Each October, over 150,000 German and international board-game fans descend on Essen, Germany, for the International Game Fair. Last year, no game generated more buzz than Space Dealer, a very inventive game of space exploration and trading by Tobias Stapelfeldt. While a space theme is rare in European board games, what generated the most interest was the unique use of sand timers, the fact that play is simultaneous and the game always lasts exactly 30 minutes.
In Space Dealer, players begin on a planet that has a space station and a mine with the goals of improving the station and to start mining for colored cubes that can later be sold at other players' space stations. Players have a number of options to raise the technology level of their planet, including building a technology card and moving their spaceship. They take theses actions by placing a sand timer on the card or space on their planet. When the timer runs out, the action is complete. Each players gets two one-minute sand timers. It is important to make good choices because there is always more a player will want to do than time allows. Players can use a timer or clock, or the enclosed music CD which contains German techno music and an occasional robotic voice that says, "Fifteen minutes remaining." At times, players have to abandon what they are doing or delay executing the action because the other timer has to finish before they can execute the first action.
The premise of the game is pretty simple: mining and refining (changing color of the cubes) so there are combinations that can be sold at other planets. Each mine card also has a set of cubes it will buy and how many victory points that pays. The player who has the planet with the mine can't sell to his or her own mine, but does get a cut when another player sells there, so there's an incentive to have plenty of places on a planet for other players to sell. These points are often the margin of victory. The board is modular and changes with the number of players, and it's possible to combine two sets for five-to-eight-player games. The board consists of the player planets and the paths through space that connect them. Each player has one space ship that can hold up to eight cubes. The planets are several spaces away from each other so players want to create a load with several deliveries that a planet wants. Each delivery can be made only once, and then it is no longer available. Players want to watch what others are collecting and try to avoid going where they are—or try to get there first.
Space Dealer is simple enough, so it is more a matter of figuring out the best victory path. Increasing the technology level offers access to better mine and factory cards, but it's a race. The prettiest station doesn't win, the player with the most points does, so it's important to make and sell those cubes. The game also has a unique pace and play experience. Space Dealer also has extra game cards, timers and a ship included for an "advanced game" that allows additional production and even the ability to sabotage an opponent. I recommend starting with the basic game, as there will be plenty to do. Space Dealer is not an inexpensive game, but is recommended all the same (and don't pass on a chance to play somebody else's copy).