Escape Velocity: Breaking down the Launch

Breaking down the Launch.

(Part two of a series about designing Escape Velocity. Read part one here!)

Short reminder of the rules of Escape Velocity: You build a rocket out of cards, each of which is a component, that you lay out in front of you. You use this layout to determine some starting facts about the launch, then shuffle those components and play them one at a time.

I’ve been doing a little designing, and I have an idea what the components will look like:


Uh. In theory they well look better than this. That’s a Lateral Turbine Thruster, and the little lightning bolt in a circle is a point where it attaches to the body of your rocket. It’s a work in progress, but I do like that it’s currently got a lot of things to consider: Altitude, G-force, Danger, Safety threshold, Drag, Special abilities, Connection points AND its physical place on the rocket all play a part, and that’s keen, man. Keen.

But while that’s something I’m working on, I’d like to talk a bit more about the mechanics of the game.

The heart of Escape Velocity, I hope, will be the Launch phase. Ever so much of the game exists in vague and nebulous thoughts in my head, but the Launch? That I know what I want it to look like. This:


I… I want it to look like a sword, I guess? Okay, I’m cool with that. It’s a sort of a sword, made out of cards which have been laid down on a smooth bit of table; in the event that I do not finish this in time for the Minigame deadline, or I’m not accepted, it might be best to restructure that into a small board, but for right now I’m restricted to using cards, and cards will work just fine.

Let’s break down the bits with the handy Color Coded Chart.


In green, the meat of the thing, is the velocity/altitude track. I put the slash because I’m not sure which is the better term, although I’m leaning toward the latter. Either way, this is the road from Earth to space. As you’re building your ships, you will add the ten, nine, eight, etc. cards to this line every turn, to serve as a visual reminder of the limited time remaining to assemble your rockets. The bottommost card in green is meant to be a little rocket, and when you draw that from the deck it signifies that now is the time to blast off!

In blue, beneath the blast off card, are cards for weight. The weight of your ship will be determined by how many cards you used constructing it… every five cards on your ship adds one “Weight” card, for instance. These are always added below the altitude track because they are a part of it, representing the added difficulty big ships face even getting off the launchpad. The pawn representing your rocket is placed at the bottom of this line, as in the picture. Bigger ships have a longer climb ahead of them, and a huge enough ship faces a significant challenge just getting to the blast off card; it’s possible to build a ship which can’t even make it off the launchpad. Smaller ships might not have any weight cards at all, for an easy takeoff, but they won’t have a lot of components during the actual launch.

Drag, in purple, is also determined by the construction of your rocket, although in this case it’s a matter of symmetry. The drag card is two-sided–on one side an arrow which will point either left or right (depending on which side your rocket is overloaded), and on the other a neutral circle (if you built a symmetrical rocket, with the same number of cards on either side of the central control module card).

Some components will naturally drag you to the left or the right when played, illustrated by that little arrow in the corner, which you indicate by shifting the Drag card a space to the left (putting it under G-Force) or the right (under Danger). You can go a space beyond in either direction as well. After that, any further drag will make the rocket spin out of control, so you have to compensate with specialty components or components with drag in the opposite direction. Oh, why the double-sided marker? Because some components DON’T have drag of their own… unless your ship is asymmetrical. If your arrow points to the left, then anything that says it has no drag actually has drag to the left.

Danger, in yellow-gold, is the representation of all the tiny things which might just go wrong. The construction of your ship might increase it–components are attached using different types of connection, represented by symbols in the point of attachment. In the above card, it’s an electrical connection, rather than a fuel line, mechanical, or nuclear connection. You have to match point to point, but they don’t need to be of the same type… electrical can connect to mechanical, but that indicates a jury-rigged rush-job, and increases your chance of danger, pushing the card up one spot even before your launch. Additionally, some components are so badly-built or experimental that using them knocks up the danger as well. This matters because each card has a “Safety” value, somewhere between 5 and 10, If you play a component whose safety value is less than the current Danger value, your rocket explodes. And of course, you have to play all of your components.

Finally, in red on the left, is G-force, which is easier to explain. Anything that increases altitude also increases G-force to some degree, and very little (if anything) lowers it. When it increases, move the card up the appropriate amount. If it hits 10, your astronauts are crushed beneath the weight of their own hair. Don’t, uh, let that happen.

Launch phase, then, is a quick process, in which you shuffle your components into a little deck which you’ll play out one card at a time and note the results on the board. So, if you played the Lateral Turbine Thruster as your first card, your launching setup would look like this:


+3 to your Altitude/velocity, +3 to the G-force, drag to the left, and danger up by one. Because the Safety Threshold is well above the current danger, we don’t explode, and because we’re under altitude 7, the special effect doesn’t hit (not all are altitude-based, many factor in the prior card or alter the next one, some are inherent bonuses/detriments, and some are optional effects, like the parachute which lets you abort a mission at any point). Repeat until you’re out of cards OR your ship is crushed, blown up, or thrown off course. Leave the pawn where it is–standing up if you survive, on its side if you don’t. Highest standing pawn wins, unless everybody is blown up, at which point the highest pawn wins. Compare budgets in case of ties. Some components may have alternate victory conditions, that’s still being determined. Lots is still being determined. But the launch… that’ll look like this.

Escape Velocity!


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