The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us. - Ashley Montagu
I am not an expert on Magic the Gathering nor do I claim any particularly special knowledge of Race for the Galaxy. I have played both, on several occasions, but would be considered a casual player. Recently I received a notification on Google+ announcing this new game that combined aspects of the two previously mentioned games. I thought that might be interesting so I investigated further (what my wife would describe as wasting time on the internet again). I discovered that this was a Print and Play game. It has been many, many years since I tackled a PnP game so (insert another spousal comment), I decided to try it.
Stardust Imperium is a card based game with 80 cards to the deck. There are versions of the cards in Korean, Japanese and two versions in English. I opted for the design by Richard Martinet (the files can be found here on BGG). I believe he is working on a French version of the game. The game was designed by Gunhae Lee of South Korea. To date Lee’s only other game has been “Team Work” published by Piece Craft.
There are several people in the group I game with that believe Race for the Galaxy is one of the best of card games. I, on the other hand, find the game to be somewhat dull and too similar to many others I have played. For me, it seems like a solitaire game with others at the table playing the same game, at the same time, and then we compare final scores. We could all be solving a Sudoku puzzle and then comparing our finish times. I am simply not fond of these types of games. So why did I try Stardust Imperium? The claim I read was that the game was part RftG and part Magic the Gathering and that intrigued me. (Admittedly, if I had to pay for a game based on that information alone - I would not be writing this right now. C’mon, it was only 10 sheets of paper.)
In Race for the Galaxy, a player must build 12 cards to end the game and total points wins. The game was originally designed to be the card version of Puerto Rico but San Juan was published instead. RftG was rethemed (with the present space theme and published with the new name). In both games, players build new cards by paying for them by discarding other cards. Effectually, in both games, players are building a victory point engine. Without expansions (and even with the expansions) RftG is a multi-player solitaire game. There is minimal interaction among the players. Many point to the role sharing mechanic as ‘interaction’ - Risk games have player interaction, Race for the Galaxy...no.
Stardust Imperium requires 8 cards to be built and total victory points (at the end of the game) determines the winner. Cards are built by discarding other cards from your hand. Those two elements are the Race for the Galaxy connection, from this point on, this is a completely different game.
Each of the 80 cards in the deck has a special function. On a player’s turn he can activate the functions on the cards by tapping (sorry, “slipping”) them. This is the core of the game; building the appropriate cards with the correct functions that will allow you to climb to victory. It is evident while playing that Gunhae Lee is familiar with games like Magic or Netrunner as it is in the combos that can be created that the game moves. For example: each card has a victory point value at the end of the game. Assume I begin the turn with five cards in my hand and I have already built the card “Phase Transition Power Plant”. (This card states that: If at the end of my turn, I have 2 or fewer cards in my hand, I gain 2 victory points.) I decide to build a card that costs $6 so I discard a card worth $4 and a card worth $3 from my hand. I built a card and discarded 2 cards leaving me with only 2 cards in my hand. The PTPP card which I had played earlier now generates an additional 2 vp’s. However, an opponent had built “Construction Sponsor” on a previous turn and that card states: Whenever an opponent build a cards, you receive 2 victory points. As the game progresses and everyone builds more and more cards, these connections and combos become more interesting, more complex.
One extremely nice element that has been introduced is conflict. This is not simply a game of building a victory point engine, you can harm other players. For example the Colony General card states: Each opponent with 5 or more cards in his hand gives you 1 card. This serves to increase your choices and options while decreasing theirs. Galactic Orderkeeper Forces states: each player loses one victory point and you draw a card. As not every card is built every game, the interplay of the various functions on the cards renders each game very different.
There are six different factions in the game; each has a unique symbol as well as it’s own color. There are a few cards that are dual colored and apply to two different factions. The factions are: Economic (grey), Military (red), Industry (green), Religion (yellow), Exploration (blue) and Politics or Education (depending on which file you print) (purple). After playing many games I suggest that, like Magic, you don’t want to limit yourself to a single faction nor do you want to build into too many factions as the combos are weaker. Lee has done an excellent job of balancing the card functions and the possible combos. (A very difficult process - just ask Wizards of the Coast). To date we have not uncovered a single ‘killer combo’ nor any overpowered cards. The functions on each of the cards in a given faction tend toward a general similarity. Economic cards will produce, military cards will reduce and so on.
The cards in the game serve as victory point markers also. If some function awards me 2 victory points, they are taken from the draw deck so the draw deck is continuously shrinking.
The turns pass quickly. A player selects any functions he is using and then, as in Ticket to Ride, he can draw more cards or he can build a single card. Play then moves to the next player. When we first played the game took about 45 minutes. After we became more familiar with the various functions, we began completing games in 30 minutes. There are so many possible ways each game can develop that since we started playing, no two games have been the same. In addition to that, since we began playing Stardust Imperium, we never play less than three times on a given game night. This one is good.
What is especially good about the game is that it is not a solitaire game; you are participating from the very beginning and the combos and actions that occur as the game grow, increase substantially. We all enjoyed the build versus ‘take that’ aspects of the game. It feels full, well developed and very efficient given that there are only 80 cards in the deck. As with many of the other card games released in the past two years, Stardust Imperium packs a lot of gaming in a very small package. This is a game that should be picked up by a major publisher. Until it is, I recommend that you print up a copy and try it; this is challenging as well as fun.
open the heart
Thank you for your insightful review, Dave.
Have you played it more lately, have you found a weakness in design? Just curious for more information on this hidden gem.