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Subject: Comparing Among the Stars vs. Suburbia rss

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Bryan K
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Comparing Suburbia and Among the Stars

On the surface these games seem very alike and seem to be mentioned together a lot. So, I thought a review like this could help people see the similarities and differences of the two.

Similarities: Both games are based on building a layout of locations in front of you where you will compete to build your layout better and more efficiently than your competition. In both games, you'll need to constantly evaluate how to best spend the limited financially resources you have to maximize victory points. In both, you are primarily concerned with building your own location layout, while primarily affecting the other players by what you leave available. You'll do so while competing to obtain certain objective goals that will provide a victory point bonus at the end.

Main Differences:
Suburbia
Engine Building - Suburbia adds an engine building element to your building layout. You are building locations that will increase your income and/or reputation. A proper engine will start building income early, then switch to building reputation to bring in population (Victory Points). Income and Reputation are kept track on a +/- and are collected at the end of the turn. Sort of like a net income/reputation rate that is totaled up by all your locations.
Hidden Objectives- Each player has a hidden objective that only they can score at the end of the game.
Plan Ahead – You have a slightly greater ability to plan ahead in Suburbia because all players are choosing from seven available tiles. Three of those tiles will definitely be available on your next turn, and will likely be the 3 most expensive left most ones. As each player buys a location another tile becomes available. Therefore, you can see what will likely be available on your next turn to think ahead. In both games you can lay out your locations in hopes of getting a certain location to put in the middle of them all.
SimCity Theme- The city building theme feels just like the old 16 Bit SimCity I use to play. These theme might be more universal to people who are not science fiction fans.

Among the Stars-
Variable Player Powers – The base game comes with 8 Alien Races that have a special ability that helps you "break" the rules of the game to your advantage. Some get more money and some have special power reactors. All feel very balanced and allow you to play a different strategy.
Conflict Cards – With the base game a set of cards is included to increase player interactivity. The idea is you compare a location type (diplomatic, administration, recreation, business, or military) If you have more of a chosen player you can steal points from them. Expansions come with other interactive card types (relocation, infestation, taxation)

Tactical – As meaning, you need to make immediate decisions based on the cards you get through card drafting. You won't see the other player's hand of cards until it rotates into your hand. In a 4 player game you will 2 of your cards again, but there is minimal telling which will be available. In a 6 player game, you will not see your cards again. This also creates less downtime since each player is playing simultaneously in the base game. Timing becomes more important as Ambassadors are added.

Sci-Fi Theme- The Sci-Fi theme comes out strong with beautiful art and cool clear energy cubes. Might appeal to a crowd who would find the city building bland.

More Expansions – Among the Stars has 3 expansions: Ambassadors, Promos 1, and Promos 2. Ambassadors adds a level of complexity by having ambassador characters of each race you can invite to stay at your station. Each ambassador gives you an ability. The Expansions also allow you to play with up to 6 people instead of 4. They also give you more choices of location types, conflict types, and starting player powers.

Which one should I get?
Personally, both feel different enough to keep both in my collection. In comparing base games, Suburbia feels slightly heavier of a game that demands more thought process in maintaining income and reputation tracks. With adding expansions you can get more complexity with Ambassadors and Conflict. Suburbia has an expansion which adds more scoring methods and some neat tiles: Redevelopment Planner! While playing Suburbia, people seem to be thinking a bit longer. Including expansions in both, Among the Stars has more variety of ways to play: adding conflict, different alien powers, and locations. Also, everyone plays at the same time so there is less downtime. The tiles might be slightly more interactive in ATS: mainly green diplomacy tiles have you giving points, taking money, etc. It is probably easier to teach and feels faster playing.

If you've played both, what are your thoughts?
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David Jones
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ZombieDad2 wrote:
Plan Ahead – You have a slightly greater ability to plan ahead in Suburbia because all players are choosing from seven available tiles.


I'm really going to have to disagree with you on quite a bit on this one. When you setup ATS, you choose what base building are put into the game. You know exactly what cards to expect and you know, for sure, there will be at least 12 cards of each color. The only "unknown" buildings are the specials that you add in, but you at least have knowledge of about 80% of the deck before starting the game.

When you setup suburbia, all the tiles are thrown together, but only a select amount are pulled from the bag. You have no idea at all what tiles are going to come out which means you can't plan at all. For example, in one game I chose a secret goal tile for most green tiles, but only three or four green tiles came out during the whole game - the rest didn't get chosen from the bag. You can't make long term plans based on a goal when you don't what kind of tiles are going to be available to you more than one turn in advance. In contrast to Stars, you know that there are four copies of each basic card in the deck. If you have to pass on a non-special you want in the early game, you at least know there is a good chance it will come around again. Even in mid-game you can count how many copies have already been played to see how many are left. In Suburbia, again, you have no idea what tiles are going to be in or out on any given game. You don't know if picking up that tile that gives income based on airports is going to be any good because you don't know how many airports are coming.

To be fair, the difficulty with Stars is that you don't know what you are going to be passed. In a 4P game, only two of the drafts will come back to you, so it can still be hard to plan around that, but on some turns you can at least see 4 turns into the future. This is also somewhat of an apples/oranges comparison as you are talking about turn to turn planning while I am talking about long term goal planning. If you want to talk about a one turn look ahead, yes, Suburbia wins. But I value long term strategy over short term, so in my book, Stars wins this particular contest.
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Bryan K
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I don't think we disagree as much as you suggest. As you stated:

davypi wrote:
To be fair, the difficulty with Stars is that you don't know what you are going to be passed. In a 4P game, only two of the drafts will come back to you, so it can still be hard to plan around that...


