Originally written August 2002
Save Doctor Lucky on Moon Base Copernicus is the latest installment in Cheapass Games‘ Doctor Lucky “saga”. It is an expansion board for the original Save Doctor Lucky, which was itself a sequel (of sorts) to Kill Doctor Lucky (which had an expansion board of its own, based on an actual mansion).
If you’re familiar with the parent game, you can skip ahead a few paragraphs to my assessment of this expansion. For those of you who haven’t encountered this enjoyable series, read on.
Kill Doctor Lucky
Kill Doctor Lucky was a kind of “pre-Clue” game. You and the other players wander around a mansion looking for an opportunity to bump off the titular character, who follows a pre-determined route through the old house. Players collect cards as they wander around the mansion, and the cards do one of three things: (a) increase the value of their murder attempts (b) allow them to thwart other players’ attempts, or (c) move themselves (or Doctor Lucky) more freely about the mansion.
The most interesting feature of the original game was the “line-of-sight” rule. You could only make an attempt on the Doctor if you were in the same room with him, and no other player could “see” you commit the crime.
The cards had a touch of the sly humor Cheapass has come to be known for, primarily in the available weapons. (“Tight Hat” is one of my favorites, but other standouts include “Civil War Cannon”, “Big Red Hammer”, and “Monkey Hand”.)
The game didn’t really have any kind of deep strategy, but there was an interesting dynamic because of the need to temporarily team up with other players to thwart attacks, primarily because then the others might not then be able to thwart your attack later. Like many Cheapass games, Kill Doctor Lucky is a nice way to fill time on a Friday night if half your regular game group doesn’t show up, or the movie you rented is horridly awful, or you’re looking to entertain some relatives who are visiting for the weekend.
Ultimately, though, once the novelty wore off, I found this game collecting dust on the shelf. I also found that, after a few plays, card hoarding and card counting were too prevalent, and inserted a little bit too much “luck factor” for my taste.
Save Doctor Lucky was, I felt, an improvement on the original. The setting is the Titanic (or, rather, a ship christened The Unsinkable). Rather than try and bump the old man off, you’re looking to save his life. The basic play is the same, with one change to the line-of-sight rule: to save the Doctor, another player must be able to see you save him.
Another change that made the sequel more interesting, at least for me, was the card distribution. In the original game, all of the cards were drawn from a single pile. On the boat, the cards are divided into four groups, one for each “deck” of the ship. Players draw from the lowest available pile, starting at deck four and working up. When each deck is exhausted, that deck of the ship is underwater, cutting off those rooms for the rest of the game. If all of the cards are drawn before Doctor Lucky is saved, he drowns and everybody loses. This throws off the card counting and card hoarding strategies a little bit, and forces everybody to work in a smaller space later in the game — which improves the endgame, in my opinion.
The cards do the same things they did in the original (weapons have been changed to “aid” cards), but have had flavor text added to fit the doomed ocean liner theme. The sly humor really shines here. (“After the collision, a ton of ice, three reindeer, and hundreds of misfit toys littered the starboard well deck,” and “Many aloof passengers reported to the lifeboats without their life preservers, but none among them was without his towel,” are just two examples.)
Moon Base Copernicus
It is April 14, 2012. It is one hundred years to the day after the disaster aboard the Unsinkable. You are in the Moon Base they called “Unexplodable.” Naturally, it’s about to explode, and there are only two seats in the remaining escape pod.
This expansion board for Save Doctor Lucky requires the parent game for game cards and a full rule set. It is printed in eight 5-1/2 by 8-1/2 inch cardstock pieces, printed in four colors (black, white, and two shades of blue). Compared to the grayscale board of the parent game, the production values have improved quite a bit. Also included is another cardstock sheet with the rules modifications for the new board.
The board is laid out in a cross pattern, with two board pieces each forming a “wing” of the station. In the center of these is the “Core” which is represented by open table space between the sections. “Tubes” connect the wings to each other, but block line-of-sight. Also present in some places are “force fields” which block player movement (though not Doctor Lucky), but allow line-of-sight. Also scattered throughout the base are several closed-circuit television monitors. Every room with a monitor present can see every other room with a monitor. All in all, the board allows for quite a bit of movement, and some interesting line-of-sight situations.
Play has changed very little. The cards are divided into four piles, one for each wing. However, players now draw from the wing they are presently in, rather than from the lowest available deck. If a player is in the Core, he chooses which deck to draw from. When a deck is exhausted, that wing of the station explodes, cutting off those rooms for the remainder of the game (just as in the parent game).
The game is just as much fun with the expansion board as it is with the original ocean liner — in fact, I think the new board is more interesting because of the unusual movement and line-of-sight situations that develop. The only drawback is the cards are from the original ocean-liner version, and while still amusing, they don’t really fit the theme of a doomed space station. The use of the old cards also requires the board to identify some rooms by two names; their actual function on Moon Base Copernicus, and their analogous room on the ocean liner Unsinkable.
Still, this isn’t too much of a setback. If you’re really bothered by this, you can pretty easily make up a science-fiction themed batch of cards more appropriate to the setting.
All in all, I would recommend the Moon Base Copernicus expansion for Save Doctor Lucky (for that matter, I recommend the parent game as well, since you need it to play the expansion). It puts a few interesting twists on the parent game, and is a nice way to kill some time. It’s the kind of beer-and-pretzels game you would expect from Cheapass, but it has a layer or two of strategy (or at least, technique) if you’re looking for that as well. Not only that, but the combined cost of Save Doctor Lucky and the expansion about $12. You get good value for the price.
For Style, I’m giving Moon Base Copernicus a 4 out of 5, because the board is of good quality and attractive to look at on the table while you’re playing. I give it a 3 out of 5 for Substance because while it does add a few interesting twists to the parent game, it isn’t anything truly special.