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Subject: Sheep for Rocket Fuel? - When Euros go into Space rss

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Brown Deer
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When I first read the rules, I instantly exclaimed, "Puerto Rico Catan....IN SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!" I chuckled and thought myself clever for coming up with this moniker. Then it dawned on me. This really would be the love child between a Bajoran Puerto Rico and a Vulcan Catan.

As this game has been out for awhile, and there are many reviews before me, you get my opinion and my opinion only. No rules rehash, no mechanics walkthrough.

Disclaimer: I am a big fan of these two designers. I read Faidutti's blog nearly daily and love Citadles. Laget is responsible for Shadows over Camelot, one of my most favorite games. Still I feel the comments about this game are valid regardless of who the designers are.

The Good

Components
The components are pretty. The sci-fi theme gave the artist something new to play with. Instead of farms, and mountains, and fields, you have binary star systems and red giants. These rival the artist renditions found in astronomy textbooks in my opinion.

Action Mechanic
I am in love with the action laying mechanic. You are forced to decide whether or not you want to play your action early, guaranteeing it to happen exactly like you want it to, or gamble based on what you think your opponents will do for a bigger payoff. For instance, I could score starships early in the turn to guarantee I get bonus points for having the most starships, or I could build a starship and score them later in the round to get more points. It's a delicate balance and it creates very interesting choices.

It also adds very humorous moments as four build cards are revealed in a row.

Ease of Learning
I feel that anyone with a background in gaming will be able to pick this one up (unlike Puerto Rico). The rules are cleanly written and nothing is too complex. I'd put this along the lines of a Kingsburg in terms of how long it takes you to "get it." Even a newbie player should be able to create a somewhat viable strategy within one round and fumble their way through.

Depth
From what order you lay actions, to what planets you are going to, to how quickly you wish to explore, to what resources to bank, to how you want to score. The choices you have in this game are many and varied. This game manages to balance all of these elements and not feel overwhelming. You must develop your infrastructure fast enough where you can score points, but not to fast that you resource screw yourself, but not to slow that the other players start leaping too far ahead via scoring cards.

Replayability
There is sufficient randomization to make each game different. You will be guessing at what each planet holds and dependent on what you find, you may or may not get the resources you need in order to say...build a colony. (Stupid water...why do we need you anyways.) There are many strategies that work so you'll never find yourself with nothing to do. For instance, you can try the long term strategy of building tons of infrastructure and reaping resources for a building spree. You might try the shotgun approach of building a couple of starships early and scoring them often. This will depend on what resources you find accessible early.

The Bad

Potential Resource Screwage
While this game requires resources to build things it might fall victim to the same predator that kills Catan for me. You simply may not be able to get the resources you need. It took me 3 or 4 jumps into other systems before I found a planet that would generate wheat.

This problem is alleviated in Ad Astra because the improvements may be built with more combinations of resources and you may trade with other players. However, I maintain trading is an inelegant solution due to the fact that you need leverage to trade. If you don't have anything anybody else, you're not going to find a trade partner.

Like Catan you may trade with the bank. However you may only do so on your own trading phase. This can force your hand strategy wise, either by forcing you to play a trade card, or by immobilizing starships to maintain resource gathering power so you have enough to trade with the bank.

AP Potential
AP ruins any game. This one is no different. The double think of Citadels with the economic planning of Puerto Rico and the negotiation of Catan can be nightmarish for our overly analytical friends.

The Indifferent

Theme
Past the novelty of screaming "PUERTO RICO CATAN IN SPAAAAAAAAACE!" the theme is not all that relevant to the game. Could it have been something else, sure. Does it really matter, not really. Bruno himself has expressed concern that the sci-fi theme may turn off potential gamers. Should it? I don't think so. But this game isn't exactly dripping in theme.

Conclusion

I like this game. The resource gathering of Catan is simplistic and you are given more control over it. The long term planning and turn order of Puerto Rico makes your strategy dynamic. While this game certainly shows similarities to Catan and Puerto Rico it has its own unique feel. The theme helps to differentiate it, as does the ability to "speed up" gameplay by playing scoring cards to jump towards the magic 50. This isn't simply a game of who can build the best infrastructure and profit the most. This is a game of who can build the best infrastructure while capitalizing on their advantages early to score points and not allowing their opponents to over power them late with a better infrastructure.

The game certainly is not perfect, however the issues with this game are largely issues the entire genre has not found a way to fix. (I'm a thinking a taboo buzzer could be amusing) I highly recommend this game to just about anyone who enjoys the hobby or who has played Settlers of Catan. If nothing else, this game deserves a place on your shelf because it does what it does very well and its creative pedigree implies a good game Euro players should like.

(Unless you don't like an indigo plantation you bartered for with eight sheep....on Mars.)
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Stephen Clouse
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Lenexa
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Good review.

You seem to have missed that you can trade with the bank at 2:1 during your own trade phase. I find it very hard to get resource screwed in this game -- one reason I like it a hundred times more than Catan (also your resource supply is not at the mercy of a pair of dice).

