Here are two session reports for my first two games of ATS.
Two Player Game (Base Game, no expansions):
My wife and I played the two player variant that does not include playing with "dummy" hands. Having played Suburbia before, the only clarification that was needed was clarifying one time scoring versus end of game scoring on location cards. My wife had the ability to look at my hand once a year and trade cards and I had the ability to score additional points at the end of the game based on the location type I had the least of. Our end game objectives were trying to have the most yellow Business and purple Recreation locations.
Yellow business locations were extremely hard to come by and I found it impossible to catch up to my wife in this category. The variant allows you to discard a card every turn. At the end game, I realized my wife had discarded almost every yellow card that came up. Knowing I had the purple objective locked up in the last hand, I went to build another color that gave me optimal points. I passed a deck to her with no purple. Imagine my surprise when she built one more purple location to tie me! What?!? Well, with the variant you draw one more card each turn, then play one and discard one. So, we tied on the objective. In the final score, she beat me by 3! Not getting the objective card made the difference. It took about 40 minutes to play and went quickly.
My wife said it was "way easier" than Suburbia, perhaps just because she learned Suburbia first. She would definitely play again. I want to add in the other objectives from Promos and Ambassadors. They seem to have some more creative objects.
Six Player Game (Base Game, plus Promos and Ambassadors locations, but no Ambassadors):
I brought this to my local game store and played a six player games with moderate to advance gamers. Setting up the game for six players was a little time consuming for the first time, and in fact I did it wrong and did not put nearly enough cards in. We were almost out at year 2. So, I mixed in Promos and Ambassador locations for years 3 and 4. The reaction to the new cards was: WHOA! We had to switch out some cards on the fly that referred to Ambassadors. We used 4 objectives and most came from the expansions. This proved to be fun. Some cards people really liked were the Casino: rolling a dice for bonus points; the ambassador shuttle that stops other players development, and cards that have you pay credits into the bank and players get points back. There were also some cards that helped people in last by lowering their cost or getting to trade in credits for points. People loved the Super Market for it's ability to give a lot points, but its so expensive! Race Track and Experimental weapon were also favorites. Everyone felt the game was enough with out the conflict cards, so we didn't add them in year 3.
The game was fairly close (except me), I trailed by 20-30 points the whole game. The player with the ability to go through the discard pile once a year ended up winning by probably 15 points. But, everyone was within 20 points and the winner had over 100 points!
The game took about just over 2 hours, and we had one player who took a little bit longer to play their card. However, down time is very minimal since everything happens somewhat simultaneously. We also discovered timing was important, so we ended up building our location cards based on who was leading the scoring track. This slowed things down a bit. Timing seemed to matter for cards that scored points based on how much money or locations someone else had. I think, we could've played simultaneously and resolve those decisions after everyone has built. It would have affected the point totals minimally, but sped up the game. However, there is something said about having each player reading their card: "I'm building a War Monument"…"I am building a Library"…
We made a mistake and were discarding our last card in the round. This was the way the variant played, I thought this was the case too.
Upon finishing, all 5 other players really liked the game. It felt like there was enough going on to fully satisfy the advance gamer who was closely watching every other space station and carefully selecting what was passed on. There was enough theme and choice to keep the newer gamer engaged, too.
Overall, I am extremely happy with the purchase of ATS with Ambassadors and Promos. People were pleasantly surprised with how well it played with both 6 and 2. I'm also excited to add even more to the game with conflict cards and even Ambassadors.
I'm likely going to post some questions that came up to get a few clarifications. Thanks for a great game, looking forward to playing more.
Timing seemed to matter for cards that scored points based on how much money or locations someone else had. I think, we could've played simultaneously and resolve those decisions after everyone has built.
Without ambassadors, simultaneous play is probably fine as there are relatively few "attack" cards in the deck. With ambassadors, you do have to enforce turn order because if two people target an ambassador the one who loses has to adjust their action. In some cases, I've even seen people change what they want to do because a new ambassador comes out that is better than the card they were going to build. Its been awhile since I've played with the conflict expansion, but I seem to recall that turn order becomes important with that as well.
I believe you are supposed to resolve cards after everyone builds/pays for theirs (and/or gets ambassador / power reactor / etc).
It's a little confusing, but I think it's suppose to go:
1. everyone picks a card that they will Do Something (TM) with and clearly indicates this card, passing the rest of the cards face-down or setting them clearly aside.
2. simultaneously, everyone reveals the card from 1.
3. [formal way] The leader announces what he is doing (building, recruiting, power, money) with his card. He pays for his card (or takes money/power/etc) as he should, but does not resolve any text/points on the card. Repeat for each player then go to 4 after the last player.
