Tag Archives: card drafting

Among The Stars – Expanding The Alliance



Designers:          Vangelis Bagiartakis, Panagiotis Zinoviadis

Publisher:           Stronghold/Artipia Games (2014)


Among The Stars first expansion, The Ambassadors, felt like a huge addition to the game that really filled out the design and provided for a satisfying feeling of completeness.  It felt like a strong follow-up to a solid first album, like the first time you heard “Paranoid” after falling in love with “Black Sabbath”.  Expanding The Alliance finds its way as a compilation of unreleased tracks, remixes, and rare compositions that serve as a love letter to the serious fans.  It’s a thank you of sorts, packed full of past stretch goals and promos that were jammed into Artipia’s previous kickstarter campaigns and now seeing mass release via their union with Stronghold Games.

Expanding The Alliance is jammed packed with new content.  No one could accuse these guys of skimping out.  There are 23 new Special Locations, 2 new Conflict Sets, 6 new Objectives, 3 new Races, 8 new Ambassadors, a mini Alliance Inspection expansion, and components for the 5th and 6th players.  That’s an enormous ship manifest that you can quickly see is all about expanding the variety of existing mechanisms present in Among The Stars.  Variety is a key attribute in any design and this helps to ensure you will have enough locations and cards to rarely run into the same setup twice.  It’s as if you shoved 3 or 4 Dominion expansions into a single boxed and then force fed them to the core set like Malcolm McDowell having his eyes stretched open and mind set ablaze with thousands of spastic images.



The Ambassadorial Shuttle is one of my favorite new cards. Nothing is more satisfying than twisting the knife into your opponent’s kidney.



This title can really be broken down into the choice cuts and the leftovers which will appeal to a smaller select few.  The most prolific and beneficial aspect of the expansion is without a doubt the new Special Locations.  Much like the new locations found in The Ambassadors release, these new cards offer abilities and effects that are a small step into a realm of increased complexity and awareness.  This is necessary to engender more freedom and creativity as the designers have really upped their game, offering distinct and colorful powers that will immediately grab you by the scruff.  Several locations have two different types (colors) and may count as either for combos/scoring effects.  Casino is also an excellent addition that has you rolling a die and gambling for additional victory points.  My favorite location however is Ambassadorial Shuttle, which has you placing the location in another player’s station but does not allow them to build any future locations adjacent to it.  This can absolutely wreck a huge scoring combo a player is building and mess with their layout but it requires you be aware of your opponent’s strategy and monitor their approach.  When you’re passed a hand that includes Ambassadorial Shuttle your stomach clenches like it’s rebelling against your choice of devouring that leftover spam that’s been sitting in the fridge for several weeks as you’re not sure whether you should play the card or risk giving an opponent the opportunity.

The additional Objectives are another stellar facet of this release.  Since they are used every game and the options somewhat limited compared to location types and Race choices, they are one of the elements that could use an injection of variety and I’m very glad to see it.  The new goals are not only varied but quite interesting.  Energy Efficient has you looking to use the fewest Reactors while Reach For The Stars has you trying to build the location farthest from your Main Reactor.  These are slick and very enjoyable objectives that give you a gentle nudge and ample incentive to mix things up and try new things.  This quality of pushing play into divergent and unconventional strategy is the single best attribute of the Among The Star expansion content as a whole.

Much like those rare track/B-side compilation discs, there are a number of things which may not be of significant interest to the average buyer but are worth inclusion for completionists and the odd diversion.  The new Races for instance are solid and a nice addition, but not completely needed at this point due to the huge buffet already on offer.  The additional Ambassadors are solid for the most part, but add variety to a mechanic that arrived flush with options.  There’s also a selection of 4 promo ambassadors all derived from prominent reviewers that you will either love or hate.  They trigger off events wholly unrelated to the game itself such as Tom Vasel offering additional victory points for owning a large collection of board games or the Rahdo Ambassador which gives a point every time someone passes by behind you.  I find these quirky additions fun and really enjoy them, but many players scoff even in a casual environment and don’t want them included.



The Nyxtos are one of the more interesting new races, allowing for a stiff take that to each of your opponent’s.


The two new Conflict Sets and the Alliance Inspection are both interesting and worth contemplating but are more often than not excluded from the experience.  Conflict Sets in particular target adding more interaction to the game, which is a completely worthy cause, but I’ve found the new expansion locations in The Ambassadors and Expanding The Alliance provide for plenty of interaction without adding the more overt take that element of Conflict cards.  The Alliance Inspection mini expansion is neat as it offers a unique personal goal to target each Year (round), but they can sometimes be very swingy and tip the score unfavorably based on luck as opposed to heightened awareness of acumen.  They don’t fail but they are very hit and miss and I find them often not worth throwing in unless you’re specifically looking to change up the game a bit.


Relocation is an intriguing Conflict set. I wish it hit my table more often.

