Review, Analysis and Local Variants of Outpost

Outpost is a game for 2-10 players each player trying to produce the biggest (most profitable) outpost in space. The game itself feels (to me) a bit like the 18xx series of games, particularly 1835. Other people think that it is more like Civilization. I wouldn't know, I've never played Civ. that much. Outpost is made by TimJim/ Prism games for $30. Component quality is pretty dismal, although since it was the first game of a new company, that isn't as shockingly bad as I would expect.


Each player has a number of factories (1 Water and 2 ore at the start) and workers (3 at start). Each turn, each factory gives you one card of the appropriate type (water and ore). Each card has a value on it. Different factories have different average values (Water has an average of 7, ore 3). Once everyone got the cards (and looks to see how much money they own), then buying starts. During every point in the game, there are a number of big ticket items. Also players can buy population (to work in factories) or factories. At the beginning of the game, each player is limited to 5 population. In addition, players are limited to how many cards they can have at the end of the turn, at the beginning of the game, this is 5.

Turn order is determined by VP, which are determined by factories and how many big ticket items you have (each is worth a certain number of VP). Ties are broken buy how much the things cost you, then randomly. Factories and workers may simply be bought (during your turn) or you can bid on a big ticket item, which starts an auction. The winner of the auction must buy the item (and doesn't get any change back if they can't pay exactly). The first player may continue to start auctions or buy factories/workers or pass. Once a player has passed, he may continue to bid in auctions, but can't buy factories and workers.

Once everyone is done buying, people assign workers to factories, calculate VPs (adjust turn order), replenish the big ticket items up to the right number (which is the number of players) and start again.

The items are the main part of the game. There are 3 phases to the game. In phase 1 (nobody has broken 10 VPs), only items 1-4 are available. Phase 2 ( < 30 VPs) has items 1-10 and phase 3 (30+) sees items 2-13. The game ends as soon as anyone has 75 or more VPs, highest wins. There is a d4, d10, d12 included. There are, as I have said, N items up for sale. Some item may repeat but there may never be more of the same item up for sale than half of the players. In addition, there is one less of each item available, so someone will always be unable to get an item. (In addition, it appears to be quite typical that not all items will be sold before the game ends, although in an 8 player game, most of them probably will be).

The Items (A Brief Description)

ITEM #/Name	Min Bid		VPs	Special Powers
1 Data Library 	15		1	-10 to the cost of scientists
						or laboratories
2 Warehouse	25		1	+3 hand limit
3 Heavy 
  Machinery     25		1       -10 to the cost of an outpost,
					Owner may build titanium factories
					-5 cost to warehouse/nodule
4 Nodules       25		2	+3 max population
5 Scientists	40		2	Free research card each turn
6 Orbital Lab   50		3	Free Microbiotics card each turn
7 Robots	50		3       Robots count as people, but don't
				 	count against population limit
8 Laboratories  100		5 	Gives a free research station
					(must man it, though)
					allows the production of 
					research factories.
9 Ecoplants	50 		5	Population costs 5 instead of 10,
					-10 to outpost cost
10 Outpost	100		5 	+5 population, +5 hand max
					Free Titanium factory (must man)
11 Space Stat.  120		10      Free Orbital Medicine Card
12 Plan.Cruiser 160		15	Free Ring Ore Card
13 Moon Base    200		20      Free Moon ore card

Factory Type	Cost	Average Return/turn	Notes
Ore		10		 3
Water		20		 7
Titanium	30		10	(Need Heavy Equip to build)
Research	40		13	(May get from Scientist for free)
Microbiotics    --		17      (Get free from Space Stations)
New Chemicals   60		20      (Must use some research to build)
Orbital Medicine--		30	(From Item #11)
Ring Ore	--		40	(From Item #12)
Moon Ore	--		50	(From Item #13, Moon Base)

TimJim Games own formats of these can be found in
Official Sequence of Play .

Expert Rules/CMU Variants

Here at CMU, we don't play the basic game. In an effort to spice it up, I came up with a few new rules that we've liked. Some of those rules turned out to be variants to the Expert Game . Personally, I find quite a bit of the expert game silly. Here is the variant we play at CMU:

  1. You must discard down to double hand max immeadiately after you are dealt production cards. This is in addition to the standard rule that you must discard down to your hand max at the end of the turn.
  2. We play with double production on turn 1 (to speed the game up). Like in the standard expert rules, you may discard your entire hand for a water factory (in case you get absolute trash on the deal).
  3. The change from Phase II (d10) to Phase III (d12) is 35 VP, not 30.
  4. You can only have 1 new chemical factory per scientist or reseach factory you have.
That's it! We are looking at a few other changes (such as robots don't provide infinite robots), but the game is fine with just those three rules changes. (It's ok without them, but not very zesty, in our opinions).


