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So it was our second play through of the game so all four of us were still learning.
One of the players chose the Soldier and was unable to place any astronauts. He ended up being the first player in the next round but had misunderstood the rule. For some reason he thought that he would be penalized the next round and not be able to play so he did not select a character card.
He commenced counting off the character cards until he was the only one who had not played. This is when we realized that he had not selected a character. Since everyone had played and moved pieces we were not sure what to do.
We decided that if he had a character card in his hand that could be played following the last player he could use any one that he wanted. The last player to play used the Femme Fatale card so he could have had up to three characters in his hand to play. Unfortunately he did not have any of these cards left in his hand. In the end we went onto the next round.
So I guess in the end he was penalized for not paying attention.
How would you or your gaming group have handled this?
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It sounds like you were very reasonable, giving this player a chance to fix it if possible. It wasn't possible so you move on. I think I would handle it in just the same way, especially for the second play through. Sometimes on a first play we might try to do even more to fix it, if it's feasible.
Learning the game, we mistook how to resolve "players with same character" (we thought each "tied" player would put an astronaut a time, instead of being first the player nearer the first-player token then the other; this has huge implications regarding the travel agent). We decided to go back this round, selecting oter characters.