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Subject: To the Stars - An Ad Astra Review rss

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Garcian Smith
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I've seen this game on the shelf for a while. It reminded me of Android because of its space theme and art on it. Today, I got to try it out and see for myself what it really is.

HOW TO PLAY:

The goal of the game is to have the most points when the game ends. The game ends in two ways:

1) One player reaches 50 points
2) All of the planets are flipped over and revealed

Then the round is finished and whoever has the most points wins.

The basic flow of the game is that players will place "action" cards from their hand onto a grid of 12 slots, one at a time in turn order. The cards are then revealed sequentially and the chosen action will be carried out starting with the player who chose it. Then the other players are allowed to do an action. 15 slots are used when 5 players play the game. The game requires a minimum of 3 players. The game is played in multiple "rounds" of placing action cards, executing them and repeating.



Similar to Race for the Galaxy, each player has their own "set" of action cards. Also, the player who chose the action is given an additional advantage for choosing it.



After all 12 are done, the round is over. Whoever played the latest scoring action becomes the new starting player. If you played a scoring action on the 12th slot, you know that you will be the starting player next round.

So what are the actions?

The first is production. Every planet in the game has a specific resource it can produce. Each production card you have has two resources and you get to choose which of the two on your card will be produced. Players only produce a resource if they have a ship, colony or factory on a planet that matches the resource called on the card. There are six resources in the game: food, water, energy, copper, silver and gold. There is also a 10 card hand limit that must be kept at the end of each round.



The next action to go over is trade. Trade is where you can exchange resources with other players or with the bank. The bank's trade rate is 2 of the same resource for any other resource you want. The bonus is that you can only trade.

Another action is movement. This is where your ships can move around either from space to a planet, from a planet to another planet on the SAME solar system or from a planet to another planet on a DIFFERENT solar system. The systems that you can go to are dictated on the two symbols on the card. The bonus is that you can make as many flights as you want. When you move to a new solar system you get to look at every face-down planet on the system and place them back. Then you can choose which one you want to land your ship on and flip that planet over.



Another action is scoring. Here, you get points based on which of the two choices you choose on the scoring action card. Among them are: most factories/colonies, most ships, presences on most systems and so on. These cards do not return to you at the end of a round until all three scoring cards are used, forcing you to diversify. Also, whoever scores the most on a scoring card gets a bonus three points, meaning you might want to build like other players in order to prevent them from receiving the bonus.

The final action is build, which is as it implies. You can build ships, colonies, factories or terraformers. Ships allow you to land on other planets to build structures. Colonies allow production of resources when built on a resource planet. Factories produce twice as much as colonies. Terraformers simply give points. Note that ships also produce resources.







Another aspect to the game are alien cards. They are acquired when a player flies to a solar system and lands his ship on an alien world. The alien world however does not produce resources, but is counted for points. The alien world is clearly identified since it lacks a picture of a resource and is in a magenta/purple color.





These cards are powerful, one-shot effects that do a number of things whether introducing a new win condition to changing the order of your actions after the action placement phase is done.

SETUP:

Players will start with a factory on a random resource in the center solar system at the beginning of the game. They also get a ship and one of each resource. Then players place planets on the other solar systems. As for how many planets each solar system gets... it seems arbitrary. The rules don't clearly define a method as to how it's done. Don't worry about where on the board the solar systems are placed; the game doesn't use rulers or anything of that sort as moving to one solar system costs the same as moving to any other. Also the planets are placed face-down to add a sense of exploration and discovery to the game.




GAME ROUND:

1. In turn order, starting with the player with the first player marker, players decide on an action card to place on one of the remaining 12 slots.

2. After placing the last action card, the cards are overturned one at a time starting with the first card. The actions are then executed starting with the player who played the card.

3. After all actions are resolved, all action cards are returned to the players except score cards. They will get them back when a player uses all three of the score cards in his hand (does not have to be within the same round.

4. A resource limit of 10 cards is checked, any more will force a player to discard.

5. An end condition is checked to end the game. If a player hits 50 points or if all the planets have been revealed face-up, the game ends and the player with the most point wins.

CONCLUSION:

Playing Settlers of Catan and Race for the Galaxy has definitely made learning the game easier. I can easily see traces of those games here. One person mentioned Shogun; perhaps the 12-slot mechanic is of that sort. The game took several hours when I played it, but that's because nobody had played the game before.