Note that all of this discussion assumes our rules changes.

Early game

The first thing you should do is buy water factories and men whenever possible. Production is the key to success in Outpost. Tom Lehmann (President of Prism Games, and the Outpost Errata and Expert Game rules keeper) suggested not purchasing anything until you have at least 3 water factories. That sounds about right. The two big questions in the early game are When to Buy? and What to Buy?

These are both pretty tough questions, without exact answers (if there were exact answers, we wouldn't be so intersted in playing Outpost, would we?). When to buy, I'm not going to answer except to say that If you don't have three water factories, it's probably too early to be buying something else.

What to buy is somewhat controversial, but I rate the order of the first four upgrades (in terms of desireability) as warehouse, nodule, data library, heavy equipment. Warehouse and nodule are a close first and second, library third, heavy equipment fourth.

Warehouse versus a Nodule
This is tough. A nodule will allow you to be bigger in the early game, but in the middle game you might find yourself losing out as the warehouse player sits on a huge hand to outbid. Of course, being able to man the extra factories translates directly into VP and production. Ideally, getting a nodule and then a warehouse before the phase shifts (not immeadiately before, so you have time to save) should put you in a commanding position.
Is Heavy Equipment Worth it?
This is controversial. Without our rules, definitely not is my opinion. With CMU's close. If it looks like the game is going to go slowly into phase II, maybe. I've seen it work, but not as often as I've seen it lose. My big arguement against Titanium is that your eventaul goal will probably be new chemical factories, and so heavy equipment will be abandonded, whereas a warehouse/nodule big is always useful.

Of course, the discount on other items is not to be scoffed at. Part of winning at Outpost is snatching things up cheaply. I sometimes buy Heavy equipment, rather than get into a fight over the lone warehouse.

Middle Game

What should I buy?
This is a lot harder to say than above, because it really depends on what you did. I'd always shoot for anything to produces research (either scientists or labs). If you got Titanium, you can live without these, and it might actually be better to, but even if you got Titanium, slowing down others from gettng new chemicals is important. Of course, at some point the price is just too high.

Robots are nice if you missed getting a nodule.

Outposts are nice if you missed getting a nodule and robots, and are a must if you missed warehouses.

Orbital Labs are production, and very unlikely to ever become obsolete (you'll have to get a number of new chemicals greater than your hand limit to even have to start worrying about throwing them away unless you save for 2-3 turns.)

Ecoplants are cheap victory points (10 cost/VP if you get them at price, which is the cheapest VP in the game), and give you a discount towards an Outpost (which might be reason enough to get them).

Scientists vs Orbital Labs
Well, the Orbital Labs produce more and give more victory points, but research is the key to the new chemical plant. I'd generally go for the scientists, but some things could change that.
  1. Someone else has 2+ more data libraries than I do.
  2. I have heavy equipment and can survive losing New Chemicals.
  3. I'm just going to be outbid.
The last one is important. If you are lucky enough to be 1st in the position, and you are sure you can be outbid on scientists, open the bidding on orbital labs (or whatever else you want). People will be wary of bidding against you if they had hoped to get scientists. On the other hand, if you are sure someone else is going for scientists hellbent, and nobody else wants orbital labs (or whatever else you are bidding on), be sure to bid on scientist first, so that you can drive the price up.

End Game

Phase 3 sees the big guns arrive. With expectancies of 30-50, Items #11-13 are wonderful. At this point, victory points are definitely worth more than production, as the game has maybe 2-3 turns left. So, even if you got a moonbase for 200, you'll lose money, but the 20VPs are nice.

A big point of the game is who has the most cash when the first big guns are up for auction. If you can grab the only moon base, and it happens to be a few more turns before another big item shows, then you'll get the VPs AND all of that production, which puts you in the drivers seat. However, the odds of this scenario aren't that likely, and careful play can stop it (If someone just bought the only moon base, I'd snap up one cheap item (robots or something) just to increase the odds of something good showing up).


This was written by Brian Bankler.

Back to Main List