The 5 and 6 player components are a nice addition as it satisfies the request of many Among The Stars fans who were wanting to up the size of their table.  While I’m glad they’re included, they are something that I probably will rarely touch.  One key element of drafting games is simultaneous play and little to no downtime, which is somewhat gutted in a larger group as more players cause the game to bog down.  You have to worry about adjusting the score for more participants, be more aware of all the different space station setups on the table, and have less say in what your opponent’s are drafting.  All of these make AtS a 4 player game for me and for, I imagine, the majority of players.

Just like when I picked up Slayer’s Soundtrack to the Apocalypse in 2007 my expectations for a compilation of extras weren’t at their utmost, although I was quietly optimistic.  With that frame of mind Expanding The Alliance succeeds on multiple fronts as it provides for a slew of interesting Locations and Objectives that I would never do without.  If I had to choose I would without a doubt grab The Ambassadors first, although you’d have a hard time prying Expanding The Alliance from my iron grasp.

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Imperial Settlers Review


Settlers from four major powers of the world have discovered new lands, with new resources and opportunities. Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians and Japanese all at once move there to expand the boundaries of their empires. They build new buildings to strengthen their economy, they found mines and fields to gather resources, and they build barracks and training grounds to train soldiers. Soon after they discover that this land is far too small for everybody, then the war begins…

Imperial Settlers is a card game that lets players lead one of the four factions and build empires by placing buildings, then sending workers to those buildings to acquire new resources and abilities. The game is played over five rounds during which players take various actions in order to explore new lands, build buildings, trade resources, conquer enemies, and thus score victory points.

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Shinobi Clans Review


As a ruthless and cunning shinobi clan master, you lead your team of ninjas on secret missions that decide between life and death for dangerous ronin, noble daimyos and powerful shoguns. Recruit the most skilled assassins, arm them with the deadliest weapons, and devise plans that will outwit your rivals on your way to becoming the most feared and prosperous ninja clan of them all!

Shinobi Clans is a strategic card game for 3-5 players. As ninja clan leaders, players must master all facets of ninja warfare: Secretly select missions on targets that promise the biggest rewards with the least opposition. Muster the most suitable ninjas and weapons by card drafting. Position them tactically through a card stack mechanism that can disrupt your enemy’s plans. Use secret unit deployment to your advantage and hope the other clans’ spies don’t uncover your strategy…

Until the final reveal, your clan’s actions and motivations are shrouded in mystery. Can you throw the other clans off your trail while getting the job done? When the smoke clears, your schemes, ambition, and skill will be evident – but will they prevail?

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Among The Stars – A Written Review



Designer:            Vangelis Bagiartakis

Publisher:           Stronghold/Artipia Games (2014)


Among The Stars was a mythical creature, a beast flirting with danger and giving me a wink as thousands of miles separated us.  While I am a huge fan of the central Card Drafting mechanism, the most prominent title in this category, 7 Wonders, never quite grasped me.  The lack of interaction, mundane theme, and innate lack of control soured the experience.  Among The Stars with its spanning galactic vistas and interesting spatial element called my name.  It would be my cure for what was ailing me.  Finally, Stronghold Games partnered with Artipia and this elusive prey would make its way to North America for the rest of us to experience.

First of all this game is absolutely beautiful.  As location cards get laid across the table and your space station spreads like a winged creature buzzing to life, you can’t help but take a step back and marvel at the play space with the excellent and varied artwork.  The table has life and meaning as opposed to being a jumbled collection of sets and resources.  This allows a moderate amount of immersion as you craft and manipulate an unwieldy mammoth floating in space.



A sprawling station begins to take shape.


From a mechanical standpoint, this is a relatively simple game that allows a player to jump right in.  Each player selects a card to draft from their hand, reveals it simultaneously, and then pays its cost and places it in their station.  You then pass the remaining cards to your neighbor and receive a set of new cards from your opposite neighbor.  The goal is to amass the most victory points by building the best space station within 4 years (rounds).  The game will last about 30 minutes with an experienced group and a solid amount of depth is packed into a super filler length.

The location cards themselves come in multiple colors denoting their type.  Military locations are red, Administration are blue, and so on.  Each location has a cost associated with it that must be paid upon placing it.  Typically the cost is simply a few credits although a significant portion of the deck also requires the location be powered by energy.  To power a location you need to place the card within two spaces of a Power Reactor and then discard a cube from that reactor.  Distance is calculated orthogonally ignoring spaces in your station with no location present.



The currency of our future.


This spatial element of placing locations within leeching distance of a power plant is a core element of the design.  It is re-implemented in multiple forms as different locations offer special abilities that trigger off spatial formatting.  Some cards offer bonuses such as additional VP at the end of game for each adjacent location, or additional VP if no Military location is within 3 spaces.  The effects and multitude of uses are pretty clever and incentivize sly play and a degree of strategic thought above discrete tactical decisions made in a void turn to turn.

