower a player in just a few plays. I really enjoyed the game, despite the small issue I had with it. It’s still quite fun.
8 out of 10
Onward to Venus is a medium weight game of area control with a steampunk twist. The game is really fun and plays in about an hour and a half, give or take. The artwork, design and components are all very thematic and look great. Fans of the Greg Broadmore graphic novels will really enjoy the theme. The game has some real tactical and strategic play to it that fans of games like El Caballero and the like should really enjoy. I’m sure this will even appeal to Steampunk fans as well. The game isn’t difficult to learn but has a little bit of an unlevel advantage for some players that luck up with the draw of their cards. There’s also a bit of a hit or miss when it comes to the crisis effects. As I stated earlier, when it happens, it’s really cool. Even with the minor issue, the game is fun and one that I recommend. If you’ve got the time to play it, I think you’ll really enjoy it. It just might send you into orbit.
8 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Treefrog Games and Asmodee at their sites.