Had not had too much experience with Martin Wallace games, but picked up Rocketmen on Facebook because of his design reputation as well as the theme. Setup to play two handed, but then quickly abandoned it to play against the solo “AI” as it were.
The Solo Mode
Solo is a deck of seven cards that piece together left/right style to give the bot 42 different combinations of current missions. When the bot is not currently only a mission, you draw one card to determine the destination of the mission (Earth/Moon/Mars) which is based on the difficulty level you set at the start of the game (easy, medium, nominally hard). This card reveals how many spaces along the mission track the bot will start. The second card reveals the type of mission the bot will be trying for (one of many spaces on each location that give variable points based on the order the players complete it) in addition to a number of additional spaces the AI moves up the track.
For most of the rest of the turns, the AI simply moves one more space on the track, then you take your turn. Pretty simple. When the AI reaches its target destination, you place one of their mission markers on the site, award, the proper victory points, then take your turn.
The next turn, the AI will draw two more cards to determine the next of its six mission goals. Should a card reveal an unavailable location or goal, discard that particular card and draw another until you get a good combination.
The only other real gain for the AI is if you decide on your turn to remove (without buying) one of the available asset cards from the current offer. Each turn you shift all the cards to the left and if that forces the left most one from the board, it’s removed from the game. But if that’s a card you’re wanting to buy and want to keep it around, you can remove any of the other cards from the offer for free (once per turn) with the understanding that the AI gets to move one bonus space on the mission track, letting them reach their goal faster.
In general, I didn’t feel like the game is a keeper for solo play. And while I rarely play with opponents, it doesn’t even seem like it would be much fun competitively either. You have a limited stack of cards and the deckbuilding aspect is minimal. I won on easy mode (26-17) and while yes, it was easier and the harder mode may be harder, reports are that it’s really not. But that would be fine if I felt the game itself was fun to begin with. And I did not. Not when there are much better games covering the same idea and ones that are much more challenging.
There is one loophole in the rules for the solo AI though. If the AI has completed a mission just prior to your turn, they have no current mission and therefore, you can remove a card from the offer for free as the step gain penalty cannot be applied. You could house rule it (and remember) that they get a bonus step when you set the AI up for their next mission, but it’s not explicitly covered. So this gives you an advantage on those specific turns.
In all the AI seems a bit tacked on and while it’s easy to manage (always a plus), it didn’t ultimately feel like I was playing an opponent. Just trying to meet my specified goals and get more points.