The slot mechanic is really interesting. You will have to decide what you want to do at which time of the game. For instance, you might have the only terraformer in the game, so you might want to score that earlier than risk someone building one before you score it.

Also, the fact that everyone gets to do whatever is called on an action means the game rewards prediction. You might not want to call build if you see someone hoarding resources, since they might do it for you. However, they could be saving those resources to score it too. You want to benefit yourself more than other players and prevent them from "leeching".

I can see many strategies for the game. You could focus on diverse resource production by building lots of colonies. You could focus on specific resources by only building factories and you can also trade these resources to the bank for the ones you need (which is what I did my first game). You can build ships and try to nab the alien cards before anyone else. You could focus on food and water exclusively and shoot for the terraformers.

The components of the game are fairly good. I like the material on the cards here versus the card quality of Settlers of Catan. I definitely dig the space theme as well. The pieces are made of that Risk-like plastic and thinness. The art of the game is pretty interesting and makes you want to know what exactly the game is about.

Now for some concerns. I don't like the size of the resource cards. I suppose they are compact, but even though the game was new, after one play, they felt sticky and grungy. The size of the cards make finding sleeves for this difficult or impossible.

Secondly, the planet placement in the setup seems too arbitrary. The movement cards for all players are actually different. There are some planets that players do not have movement cards for. Therefore smart players would place tons of planets on solar systems they movement cards for.

Also, the first player can "lock" himself in that position if he places a scoring action on the 12th slot each round. This makes him effectively choose last, but it can be a hindrance to the player that goes last, since they don't get to choose where they place their last action.

BOTTOM LINE:

It's a really cool game and one I've considered buying. You have resource production, space exploration and trading. The slot-placement mechanic is really interesting. Like Puerto Rico, each player takes a turn doing it. However, it gives all options to the players like Race for the Galaxy. You also have to time your actions right and ALSO try to predict the actions of other players. The space-theme and art also appeal to me. I would recommend it to those who like the above games and would love to play again.

Have fun!



Update 10/20/09:

I was fortunate to play the game 6 more times. It's been up and down.

Three Biggest Ups:

1. Ease of Learning
What I mean that, despite it being new and such, the game is relatively easy to learn and play. Teach them how the game ends at 50 points or when all planets are shown. Then tell them how the game is played in rounds. Then tell them how a round begins with action card placement and resolution once all 12 (15) slots are filled, starting with the 1st card. Then go over each individual action card and go a little more into the scoring cards and space movement costs. Then it's up to them to figure out the game.

2. Newness Factor
It's a new game. It's got mechanics that spill from Settlers to Race. This is a bonus because it's both a familiar game, or will help bridge new players to games like Puerto Rico and such. It's like the all-you-can-do mp3player/camera/internet-browser/cell-phone doohickey.

3. Depth
It's got this in here. The rules aren't terribly hard to learn, but there's a lot to master. First of all, you'd want a general plan: Do I go after food+water and make Terraformers or do I want to go after the ores and make ships? Secondly, you'll want to decide which action cards you need and want to use. You'll also want to predict what others are going to do as well and leech off of them. You also want to remember what resources are located at where.

3 Downs:

1. Accumulative Advantage
Basically, if someone falls way behind, it can be hard for them to get back into place. One game I was totally behind in ships, systems explored, terraformers and resources and not surprisingly, I ended up last in the 30s while people hit their 50's. There's no welfare system here.

2. Mastery is a Brain-burn
There's just so many factors to keep track of that you can be overwhelmed. You need to plan your course of action right, place cards on the right numbers and also keep in mind what your opponents will do, by looking at their resource cards in hand, spaceship positions, colony/factory placements and score cards used.

3. Time
90 minutes is quite conservative here. I've played games that hit almost 2 hours. Of course you could get this narrowed down with repeated plays, it's still worth mentioning.
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Peter Smith
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Re: Adastardly Good
I think I'll wait and see if one of my game group gets a copy. I would like to try it, but it does sound like it's Race for the Galaxy deluxe edition.
 
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Roberto Di Meglio
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Re: Adastardly Good
Revelade wrote:

Secondly, the planet placement in the setup seems very arbitrary. The movement cards for all players are actually different. There are some planets that players do not have movement cards for. Therefore smart players would place tons of planets on solar systems they movement cards for.


To solve this simply, I would recommend that first you do the setup, then assign colors at random.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
I also played at Brian's session. We played my copy. Some thoughts:

Our session took two and a half hours. We started a little after 7 and were done at 9:30. Fantasy Flight makes sleeves that would fit the resource cards, but I'm not sure I'm going to buy them for the cards. I didn't notice any grunginess on the cards but I could see it happening.

I explained the movement rules incorrectly (and this after several attempts to get them right!!). The systems on the cards are the systems you can move to. They have nothing to do with where you move from. Playing the movement rules correctly should lead to a shorter game next time.

After one play, I would say yes, you have the Race for the Galaxy interaction where you are trying to choose roles that benefit you instead of the opponent, but because of the planner, Ad Astra implements this less brutally. In Race, you can directly control when your role will happen and what you can do with it. In Ad Astra, what you thought was going to happen when you put your card in the planner may have unexpected results.

For example, at the start of the turn, you put in a system scoring card at number 12 (so you can go first next turn). At the time, you have more systems than anyone else, so you expect to score the systems and score the three point bonus. By the time the scoring card comes up, you no longer have the lead in systems, in fact someone else may have taken the lead from you. But you have to score the card, so what you thought was going to be a help, actually works against you. This won't happen in Race.

This will be the first Bruno Faiduitti game that I actually like. He loves role selection designs, and most of the time they leave me cold. But I like the planning mechanism here, which makes the game much more tactical than some of his previous efforts. I'm looking forward to playing again.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
We also didn't score the colonies as we were building them, which would make the game run longer. So consider the long play time an anomaly.
 
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Steve Kearon
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
jschlickbernd wrote:
We also didn't score the colonies as we were building them, which would make the game run longer. So consider the long play time an anomaly.


Unless I'm mistaken, the only time you score colonies as they are built is when they are built on Alien planets. Did a lot of colonies get built on Alien planets?
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
So, would you call this game a 'real Dastard'?
 
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
SteveK2 wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
We also didn't score the colonies as we were building them, which would make the game run longer. So consider the long play time an anomaly.


Unless I'm mistaken, the only time you score colonies as they are built is when they are built on Alien planets. Did a lot of colonies get built on Alien planets?


Ok, thanks for that clarification.
 
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Robert Ramirez
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
Revelade wrote:

Also, the first player can "lock" himself in that position if he places a scoring action on the 12th slot each round. This makes him effectively choose last, but it can be a hindrance to the player that goes last, since they don't get to choose where they place their last action.


I thought each player only had 3 scoring cards for the whole game, and they are one time use. So you should only be able to lock yourself in first place for 3 rds (?).

I read the rules 2 weeks or so ago.... so I might be wrong.
 
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Steve Kearon
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
The scoring cards aren't one time use, however you don't get them back at the end of the round (like other cards) but only at the end of the round if all three of your scoring cards have been played.
 
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Robert Ramirez
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
cool. thanks.

 
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Garcian Smith
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Re: A Dastrardly Good Time
r3gamer wrote:
cool. thanks.

Still, I just reread the rules... If you want to stop that cycle, simply be "the last player to play a scoring card" (who then becomes the first player for the next round). It is impossible for the first player to guarantee being the last one to play a scoring card.
But you would simply place your scoring card on the 12th slot.
 
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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I think after a few plays, most players will not want to put their scoring card on the 12 spot. There are two distinct downsides to doing it. The first is that you automatically give up this turn's first play. The second is that you can waste a card entirely. In the session Brian is discussing, Neal put his scoring card 12th on a turn. By the time the 12th card scored, he would have given up 4 points to another player. He had to take another option on the card (remember the card MUST be scored) that happened to have no points. If the other option would have also scored more points than he would have gotten, he would have really been hosed.I don't see it as a long term viable strategy. I plan to play more this weekend and I'll be watching for it.
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Robert Ramirez
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Oh Brian you quoted me right when I deleted that post.. Darn it. I misread the "last card played" rule. It literally means, the player whose scoring card was scored last will be the first players.... not the order in which they were played onto the action card slots. So my argument was was based on a misread rule.

Jennifer, I was going to make that argument. Eventhough I haven't played the game, I don't know that committing one action of 4, to making sure you are first again, would be the most efficient first card play.

Looking forward to trying this out.
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Flane
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I found that the scoring using production cards detracted from the explore/colonize theme. Getting a +3 bonus for the most score is important for victory and seems better applied to ships/colonies/systems/planets rather than production cards in hand. The production scoring could be part of the last turn scoring when the game ends.

