Review: Among the Stars14 May 2018 2
Review: Among the Stars
Released 10 May 2018
The distant future sounds pretty much like business as usual, with different races fighting for dominance. However, when a new threat emerges the warring races have no other option other than to kiss and make up. The plan is for each race to construct space stations throughout the galaxy with the aim of promoting trade and strengthening diplomatic relations. Yet, despite this newfound concord the spirit of one-upmanship still burns bright, so just ensure that your space station is the grandest and shiniest in the galaxy.
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Among the Stars is a card drafting game that shares many similarities with the multi-award winning 7 Wonders. At the beginning of each of the four game years, players are dealt a hand of six cards. You choose one to play and then pass the rest to your neighbouring player. As the year progresses you will be passed fewer and fewer cards until you are left with only one card to play. You then embark on the second year with a fresh hand of cards. After the fourth year the game ends and the player with the most points is declared the winner.
Players begin each year with ten credits added to their account; this money is used to bring cards from your hand into play. The cards themselves represent the various modules that can be added to your station. They come in several different types: blue modules are administrative, red buildings are military, yellow ones are for business, green are diplomatic, and the purple facilities are recreational. Each colour has its own overriding theme; military modules tend to require extra power, but they do provide lots of immediate points, whilst administrative modules are generally cheaper to build, but their point scoring potential is often reliant on other nearby modules.
Initially, your space station consists of one single central reactor that provides you with just two units of power. Not all modules will require power, but those that do will need to be placed close to a reactor with the power to spare. The other placement rule is that each new module has to be placed orthogonally adjacent to at least one that has already been constructed.
Because reactors normally only provide enough power to supply a maximum of two modules you will soon need to consider building extra ones. With this in mind, you can trash a card to construct an additional reactor. If you cannot or do not want to build anything then a card can also be discarded, earning the player an additional three credits.
Some buildings offer immediate or end of game bonus points. For instance, the Customs card immediately earns an additional credit for each adjacent yellow business module. While the Command Centre scores an extra point for each blue module you have in your space station at the end of the game. When the game ends you score extra points for each reactor that does not have any power remaining and for any leftover credits in your account.
There are a couple of options to add some extra variability. Players can elect to represent one of the eight different races, each of which has a unique ability. Some of these skills are passive, like the Humerians, who score extra points for ensuring that they have a good balance of modules in their space station. Others are active such as the Garrn’athak’nok (bless you) who once each year can look at another player’s cards and exchange one. Incidentally, there seems to be a glitch here, as I couldn’t always get this exchange to work. You can also elect to play with a range of different objectives that all players compete for. These include having the most of a particular module type, or the largest station. A few other options haven’t made their way over to the digital version, such as restricted space station sizes, and the aggressive mode that introduces direct conflict cards.
The digital version makes up for this by adding a short but still rather excellent single-player campaign. There are currently eight scenarios to battle through, with the promise of more to come. They work really well, telling a story from the perspective of the different races and tweaking the standard rules to provide fresh challenges. Other options include custom games, which can have a mix of AI and human controlled players. However, it is a bit annoying that every human player has to re-watch the entire round unfold before taking their turn. Although there are three different levels of AI opponents, even on the toughest levels they are still fairly easy to defeat. They all seem to concentrate on short-term point scoring, meaning that you can usually overhaul any lead that they may have through effective end of game scoring. Happily, you can always test your skills online, with the cross-platform asynchronous online multiplayer mode. I am not keen though that you are listed under your email address instead of having the option to create a username.
The excellent card illustrations have made their way over to the digital version, but without the additional text you will be constantly tapping cards to bring up more information. The interface is instinctive, with the view zooming out to accommodate your ever-expanding station. This does mean that as your space station grows the modules will get progressively smaller and harder to identify. When you select a card to play, the names of all of your modules are displayed. This is a helpful feature and it would have been nice to be able to have this available at all times. The short construction animations and panning of the camera between turns may not be overly intrusive but it would still be nice to have an option to turn them off.
This digital game offers two significant advantages over the original version. Firstly, the time-consuming task of sorting all the cards between games is now handled automatically. Secondly, you do not need a snooker table sized playing surface to comfortably accommodate four players. Among the Stars is not a difficult game to explain and the tutorial does this both clearly and succinctly. Maybe it is a little too brief; it describes the mechanics well but could give a little more information on the overall flow of the game.
Among the Stars may not be a complicated game, but it still has a satisfying amount of depth. Drafting is both thought-provoking and tense. You will often have a hard choice between which cards to build and which ones to give your opponents the opportunity to build. After your turn, you tend to be left crossing your fingers and hoping that a particular card will eventually make its way back into your hand. There are a nice variety of modules and powers without it being too overwhelming for new players. The spatial element adds something different, making the game much more than a mere clone of 7 Wonders.
Among the Stars definitely has the potential to be a five-star app, but in its current state, it falls a little short of greatness. Improved enemy AI and a longer and more challenging campaign are both top of my wish list. Adding a few more options would also be appreciated; it would be nice, for instance, to have a compendium of all the different cards. With a tougher solo gaming experience and a steady release of expansions, Cublo could really reach for the stars.