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Subject: Impressions from Essen play rss

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Yani
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Martin did one demo a day at Essen, and I was one of the lucky ones that were taught the game by him and had the chance to play it. I took some pictures with Martin's permission, which I am showing here, since I haven't seen yet any yet with the final (?) card art. Please take the information below with a grain of salt, since these are my impressions based on one incomplete game.

The game is probably, according to Martin, going to go on pre-order in about a month through his website, which will also be announced here on BGG. There will be only one version. Some tokens were wooden (colonies and outposts), and some other were chits (ships and bases), but I am unsure whether these chits are final (they didn't look to be).

The board

The basics
The game is a deck builder, quite similar to A Few Acres of Snow and Mythotopia. There are 4 asymmetrical factions, whose asymmetry derives purely from the 2-3 faction-specific cards that suggest a certain direction of play. There is a faction that is very good at attacking, another at defending, another at researching, and another at being peaceful. The objective of the game is to be the one with the most VPs after a certain amount of rounds (20 I believe), which are completed every time one of the players has to reshuffle his deck. As you do not discard your unplayed cards after your turn, the more efficient you are with your hand by using as many cards cards as you can, the faster the game goes. Martin suggested that this is a 1h to 1.5h game with 4 players, which is absolutely believable.

You get VPs by building outposts on planets, colonies on inhabitable planets, putting into your reserve VP-giving cards, and getting VP tiles whenever you set up a colony. There might be other ways, but I can't be sure. Note that once you eg. lose a colony or outpost you lose their VPs, so it is unlikely that an early leader will roll over his opponents easily.

The various types of resources and some card art

There are 4 resources in the game: matter, energy, population and research. Each planet that you have an outpost or colony on (and thus whose card you drop into your discard pile to use) gives you some of these resources, of which you can use only one per hand. On your turn you can do 2 actions, out of the following menu:

- Build fleets (where you have a colony)
- Move fleets
- Colonize (build an outpost or a colony)
- Draft one technology (take a research card that gives you resources or a special action)
- Reserve cards (to be played in a subsequent round)
- Remove one card from play (thin your deck)
- Discard cards (so as to refill your hand)
- Card action (some cards have special actions on them)
- Pass

Since during setup the board gets seeded with black holes that cut some of the routes among adjacent stars, and since the initial players' planets are randomly dealt, your forces are all over the place at start. This creates substantial input variability, and reading the board topology up front is quite important to formulate a strategy. One of the first things you need to do is try to expand your bases to 2-3 clusters of adjacent planets, so that you get resources, but also that you can reinforce and/or retreat if you get attacked. And attacked you will be.

Some technology cards

Combat is similar to AFAoS and Mythotopia. You commit your fleets, then push a tug-of-war line towards your side, then your opponent commits/reinforces or uses "matter" resources to push the line back towards her side and so on. You always have the option to withdraw and retreat, losing half your forces. Which is why you always want to be able to retreat. Combat is fast, and card reserves are necessary as the right deterrent or weapon to win. After combat you refill your hand, so you are not an easy target for the next player.

Impressions
The game is easy to play and plays extremely smoothly. There were nearly zero rules questions by the players, and after the first hand we dropped into a quick rhythm pretty fast. Since you refill your hand at the end of your turn and the board state does not change drastically over time, you have ample time to plan during the other players' turn, which results in very low downtime.



This is a game all about hand management and board state understanding. Through the cards you are dealt upfront (some of which are random), the game nudges you in a certain strategic direction. However, it never felt scripted. You have the freedom to massage your deck as you wish through your purchases and planet colonizations, but you need to make your actions, count, since every 2-3 turns you have to reshuffle and the round marker moves forward towards the end of the game.

A Handful of Stars felt like a more open, more streamlined, but also more variable version of Martin's deckbuilding trilogy. It felt deep and satisfactory without being overly taxing or brain burning. The decisions were hardly obvious most of the time, and there was enough flexibility to use each hand you are dealt in some useful way. My only concern, besides balancing the various factions which I am sure Martin has extensively playtested, is that the game needs players to be alert to keeping each other in check.

I really liked the game, I will be looking forward to preordering it, and to exploring it to its fullest.

Martin is a wonderful person, smart yet humble. A real gentleman
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Zak
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Thanks for the review! Was hoping we might see more on this coming out of Essen.

I like what I can see of the card/board art. Very much looking forward to this one.
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Ash Jones
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Concerned about the theme of this one. Looks like uninspiring fictional names are integral to the gameplay, like Mythotopia.
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Morten K
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Novoknight wrote:
Concerned about the theme of this one. Looks like uninspiring fictional names are integral to the gameplay, like Mythotopia.


They are not. During our play they were not mentioned once after setup was done.

I really liked the game. Martin fixed the endgame problems of Mythotopia very elegantly and it feels much less like a tug of war than that one because of the variable player powers. That might on the other hand have the downside for some that your strategy feels rather dictated from the beginning. That doesn't affect the replayability, however, since the setup is so different every time. It's by far my favourite in the trilogy.
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el porkoz
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Any ideas regarding how well this game world scale for 2 players? Thanks!
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Kristo Vaher
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Tigrillo wrote:
Novoknight wrote:
Concerned about the theme of this one. Looks like uninspiring fictional names are integral to the gameplay, like Mythotopia.