Any comments?

Also, regarding terraformers, would it not be more thematic if each one additionally made non-water/grain worlds produce either a water or a grain?

These are the two issues I had playing the game. Perhaps a variant is in order?
 
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Roberto Di Meglio
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I am not sure if I got your point about terraforming right, but remember that at least with the current rule you can only terraform a water or food planet.
 
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Flane
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Terraforming implies changing an inhospitable world into one more capable of supporting your kind of life. Lets assume grain and water are more favorable for life while mineral/energy are less.

So, I suggest that terraformers should be built on mineral/energy worlds instead of water/grain worlds and produce grain or water in addition to whatever the planet produces when it is activated.

Make sense?
 
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Roberto Di Meglio
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In this way of course terraforming is boosted up in efficacy, so at least you should consider toning down somehow... (eg. by not giving immediate points for terraforming)

Apart from 'theme' do you see any in-game reason why this variant could be interesting to use?

(As I understand it, the current underlying 'theme' reasoning is that the planet must be somehow suitable for life, then maybe improved - but if it's completely hostile, the technological effort would be too much or not convenient enough).
 
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Jason Kossowan
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flaney wrote:
I found that the scoring using production cards detracted from the explore/colonize theme. Getting a +3 bonus for the most score is important for victory and seems better applied to ships/colonies/systems/planets rather than production cards in hand. The production scoring could be part of the last turn scoring when the game ends.

Any comments?


The resolution order for scoring cards can make them dastardly.

Consider this: turn one Player 1 places an X/Y/Z scoring card in slot one. It resolves first. The player to his left is the first to decide how many (if any - minimum 2) resource cards from his starting pool he will exchange for points. This circulates around the table until Player 1 decides last. If no one challenges the playing player on this, it is quite easy for him to simply cash in two of his starting resource cards for an easy 5 point grab.

This is, of course, not limited to the first turn.
 
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Flane
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Yes Jason, this is another situation that is unsupported in theme. It seems that leaving out the resource scoring cards leads to a better explore and expand game. None (less) of the Tom-foolery of euro score mechanics.
 
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Mike Ruskey
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I would suggest that,theme-wise, the xyz scoring cards represent a contribution by the player of goods and resources to the empire for which he is rewarded by the emperor with victory points. Game-wise it is just another avenue towards victory that may be considered.
 
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Flane
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Well Mike, each player is that emperor.

Those resources by themselves are nothing until they are applied to expanding your realm. Who wins if one has a big shed filled with beach balls, and the other takes a few to the beach to play with friends?
 
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Mike Ruskey
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Hey Flaney-
An interesting illustration of differing viewpoints. Of course the backstory provided in the rules is fairly limited but I see the player as a leader of one of five factions of humans who is tasked with expanding his groups' power and influence. An over-riding authority(Emperor, Federation etc) rewards these factions according to their results.
Since it is not possible in a game to simulate every aspect of human existence, shorthand is used. The resource cards represent(imho)the infra-structure(farmers,miners,energy suppliers etc) that is needed to support your explorers and developers. And so the game provides a means to reward the player who concentrates on supplying these resources

From a gaming standpoint, I like a game that: forces hard decisions, provides multiple routes to victory, and allows for come from behind wins. For me, Ad Astra delivers(ymmv).

In a recent game, I had managed to build a few colonies and had scored well with the xx card. I was first to pass 50 points and decided to play an extra scoring card(alien power) to pad my lead. When I played my extra scoring card, my son scored 5 points from it but playing last, I scored 9 and cruised to a 68 pt. win. BUT WAIT! My son's 5 pts. put him at 42!! Sure enough, he had The Secret to Everything card#@$$#! Defeated by my own greed!!:cry

I know that many will hate that example but if you do you can leave that card out of the game!!(btw-while you are cavorting with the beach bunnies-I am selling the beach balls from my shed-you may "score" but I win

I can see from your top 10 that we have differing tastes in games; it's a great industry that caters to both our needs.

Happy gaming








 
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Flane
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Yeah Mike, You're probably right about the backstory.

And I agree with your use of he score card at the end of the game; makes sense that your collection of resources should be a factor in victory (or not-so-victory laugh). Because your score has nothing to do with exploring and building, I do not see/understand why it should be so strongly emphasized during play.

Game On!
 
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