Review: Among the Stars

AmongtheStarsBoxArtFrom Artipia Games (and also distributed by Stronghold Games) Among the Stars is a 2-4 player game. The players represent different alien races trying to build the most impressive space station, garnering intergalactic influence at the end of 4 years. As they build onto their space station, added locations award more victory points and the player at the end of 4 years with the most points win.

Among the Stars is a drafting game. Players get an initial hand of 6 cards. They select one and pass the remaining to either the player to the right or left (each game year the direction shifts). Then they play the card, adding it to their space station.

Cards must be placed orthogonally to existing locations (i.e. not diagonally) and are only considered adjacent to those cards. Players must pay for location cards with credits. Additionally some locations require power. So there must be a power plant within two locations and can provide enough energy to build that new section. Each card represents one of six location types (diplomatic, recreation, administration, etc.).

Once built the location typically awards victory points. Some cards have further victory point bonuses if certain conditions are met at the end of the game, such as extra points for each similar card in the station, additional points for being near other location types, the furthest away from the main reactor, etc. This provides interesting play having to account for the spatial layout of your station as you try to get the most points.

Every year you gain credits, however as an action you can discard a card and gain credits instead of adding it to their station. Or if wanting another power reactor, they discard their selected card, paying for a power reactor and placing it within their station.

The reactors themselves provide a limited resource of power. Each reactor has 2 energy cubes. These cubes are discarded when certain locations are added to the station. Further, they can only power locations that are up to two adjacent spots away (remember, a diagonal direction does not count). As many cards that require energy usually provide a good amount of points, it can be a challenge figuring out the optimal layout to provide enough power for expanding your station.

AmongStarsPlayPlayers continue selecting and playing one card, while passing the rest, until all the cards in players’ hands are played (or discarded for credits or power stations). Then a new year begins and the process is repeated until 4 years are completed.

Among the Stars at its core is a fun game. However there are other game elements which add a lot to the gameplay. Players can randomly select a starting race. Each race has a unique power, providing some special ability they can use during the game. There are also random objective cards equal to the number of players which provide bonus victory points if completed. Being placed face up during setup, each player can look them over and decide if they want to focus on a particular goal to earn those objective cards during the game.

Lastly, there are optional conflict cards which provide an additional type of player turn action. These cards typically award victory points if you have more particular location types within your station compared to another player. At the same time your opponent will also lose points equal to those that you gain. It’s a little way to add some back and forth tension mucking up another player’s victory point totals.

In all, it’s an enjoyable game. The slight hiccup is the two player version which requires dummy hands, but it manages to capture that feel of potentially having key cards drafted from other players. This point is what makes the game. You likely will only be able to get one additional card from the hand you are first dealt. Deciding which is the best draw can be a challenge. You really don’t get a feel for the other cards out there until about halfway into the round, making that decision to focus on a particular location type for your space station early in the game risky (but can be immensely rewarding).

The Good – Among the Stars comes with a lot of parts to the base game. The different player races and objectives offer a some variety, in addition to the location cards. This provides a little randomization in the game that goes beyond the deck of location cards, giving some differing play for each game. There aren’t a lot of rules to burden new players, but it certainly provides a lot opportunities to explore different strategies.

The components are done well with cards having a nice, thick backing. The counters are good cardstock and the energy markers represented as clear cubes are a nice touch. The design of the cards can be a little cluttered when figuring out setup (certain cards are added or dropped depending on the number of players), however for actual play they are easy to read and decipher. The artwork is pleasant and certainly helps capture the theme of adding sections onto a space station.

The Bad – It’s a drafting game and by design it will be difficult to plan too far ahead for future turns, which can be a little frustrating. You start each year with a 6 card deck, so you can only expect to use one other card by the end of that year. You only have 2-3 turns to potentially see what cards you might end up with later. In effect, it’s somewhat of a puzzle game where you simply make the best play you can with a new hand each turn.

Also even though some cards are labeled as conflict cards, you really don’t have much player interaction other than using (or discarding) a card that another player might have wanted. So you can slip into this mindset of just building up your station and ignore everyone else. Put simply, this might not be the most enjoyable game if you are looking for more a back-and-forth play experience.

The two player version is a little lackluster also, relying on dummy hands with your opponent likely discarding cards you’d want to use. If players alternated placing a single card for a dummy station using some simple automatic placement rules, it might be more enjoyable. That way you have to try to also beat a third point total and worry about another station layout, other than just your opponent.

Card resolution is done simultaneously and sometimes this can put a kink in the flow of the game for certain cards. Although there are rules to determine a player order in these cases, it can be a little clunky to resolve.

The Verdict – Among the Stars is solid. As a drafting mechanism type game, it’s especially enjoyable. The play is very streamlined and easy to grasp. Yet there are challenging choices you have to make. While scoring points is paramount, you also have to keep an eye on what your opponents are doing. Sometimes it might mean forgoing adding a juicy location and simply discarding a location for credits, as that same card would bring a ton of points to your opponent.

Another key thing that stands out is the variety of game options. You have the option of playing with and without races, objectives, or conflict cards. You can choose to keep a limit on station size layout and even another small variant for the 2 player game is offered. Along with this you get 8 different races and objectives. And on top of everything are the differing station locations and types, with a plethora of card combos that you can explore. All of these aspects contribute to giving the game some legs with play longevity.

Among the Stars is a great game. The drafting mechanic offers a slight tweak to the myriad of deck building games out there. And it also really captures the theme well of slowly constructing a sprawling space station. With nice components, a low entry bar to learning the rules, and solid gameplay, it’s certainly one to add to your game collection.