With Mission ISS a board game by Michael Luu has been published by Verlag Schmidt Spiele, in which up to four astronauts can work together on the International Space Station ISS. The work was created in close cooperation with the German Aerospace Center - that should ensure a harmonious setting. And in fact, the spring novelty Mission ISS turns out to be a tricky brain teaser, in which a planned and coordinated approach is rewarded. 

If you start with the fully occupied crew of four astronauts, the trip into space costs the equivalent of around eight euros per person. It will hardly be cheaper to get to the International Space Station in the future. The ISS makes its laps alone in Earth orbit - it is currently the only existing space station. The first component was shot into space in 1998, and many more followed. And since the beginning of the millennium, the space station has also been permanently manned. This is where the game designer Michael Luu (formerly Rob'n Run, published by PD Verlag) comes in with his idea for a cooperative board game.

Surprising: Although the ISS is one of the few modern wonders in human history, the topic is comparatively unspent. That alone is reason enough to embark on the strategic, but family-friendly, if not always easy space adventure. 

Mission ISS: Completely detached

Mission ISS is one of the novelties of the still young game year 2021. The traditional Berlin publishing house Schmidt is publishing a single title with it that not only lets players slip into the roles of space commanders. but also tells the story of the International Space Station, which is closer to its end than the beginning.

Mission ISS can be played in solo mode, but better in a cooperative round, the maximum of which is four players. With a project as complex as building a space station, the reason is almost obvious: it's demanding - more brains produce more good ideas. So at best three or four astronauts can be thrown into space to expand the ISS there in modules. At least you don't start with nothing at all, but can attach to the first ISS module. First of all, it goes back in time, namely to the year 1998. At that time, the world was largely okay, even if Modern Talking celebrated their comeback in the first year of the ISS and the Lewinsky affair became a stumbling block for the US president of all places had previously promoted a new space station project. 

Not a scene from "Blair Witch Project in Space", just a playing card of a happy astronaut. Photo: Volkmann

Not a scene from Blair Witch Project in Space, just a playing card of a happy female astronaut. Photo: Volkman

In contrast to other purely cooperative board games, in Mission ISS you don't slip into the role of a character for each player, but take care of the entire team - as a higher-level command authority, so to speak. Nevertheless, it is the turn of the games, so you have to make the decisions about the astro crew yourself - but in consultation with the other ISS experts. That's at least one of the delightful factors in this strategic co-op board game. At the beginning three, later six astronauts float through the black vacuum. Each is endowed with three skills. And so you can move the figures round by round, for example to research or have them built. There is also progress, represented by point tokens in the bases of the figures. At first glance, they take some getting used to, because they are 3D plug-in sets. However, it fits in well in a playful way and it is also functional.

Command cards show the direction 

As a commander, you don't go to work completely indiscriminately: Cards control the selection of actions. These are divided up, laid out face-up and then selected and activated - each with its own card and one from another player. So you are dependent on the display, because cards are blocked for a short time, you cannot always draw on the full, so you have to weigh up what makes sense as an action at which point in time. That sounds simple, and basically it is, but it has a playful appeal because the setup on the table is constantly changing. The rotation is not dramatic, but it is always noticeable. A successful trick that is fun and understandable. 

When setting up, the following applies: Put everything together for the first time - at some point all astronauts will be ready for action. Photo: Volkmann

When setting up, the following applies: Put everything together for the first time - at some point all astronauts will be ready for action. Photo: Volkmann

Otherwise, the Astro crew wafts over to the modules over the course of the game and tinkers with them. Above all, however, research is carried out. Michael Luu brings the aerospace topic onto the board in an excellent way, because even with "real astronauts" research accounts for a large part of their work assignment. If you have “researched away” all dice points, you receive a bonus as a reward. This is usually helpful, but not the actual goal - that is to eliminate the red dice as much as possible. You may not build if the signal-colored random number generator is in the space station. And that is exactly the opposite of the actual goal of the game: the expansion of the ISS.

