7 Wonders.........IN SPACE!! - Among The Stars Review

I love 7 Wonders. It's one of my favourite games to play, a contender for my Top 20 of all time. . . . . . I really must consider doing a Top 50 some time in 2015, maybe I will during the quieter seasons. Right now it's January and for a Chartered Tax Accountant . . . . . .  . yeah well you know the score and I'm blabbing now.

7 Wonders was a great experience of the ever popular drafting mechanic - a relatively simple civilization building game which could take up to 7 players and still finish in less than an hour allowing for repeated plays in one game night. The expansions only made the game better and better, especially the new Babel one for which you can check out my review on Games Quest very soon.

Among the Stars came out of nowhere for me and aimed to take what 7 Wonders did, but introduce further complexity, a space theme and a necessity to consider not only what cards you play but also where you play them. Sounded very promising to me at the time so I invested in the second edition Kickstarter with a bunch of extras and I've long been overdue for getting a review out. Now I own both current expansions for this game (Ambassadors & Promos) but I believe they are worth giving a separate review so here I'm going to concentrate on the base game only and give my opinion on how it stands up by itself.


"If you think the cover looks good, you ain't seen nothing yet"

Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Publisher: Artipia Games / Stronghold Games
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 30 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 308 / 7.33
Dice Tower 2014 People’s Choice Rank: 85
Category: Card Drafting & Tile Placement

  
Not Simply A Drafting Game


Players will take their starting gear, consisting of their main reactor in their colour, some credit tokens (currency) and a race board of their choice with a unique special ability. Each player is given 6 location cards to make their starting hand. On each turn players will choose a location card to play in their space station and pass the remaining cards to the next player (alternating each round). The locations fit one of 5 different colour types (administrative, diplomatic, economic, military and recreation).

Simultaneously each player will place the location in their space station adjacent to another location already built after paying the cost in credits. Some locations will score points/trigger abilities straight away, others will score at the end of the game depending on the space station layout. If they do not wish to play a location, they can either purchase a new basic reactor (needed to power some locations) or sell their location for credits.

"Each player gets their own race power with some neat abilities and freaky looking aliens"

As the game progresses players will aim to score the most points by building their station in the most efficient manner by picking the right location cards for their needs. There are multiple copies of basic location cards, but potentially only one (max 2) of any special location card. In addition to playing location cards players can also opt for the aggressive game variant in which a small amount of dispute cards are included that can screw over other players.

After four rounds consisting of six turns, the game will end and the total victory points from locations and left over credits are counted. In addition there are special objectives which if achieved during the game will score further points. Naturally the highest total wins.



I Want To Live In This World


Now first off, I give kudos to a game with good production values and / or good artwork, I own the kickstarter version of this game so production wise, I've got some improved components, but even the normal game has some good cards and tokens (the race boards are particularly sturdy). The cards do require sleeving if you want to keep them in good nick as you're doing A LOT of shuffling and passing though.

But my god............my god.......the artwork.......it's so gorgeous! Sci-fi themed games can produce some amazing artwork - take Android Netrunner for a kick-off. But here every race and every location is so detailed and gorgeous to look at it. Antonis and Odysseas deserve credit for what has been achieved. It gives the top end companies like Fantasy Flight Games and Asmodee a run for their money. Part of the enjoyment of the game is seeing your space station unfold as every new addition paints a beautiful picture of a sci-fi epic universe, in fact now that I think of it, it reminds me a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy, it has that same mixed alien feel.

"My images may not do justice, but the artwork is so gorgeous and immersive beyond belief"


Interstellar Fun (Unlike The Movie)


The game is very simplistic to teach - draft cards, play them, rinse and repeat. And the only major part of setup is the location deck which requires altering for special locations (as you only use some of what's available) and tweaking for basic locations depending on whether you have 3 or 4 players. It takes a while to get used to but eventually you're able to sort it out quick enough so that you're not delaying the main event. It does however require you to be neat with how you store the game.

But the game itself has a lot of depth, something I'm noticing a lot with Artipia Games lately (their other game New Dawn has a similar "simple, yet deep" feel to it). There are a lot of basic locations even though there are multiple copies and even more unique special locations to include in the deck. Each of these locations has their own special ability which all adds up to a good degree of variety in the game. You'll never get the same combination of special locations in each game although you will use every basic location. Until you acquire an expansion though you won't see any additional ones.

