Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Vangelis Bagiartakis


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Set in the vast openness of space, the game Among the Stars confronts the players with the task to lead their race of aliens to victory by building the most efficient and valuable space station. At the beginning of the game the hull of these space stations only is made up by one square card - the Main Reactor which contains two energy cubes. However, during the course of the game the space stations will grow, with new cards (locations) being added next to the Main Reactor or already placed other cards. When the game ends, it will be the victory point values of all cards which contribute to a good degree to each player's final score.

Let's now have a look at the mechanism how the players will receive those cards. The game is played over a course of four years, each year is started with each player receiving an income of 10 credits plus 6 randomly drawn location cards. At the beginning of the game a drawing pile with location cards had been created, containing a randomly chosen portion of the basic and special Location cards included in the game. From this pile the players draw their hand of cards for the upcoming round, and during each turn each player simultaneously choses and plays one of the location cards from his hand. After playing a card the remaining cards are handed over to one of the player's neighbours (clockwise or counter-clockwise - depending on the current year), and then once again the next turn begins with each player choosing yet another card.

Many gamers will recognize this drafting mechanism from the multiple award-winning game 7 Wonders, and indeed the similarities do not quite stop, because the three different ways how the chosen cards can be used also remind quite a bit of 7 Wonders. Apart from building the chosen card by adding it to a player's space station, the location also can be discarded, gaining the player a one-time income of 3 credits. As a third possibility, the card can be used for building a generic Power Reactor, a location which adds additional energy cubes when the cubes from the Main Reactor all have been consumed.

Among the Stars could be called a blatant rip-off if the game would simply focus on this drafting mechanism, but here any suspicions can be dismissed by the fact that the drafting of the new locations only forms a part of the whole playing experience. As a matter of fact, the game is profoundly enriched by the rules for building the space stations with the drafted locations, and so there seems to be more than enough originality to make Among the Stars stand apart from 7 Wonders. Of course, it is always a matter of debate whether a playing mechanism found in one game should be reproduced in another game, but in the end most games on the market operate on variations of successful playing mechanisms found in different other games. A perfect example here is the deckbuilding-mechanism of Dominion which was varied and enriched in younger games like Thunderstone. If this would not be possible, the games market would be restricted to a few dozen titles, and so a game which offers enough original creativity should be recognized to stand on its own rights.

But let's return to the building of the space stations. As indicated earlier, all new cards must be placed adjacent to already placed cards or the Main Reactor, and when a new location is played the player must pay the cost for the location (credits plus sometimes energy) to the bank. Energy must come either from the Main Reactor or from one of the Power Reactors, but the energy source must be at a maximum distance of two spaces to the new location. Otherwise the energy cannot be supplied, meaning that the location cannot be placed.

The successful placement of each location allows a player to score the location's initial amount of victory points, but most of the location cards also feature a special ability which may either allow the scoring of additional victory points or describes certain restrictions which must be observed for a successful placement of the location. At this point the game gets quite thematic, because these abilities often are finetuned to match the thematic background of the location. So, for example the Xenobiology Lab will score additional victory points if placed next to a Medical Facility, whereas a Fighter Launch Bay must be placed at the outer rim of the station (at least four steps distant from the Main Reactor). Another example is the Market Place where the players may decide how many credits they will spend for building it, and they will score a victory point for each credit spent. All abilities scoring additional victory points can be distinguished further between instant abilities which are scored upon placement of the location and final abilities which will be evaluated at the end of the game. The latter will take the whole layout of the station into consideration, and they will score additional victory points when certain pre-conditions are met. An example for this are the Garden Domes, since these will score additional victory points if there are no military locations and energy sources within a certain distance. Once again, such a place-and-score mechanism is not completely new but a variation of placement games like Summer Time, but the placement and scoring rules found in Among the Stars are much more diverse and intricate than those found in this older title from the KOSMOS-series of two-player games.

As a variant, Among the Stars also includes rules and cards for an "Aggressive Mode". In contrast to the normal rules which give each player a solitaire task of optimizing his space station, these variant rules essentially mean that cards with interactive abilities will be included in the game deck. These cards can be used to cause all kinds of interaction between the players, and as always the increase of interaction by this means brings along a slight loss of strategic planning for each player, because in most times such interactive cards can be neither expected nor prevented. However, seen from another perspective this effect can be positively described as giving the game some additional surprising twists, and so it will be up to the individual taste of the players whether the aggressive cards are included.

In a way, the title Among the Stars seems to be well chosen for the game, because author Vangelis Bagiartakis has taken some well-established playing mechanisms as a hull, enriched them by a mixture of well-placed superstructures and shot the whole vessel into space to discover a new dimension. Among the Stars offers a multifaceted but well-paced playing experience, and it is a quite welcome tactical variant to 7 Wonders.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany