Meeple Station - Full Release Review

Meeple Station is a space station building management sim which I have been following the development of since I discovered it on Kickstarter in 2018.  Since then the development has gone on a massive journey involving missing out on their Kickstarter target, to being picked up by Modularity, the publishing arm of IndieDB and, an early access release and now a full release.  Thanks to the team who kindly provided me with a key during the Kickstarter campaign.

As soon as I loaded the game big changes were evident.  The game logo and menu screen have been totally redesigned and give the game that polished feel you would expect after an additional 18 months or so of development.  Before getting further into the game I want to mention a couple of things about the menu screen.  Whilst polished, the menu options are horizontal buttons across the bottom of the screen rather than a 'traditional' stacked layout, when starting a new game for the first time, this lead me to miss the option for tutorials.

Creating the initial station design within build mode. Note the checklist of essential items in the lower right.
On the main menu there is also a button.  This opens an interface window which allows you to browse, subscribe and enable available mods.  This can also be done using the website, however is used as a replacement for the Steam Workshop.  How this affects the game long term will be interesting to see, however it does allow easier integration of mods across different store fronts as the game is available on Steam and and therefore doesn't disadvantage players not using Steam.  Most of the mods currently available add additional, or alternative, items for your stations.

I jumped into a new campaign, after selecting the 'mild' difficulty  and was welcomed with a new opening animation sequence providing an explanation of some of the Meeple race back story.  Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there was no way to skip this which means watching it every time you start a new game.  There are 5 difficulty levels to choose from, each making gameplay more difficult than the last, initially by reducing your starting budget and later in play by modifying the frequency and severity of meteor showers and pirate attacks.  Once the cutscene ends you start the 'build' phase of play where you create your basic superstructure.  There is a helpful checklist in the bottom right which will help you make sure you have everything you need to have a functioning station, such as solar panels, life support systems and a food source.  If you want a quicker start there is an option to generate a random station which you can then customise, rather than building from scratch.

Planning my piping and cabling solutions. The view can be filtered to a single utility type to allow planning and placement of these individual lines.
I previously mentioned tutorials and how I initially missed them.  Very quickly into this build phase I realised how important they are and I would highly recommend taking that time to play through, at least the first few, before diving in.  The changes to the building systems and game become apparent here.  Gone are the bulky cables you had to place in previous versions, and now are 'invisible' utility lines.  These do still carry a cost and can be built in the utility view, which shows you a map of all utility lines, including power, oxygen, water and waste, and allows you to filter by line type to build the lines you need.  Once you have decided on your station design, simply click the big green tick to start your game.

The next task is to review your starting crew of 5 Meeple.  Here you will be able to see their skills and how those relate to their suitability for then various jobs which will need to be carried out on your station.  If you wish, you can reroll for a  different mix of crewmates to try and get a mix which you are happy with.  Once you are happy you have a good mix of skills you can proceed to the core gameplay.  In addition to keeping an eye on their skills, you will also need to watch their character traits - an astrophobic miner (which I had on my playthrough) isn't exactly ideal!

Checking the stats of my starting crew to ensure a mix of skills and allowing me to fill as many jobs as possible.
The purpose of the game is now to grow your station and explore the galaxy.  To do this you will need to mine resources, refine these into products, trade and research new technologies.  One of the things which slightly annoys me is that the mining is done by queuing tasks.  This means that once you click on an asteroid to mine all of your miners will work on that asteroid until either you manually remove the instruction mine it, or it is depleted and will then move on to the next assigned asteroid.  Being able to allocate a miner to a specific asteroid would be excellent and help in managing the incoming resources, however there is a way to improve this which I wasn't aware of until I spoke with the developer regarding this.  If you press 'V' whilst assigning an asteroid to be mined, it will allow you to allocate a single grid square, or drag and area within the same z-layer, meaning they will not mine the entire asteroid before moving on.  You can also prioritise which asteroid to mine based on the composition which you can view my hovering the cursor over the asteroid.  This will allow you to ensure a supply of a variety of materials.  You also may come across remains of old stations in the asteroids.  These can either be salvaged by an engineer, or incorporated into your overall station design at a later time.

Top: A full asteroid selected for mining, note the corridors available for salvaging.
Bottom: The asteroid information panel showing the materials available for mining with only one queued for mining.
To build your station you will need to assign an engineer.  You can do this via the Meeple screen, where you can see the skills and preferred roles for each Meeple.  Once you have assigned an engineer they will carry out any construction in the queued order, provided you have the available materials.  This means that you need to plan your expansions to optimise the construction queue, but expanding is key in this phase.  You will need to expand your station, refine your raw materials and trade with passing ships.  This will allow you to increase the renown and rank of your station.  When this is high enough, and you have additional bedding, you will attract new Meeple, which means more workers, meaning faster progression.

Managing your Meeple is about a lot more than assigning them an appropriate job.  You will need to keep an eye on their key stats such as hygiene, stress and mood.  These can be affected by a variety of factors, for example without a bathroom, bins and waste extraction the hygiene of your Meeple will suffer, having a disagreement with a crewmate, or not having their own bed will lower their mood.  If you don't look after their needs then your Meeple will become disgruntled, or even depressed which can result in a short space walk without a spacesuit, or your officers going rogue and queuing construction and salvage actions at will round your station.  This can have dire consequences - my officer got stressed and decided the best course of action was to instruct my engineers to destroy the oxygen supply lines from my life support!

A passing trade ship docked with the station
As the game progresses your objectives will change, for example your first objective is simply to expand your station.  Once you reach the required renown you will receive a scientist along with instructions to research some key technologies.  You will also acquire new technologies, such as the ability to produce fuel and provide this to passing traders and to reclaim biomass from your ship waste to provide better food sources for your Meeple.  Eventually you will even be able to build your own scout and trade ships to explore further afield than the immediate area round your station.

The game has definitely undergone many changes since the first pre-alpha build which I was fortunate to get the chance to play.  There is more depth to the gameplay and the objectives in the campaign definitely make the game feel more structured and defined.  I thoroughly enjoyed returning to this, and probably sank more time into a single session than I had in previous builds of the game.  Whilst the game has reached a 1.0 release, the developer hasn't simply moved on and has continued to push patches and hotfixes for minor bugs following the release.  If you are a fan of base builder games then I would definitely recommend this game, at a price point of 14.99GBP/16.99EUR/$19.99 I feel that the game definitely delivers value for money.

Meeple Station - Full Release Review Meeple Station - Full Release Review Reviewed by Parcival on April 27, 2020 Rating: 5

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