The first edition box of Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension does not say a lot about the game inside. It has a simple logo, the title of the game, and a star field in the background. With no bright colors or screaming action scenes, this box could fade away compared to current board game fare. Gravwell is a classic test of judging a game by its cover. Is it an ugly duckling or a beautiful swan….in space?
Gravwell has a huge box compared to what is inside, which is just 30 cards, 6 ships, a round marker and a board. Over half of the box is empty space, which I guess ties into the theme, but that is really reaching. At least there is room for future expansions, so maybe they were planning ahead. That said, I have no more complaints about Gravwell. It is so good that I decided to complain about the box, for heaven’s sake.
Each player is a pilot of ship lost in the vastness of space in the 9th dimension. Unfortunately, this dimension is not hospitable to human life. Derelict spacecrafts from other worlds float among an asteroid field that separates you and your crew from the warp gate, your only way back home. The problem is that only one shuttle can pass through the gate before it collapses, stranding the other ships in the 9th dimension forever. It’s a grim setting for a board game, but hey, it’s engaging. I don’t want to be the one left behind. The 9th dimension is WEIRD.
In a small draft before each round, players will have six cards to choose from that determine where their ship will move. Each card has a color, number, and element and element on it, used to determine movement. Different colors move ships in different ways, but the most common cards move your ship towards the nearest object, whether that be another player or a derelict ship on the board. Some cards push your ship away from nearby ships, and even fewer cards can pull every ship towards you. If cards were played in turn order, this would be one of the most boring games ever. Luckily, the designer of Gravwell thought, “Hmmmm…this should be a board game, not a BORED game.” And that’s how that joke was invented.
Instead, cards are activated in alphabetical order. If you want to move first, you’d better have Argon, because Magnesium might not help you, no matter how many spaces you move. These elements harvested from the asteroid around you are used as space fuel and are your only means of escape. If you plan poorly, you could be flung back into the singularity you started in. Each player picks their movement card at the same time, so you have to read the board and other players if you want to come out ahead or even if you want come out…behind? Because each round starts with drafting cards, maybe you want to be in last place in order to draft first and pick that juicy Uranium card before everyone else.
I love each phase of this game, both drafting your six cards and picking which card to play each turn. There’s a lot of grumbling and howling as a player lands just behind your ship instead of in front of it like you planned. It is great to see a player streak past you early in the round, only to have them shot backwards with no emergency stop to help. In space, no one can hear you scream “YOU SUCK!” as you whiz 10 spaces back into the singularity.
Gravwell has since changed its cover to a much more accurate depiction of the game. It shows a few ships straining to escape the pull of a black hole that is ripping them apart in nine different dimensions. It may be a bit exaggerated for how few components the box contains, but it definitely reflects how great this game is anyways. Gravwell is simple, fast-paced and a whole lot of fun. It is chaotic at times, but sometimes that’s exactly what I want from a game. It is a tense back-and-forth race to the finish line, only the finish line is continued survival for you and your crew. Don’t get too attached to your fellow players; there’s only room for one in the warp gate.