This game has been a big hit in my gaming group, and it's much better than the current ratings reflect.
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Geoff Hall
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Yate
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Thanks for the review, you've only given me more encouragement to pick this game up
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Brown Deer
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Chairman Kaga wrote:

You seem to have missed that you can trade with the bank at 2:1 during your own trade phase. I find it very hard to get resource screwed in this game -- one reason I like it a hundred times more than Catan (also your resource supply is not at the mercy of a pair of dice).


Alas, I did miss that. It's what I get for writing a review when I should be asleep.

Edited the review to reflect actual rules, but my feelings about potential resource screwage remain. Please read and remember I said "potential resource screwage."

and...in editing to correct the rules mishap I seem to have deleted half the review. It has been rewritten with the same sentiment albeit different words.
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Amy Muldoon
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Nice review; I played this at the con and had a great time. It doesn't win points for originality, but it definitely has broader possibilities than some of the other games it borrows from. I definitely like the card mechanic as opposed to dice generating production--it definitely reduces the screwage as you can force your opponents to produce things you don't yourself produce, and then trade. It's less efficient than having your own colonies and factories, but can also cost you less than going to the bank.

We had a crazy stream of energy production early in the game, which lead to some "Identical Resource" scoring; I think the scoring cards are confusing at first, but work in interesting ways once you get the hang of them--especially since you might think you have the advantage, but by the time the card comes up positions have changed. I particularly like that you can't just hammer on one type of scoring over and over, you have to cycle through all three cards. Details like that elevated it from mediocre to replayable for me.

 
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Andre Metelo
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pigi314159 wrote:
[
Edited the review to reflect actual rules, but my feelings about potential resource screwage remain. Please read and remember I said "potential resource screwage."


With the trade, you wouldn't have a problem. a week ago I played a game where I only had gold planets (like 5 or so, everytime I procuded gold I got 7 or 8).

With trades I was able to pick the other resoources to be competitive and have the most presence in different systems. High point final score for 13 points off gold.

It helped that another player also had 2 gold planets w/ factories and was playing the gold production as often as I did.

The fact that the other 2 players did not have gold made it where I got a good amount of trades at the 1:1 rate, but turned a lot of gold in to the bank to get all I needed at the 2:1 rate. But the sheer volume I was getting was enough to compensate the losses.
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Tom Grant
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pigi314159 wrote:
Edited the review to reflect actual rules, but my feelings about potential resource screwage remain. Please read and remember I said "potential resource screwage."


It seems that the challenge isn't resource screwage, but relative resource advantage. Even if you lack particular resources, you can increase production of the ones you do have, and then use the 2:1 trade with the bank, as needed.

However, you do face a disadvantage, relative to other players, if they're producing a better mix of resources than you are. Plus, there's always the irritation of having other people continue to accrue resources whenever you produce something that they also can produce.

Ad Astra seems like a game that will take a few games to really understand. For example, in our game, everyone thought I was the runaway winner, until someone pulled out the alien artifact that gives you the win if you score exactly 42 points. (Nice nod to Douglas Adams, there.) Now, I can't say if that artifact is a good equalizer or not. Nor do I have a good feel for how you might use some of the other artifacts to get yourself out of a bad corner, or cement yourself in a winning position. (The one that lets you recover a scoring card from the discards seems extremely powerful...But maybe not.)

As well-intentioned as early reviews, after one or two plays, may be, I don't think this game is worth reviewing until you've played it a few more times.
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Andy Pelton
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Chairman Kaga wrote:
Good review.

You seem to have missed that you can trade with the bank at 2:1 during your own trade phase. I find it very hard to get resource screwed in this game -- one reason I like it a hundred times more than Catan (also your resource supply is not at the mercy of a pair of dice).


That is what sold it for me as well, I dislike Catan because of the dice rolls and I find it goes on far to long. Ad Astra on the other hand, as resources are reliant on what cards and choices are made you are more likely to get some resources you want from other players or your cards each round.
 
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Bernie Pask
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Deurne
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Thumbs up on the comment stating one HAS to play this game more then once to get 'good grip'. This was the first and biggest conclusion our gaming group made after a single play.

I was euphoric at the beginning of this session as very quickly I held a monopoly on the 'copper' resource, but soon fortune turned against me for not bringing in diversity in my resourcing. I so much wanted to many planets holding the same resource. This made me choose trade actions to often to my liking making sure to get needed resources, iso other needed actions, like scoring or building.

Shame I haven't been able to play since, but I sure am hoping to five it another go soon.

My 2cents...
Bernie
 
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Marcelo Prado Silva
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Good review, thanks for that. I´ve got a friend that just bought it and I look forward to the oportunity to play.
 
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John Lyons Beck
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pigi314159 wrote:

AP Potential
AP ruins any game. This one is no different. The double think of Citadels with the economic planning of Puerto Rico and the negotiation of Catan can be nightmarish for our overly analytical friends.


The "problem" of AP is always located between chair and table, and not on the board. The solution is a timer.

If you want to eliminate AP from your group, play games that don't involve a lot of decisions, like Candyland. For me, I love games that force me to think carefully about how I play, that give my brain a work-out. This is a great game for that.
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