While location cards themselves are worth Victory Points, another attractive element of the game is the inclusion of an Objective set.  Each game you randomly deal a number of Objective cards into the middle of the table equal to the number of players.  Objectives function similar to goals in Race For The Galaxy, as they are available scoring opportunities shared by the entire table.  The most common award points at end game based on who has built the most Green, Blue, Red, Yellow, Purple, or Green locations.  You can completely ignore these and still do well, however, I enjoy the fact that these are another element which you must take into consideration when drafting on your turn.  The choice between going for an objective location and throwing down that Turret which will combo with your other Military cards can be tough.

Beyond Objectives, variety and replayability are regarded highly in the design through the inclusion of a large portion of the cards being Special locations.  When you are setting up the game you only shuffle 6 Special locations into the deck per player.  This creates an experience which provides a bit of uncertainty as you will go through many games before you are aware of all of the unique locations and their benefits.  This is one of those elements that I really love in this game and that I see is ripe for expansion.



Each player receives one of 8 unique races, each boasting a special power to enhance your strategy.


Another thing Among The Stars does rather well in comparison to 7 Wonders is to provide a degree of interaction.  The interaction with other players is still somewhat subtle, but it’s there and it’s an element you will want to pay attention to if you wish to do well.  While interaction comes naturally to a small degree with drafting, you actually have the opportunity to chuck cards into the discard pile in this game to deny your opponent from taking it later.  Instead of building a location on your turn, you can discard a card to take 3 credits or to build a Power Plant.  These actions are not an afterthought and you will want to take them several times throughout the game.  One of my favorite moments in a recent play was when a player was setting up his station to score a huge card that he had seen and already passed off.  He was awaiting the card’s return but groaned in agony when the player next to him caught what he was doing and dumped the location into the discard pile with authority to take 3 credits.  Give your enemy a wink, toss it towards the stack, and watch him sob as his plans come crashing down.

Interaction is also encouraged through an optional set of Conflict Cards that may be shuffled into the deck.  These cards function as a “take that” element where you can play them instead of building a location and hit one of your enemies with a possibly massive effect.  The core game Conflict Cards typically have effects that allow you to gain VP equal to the difference between your number of Green (or other colored) locations and theirs, however, they also lose that amount of points.  These can be a bit swingy and punishing, but the look on people’s faces when they see a card pass through their hands and realize they do not want their neighbor to get a hold of it is damn priceless.



Throw down you alien scum.


While the comparisons to 7 Wonders will never leave the discussion, the games do feel quite different.  In Among The Stars’ predecessor, you are building up as you develop your civilization and gradually growing towards scoring a large number of points.  In this game you are not building an large combo or resource stockpile and have access to the most powerful cards right off the bat as everything is shuffled evenly.  There are no ages or progression; it’s all-in right away.  Score is also tallied here turn to turn, offloading the calculator-fest mathlete convention that pops up at the end of 7 Wonders to smaller bites peppered throughout the short playtime.

The narrative that develops during play is a bit unique.  Placing locations and building up your station carries a weight that can be likened to composing and mixing a song comprised of a multitude of instruments.  You’re throwing down locations that will support other items in your station like a audio engineer equalizing the bass line to fill out a percussive blast or evolving structure like a technician modifying the upper range and pulling a solo down to earth so that it can be unleashed in the approaching crescendo.  The fluid and dynamic nature of your manufacture affords this creative process as you adapt and take charge to produce a hopeful masterpiece.



The score track that comes with Stronghold’s version of AtS is a vast improvement over the original, obtuse design.


Among The Stars is a clever design which slams together 7 Wonders and a Suburbia-like spatial mechanic with a sprinkling of just enough interaction and moody Sci-Fi to get me going.  You combine that with a surprisingly meaty half-hour playtime and I’m carrying the torch.  This is a quality title that separates itself from its progenitor with enough interesting twists that any fan of drafting owes it to themselves to give it a play.  You will soon be yelling at your 2 dimensional space station, cursing your lack of foresight and expressing jingoistic anger towards the alien sitting next to you.

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Heroes of Normandie Review


The time is summer 1944. The Sun shines on Normandie hedgerows. Gentle wind, fields of bright flowers, and in the background, the romantic staccato of machine gun fire in the morning. In these typical French countryside landscapes, thousands of men are about to fight. And die. Bravely like heroes, or cowardly like wussies. But only heroes really matter. Those you see in Hollywood Golden Age war movies. Here lies the inspiration for Heroes of Normandie; here is what the game has to offer: explosive and fast-paced battles; the pleasure of butchering your enemies through MG42 walls of lead; and the ability to crush Nazi bastards under tons of shells – basically, blood and guts.

A miniatures game without miniatures, Heroes of Normandie is a fast-paced WW2 strategy wargame inspired by Hollywood war movies. A tactical scale board-game opposing two players and two armies, with the Germans on one side and the Americans on the other. Players use order tokens to determine initiative and to bluff. While a single six-sided die determines combat, action cards are played to spice things up. Secretly plan your attacks and outwit your opponent. Block the opposing strategy and surprise the enemies. Deploy your units and don’t turn back!

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