"There's even plenty of racial powers to choose from (above includes Kickstarter stretch goals)"

The mix of scoring instantly and scoring at the end also makes it harder to tell who's in the lead. From experience it's very possible to be lagging behind only to steal a win because your space station consisted of long term planning locations. You need your wits about you here and the objective cards are worth going for, but not necessarily the "be all or end all" factor.

If you bought the Kickstarter version like me, you will also have the additional event deck to spice the game up further (not sure if it got included in the retail version). I wish 7 Wonders had one, but I guess that game has enough in it already?


Space Wonders?




As you can see, if you know 7 Wonders, the rules of this game are very much the same. Draft cards, play them in your tableau, score points. So how does this game change anything? Well in essence it doesn't change a great deal aside from a new theme and adding in the spacial awareness factor of building your space station.  It is very much 7 Wonders in space other than that. However you do feel more like you're building a space station then you do building a civilization before hand and as such everybody ends up with nice unique layouts. I remember my last game had my space station looking like the equivalent of a mix of DisneyWorld and Pleasure Island with all the recreational locations out together in one big bundle.

Interactivity in the game is pretty sparse much like in 7 Wonders. With a player cap of four however, it's easier to see what the other players are building, but due to the nature of the card abilities, it may not be as easy to tell what cards you should deny them without multiple plays. The dispute cards help to mitigate the interactivity issue, but don't make a huge difference overall.

Both games have high quality components and great artwork, though I'm giving the edge to Among the Stars for the level of detail. Both have variable player powers/setups, but there is definitely an edge here with using racial player powers rather than simply a different board as it has a greater impact on the way you play.

"Credit to BGG - as you can see it can take up space with only 3 players, just you try 4!"

Both have similar choices (play or discard for money), both play out in a similar fashion, both hog every last bit of table space (especially with four players) and both even have longer than typical setup times because of the construction of the decks being dependent on player count. (I would rather that the game scaled on players based on abilities rather than cards if that makes any sense. For example take Sentinels of the Multiverse - you don't amend your hero or villain deck any differently but the damage and card effects scale instead so setup doesn't take any longer)./

It almost seems like they are carbon copies; however there is a clear distinction for the intended audience of this game. For gamers, both games are easy to pick up, play and understand. For a new gamer however, they are going to struggle more with Among the Stars because of the amount of text to read as well as the more complex way that the locations interact on your station. Among The Stars contains more depth than 7 Wonders overall,  so consider your gaming group when deciding on which to get. That's not to say you can't own both though, at least I do. 


Verdict


If you think 7 Wonders is missing something or lacks the complexity you're looking for, then this is your saviour. The core mechanics are the same, but now you have to take in a lot of different special abilities and consider the spacial layout of your tableau adding a new element that appeals to gamers.

That being said, I would never consider this as a gateway game. Even 7 Wonders can confuse new gamers with its plethora of iconography, here you now have a lot of text and racial abilities to consider. I've found that new players struggle a little on their first couple of games so bear that in mind. But for hardcore gamers, this won't be difficult for you to pick up and play. 

It looks absolutely gorgeous on the table and offers a good amount of variety with room for more so it's certainly a great alternative or sidekick to 7 Wonders though that's mainly due to the complexity factor. If I were to compare solely the base games, I would probably give the trophy to 7 Wonders still due to the ease of play for all gamers, not just the hardcore ones. It just seems to play a little bit more smoothly even with all its expansions.

However Among the Stars is not without its own expansions which you can read about here soon so until that time, grab yourself some square sleeves for those cards and maybe a bigger table at IKEA while you're at it as whether you prefer one or the other, Among the Stars is still a solid, well designed game.


You Will Like This Game If:

  • You like 7 Wonders and want a more complex version.
  • You like your games to look good - you cannot look at this artwork and say it's bad!
  • You want a good freedom of choice of how to build your station.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • Your reason for liking 7 Wonders was its simplicity - this is a struggle for new gamers.
  • You get along better with iconography as opposed to text, there's a lot to read and take in.
  • You have a small table - this will hog up the space and that's BEFORE expansions. 

0 comments: