Among the Stars Review

AmongtheStarsSPECS

The universe has been ravaged by a terrible war. Death and destruction were the rule rather than the exception. But peace is on the horizon. All major races have been united in the Alliance. The first task of that alliance is to repair what has been destroyed, starting with the many space stations.

Overview:

What do you get for your money?

Lots of (square) cards, 152 to be precise. A score board, with 4 player markers and a turn marker. 8 Different races on cardboard boards. 50 Credit tokens and 20 energy cubes. Some ziplock bags and a rulebook. 
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How do you play the game?

Each player starts with a main power station with 2 energy cubes on it, some money and 6 location cards in their hand. The goal is to make the biggest, most beautiful, most effective space station. The space station must be finished in 4 years and the one does it best within that time-frame wins the game.
It’s a drafting game, so you choose the card you want or you don’t want anyone else to have and you pass the rest to your neighbour. On every card a part of a space station is depicted. It is from a certain district (colour), it has a building cost and it has small bit of text on it that tells you how to score points with this card. You have two types of currency in the game: energy and money. And you basically have two types of point scoring types: you score points with this card now or you score at the end of the game. 
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In your turn, you can choose to build the chosen card, to discard it for money or to build a power station.
The amount of points you get when you place a card in your station, mostly depends on the location itself, but also on the type of location that is next to that card or the amount of cards that is between the card and the main power station for example. So, it not just depend which card you build, but also where you build it.
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In addition to this basic idea, you can add the alien races, which give every player a special ability. You can add objectives, they add end game scoring conditions. And lastly, you can add conflict cards, if you want to play the game more aggressive. 
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At the end of the game, you add your end game points to your current point total, you get extra points if you have some money left and you get points if you efficiently used your energy cubes. The alien with the most points, wins Among the Stars.

Review:

Theme:

The theme is building a space station to promote trade and diplomatic relations between the alien races and thereby keeping the peace. Is it well implemented? That is a tough one.

You are building a space station, that’s true. Your tableau gets bigger and bigger. The different location types and the way they score point are a perfect match. You don’t want any filthy power plant or any military location near your peaceful garden and why would you want one bus station, you need more to create a transport network, right?? Every card makes thematic sense.
But the promote peace, trade and diplomacy part of the theme is in my opinion not entirely well executed. You build the trading posts and the embassies, but you don’t actually trade or do politics. Your space station or race doesn’t interact with others. It’s like having a phone but never call or text someone.
But they say they are only promoting trade, not doing it. Ok, my bad.
The game can be interactive with the conflict cards, but the Alliance was all about peace keeping right? And why would you want to have a conflict with someone about who has the most office blocks or restaurants in their station??

Gameplay:

The gameplay is fairly simple. The choices in the game are limited to: which locations do you want to build and where do you want to build them. In addition, you have to think a little bit about which cards to pass on to your opponent.  
The first game will be a little slow and confusing, you don’t really know the best ways to score points and everyone needs time to read their cards. But after that the game will play quite fast and easy.
Some locations will always be in the deck according to the player number, in addition to these cards some random special location cards are added to the deck. So every game is a little bit different.
The rules will tell you differently, but I would add the alien races and the objective cards immediately. These add strategy and variability to the game, without making the game more complicated.
Keep in mind that there is little interaction between players. In the games I’ve played everyone was watching the others, but most of the time they chose the cards that were most beneficial for them, other than choosing a card that they did not want the others to have.
The lack of interaction can be solved with the conflict cards. They give you the ability to take points from other players if, for example, if you have more red locations than they have. But also, you don’t want to give your opponent the opportunity to screw you over, so you keep certain conflict cards for yourself.
They are quite interesting, but I do think it would be better if, to make them more special and worthwhile to use, you have to add fewer conflict cards to the deck or you only have one of every type.
I would not advice to use conflict cards if you play with two players. They do not work that well that way, because you can’t choose the opponent to screw over. 
It’s always the same person. They feel like a slap in the face with a flat hand.
The two player variant works pretty well. You are playing the game, if it were a four player game. It is an, even more, multi-player solitaire game if you play with two. 

Looks:

The illustrations on the cards are very, very beautiful, you can spend an evening just looking at all the different cards. Odysseas Stamoglou and Antonis Papantoniou did a fantastic job.

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The transparent plastic energy cubes are also very nice to watch. Sort of transparent, but not really.
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Not so pretty (and this is actually more about functionality) is the score board. Very confusing. You’ll have to look at least twice to see where to put your player marker.
OK, because everything else is so beautiful:

Quality of the  components:

The cards are fine. Not a standard shape, though, so it might be harder to find fitting sleeves.

The cardboard is quite sturdy and the plastic cubes are of good quality.
The turn marker is the only thing that is flawed. There should be two sides that show you to which neighbour you have to give your cards, but both sides show the same direction. 
Lastly, the box is far too big. 

Fun:

Among the Stars is a very fun game. For me, is falls between a Lost Cities(ish) game and Race for the Galaxy. Lost Cities is shorter, but has the same amount of interaction (AtS a bit more because of the draft). Race for the Galaxy takes about the same amount of time, but it is more complex. 

To start with, the game itself looks very nice. At the end of four years you have your own fully built, colourful, space station, with all the different locations, right in front of you on the table. What an accomplishment! 

Some will see this as a flaw, but I personally don’t mind the lack of interaction in this game. Every time I think it is a challenge to choose the best cards and put them in the right place, to get the more points than the last game.
The conflict cards only work with more than two players, but I don’t think you need them to have a nice time. 
The different races, the objective and the fact that the special locations are randomly put into the deck provide more variety and adds to the replay value.   
I also don’t think that there is one way to win the game.
During the game you’ll have to make some small, but sometimes, tough choices. You want to build everything, but you can’t. Plus, you’ll have to press your luck a bit. 
This is not a heavy game, but not a lightweight either. A very nice game for week-nights. Two games of Among the stars in a free hour and you’ll have a great time.
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