I’m a huge fan of Joseph Fatula’s Leaving Earth and its expansion Outer Planets. They’re messy in some ways, but that’s precisely why I like them — much like actual space exploration, they’re a cross between careful preparation and outrageous risk-taking, between brute-forcing the math and forgetting to take a heat shield on your trip to Venus. Back to the drawing board you go, again and again, until you get it right. Or somewhere closer to right than you were before, anyway.
Leaving Earth’s second expansion, Stations, feels like a microcosm of the whole thing, and not just because it’s all about adding a ton of extra depth to the exploration of the inner planets. Rather, in between offering new toys, new objectives, and new wonders to uncover, it still can’t seem to shrug off its former messiness, and even seems insistent on adding a few new problems.
It’s hard not to simply praise Outer Planets as a worthy expansion of everything Leaving Earth stood for. After all, the original game quickly rose through the ranks of my favorites for its abstraction of difficult spatial and mathematical conundrums, not to mention its absolute delight at the prospect of space exploration. It was as optimistic as it was brainy. So when Outer Planets fleshes out everything that made that first voyage so captivating, does that make it as good as its predecessor?
Absolutely. Or, well, mostly. Maybe ninety percent.
I’m not a math guy. This isn’t to say I can’t do math, just that I probably won’t, not voluntarily. If I’m waiting in a long line I might calculate my sales tax in advance, but that’s just because I’d rather not continue standing in a long line. Other than that, I’ll cheerfully cop to being terrible at knowing the odds.
Leaving Earth bills itself as “a tabletop game of the conquest of space,” but that’s a little bit like calling Columbus washing up in the Caribbean “the conquest of the New World.” This isn’t a game of conquest. It’s a game about the first tentative steps of discovery. Probes, surveys, launching a man into orbit, bringing him home. Most of all, though, it’s a game about the grace and sophistication of solving complicated math problems.