Tag Archives: sci-fi

Firefly The Board Game – A Written Review


“You think you’re better than other people.” – Badger

“Just the ones I’m better than.” – Mal

Firefly carries with it such heavy connotations and influence in the realm of geekdom that it’s simply amazing Gale Force Nine were able to score this license for their second board game release. It’s hard to believe that was only two years ago as the interim has seen the fantastic Sons of Anarchy, Homeland, and WWE Superstar Showdown all release to great fanfare.  Way back in the day when Firefly first hit the board game streets, I have to admit that I wasn’t moved or impressed to even a fraction of the magnitude as provided by the rest of Gale Force Nine’s catalogue.  I felt like an outsider as everyone around me was gobbling it up and all I wanted to do was still battle it out in the arena and yell “Are you not entertained?”

With some distance between that initial release, and a bevy of expansions later, I’ve returned to the Verse to get a definitive take and re-evaluate my stance. This fresh perspective in the context of the company releasing a huge onslaught of magnificent follow-up titles has really challenged me to dig into Firefly and assess it with renewed spirit.  Unfortunately, the outcome hasn’t really changed.

Firefly is a big damn game with a sprawling board, multiple decks of cards, and a wide vision. It simulates a sightseeing adventure through our beloved show as you take on jobs and hire crew, outfitting your ship with numerous assets.  The core mechanism is earning money through these jobs which are accomplished via a nuanced pick up and deliver system.  From a wide lens you’re going through similar motions to the trading in Xia: Legends of a Drift System or Merchants of Venus.




What makes the job system interesting is that you’re employers consist of regulars from the television series. You can hit up Badger and partake in the lovely Train Job, venture to the far reaches for Niska, or even fly by the seat of your saddle with Patience.  Combine this with picking up crew members like River Tam or Jayne and you have a powerful formula that hits you right in that nostalgic gooey part of your brain.  It continually puts a smile on your face and you nod along like you’re cranking a killer tune and flying down the street with your windows down.

The problem arises from the fact that this is Firefly the board game but this is not Firefly the poorly handled Fox television series. The heart of this intellectual property is the friendship and sense of family forged in the heat of crisis.  It’s the bond of the crew, one small leap from the beloved Millenium Falcon, and camaraderie and virtue triumphing in the face of ugliness is woven throughout the series.  Undoubtedly the focus should be on the crew and they should be the center of the game.

Gale Force Nine’s crack design team does realize this as the disgruntled mechanism is a standout element. If you fail to divvy a crew member their cut after a successfully job they receive one of these tokens.  This puts them at risk of desertion or being scooped up by another player in your sector space, one of the only ways players can interact in the base game.  This is a smooth and enjoyable mechanic but it doesn’t quite extend far enough and it places the focus of crew management around economic satisfaction.

The second issue I have with this title is the fact that money comes too easily and the struggle is nonexistent. Firefly, like Cowboy Bebop, was always about eking out just enough of a living to scrape by.  This release takes a rather traditional approach to its economic engine giving players successively large outputs of capital for completing missions and pushes that tight squeeze of poverty outside the design space.  Once you’ve succeeded on a couple errands you’ll be able to buy pretty much whatever you’d like and have a wide range of upgrades in manpower and equipment at your fingerprints.

The end result of these two nitpicks is that we’re left with a game that’s a pretty standard pick up and deliver type game within the Firefly setting. Fortunately there are a number of really clever mechanisms here that help to give the game an identity.  The missions boast skill requirements that are seeded on characters and include wild romps through a sweetly titled misbehavin’ deck.  This proficiency system requires players to keep a keen eye on their recruitment options as you don’t want to be overloaded with just brutes or mechanics.  You’ll want a crew with a skillset as varied and animated as that of the Serenity.


While the actions you take in any particular session are similar, the ultimate goal of play is left up to the variable story card that you select. This slick little addition does provide for some setting influenced variety.

When scooting round the Verse you also have two nifty movement options. For those who cruise below the speed limit you can Mosey and move a lowly one space.  This option is always available and you avoid having to draw from one of the deck of nav cards.  More commonly you’ll burn a unit of fuel from your cargo hold and move a number of spaces equal to your upgradeable drive.  The catch here is those nav decks, one for the core and one for the outer rim.  Things are most interesting when burning the jets and flying without a seatbelt as you’ll run into clever events, see Reavers hot on your tail, and get involved in legal entanglements.

