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Subject: A no rules review rss

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John Bandettini
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I’m planning to write a series of reviews that are not just rules re-writes. I have done those kinds of reviews in the past and some people like them and some don’t.

Instead I am going to concentrate on two aspects of the game. A look at what you actually get in the box. The components of the game, a look at both the quantity and quality.

Secondly, my experiences with the game including what I like about it and anything I don’t like about it.

Ad Astra comes in what I call a ‘Days of Wonder’ size box. (Like the Ticket to Ride games). Inside is not as much as you might get in a Days of Wonder game, but that’s due to the game only having a small board. You get plenty of other ‘stuff’.

The board you get with it is not for the main part of the game it’s used to place cards played during a round and to keep score. The main play occurs on a ’board’ you build yourself. You get 9 cardboard discs representing your home sun and 8 new suns waiting to be colonised. These are nice big thick disks each clearly marked with a different type of sun. You also get smaller disks, which represent the planets that orbit the suns. These have different designs on them depending on what resources they produce.

You also get 6 very small disks. Five of which are used to track the players scores on the score track. They are very small but if they were bigger would not fit on the score track. They would be nicer as wooden markers, but as the game does not use any other wooden pieces it’s understandable that they are not wood. The last disk is the first player marker. This is far too small and should have been the size of the sun disks.

Each player gets a nice set of plastic pieces to play the game with. They come in the ‘standard’ colours of Red, Blue, Green and Yellow, with the addition of not so common Grey pieces. The pieces represent the various things you can build during the game, Star ships (you won’t get very far without them), Colonies, Factories and Terraformers. They are very nice but could be a little on the fragile side, especially the Star ships and the legs of the colony buildings. So thoughtfully you get one extra of every one.

There are player aid cards for each player, but to be honest they are not that useful as they are not very clear. You can (and indeed should) print off the alternate ones found on the Geek.

The last things you will find in the box are some cards, nowhere near as many as Arkham Horror, but they are of a similar size. There are sets of cards for each player so they can choose their roles each turn, multiple copies of the cards showing the various resources that can be gathered during the game and the Alien artefacts that can be found on alien planets. Nice quality cards very shiny and with some good and clear artwork.

I like this game a lot. I think it kind of slipped under the radar when it was released last year. So far everyone I have played it with said they wanted to play it again. It’s not the most original game ever, most of its mechanics are pretty easy to spot. It’s been described as a cross between Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico and that’s probably pretty fair.

I think the most interesting (and original) part of the game is the scoring. Although there are a few ways to score points in the game the vast majority of points are controlled by the players. In amongst each player’s role cards are three scoring cards, each with two alternate methods of scoring points. Scoring rounds are triggered by players playing a scoring card. Whoever has the most in whatever is being scored gets a three point bonus. So players try to get ahead in one of the scoring categories then play a scoring card.

Now there is a nice wrinkle here, all other role cards you get back after playing them, but you only get your scoring cards back after playing all three, so you can’t just get the lead in one category and keep playing the same scoring card.

I also like the way you play multiple role cards each turn (3 or 4 depending on number of players). This allows you to try and anticipate what the other players might do and try to get them to do some actions for you. Great when it works out, not so good when it doesn’t.

It’s also good that the role cards are different for each race. Each player has a different combination of move cards. You have three move cards with two different sun systems on each, as there are eight systems this means every player has two systems they can only travel too when someone else plays the right move card.

You also get different combinations of the produce cards. Unlike Settlers where you roll a dice to produce, in Ad Astra you play a produce card and choose which of the two goods on the card are produced.

There is not that much I don’t like about it. I think sometimes it can have a bit of a runaway leader issue, but not every game.

There is no direct conflict in the game, which some won’t like. Once you land on a planet no one else can go there. The game does feature subtle interaction, trying to anticipate other people’s roles and more direct interaction when a trading role card is played.

All in all it’s a very good, if not terribly original game, with enough neat touches to make it worth playing. If you get a chance to play it give it a chance you might well like it.

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Chris Binkowski
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I have been wanting to get this game since I've seen the reviews. I like Settlers a lot, but it has become old hat for me. This looks like it would fit right in the now empty Settlers slot of gaming activities.
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John Bandettini
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Sarxis wrote:
I have been wanting to get this game since I've seen the reviews. I like Settlers a lot, but it has become old hat for me. This looks like it would fit right in the now empty Settlers slot of gaming activities.


The main advance I think this makes over Settlers is that you play a produce card to get resources rather have to depend on a dice roll. This allows you to plan better.
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Lance
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Moorhead
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Very good review. You make me glad I picked this one up, even if I have yet to play it.

