Board games were always a nice way to spend time with friends and family. But what happens when kids decide to play board games? Could this be a way to not just entertain but also educate them? Co-operative board games seem the ideal way for kids to be introduced to board games, while also having fun and learning one very important personal trait: cooperativeness. When a board game company emphasizing in cooperative game for kids and renowned game designer Matt Leacock (known for the cooperative games “Pandemic” and “Forbidden Island”) decide to work together in a game, our hearts can only beat with anticipation. But what is “Mole Rats in Space” all about?
“Mole Rats in Space” is a cooperative game for kids aged 7+, for 2-4 players and lasts about 20 minutes. Its story goes like this:
In a space station far away from Earth, mole rats are working peacefully as always when suddenly the alarm bell rings. Intruders have managed to enter the station and are on the loose. It’s the mole rats only predator: Snakes! Your goal in the game is to help the mole rats gather their emergency equipment and make it to the escape pod on time in order to abandon the station while they can.
The game features a game board depicting the space station, 4 mole rats miniatures, 4 medkit tokens, 12 snake tokens (3 each of 4 colors), 4 equipment tokens and 46 cards. The space station is comprised of five tiers, connected with ladders and air shafts and it kind of reminds me a “Snakes & Ladders” board. The mole rats start out from one of the four starting spaces in the first tier and must make their way up to the fifth tier where the ladder to the escape pod is. The only way to move from one tier to another is to climb up a ladder or fall through an air shaft.
At the start of the game, players choose a mole rat miniature and place it on the corresponding starting space on the board along with its medkit. The four equipment tokens are placed on their matching spaces on the board and one snake of each color is also placed on its starting space according to its color. Finally the cards are shuffled and each player is dealt one card face up.
Each turn, players play their card which instructs them to move one or more mole rats and one or more snakes. If a mole rat moves onto or through a space containing a snake, it gets bitten by the snake, returns back to its starting space and uses up its medkit. If a snake falls through an air shaft that leads to outer space, it goes off the board and out of play. If the same happens to a mole rat, all players lose the game. Other losing conditions are as follows:
- run out of time because a player has no card to play on their turn
- a mole rat gets bitten twice by a snake
- a snake goes up the ladder and enters the escape pod
If you manage to win the game at least 3 times, a special surprise awaits you: a sealed envelope with cards to be added to the deck for some extra challenge in gameplay.
Now, let’s go and see how the game scores in our usual scoring categories.
“Mole Rats in Space” is packaged in an elegantly designed box with an impressive cover that attracts attention with the very first glance and is also very ergonomic. It features special slots for the mole rats miniatures, the deck of cards and the tokens. The only problem is that if you decide to sleeve the cards they barely fit their slot.
The miniatures are rather big and depict the mole rats in a funny and appealing way. They wear a helmet and their long teeth are so cute. The best part is the backpack that each mole rat carries in order to store the equipment picked up during the game. The kids I played the game with, were pretty amazed with the miniatures and wanted to play with them after finishing the game, putting in their backpack other things as well.
The cards are of premium quality, thick cardboard and have only symbols on them (no text-reading required). Their size is Card Game and I’d recommend sleeving them to maintain quality as they are shuffled at the beginning of the game.
The board is of thick cardboard and has a convenient size that easily fits even a coffee table. The design of the board is clever, supports the theme and helps to maintain a clear view of the situation during the game and plan your next moves.
Playing “Mole Rats in Space” is all about sharing and cooperating. One cannot play by himself, not taking into account other players’ cards and not making a plan with them. It is crucial to talk about each move and plan ahead according to the information on all players’ cards. That’s why cards are drawn face up. You either win or lose as a team. That said, this is an excellent game to teach kids how to share what they have, how to trust each other and how to operate as a team for the common good. Whenever a player’s mole rat reaches the escape pod, then each time a card instructs him to move his mole rat, he has to move another player’s rat, this way learning how to help each other. And what’s better way to teach such important interpersonal skills than a game, which also is fun to play?
Sample cards from the game
Although this game is targeted to kids, it, by no means, is an easy game. It requires constant cooperation and taking the time to plan ahead in order to prevent difficult situations. I lost a couple of games at the beginning, before I realized you should use all available information on the cards that will be played next, otherwise you don’t stand a chance. You should proceed with much caution to the upper tiers as it is easy to be trapped between a snake and an air shaft. Players must work together in order to guide snakes away from the mole rats and away from equipment. If the road ahead seems to be blocked, it seems better to wait a while until the path is clear than risk to get close to those pesky snakes. On the other hand, time is limited. When you run out of cards and can’t manage to win with the cards already drawn, the game ends. That suggests a tight gameplay that maintains a nice balance between stressing the players and letting them have fun.
The game is pretty balanced regarding the frequency snakes are destroyed and new ones showing up on the board. Everything flows in a meaningful way as the harmless little naked rats make it to the escape pod. The game is equally good with any number of players, although it becomes a bit easier the more the players because you can better plan your future moves, having more open cards to take into account.
The rules of the game are pretty simple and anyone can learn to play within minutes. The 4-page rulebook covers every aspect of the game, using meaningful examples.
Did you know that naked mole rats are one of the only mammals that form communities and work together to provide food and shelter to their colony? Moreover their only predators really are snakes. That said, the game depicts accurately life of these cute little rodents. The concept of the space station is imaginative and perfect to raise interest of kids. The board supports the theme very well, showing the five tiers of the space station, with the airshafts that can shoot you to outer space and several decorations around the board that makes you feel you really are in a space station. The mole rats’ backpack used to gather equipment adds a lot to the theme. All in all, every aspect of the game is designed in a way that puts you in the shoes of the mole rats.
As “Mole Rats in Space” isn’t an easy game to master, you will probably spend a couple of games before you manage to win. But what happens next? Do we lose interest in a co-operative game we managed to win, especially one without scoring? We probably would but this game has a little surprise in store for everyone who succeeds in winning the game at least three times: an extra challenge, in the form of a little sealed envelope, containing extra cards to be added to the main deck of cards. This way interest is refueled and you can enjoy many more games of “Mole Rats in Space”. Well thought!
One of the most fun parts in the game is when a mole rat reaches a space with equipment and loads it in its backpack. You take the little token and put it inside but the backpack is open so can you see what equipment each mole rat carries.
Another time I always have a blast is when I manage to throw snakes in airshafts targeting outer space, this way getting rid of them for the rest of the game. Great satisfaction! Well, at least until a new snake makes an appearance. Cooperation is fun too, especially when it’s done between you and small kids. You find out about how they think, you teach them to share their thoughts and efforts and enjoy seeing they are having loads of fun.
“Mole Rats in Space” is the ideal cooperative game for kids (but even for adults who feel like kids) combining fun, a strong theme, beautiful packaging and components and challenging gameplay. Kids have a lot to learn from this game, namely how to work together in a team for a common cause, share their thoughts, take initiative and learn to trust while also having a lot of fun. The gameplay is simple and streamlined but always interesting, requiring a lot of planning ahead. When you think you finally mastered the game, a new challenge comes in: a sealed envelope with extra cards to boost replayability. “Mole Rats in Space” features some very cool miniatures that will thrill all kids (they even thrilled me!). What more could you ask from a cooperative board game for kids?
Recommended for: kids of all ages, cooperative games fans
Peaceable Kingdom is a board game company, emphasizing in cooperative games for kids and family, games that help children “play well together so they can play well in the world”, as their moto says. Find out about more of their cooperative games here.