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For lack of a better term, I'm going to dub my little gaming group that meets weekends at Blue Highway Games in Seattle "The Usual Suspects". Recently, we played our first game of Ad Astra after convincing the local FLGS staff to add a copy to their game library.
First, some introductions:
Me, a school teacher who has been playing board games avidly since I was a wee lad and thought Monopoly was the coolest thing ever.
Chris, a photographer by hobby (his work is really beautiful) and one of the Three Nicest Guys I Know.
Niall, claims to be bad at math... I am beginning to suspect otherwise.
Galia, a recent transplant from Michigan and grad-student of Atmospheric Sciences. She's quick witted and very smart - a lethal combination.
None of us had played, but of course we are all quite knowledgeable about board games, so while "the boys" were showing Galia how to play Race for the Galaxy, I began reading the rules to AA. Once we finished our Race game, we broke out AA and laid out the starting planets. After I gave an out loud read from the rules book for the various roles we could take, we were ready to go.
I looked at the Alien artifacts and decided that one way I might win was to head to an Alien world first and dive into the deck - hoping to get a "technology" card that might aid me later in the game. I would up getting the "Answer to Everything" which would allow me to win if I had exactly 42 points. I had also taken an early lead by playing the Score most cards of the same resource early, when I knew I was holding more vegetables than anyone else. Sadly, I was about to realize that an early lead came at the expense of production of useful resources.
Chris and Niall both seemed to take the explore and settle resource strategy and it was starting to help them even in the early stages. Galia also found some additional resources and by the end of the first round, everyone could produce energy (needed for movement) except for... the guy who's only starship is parked on some distant alien world doing nothing.
Middle game: Somehow, I managed to scrape enough resources together by trading my vegetables to the bank, and making a few trades with other players, to get a second colony that produced one of the ores. By this time, the other three were laying their third colonies, or upgrading to their first or second factory. My initial lead was beginning to shrink, and I had no way to really do much about it... however, I kept hope that my secret 42 point victory might be close enough.
Our impressions middle game: Normally, I'd put this at the end, but it was in the middle of everything that we all kept exclaiming "Wow, I really like this game!" Chris kept sniggering to himself as he came up with yet another possible strategy to lay upon his helpless victims... er friends. Niall started to make a serious run by playing the exact scoring cards he needed to grant bonus points (he had presence in nearly every system and six colonies). Only Galia seemed to be able to keep up with Niall's Juggernaut of production and managed to tie him for system presence. We all commented on how we liked the pacing, and enjoyed the elements taken from other games synthesized into a new whole.
End Game: Niall played two scoring cards in the last round and won them both giving him 59 points. Galia started looking at her alien artifact with interest trying to think of a way to take something from Niall and give her the points, but his lead was too far. Chris and I brought up the rear with Chris out scoring me by about six or so... and my tantalizingly close 42? Yeah, I wound up short by seven points.
Things we liked:
It felt like its own game even though it borrows heavily from many other games. It is obvious that the resource model comes from Settlers and other like games, but without a die, it seems less random. You can be direct control of what resources produce, at least to a certain extent. I'm not sure any of us completely grasped the action track and its strategic possibilities - though a couple of us did place orders that wound up being superfluous - two build orders in a row for instance. The rules were well written and easy to grasp. The game itself took about an hour and a half and we played the later rounds much faster than the earlier ones.
Things we didn't like as much:
I can't really say that any of us had a complaint about the game. Oh, the components are a bit fiddly, but that's really minor.
Wrapping it up:
Good theme, nice looking planet and resource components, a great deal of fun to play, and a bunch of strategies just waiting to be uncovered. I think we'll be playing Ad Astra many times over the next few weeks.
Your enthusiasm shines right through and is contagious (in a good way). I agree, this game has some interesting strategies to uncover.
Thanks! That's kind of what I'm going for with my session reports... they may not be the most comprehensive or thorough, but if the enthusiasm shows through, then I've done my job.
Thanks for sharing, very useful. This will be most likely my next purchase!