They are not. During our play they were not mentioned once after setup was done.

I really liked the game. Martin fixed the endgame problems of Mythotopia very elegantly and it feels much less like a tug of war than that one because of the variable player powers. That might on the other hand have the downside for some that your strategy feels rather dictated from the beginning. That doesn't affect the replayability, however, since the setup is so different every time. It's by far my favourite in the trilogy.


How did he fix the endgame problem?
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David Espada
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Slashdoctor wrote:

How did he fix the endgame problem?


I have not suffered end problem in Mythotopia, but A Handful of Stars has very different ending phase. Game end is triggered by shuffling count from player decks, instead of a player stating clear victory conditions (like in Mythotopia). Different game. Both (for me) seem very strategic, but Mythotopia can be a little frustrating if you play in autopilot, not so if played by experienced people (I think).
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Bruno Valerio
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Thanks Yani!! Been waiting for some impressions on the game!
 
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Spyros Gkiouzepas
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Can you tell us a bit more about combat? Does it still lasts until there is a clear victor or does it end in one round?

I quite like Mythotopia although it has some serious issues. I like the theme better with this one, and don't mind the generic names. The art looks inspiring and I really like the box art, reminds me of Farscape
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David Espada
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Greeek geek wrote:

I quite like Mythotopia although it has some serious issues. I like the theme better with this one, and don't mind the generic names. The art looks inspiring and I really like the box art, reminds me of Farscape


Which issues do you see apart from end game reported problems?
 
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Yani
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Greeek geek wrote:

Can you tell us a bit more about combat? Does it still lasts until there is a clear victor or does it end in one round?

I quite like Mythotopia although it has some serious issues. I like the theme better with this one, and don't mind the generic names. The art looks inspiring and I really like the box art, reminds me of Farscape


The combat is a back and forth struggle between the attacker and the defender, until either:

a) one of the two players fails to swing the tug-o-meter at least to zero if not their side,
b) choose to withdraw.

There are also some special technology cards that allow you to lose half units than you would otherwise lose, and a "bomb" of sorts that kills a fleet of your opponent. Nothing felt overpowering, and the probabilities of success if you paid a bit of attention to your opponent's reserves, which are open (!), and what planets they occupy and/or resources they have on their player mats, you can pretty much form an opinion whether you will win or not.

We had several combats in the game, even an epic one, and none lasted over a minute or so. Pretty easy stuff. Keep in mind though, when you attack, you will need to act with limited information, meaning you should be very careful when and who to attack, so as not to handicap yourself. Very elegant.
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Phil Triest
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The prototype has definitely been upgraded since I played it. Good to see
 
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Morten K
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Greeek geek wrote:

Can you tell us a bit more about combat? Does it still lasts until there is a clear victor or does it end in one round?

I quite like Mythotopia although it has some serious issues. I like the theme better with this one, and don't mind the generic names. The art looks inspiring and I really like the box art, reminds me of Farscape


Combat lasts one round only. You can use the cards you have on your hand and in your two reserves. That's it. I like it better than in A Few Acres and Mythotopia.
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David Espada
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Tigrillo wrote:

Combat lasts one round only. You can use the cards you have on your hand and in your two reserves. That's it. I like it better than in A Few Acres and Mythotopia.


It is... different. You gain a faster game dynamic and lose strategy in a multi-conflict situation. Both good options if wisely developed (as I expect from Martin).
 
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Harvey O'Brien
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Hi, Yani. I was one of the two players across the table from you. The other was also from our gaming group, South Dublin Boardgamers, but I was wearing the T-shirt.

Yes, we both loved the game too. I thought the factions worked well, actually. Light touch, but significant. My 'Peacenims' had those powerful diplomatic cards that allowed me to delay invasion long enough to build my forces and strike back. Worked nicely. Meanwhile I could see Martin was building a seriously powerful fleet at his home world with his aggressive faction, and it was a matter of time before he launched them at me, two systems away. Lucky he started with you.

We will both definitely be ordering this game. Pleasure playing with you.
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Yani
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hob69 wrote:
Hi, Yani. I was one of the two players across the table from you. The other was also from our gaming group, South Dublin Boardgamers, but I was wearing the T-shirt.

Yes, we both loved the game too. I thought the factions worked well, actually. Light touch, but significant. My 'Peacenims' had those powerful diplomatic cards that allowed me to delay invasion long enough to build my forces and strike back. Worked nicely. Meanwhile I could see Martin was building a seriously powerful fleet at his home world with his aggressive faction, and it was a matter of time before he launched them at me, two systems away. Lucky he started with you.

We will both definitely be ordering this game. Pleasure playing with you.



Heh, yes, Martin was just toying with us.. .)

It was a pleasure to play with you and your mate, Harvey. Here's to next Essen.
 
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