I’m also a huge fan of the legality accompanying the job system. Some missions will require you to haul contraband and you run the risk of being jumped by the authorities and losing your precious cargo.  You’ll feel the jitters of Han Solo and Mal Reynolds as the Alliance cruiser bears down on your location or an unexpected boarding action occurs.  The effect is not always shiny on your budget but it is always fantastic in narrative appeal.

Overall this is a solid sci-fi adventure game wearing a ragged brown coat. The task of designing a Firefly game is a monumental one, and this may be the best possible way to conquer that mountain.  It has some clever touches and an endearing setting which is enough for most, but I have a hard time justifying it hit the table over the likes of Xia or even Merchants and Marauders when jonesing for some smuggling action.

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Space Cadets: Away Missions – A Written Review



Space Cadets: Away Missions is the third release in Stronghold’s Space Cadet line and it’s absolutely nothing like the frantic real-time Engelstein games of past. This Dan Raspler and Al Rose light dungeon crawler bears the Space Cadets setting in theme only, hitting us hard with an approachable yet sophisticated game of ‘50s golden era sci-fi blasters and Martians.  The humor in Stronghold’s first board game Kickstarter release featuring a title with the acronym SCAM belies the strength and vitality of this spectacular game.571224cb-f6bb-48ca-826c-f77c2f28d798

While Stronghold Games has always featured great production values and attractive components, Stephen Buonocore has outdone himself here. Away Missions brandishes over 100 solid miniatures, mounds of attractive tiles, large player mats, and two huge booklets.  It feels lavish and special, fitting the attractive feel of gameplay.  How can you not fall in love with a release that boasts little plastic brains-in-a-jar and space leeches?  You immediately want to crack some skulls and pew-pew.

This game sits in a comfortable realm just above the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System in terms of depth and complexity. It’s light yet packs a bit of oomph that helps it stand out and grasp your interest for the long term.  Like its peers, you embark on different missions hurdling large packs of enemies, finding interesting loot, and exploring defiled ground.

One of the shining elements of this cooperative design are the scenarios. Mounds and mounds of scenarios.  20 of the suckers form a loose narrative of linked story that explores the alien invasion and always keeps you on your toes.  Many games in this genre offer quite repetitive goals that feed a growing sense of similarity which can deflate extended play.  Away Missions throws this notion out the window by offering you constantly evolving tactical situations with really divergent narratives.  You will break out of fish-head prisons, free human Thralls, snatch up blueprints for alien technology, and seek revenge on the malevolent foreigners.

Moving on from a difficult scenario and flipping those huge pages to see your new opportunity for carnage is truly a treat. I was shocked how the feel could be drastically shifted by re-arranging a collection of random tiles in interesting formations and by throwing in a couple of new specific rule changes.  One of the early scenarios allows you to place your deployment hex adjacent to any outside tile as your team of cadets is boarding the enemy craft.  These clever little elements are packed into each corner of the design and constantly have you nodding in appreciation.

This strong variety does come at a cost though as setup can be somewhat labored. You have alien tokens, discovery (item) tokens, and tile tokens to mark possible objectives.  These pools of chits may have specific mixes required by the scenario so you’ll be removing or adding a defined amount and it can get somewhat fiddly.  Thankfully the effort pays off and the game delivers with beauty so this is just the cost of doing business.



Suck it alien scum.


The lush presentation will draw you in but the heart of the design, the Overkill mechanic, will make you stay. It’s such a simple little mechanism but therein lies its genius.  Attack rolls are made with pools of 10-siders, requiring a three or below to score a hit.  Your first success inflicts a single point of damage (good enough to kill most alien types) but your subsequent hits are dubbed Overkills and may be spent as action currency to trigger special effects.

Many thematic designs feature special powers and abilities scattered across characters and items, but the process in which they’re tied to the action and turn structure is usually pretty stale and predictable. By linking this smattering of special powers to successful combat resolution rolls you fuse one of the most interesting elements of Ameritrash with the most dramatic portion of the game.  This results in high tension rolls that produce tremendous opportunity for combos and creative play as you cut down an alien, move into an adjacent space, and command a teammate to give him extra actions.  It feels outright empowering because your cast of fate determines the downstream narrative shenanigans.  It’s delicious and full of tension while maintaining a solid degree of tactical choice.