For the record, I can take or leave rules explanations for games, as long as they are readily available already.
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Scott Agius
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JohnBandettini wrote:
Sarxis wrote:
I have been wanting to get this game since I've seen the reviews. I like Settlers a lot, but it has become old hat for me. This looks like it would fit right in the now empty Settlers slot of gaming activities.


The main advance I think this makes over Settlers is that you play a produce card to get resources rather have to depend on a dice roll. This allows you to plan better.


The regular connotations made to settlers is what put me off wanting to try this game, Settlers is often decided after the first houses are placed based on the probability of income, then you play for two hours hoping the dice work in your favour.

Ad Astra keeps you thinking every turn about what actions every one else has secretly placed and in what order for you to best utilise them. I really enjoyed that mechanic and haven't seen it implemented like that in any game I can remember playing.

The runaway leader did seem to be a problem but it didn't quite work for you in our game with the win if you have a score of '42' in my hand. I think that was more due to the newbie/slightly more experienced player mix than a game mechanic issue. We'll have to play again sometime.
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Lacombe
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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agius1520 wrote:
The regular connotations made to settlers is what put me off wanting to try this game, Settlers is often decided after the first houses are placed based on the probability of income, then you play for two hours hoping the dice work in your favour.


The game feels nothing like Settlers, really.

The entire pacing and structure is different.

Quote:
Ad Astra keeps you thinking every turn about what actions every one else has secretly placed and in what order for you to best utilise them. I really enjoyed that mechanic and haven't seen it implemented like that in any game I can remember playing.


You would enjoy Dungeon Lords, I think.

It has a very similar action-choice mechanic.
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Andy Pelton
United Kingdom
Hucknall
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I replaced the 1st player chit with a Battle Cruiser from Starcraft as I got 1 too many as a replacement.

Overall it is a very good game that I really enjoy playing, with the runaway leader thing, it can happen if a player starts building terraformers early, as the other players do need to keep an eye on this and also build terraformers as well.
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Matthew Emch
United States
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Been looking at this game for quite some time. Thanks for the review John!
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Scott Agius
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NateStraight wrote:
agius1520 wrote:
The regular connotations made to settlers is what put me off wanting to try this game, Settlers is often decided after the first houses are placed based on the probability of income, then you play for two hours hoping the dice work in your favour.


The game feels nothing like Settlers, really.

The entire pacing and structure is different.

Quote:
Ad Astra keeps you thinking every turn about what actions every one else has secretly placed and in what order for you to best utilise them. I really enjoyed that mechanic and haven't seen it implemented like that in any game I can remember playing.


You would enjoy Dungeon Lords, I think.

It has a very similar action-choice mechanic.


Ah, Dungeon Lords, I’d forgotten about that, you’re right it is similar but unfortunately Dungeon Lords uses it poorly, now I think about it, Dungeon Lords appears to be quite open but is in fact quite limited.

Firstly the order of your actions is limited by player order, so you will always play your actions 4 apart from each other in a 4 player game etc. and means you can sometimes be forced out of options simply due to this, e.g. a situation where everyone needs gold which is usually quite common and everyone picks gold in slot 1, either you are 1st /3rd and forced to only get 2, use a lot of imps, or go last and will not get any, where as in Ad Astra you can select exactly where you want the action as part of the selection as all action spots are open to start with, you also get to do exactly the actions you selected, if I need to get a metal from my planets, I know that I can get it and how much I will produce which enables me to play the whole turn more accurately.

You also get to do the actions in the order you want them to happen where as Dungeon Lords forces you to go through the actions in the same order, e.g. imps is always after gold and tunnels.

There is some luck in Ad Astra in finding the planets you want but the probabilities are fairly high if you go to a new galaxy and you get to look at them all for future reference too. Dungeon Lords, has too much luck through types of adventurers, room order, monster order. None of which can be planned in sufficient advance to prepare yourself for not locking up your action cards and to a lesser extent managing happiness.

Erm...I’ve gone on a bit too much about Dungeon Lords and it is an interesting game of disaster management but not one I feel has quite as much depth in comparison.
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Burt Hunt
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agius1520 wrote:


The regular connotations made to settlers is what put me off wanting to try this game, Settlers is often decided after the first houses are placed based on the probability of income, then you play for two hours hoping the dice work in your favour.

Ad Astra keeps you thinking every turn about what actions every one else has secretly placed and in what order for you to best utilise them. I really enjoyed that mechanic and haven't seen it implemented like that in any game I can remember playing.

The runaway leader did seem to be a problem but it didn't quite work for you in our game with the win if you have a score of '42' in my hand. I think that was more due to the newbie/slightly more experienced player mix than a game mechanic issue. We'll have to play again sometime.


I just read the review and I really want to try this game especially after seeing this reference in the quote to '42' the meaning of life, the universe and everything, what more could one ask? ;-)
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