History & Game: The Apollo Missions
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
History & Game: The Apollo Missions
“Okay, Houston, we have a problem here…”
These words, uttered by John Swigert on April 13th, 1970, while on board the Apollo 13 flight shuttle. Even though Swigert was not even located in America—let alone on the planet—back home, America sat deep in the urine-laden kitty pool of the Cold War with Communist Russia. In the previous decade, under President John F. Kennedy’s administration, he promised his “fellow American” that the country will put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. President Kennedy, unfortunately, would not live to see July 20th, 1969 when American Neil Armstrong set foot on the dark gray soot-soil of the Earth’s moon. Hold up. Let’s back up a bit…
The Cold War—which lasted forty-four years—between Communism (collectivism) and Democracy (capitalism) sparked other acts and competitions of countries beating their proverbial chests like alpha male apes. One of such challenges, popularly deemed as the “space race,” involved the development of the Russian and American space programs. Unfortunately, team America was losing—badly. While team America was losing brave astronaut lives to fires and constant malfunctions, Russia had not only put a human being into space (Yuri Gagarin) but an ape and a dog as well. Yikes. America was, what the younger generation calls, “losing the breakup.” Meanwhile, America launched the Gemini program. The purpose of Gemini was to catch up with the Russians; however, in order to do that, we had to put an American man in space—you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. After the Gemini program ran its course, NASA ushered in the Apollo program; its sole purpose: to boldly go where no man has gone before (like literally where no man has ever gone before, for realsies, I am not quoting Star Trek just to be clever). Apollo 11 would be America’s golden star. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached the moon. The iconic moment left Americans with an epigraph that permeated the cultural zeitgeist: “One small step for man….one giant leap for mankind.”
In 2020, Buffalo Games & Puzzles released Apollo: NASA Moon Missions. In Apollo, players
work cooperatively to accomplish one of the two scenarios within the base box (Gemini or Apollo 11). One player stays behind and operates as Mission Control, while the other brave and intrepid players flight suit-up to work as a team aboard the space shuttle. Again, as previously mentioned, Apollo is a fully cooperative game. Mission Control and the shuttle players are—for lack of a better phrase—each playing their own min
i-game. Where Apollo really shines is in the tie that binds the mini-games together. Everything the players do onboard the shuttle affects what Mission Control can do within their mini-game and vice versa. The gameplay comes with a real-time element as each round lasts four minutes. These two concepts are nothing new, XCOM: The Board Game implemented a similar game structure accompanied with a real-time element.
Apollo is challenging—no matter which scenario you play. To this day, playing as the Mission Control player, I’ve lost grand total of three astronauts who burned up on their reentry. Quite frankly, the memory haunts me; it keeps me up at night; it puts me on the drink. However, in objectivity, while the history of the space race is fascinating and a historical-based board game about going into space gets me as excited as an eight year old single child on Christmas Day, the real cooperation and important decision making rests on the astronauts, with the Mission Control player acting as the bookkeeper to the whole experience. If you have a gaming group where you have an individual who tends to “sit out and just watch” players play, boy howdy, this is the game for you (see also: Mysterium or Mysterium Park). If not, if your group is composed of savvy motivated go-getters, then this is a super-massive problem. Outside of the Mission Control bookkeeping debacle, Apollo offers a myriad of problem-solving and important decisions that the group must agree on. These actions are put to a four-minute timer, which proves a sense of urgency.
All in—Apollo: NASA Moon Missions is an interesting experience. Unfortunately, with the Mission Control bookkeeping problem and that the base game comes with two scenarios, the game has an incredibly short-life span. Even if Buffalo Games & Puzzles were to release expansion missions, the unique experience of the game has already come and gone. Apollo, akin to the milk sitting in your fridge, has an expiration date. For me, I enjoy the game and what the developers were going for; unfortunately, this game may end up getting lost on its way to the moon.