I think this is exactly what I was attempting to say when I said:

You have a slightly greater ability to plan ahead in Suburbia because all players are choosing from seven available tiles.

In Suburbia, I could see there is a waterfront reality just revealed and I can plan on saving money this turn, so I can buy it next turn. Even if just planning one turn ahead, it still is planning ahead.

In Among the Stars, I don't know what cards will come back to me or what cards my opponents will send my way.

In both games, I've tried to plan ahead, but not had the chance to get what I wanted. In Suburbia, I built some green tiles in a circle hoping to get the stadium, but it never showed. In ATS, I built hoping to get the race track for a 4x4 grid bonus and didn't get it.

I believe in both games you can build "donut" locations and hope to get what you need to optimally put in the center. But, there is no guarantee you'll have a chance to get the exact optimal piece you plan for.
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Ty Whisenhunt
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My first thought when I played AtS was that it was Suburbia and 7 Wonders mixed together. I haven't played it much yet, but on the surface I agree with your comparison. I also agree AtS feels lighter than Suburbia, and honestly, it feels lighter than 7 Wonders. It's a nice mix of their mechanics, with a theme that appeals to me more. I haven't played with all the expansions yet (I do own them now), I'm hoping they add a little more heft to the game, or at least make me feel like it has more plays in it. The base deck alone feels pretty small.
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Bryan K
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The expansions really make ATS shine. Not only with more locations but new conflicts and MUCH better objectives. My favorite new locations are Ambassador Shuttle & the Casino, and the Ambassadors: Tom Vassel, Rando, and Undead Viking.
 
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Jason
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davypi wrote:
When you setup ATS, you choose what base building are put into the game. You know exactly what cards to expect and you know, for sure, there will be at least 12 cards of each color.


This is something that has confused me about the setup. Are you supposed to go through the entire deck (especially when you have ambassador cards and promos) digging out all copies of the selected basic locations every game? This seems like it would make an already long setup time (for a shortish game) much worse.
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David Jones
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jepmn wrote:
This is something that has confused me about the setup. Are you supposed to go through the entire deck (especially when you have ambassador cards and promos) digging out all copies of the selected basic locations every game? This seems like it would make an already long setup time (for a shortish game) much worse.


Yes. You pick 15 locations and use all four copies of each card. However, instead of "digging out all copies" I have my base deck sorted in the box ahead of time. (Think Dominion.) When I'm done with a game, I usually put all the used card in a separate bag and resort when I get home. This takes the breakdown time "off the table" so it at least doesn't take as long to put away. Sometimes I will also pre-construct a deck before going to game day, so all I have to do is add the special cards to the deck and shuffle.
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Jason
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Yeah that just seems like so much work for a 30 minute car drafting game...
 
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David Jones
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As hinted above, its no worse than Dominion, or Legendary, or most other deck builders. It takes just as long to setup 7 Wonders if you play with both Cities and Leaders. I'm not sure where you get 30 minutes from. With a pre-made deck, most of my 4P games take 90 minutes. This includes setup and breakdown, so probably 75 minutes of actual play time. If you can finish a game of Stars in 30 minutes, just use the same deck and play twice. Nearly everybody in my group likes the game and it gets requested frequently. Based on the return, I think investment is worth it. Your mileage will obviously vary depending on how much you and your friends like the game.

If it really bothers you that much, the simple solution is just don't mix the sets together. The standard cards that come with Ambassadors work very well on their own as a stand alone deck. You don't have to mix and match them together. You could keep them separate and simply choose which of the two decks you want to play with. Alternatively, just don't buy Ambassadors. There is no changing of the standard deck with just the base game.
 
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Jason
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Ah, somehow I had thought it said it was supposed to play in 30. I figured our games were longer because I was the one with the most experience with it with a massive play count of one. BGG listing (which I assume comes from the back of the box) says 60 minutes. I still think there's 30 minutes of setup, whether that be done at the table or at home sorting and arranging cards as you suggested.

The real downside here is that I'm not going to be the one responsible for this, as one member already has the game in storage and just has to dig it out (I borrowed a copy from someone else to try it out). So I'll have to convince HIM to spend his free time getting his game arranged.
 
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Whitney Barnes

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davypi wrote:


Yes. You pick 15 locations and use all four copies of each card. However, instead of "digging out all copies" I have my base deck sorted in the box ahead of time. (Think Dominion.) When I'm done with a game, I usually put all the used card in a separate bag and resort when I get home. This takes the breakdown time "off the table" so it at least doesn't take as long to put away. Sometimes I will also pre-construct a deck before going to game day, so all I have to do is add the special cards to the deck and shuffle.


I bought little square sleeves for the game, but use them to put all 4 cards of the same type into. Then I give someone all the stacks of a color, and say "pick three, and squeeze them out of the sleeve". That plus the special cards is the deck.

At the end, all the specials go back into a big pile, and the little ones get sorted back into sleeves.
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Jason
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Well, we did it the "right" way this time and... We didn't enjoy it as much. We actually all liked the variety that comes about when you shuffle all the cards (base + ambassadors - locations specific to ambassadors since we're still enjoying the base game). Playing it with all copies of specific locations (plus specials) actually felt a little too boring and predictable. A few times, we were passed hands that had multiples of the same card.

Now don't get me wrong - I understand how doing it each way would affect gameplay (e.g. Getting all copies of Council versus only one). But I feel it's more fun this way.
 
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