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Among the Stars

Show of hands…how many of you have, at one point, dreamed of building your very own space station?  You’ll be pleased to discover that “Among the Stars” lets you do just that.  In this case, players take on the role of different alien races who will be drafting cards in order to build their space station from the ground up.  How they approach this massive undertaking will determine how many points they’ll earn and who will ultimately end up winning the game.

 

Among the Stars

2-4 Players, Ages 12+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes

 

Components

The game includes 4 Main Reactor Cards, 2 VAK Main Reactor Cards, 72 Basic Location Cards, 44 Special Location Cards, 16 Power Reactor Cards, 8 Objective Cards, 12 Conflict Cards, 4 Player Aid Cards, 1 Score Board, 4 Player Markers, 1 Year Marker, 32 1-Credit Tokens, 16 5-Credit Tokens, 20 Energy Cubes, and 8 Race Tiles

Setup & Gameplay

Before I begin, it’s worth noting that the manual includes multiple variants and ways to play.  For example, there is both an aggressive and non-aggressive mode, the latter of which is recommended for new players (I’ll be covering that mode below).  Additionally, there are multiple rule sets for when playing a two-player game.  The rulebook describes a rule set that involves the inclusion of a fake third and fourth player who participate in the rotation of hands during drafting without actually playing.  The Kim variant (which I found on BGG), removes this fake third and fourth player and instead just has players drawing a card at the beginning of their turn and then discarding one from the game before passing the hand off to their opponent.  Of course, you could opt to play a card first, then draw one, then discard one to minimize the luck factor a bit.

The game is set up different depending on the number of players, so I’ll opt to give you a quick and dirty version.  Generally, players will form a deck of basic and special location cards.  Some of these cards are discarded before the deck is formed…again it depends on the number of players.  In short, all of the basic cards are used but only so many special location cards are used.  Each player puts a player marker on the “0” space on the scoreboard and receives a main reactor card, placing two energy cubes on it.  First time players can stop here, or they can each take a random race (giving them a special ability) as well as draw public objective cards, face-up, equal to the number of players.

 

Among the Stars

Game setup can take a while, but the end result is worth it.

 

The game is played over four rounds.  At the beginning of a round, players receive 10 credits and six cards from the location deck.  The year marker is adjusted appropriately.

A round is played over a series of turns.  Every turn, each player selects a card from their hand and puts it face down in front of them. After everyone has done so and then passed his remaining cards to the next player, they simultaneously reveal their selected card and choose one of these actions to perform:

Build Location – Location Cards may only be built adjacent to other Location Cards.  Locations cards have a monetary cost associated with them and may even have a power cost (players use their energy cubes, if they have any).  Players gain VPs (lower-left part of the card) and move their marker on the scoreboard appropriately.

Build Power Reactor – Players may discard their chosen card to instead build a power reactor (there’s a separate face-up supply deck) and place energy cubes on that location.

Discard and Gain Three Credits – Players may discard their chosen card to instead receive three credits.

The round ends when players have no more cards in their hands.  The game ends after four rounds and whoever has the most points on the scoreboard (taking into account points awarded for objectives, credits, power cubes, cards with end-of-game score conditions, etc.), wins!

Editor’s Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played.

The Review

This game appeals to me for a number of reasons.  If we put aside the fact that you can build your own space station from the ground up (which is awesome), there’s a certain synergy in the way these cards interact with one another.  For example, some cards award points based on how many cards are around it when it is built, meaning you’ll have to put some thought into where you’re placing everything.  Unlike “Alhambra“, there’s no way to move a card once you’ve placed it.  The objectives (should you decide to include them) add to the fun as they may encourage players to work toward a specific goal…though you can ignore them if you wish.  These cards are not only color-coded but may have either an immediate or delayed effect, making you sometimes wish that you could pick two or three cards out of your current hand instead of one.

Unless you’re playing in aggressive mode (which uses its own deck), player interaction is limited to what cards you’re passing off to the next player.  While this seems limited or maybe even boring, it’s almost essential if you’re going to have a shot at winning the game.  If one of your opponents is building their station around a particular color or room type to get extra VPs, you may decide to claim the card yourself to prevent them from having it.  Or, you can take what you’re really after and hope the other players in between you and them take notice what you saw and act on it.  The two player Kim variant (my preferred choice over the rulebook’s two-player variant) further enhances this by allowing players to discard a card of their choice, freeing them up to play something they’d want for themselves.  Vinnie and I opted to mix up Kim’s variant a bit by playing a card first, drawing, discarding, resolving, and then passing as opposed to drawing a card at the beginning of the turn.  The rulebook’s two player variant is just too messy logistically and is quite honestly a pain in the exhaust port.

 

Among the Stars

Thumbs up for turrets!

 

I liked this game for the same reason I liked “Alhambra” and “Suburbia“…I had almost total control over my creations.  The latter of those two tends to get a little chaotic toward the end as a lot of the effects build and chain over time…keeping track of your city’s effects can be downright cumbersome.  “Among the Stars” doesn’t suffer that problem despite the fact that the cards each have their own abilities.  Either the effect happens during placement or is delayed till the game’s end…nice and simple.  “Among the Stars” offers a lot of replayability, what with the races, objectives, modes/variants, and the fact that you’re always starting your station from scratch.  While there’s a slight learning curve, I found very little to complain about.  I highly recommend playing without the objectives and races at first, as the immediate and delayed card effects will give you enough to think about.

Final Verdict: 9/10

 

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