This is where an additional trick comes into play, namely the astronauts' individual building skills. Because the modules are differently difficult to attach, this can only be done by a professional, sometimes several crew members have to work at the same time. Small auxiliary robots grant small bonuses, which sometimes alleviates the difficulty. If you have successfully grown, a new blue cube comes on the table and thus research moves back into focus. It has come full circle. 

The 3D horror crew with their ax arms couldn't have done Wes Craven any better - but the figures are functional. Photo: Volkmann

The 3D horror crew with their ax arms couldn't have done Wes Craven any better - but the figures are functional. Photo: Volkmann

Tension arises from random events. These are usually associated with undesirable effects and increase the difficulty of building modules. In any case, all of the game's actions and mini-rules are well and thematically interwoven. Was that what you expected from this board game in advance? At least we don't. The surprise was therefore positive. What, based on the description, initially sounds like a shallow family game, in which you happily assemble your space station, turns out to be a real headache as the course progresses.

Even if you might think that the more experience the astronauts have, the easier they will be, they will not. You always have to plan, because a game does not last indefinitely: the game rounds are limited, indicated by a timeline whose markers move whenever you have to ring the end of a shift. Then it is refreshed, but you automatically get closer to the finale. The course of the game in Mission ISS is not stressful, it is not an hourglass game, but the crew still has time on their necks. The fact that intermediate exams can end the game immediately does not necessarily lead to more relaxation. if you have built fewer than the required number of modules, that's it with the mission. 

The ISS is a beast on the gaming table: The idea of ​​a slightly different game board is pretty successful. Photo: Volkmann

The ISS is a beast on the gaming table: The idea of ​​a slightly different game board is pretty successful. Photo: Volkmann

However, you can also win: after the construction of twelve modules, but temporarily in 2011. Then you can travel back in time to the present and the space adventure is over. From today's perspective, the prospects for the ISS are no longer quite so rosy: Even if this unique structure seems to be built to last, it is expected that it will be in purely technical operation until around 2030 at the latest. 


Number of players: 1 to 4
Age: from 12 years
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: medium
Genre: family games
Sub-genre: Cooperative board games

Author: Michael Luu
Official website: link
Year of publication: 2021
Language: German
Cost: 32,99 Euro



The board game Mission ISS initially has the charm of the ugly duckling, optically the space drama does not want to ignite completely, but everything is clear and functional. Even the illustrations on the cards are quite successful. But that's all a matter of taste, of course: Anyone who likes a board game with pluggable 3D figures will celebrate Mission ISS from Schmidt Spiele as a feast for the eyes. 

However, it is crucial on the pitch and that is exactly where the title convinces with its surprisingly demanding course. The mechanics and rule tricks are intertwined and because it works so well, you always have to work together as a team. It's not easy, sometimes even quite tricky. Right from the start, all players have to be focused and plan ahead. This shows that the level of difficulty decreases with increasing gaming experience, which is good, because Mission ISS can turn out to be a tough nut to crack. Unfortunately, this is mainly experienced by "gut players" who follow their feelings and tend to anticipate moves - this is only rarely successful. If you get through it too smoothly, you can also adjust the level of difficulty and allow less “good events”.

The game play differs from game to game, sometimes more, sometimes less. That motivates and encourages trying things out. To be more precise: for planned trial and error. 

The focus is absolutely on research, the process of Mission ISS leaves no doubt about that: The construction freeze always hovers like a sword of Damocles over the space station and above it in turn the even sharper Sword of Damocles 2.0 hovers in the form of interim scores on the timeline.

Mission ISS impressively shows three things: optics are not everything in a board game, violent team puzzles can be fun. And: with the dream job of an astronaut, it's a rather complicated affair. 

And apart from the playful, this work scores with its information content: there are many exciting anecdotes about the ISS, the modules and the project in the instructions. One would wish for a little more background in many board games - everything has been done right here. 

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Last updated on 25.05.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API