4. Starting with the player with the highest score and continuing down, breaking ties randomly (or clockwise from leader for a speedup), resolve the cards that were added to stations, whether ambassadors or locations, adding any points and executing immediate abilities.
5. If any new ambassadors were revealed during the round, make sure everyone has an adequate chance to study them, to help smooth the game flow as much as possible.
Repeat as needed until year end, etc.
Alternative 3, this is something I'm working on. It's harder to explain, and seems really rigid, but it theory, if you can explain it so people understand it, it should speed the game up.
The basic idea is that we only care if somebody is actually taking an ambassador, in which case we should stop and go through things player-by-player from highest score. But we can shortcut that by quickly asking everyone "do you want one of the ambassadors that is currently visible"(or even do this simultaneously with your reveal in step 2, something like an extra card or a giant button that says YES or NO, etc). Assuming somebody (but not everybody) says yes, all the players who have a higher score than the first (highest scored) person who wants an ambassador can just do all their turns simultaneously. Then somebody takes an ambassador, which may change things for people below him (who may have wanted the one that was taken, or who may now want the new one), so they can react to this. But by not having to go through everybody one by one every time, we hopefully save a lot of time over the game.
3. [fast way, but longer to write and explain]
Everyone has a few short seconds to declare "ambassador" or not. [Or simultaneously reveals "yes/no" via some extra prop.] This claim is semi-binding as follows:
R1) You declared you intended to take an ambassador. You may recruit any ambassador you can legally take according to normal rules. (See also R4)
R2) You did not declare, but a player higher than you on the score track claimed an ambassador *AND* actually recruited one (which then changed the pool of ambassadors, so you might want the new one). You are restricted to taking the new one (or ones, if multiple ones have been taken ahead of your turn).
R3) You did not declare and nobody higher than you took an ambassador. You may NOT take an ambassador
R4) [use only with simultaneous reveal] You are the highest-scored player who declared intent to take an ambassador. You MUST taken an ambassador. I would not use this rule unless people are frequently declaring for an ambassador and then not taking one, even when nobody ahead of them took one so nothing has changed. This is basically intended to stop people from trying to game the system, but you may consider just not playing with people like that.
So an example:
5 players, call them A, B, C, D, and E. Conveniently, A is in the lead, then B, C, etc.
Everyone looks at their cards and the ambassadors. Everybody picks a card. Everyone has about 2 seconds to say "ambassador" if they want one of the ones currently visible (or you can do thumbs up/thumbs down on "3, 2, 1, reveal"). C & E speak up.
Since A & B are ahead of C and didn't declare for ambassadors, they take their turns normally and can't take ambassadors.
C recruits an ambassador, flipping a replacement immediately
D realizes that the new ambassador revealed is great for her station, and recruits it (allowed even though she didn't declare, because a new ambassador was revealed; she could not have taken any other ambassador)
E wanted the one C took, and instead chooses to build a power reactor.
We now return to A to score and execute immediate abilities on his card, then to B, C, D, (and E, but there's nothing to do here since he built a reactor.)
* Everyone has a short window to declare "ambassador" or not. (Can use thumbs up/down on 3)
* Everybody ahead (score) of the highest-scored player to declare can't take an ambassador and goes simultaneously. (Pay costs but don't score)
* The highest-score player who declared, now takes an ambassador. (Pay costs but don't score)
* Everybody after this goes in sequence. If they didn't declare, they can only take a "new" ambassador. If they did declare, they can back out (e.g., the one they wanted got taken).
* Points & abilities are applied only after everybody has paid for & built their card/ambassador.
We had our second 6 player last night at my local gaming store. It went a lot better and we were able to finish in around 1.5 hours including explanation, set up and clean up.
We didn't have Ambassadors in the game, so we didn't worry about going around the table and having each person build a location as others waited. We all payed our costs, then resolved any choices or player interaction that needed to happen, then resolved points for every player. Lastly, as we did this each player would say what they built: Experimental Weapon, plus 8 points! This would make us stop and go..."Oh! You got that card!" or "You built a race track, but I got the sports arena!"
After getting demolished last game, I actually won this game. I loved my alien race ability, I got to take two objectives and keep one of them to myself. At the end of the game, it would get revealed and scored. So, naturally, I scored this one: Build the most Diplomatic locations. Our objectives were fun: one person scored 50 points first and got 5 more points, another was have the most delayed scoring locations, and the last was have the most $ at the end of the game.
The race ability that came in second was Vak, whose reactor counts as one of each color.
At the end we all said, it went a lot faster than last time. A good time was had by all. Now that we know the cards better, I think each person would have played a little differently.