This tremendous Overkill mechanism is backed up by an action point system that allows for maximum player control in the face of stalwart danger. The enemies come in thick waves as you reveal more each turn in great numbers.  The AI controlling them is relatively simple as they tend to march straight towards you and throw lasers in the direction of human flesh.  Yet the enemies manage to feel drastically different due to various types of attacks and the included Overkill effects they can generate against you.  Additionally, it’s extraordinarily fun to light up a Saucerman Leader and trigger his Overkill ability that allows you to stun another foe.  A sense of personality develops amongst the enemies and there’s a strong mix of variety that allows you to constantly be on your toes and dreading the appearance of a brain-in-a-jar or a ferocious Sentinel.



It’s all about personality. Blood sucking space worm personality.


I alluded to the clever touches abounding the design when discussing the scenarios earlier, but if you take a micro view you will begin to notice all kinds of positive little quirks. For instance some of the alien equipment you discover is actually blueprints as opposed to finished gear.  This results in a gentle crafting system where you need to steal alien blood or precious mysterium (no, not the Polish variety) to construct awe-inspiring gifts of forbidden fruit.  You’ll also need to take out human Thralls with a non-combat IQ check to remove the implanted brain wire in their skulls.  No, not to free the poor muggles but to hoard the wire for your mini death star that’s still under construction.  You’re being pulled by all of these disparate elements of awesomeness as you try to clear your head while the air fills with the scent of ozone and burnt green flesh.

Space Cadets: Away Missions carves itself out a niche in the dungeon crawl design space the size of a monstrous saucer. This feels fresh and alive, like a new take on an old favorite.  It delivers action and thoughtful presence in a way you wouldn’t expect.  This is not only a fantastic design, it’s quite possibly the strongest release Stronghold Games has ever been a part of.

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Xia: Legends Of A Drift System – A Written Review




Designers:          Cody Miller

Publisher:           Far Off Games


When I was a kid and Social Media was a virus not yet born, we grew up wanting to be Police Officers, Firefighters, and above all – Astronauts.  As Mr. McConaughey put it in the fantastic Interstellar, “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars”.  That wonder, that sense of exploration and infinite possibility appealed to me as a youth full of energy and still resides in the back of my heart.  I remember the first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey as a teen, mesmerized by those enthralling scenes of black, silence, and orchestra.  I can swiftly recall the first time I saw Alien, my imagination confronted with sheer terror and the depraved face of that wonder.  And now I can promise my mind will easily be able to recall my first plays of Xia, where that fading youthful spark of imagination and awe was caressed and reignited like a gentle mother helping a child find its way.

Eclipse and Race For The Galaxy are two of my favorite games yet neither one scratch that space exploration itch that is engrained in our souls.  The theme of both take a back seat to the strategic and mechanical decision space which is the exact opposite direction Xia takes.  This game mechanically is all guns starboard lined up and ready to obliterate the Euro spectrum of science fiction.  This is a game full of random chance, daring risks, and bloated with setting in the most satisfying of ways.  It’s a chaotic foray into the black that tickles your imagination and leaves you unrestrained to do whatever you can imagine.



Xia’s components are magnificent – pre-painted ships, metal coins, and lavish cardboard.


The term sandbox game has been increasingly thrown around lately to describe a wide array of games but Xia is the poster child for this term.  The game allows you to achieve Fame Points, and thus victory, by partaking in a myriad of different activities.  You can mine asteroids, hunt down ships, partake in missions, transport goods to distant worlds, salvage wreckage, and explore the galaxy.  All of the different strategies are viable to a mixed degree but you will often find yourself dabbling in multiple paths and the player who proves the most opportunistic and capable of handling whatever the universe throws at him will be the most successful, for this is a capricious and malevolent star system akin to Mother Nature herself.

Most tasks in Xia are handled by rolling different sized dice.  To move you will roll a die whose size depends on your engine.  The more expensive and upgraded your thrusters the larger the die you are able to roll.  Roll and move is a tricky mechanic because it brings a lot of baggage amongst the more initiated gamers in our hobby but Xia is able to pull it off due mostly to sheer volume as you typically roll 3 different moves on a turn and dozens of time throughout a game.  Averages will pan out and the odd annoying low roll is just fate being momentarily fickle.  You also are afforded Impulse movement once each turn which is a guaranteed 2-4 hexes of movement which helps alleviate the concern of randomness.

Mining, salvaging, and passing through asteroids require rolling the 20-sided die with low rolls resulting in damage or even outright death if flying through wreckage.  The game is constantly prodding you with risk/reward and dying is something that tends to happen with a small amount of frequency.  Death is somewhat soft and forgiving with your starting Tier of ships as you simply lose your current Mission and any cargo you possess – you keep your weapon outfits, ship, and money.  When you upgrade to Tier 2 or Tier 3 ships death comes at a higher cost as you lose a turn, which can be very off-putting.  Luckily death almost always comes by your own hand as you choose to take a high risk/high reward maneuver as opposed to flying around the debris or taking the long way to the planet’s gate.  You will be tempted often with taking the shortcut and flirting with disaster which can definitely provide a visceral and raw feel of adventure that this game captures so well.  You can do stuff like blind jump into a sector in order to save time but you cringe and contort your body in agony as you flip over that top tile hoping it’s not the system’s star, Xia, which equates to instant destruction.  Because dying is not overly punishing in the early game players will take risks and exploding into a million small pieces when trying to take a shortcut through a planet’s shields will often result in the table erupting in laughter and high fives as the thrill and emotional ride is part of the appeal.  My most memorable moments are when things have taken a turn for the worst and my ship collided with a heat seeking asteroid or nicked its fuel cell on that floating piece of debris with my name on it.  You can’t help but recline and smile as the game throws you a beautiful curve ball.




Much of this game can be directly comparable to one of my favorites – Merchants and Marauders.  You’re picking up and delivering goods, accepting dangerous missions, and even avoiding dangerous non-player ships.  These AI controlled ships are one of Xia’s strongest elements as the game comes with three distinct personalities that players can interact with.  The Merchant will fly planet to planet, making tons of cash and fattening itself up so that you can take it down.  The Scoundrel looks for nearby lawful ships to burn down while the Enforcer hunts down Outlaws.  You can battle and take down any of them for the associated Fame reward and if you are implementing a pirate strategy they are the weakest and juiciest of targets.  The way they maneuver on the board and behave really gives them a life of their own and comes across as a satisfying and well developed mechanic.

While the included NPCs are fantastic, the most prolific and enjoyable element of the design is the player ships.  Each ship you field has its own special ability which is distinct and flavorful and carries over when you upgrade to the next tier.  So you may start out with a spacecraft that can harpoon another ship and be carried along only to upgrade later so that you now have a massive railgun on your vessel that you can blast away with after detaching your harpoon.  It provides for a huge variety in combinations and tactics and is joyous to interact with.



The ship special abilities are creative and interesting.


The second aspect of equal importance is that each ship has a hold of varying size and shape.  In addition to storing goods in the hold you will place different systems called Outfits.  Outfits include your engine, weapons, and shields and they come in different Tetris-like pieces of awkward shapes.  There’s a mini-game of sorts as you’re trying to maximize the space in your hold and ascertain what the best possible layout is so that you can fit that Tier 3 missile with the Tier 2 Engine and Tier 1 shields.  Different ships are suited to different systems due to the shape of their hold which is fascinating and damn clever.  Perhaps it’s not difficult to imagine but there is a great deal of fun in buying gear for your ship and organizing the layout of your different systems.  It provides an enjoyable and direct connection with a simple and elegant solution.

There are many different aspects to this game that are admirable but there are a few rough edges which may be a source of chagrin for some.  In addition to approaching the game with the right mindset for the sheer number of dice rolls and randomness, players need to be aware that going on the offensive against other players is not a directly successful strategy.  Defense edges out offense in a general sense which means you have to be opportunistic and thoughtful in your decision to attempt to take out an opponent.  Additionally, since the galaxy is laid out in a random fashion odd-ball results will sometimes come out.  You may find a planet which is selling goods that are in demand by the adjacent planet which allows the situation to crop up of a player repeatedly running a very short trade route.  My table would deal with such a tactic via verbal and mechanical harassment which often is enough of a solution to not cause us too much agony.  The only other element which is slightly disappointing is the lack of an event system similar to that in Merchants and Marauders.  While the mechanics are chaotic in nature the star system often isn’t.  Once the galaxy has been fully explored the only future unknowns are typically Missions.  That’s not to say the game gets boring but a touch of unpredictability via an Event deck would be appreciated.

Xia: Legends Of A Drift may not be a perfect game but it has one huge thing going for it: in terms of setting and emotional impact it doesn’t have any peers.  No game has previously attempted to tackle that sense of child-like awe or deliver our fading dreams like this.  There have been a few that have come close but not one has really followed through on its promise like this release.  Xia is first and foremost an emotional connection to that vast, hostile, and beautiful frontier and it’s a game that when approached from the correct vector will deliver on laughter, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm.


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Among The Stars – The Ambassadors




Designers:          Vangelis Bagiartakis, Panagiotis Zinoviadis

Publisher:           Stronghold/Artipia Games (2014)


Claustrophobia, Cosmic Encounter, and King of Tokyo – these are all games that are damn good in their own right. Yet, once you’ve tried each of these with their expansions you will refuse to look back, addicted to the sweetest of drugs and unable to recognize all the lowly peons still kicking it old school ignorant of their own loss.  Among The Stars joins these ranks as The Ambassadors takes a solid game and kicks it up a hell of a notch by enhancing player choice and variety in the most effective of ways.


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The expansion comes with a huge variety of Ambassadors that will require many plays to see them all.


The main element of this release is the new Ambassador mechanic. In a similar fashion to selecting a card and chucking it into the discard to build a Power Plant or take income, you can now toss a card and select one of the face up Ambassadors on the table.  Each year 3 Ambassadors are dealt out face-up for the taking and their potentially awe-inspiring powers will lure you into submission.  One of the best aspects of the Ambassadors are the fact that the majority of them do not grant you victory points, instead they typically offer you additional powers or allow you to perform special actions such as keeping the location you discarded and building it at any point later in the game.  Other examples include building a power reactor in your station and stealing energy from other players, or allowing you to check for achieving an objective and ignoring one other player’s station while doing so.  These are powerful, sometimes earth shattering effects if utilized properly and planned around.  When you grab an Ambassador you also place a Bureau in your station, in which you have one Bureau for each of the associated location types.  This allows you some strategic flexibility when placing so that you can combo with nearby locations or focus on steering towards one of the objectives.  This is a clever and simple way to handle location types in conjunction with the Ambassador cards.


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The five bureaus each player receives.


While Ambassadors offer a potential hearty boon, they must be chosen and acquired carefully. When purchasing an Ambassador you are giving up the ability to acquire a station location.  Yes, you do get the Bureau location card, but you do not get any native victory point reward for this.  So instead of building that 5 point location you steal some power from your opponents and plop down a fresh Power Plant.  This means the acquisition of Ambassadors is a bit more nuanced and textured than initial impression.  Mass buying of Ambassadors will generally not lead to success, thus forcing you to pick and choose your candidates that suit your overarching strategy and tactical focus.  This feels excellent in play as it creates a bit of tension and a layered decision point over massaging your strategy to compliment an available Ambassador and you have to weigh the appropriate cost in money, actions, and flexibility.

The second portion of this expansion is not quite as flashy or in your face but surprisingly it is actually more interesting to a certain degree. In addition to a handful of new special cards, the expansion comes with 15 new basic location cards.  This means you now have the option to use the base game locations, the expansion basic locations, or a mixture of the two.  This presents an immediate challenge in that if you want a mixture you will need to sort cards and build a proper basic location deck.  Doing this as you sit down to play is a horrible idea and will lead to frustration and shelving the entire thing.  The optimal solution is to build a location deck in advance either of your own accord or by heading to Artipia’s site and using one of several suggested location setups.  Artipia’s pre-built setups are exceptional and should be adopted immediately.  Pick one, build the deck, and throw it in the box until the next time you get Among the Stars to the table.  This naturally also fosters a desire to want to explore these setups as you will typically want to get in multiple games to become familiar with the location pool so that an overarching strategy can develop.  If you realize the deck contains the new Race Track card which offers additional VP if it’s placed in an enormous 4×4 block, you will definitely want to build your station to suit that ahead of time, so replayability and acquiring of familiarity is highly rewarded.


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The new basic locations offer as much bang as the Ambassadors.


While I will always devour more variety like an impoverished Stone Age Meeple whose owner is employing the starvation strategy, the new location cards also offer a huge upswing in the range and depth of effects as well. You can tell the designers played it safe with the base game as many of the location cards combo off very general and open-ended strategies, easily appeasing most builds.  The new cards tend to require a bit more focus and work or offer just a tad more downside but yield potentially greater results.  The effects are stranger, the choices required more developed, and the outcome produced is much more satisfying.  These add such a great degree of enjoyment that I can’t help but think of them as a core part of the overall game design and not as an additional expansion tacked on post production.  This feels more like Race For The Galaxy where planning occurred up front for future design as these integrate so smoothly into the overall product that you will want to get them into play right away.

This is a fantastic expansion that you shouldn’t hesitate to pick up. It adds depth without much complication and enhances gameplay in a smart and logical way.  I’d almost go so far as saying this is essential if you are a fan of the base game in even the slightest.  I don’t care if you’re a newcomer to Among The Stars or not, if you sit down at my table the Ambassadors will be in play

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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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