NASA: The Space Place Collectible Card Game (2009)

31 Jan

One of the great things about the world of game design is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it. Anyone with an idea and motivation can make their own game. Now granted, sometimes those games aren’t exactly what one may call “good” but still… it’s the journey, not the destination that counts. But what happens when actual rocket scientists try to make a game? You get NASA: The Space Place Collectible Card Game – Missions To Planet Earth.

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To start talking about this game, I feel it’s important to start out with WHO is making this game. If you’ve ever looked around NASA’s webspace, you know that there are thousands of directions you can go searching for information about the space program. One of the many sites you may stumble across is The Space Place, a site run by Caltech aimed at kids and families that helps thy to teach about space through games and activities. Now, most of their activities are online flash based games, or PDFs one could print out and do at home. Around 2008-9, they (in cooperation with JPL, at least for the first deck) decided to branch out into the physical game world. Thus was born the NASA: The Space Place Collectible Card Game – Missions To Planet Earth.

At this time, I must make one thing abundantly clear about this game. It is not a collectible card game in the way that Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh are. It is collectible in the sense that you could have bought a copy in a NASA gift shop (I assume) and own it as a collectible.  It has to go down as one of the cheapest collectibles ever, however. There wasn’t even a box for the game, decks were simply Saran Wrapped with a copy of the rules. The pictures below are from the second version of the game…which we’ll get to later.

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Digging into N:TSPCCG-MTPE (to save time) we find a fairly basic game on our hands.   There are 5 Mission Cards in the deck. These cards relate to a series of real-world NASA missions that study such things as clouds, sea ice, and atmospheric conditions. Each of these cards has a list of four “components” listed underneath an image NASA uses to symbolize the mission. These components include the purpose of the mission, the kind of rocket needed to launch the satellite, among others. The goal of the game is to be the first player to finish three of the missions by playing the fourth matching component card to the mission.

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The rest of the deck is a collection of the various component cards, and some yellow advantage cards. Each type of card is conveniently color coded for easy recognition. The advantage cards are fairly standard rule-breaker cards: wild cards, look at your opponent’s hand, move an already played component, take another turn etc.  Green cards relate to the type of orbit the satellite will take, orange cards are the rocket needed, red cards are related to the satellite itself, and blue cards are mission purpose cards.

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To play the game, each player (it is only a 2-player game) draws a hand of 8 cards from the common deck. One player begins by playing at least 1 component card (max. 2) from his or her hand to one of the missions. Players are also allowed to play one advantage card. After that, players simply redraw back up to 8 cards. That’s all there is to playing the game.

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What ends up happening is that players will race to fill all the missions to two components, and then they will employ as many stalling tactics as possible until they either draw the two cards they need to finish a mission, or they are forced to play the third card, leaving an easy point for the opponent.  Unfortunately, there’s just not a whole lot of meat on the bone in this game. It’s a fine tool to get kids interested in and introduced to the missions, but the game itself is not very good at all.

…Which is why they tried again! In 2010 the New Millennium (NM) deck was released.

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Completely incompatible with the previous version, NM focuses on 5 of the New Millennium series of missions (shocking, I know).  Sadly, there  were only three real changes made to the game. One, your hand was 6 cards instead of 8…this did help lessen the “third component means insta-lose” issue, but only slightly.  Second, advantage cards were sorted into a separate deck, and were played as instants whenever you played a Galaxy Card from your hand. This helped keep advantage cards from disrupting the game quite as often as before. Third, they beat the game with an ugly stick.

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Granted, the original deck looked dated, but it was functional for game play…the different colors made things easy to decipher. In this version,  everything just looks uglier than before. Colored icons and borders have been replaced by boring text boxes. Before, you could at least glance at your hand, and know what type of cards you had…it’s much harder to do so in this version. This version of the game looks like work. It doesn’t look bright and colorful and fun like the Earth game did, it looks like a textbook in card from. Very dry and uninspiring. I did note in the rules, they seemingly left out the mandatory component play rule from the first game…so in theory players could just sit there turn after turn (there is a discard and redraw option) until they got the last two cards to finish a mission. I can’t imagine it was intentional, but if it was, it was an extremely poor choice. Believe it or not, the New Millennium Deck is a step backward from this game.

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…Which is why they tried for a third time!! There actually IS a Cosmic Journeys deck about other Astrophysics mission out there somewhere. Sadly, I have not yet come across this one (in fact, I only learned about it while researching a couple points for this post today). If anyone knows where I can get a hold of that deck, I would greatly appreciate having a chance to check it out. I would like to think they went in and redid everything and made a superior game…but I have my doubts. They have bigger things on their hands…like actually launching these missions. Suffice it to say, just because you can launch a multi-million dollar spacecraft hundreds of miles into space doesn’t mean you automatically can make a great game.

Having said all that…I do think there is the possibility for an EXTREMELY compelling game here. Imagine a cooperative game, where each player was running a part of NASA. You could have the rocket scientist trying to build the rockets, another player as the satellite developer, while another player lobbies government for more time and money to get the projects done! The goal of this game is to get kids interested in space, but a dry, competitive card game is not the way to do it. I feel like a cooperative game, where players are seeing, even in abstracted forms, how NASA works would make for a WAY more interesting, and successful game.

If you would like to try The Space Place CCG out for yourself, NASA has a flash version of Missions To Planet Earth available for play online.

http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/earth-card-game/en/

The physical card game is proving to be very difficult to find. When I bought my copies, they were the only ones on ebay at the time, and no more copies have surfaced since. If you are intrigued…happy searching (and find me a copy of Cosmic Journeys!!)

Next time, I’m going to dig into one of my favorite sub-collections – classic game variants. Thanks for reading.

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5 Responses to “NASA: The Space Place Collectible Card Game (2009)”

  1. Tom Person February 5, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Do you still have this game? I found a set of the cards at the thrift store, but it didn’t include the instructions. Could you scan and post it to an image host? Thanks.

    • scooterb23 February 6, 2017 at 12:17 am #

      I do, in fact, I just ran across it yesterday! Here are scans / links to both sides of the rule sheet. Just click the image to get it full sized.

      Hope that helps, enjoy the game!

      • Tom Person February 7, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

        That’s awesome, thanks so much for you help. I was hoping to provide this as a fun thing for my students to do during a section of space study we are doing next week.

  2. happyhooker485 September 6, 2017 at 4:35 pm #

    I am bending over backward trying to find the Mission to Earth version, I was thinking about trying to make one myself. Do you have the rule sheet for the Mission to Earth? Or can tell me how many of each card there are?

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