“Captain we followed the enemy ship through the wormhole but we have come out too close to a singularity and are being sucked in”
“Helm all ahead full, get us the hell out of here!”
“The gravity field is just too strong we are not moving.”
“Engineering, we need more power.”
“I’m givin’ her all she’s got Captain!”
“Captain, if I may, it appears that the other ship is trapped as well, maybe if we steered towards it we can use the gravity it is generating to sling shot past and hopefully clear of the singularity”
Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension is a MENSA award winning game by Cryptozoic Entertainment. I opened the box expecting some kind of brain teaser but what I got was a rather fun, yet challenging game.
In Gravwell the players are piloting space ships which are stuck inside a singularity. They need to use the gravity of the other ships in the singularity to help them escape its pull or be trapped forever.
For the TL;DR version click here.
Opening the box
Specs on the box:
The content of the box is rather sparse. 6 Plastic ships, 4 are for the players and 2 are derelict ships. The ships have some slightly finicky flying bases that can separate easily. I don’t particularly like the ships themselves. There are many games that have much better details on their plastic components but they get the job done.
There is also a board which players need to traverse in order to escape the singularity. A deck of cards which represent elements that the players can mine from the asteroids being sucking into the singularity. There are also 4 “Emergency Stop” cards and the rule booklet.
I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that the game is set in space, within a singularity from which the players need to escape. To do this they have to burn up a lot of fuel. Lucky for them they can mine elements from the mineral rich asteroids that are being sucking in with them.
The game actually feels like you are using each other to sling shot around and you need each other to get out but you want to get there first. While the parts do feel like they could be better, it fits the theme and the game does not break down into just playing the mechanics which it could so easily have done.
This is a very easy game to learn.
Place the board on the table. Each player selects a colour, grabs the Emergency Stop card of that colour and places their ship in the singularity. Then you will play 1 or 2 derelict ships on the board, based on the number of players.
That’s it. To start the game the deck of elements is shuffled and then dealt out in pairs, with 1 card face up and 1 card face down. The face up card will be the element scanned on the surface of the asteroid and the face down card will be another random element that will be mined.
3 pairs of cards will be dealt per player. So each player in turn can draft 1 pair at a time. If you’re paying attention you will know at least half of the cards each player drafts. For the first round the youngest player will play first, thereafter players draft from last position to first.
Players will each select a card and play it face down. When everyone is ready you simultaneously reveal your cards and resolve its effects. This happens in alphabetical order of the elements on the cards. So Argon will execute before Oxygen. Each element will have 1 of 3 different effects.
Green elements will move you towards the closest ship to you, even if it is behind you! Red elements will push you away from the closest ship and blue ones will pull ALL ships closer towards you. The amount of spaces is based on the elements atomic weight.
This programmed movement means you need to use the other ships to get you out of the singularity or try to pull the others around so that you can leapfrog them later.
Each round has the players playing 6 cards in this way. The players can use their Emergency Stop cards once, per round, to cancel the card that they have played.
The game ends when someone gets out of the warp gate or after 6 rounds. At that point the person in the lead is the winner.
On average I find that players have to play the game at least once for it to ‘click’. Once it does they often want to play again.
Watching the game you might pass it off as luck, but it’s actually quite strategic. Draft the correct cards or preventing an opponent from drafting what he needs to win can be crucial. Then you have to plan around each other players movement so you can decide when to use your big moves or your short jumps to best effect.
The game does lead to groans when you realise you’ve played the wrong card and sometimes exclamations of delight when you were sure you were going to go the wrong way and an opponents’ card pushes them just ahead of you and you get a huge boost. Sometimes there are a few laughs too. Clever planning is the key to winning, but it’s not brain surgery, you only know half of the cards available in the round, so there will be things that you just cannot plan for.
The quick play time often leads to Gravwell being played multiple times in a row, and I never felt it boring. There are other games where you need to watch the other players’ resources and try to predict their moves, they can be a bit of a brain drain at times. This one actually feels like a bit of a challenge or a very clever puzzle.
I just regret that I did not get to play this one with the family; I think it would have gone down well.
Can I play this at a Braai?
Technically you can play anything at a braai, but I won’t recommend this one. It does require some investment over a very short period and you might forget about what’s on the fire or find that you forgot what’s happened in the game by the time you’ve come back.
Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the copy of Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension.