I’m a bit behind schedule this week, but I’m finally back with my weekly review! I didn’t get any new hotness to the table this week, but I did get to play one of my favorite fast group games, so without further adieu, let’s talk about Celestia!
I’ve only played Celestia about a handful of times and I don’t own it, despite the fact that I adore it. I have not played with the expansion, so this is just a review of the base game. This is one of those games that does really well with groups of about four to six players, but not so much with two and most of my gaming happens with just myself and my wife so I haven’t played it as much as I would like, but I definitely perk up whenever I see a friend’s brought it around for game night. So, it’s not new, but it’s a favorite, so here we go!
Rules & Mechanisms
The main mechanism in Celestia is a ‘press your luck mechanism’. Can we make it to the next stop based on the cards in the captain’s hand or should I bail now while the getting’s good? Generally I’m indifferent to ‘press your luck’, but what makes it different in Celestia is that you’re not making a decision based on the dice you’re about the roll or the card you’re about to draw. The dice are already rolled. The cards are already drawn. The question isn’t about luck, but whether you trust the captain to be able to deal with the dice based on the cards in their hand. In essence it’s a ‘press your luck’ game wrapped up in a social deduction game. To me, this is what makes the game compelling. Sure, I can look at the symbols on the dice and the number of cards in their hand, but really I’m looking at my friend across the table. Do they have what it takes? Should I stick it through with them or is the ship going to go down in a blaze of fire? The amount of life this brings to the game is fantastic.
The social deduction aspect is why the game really shines at a higher player count. If it’s just me and one or two other people then I’m constantly captain and only one or two other people are reacting to each captain. With more people a story starts to develop based on how the players interact as a group. There are more opportunities for varied responses.
The game also includes a few special ability cards that are different from the main cards. They allow the players to do things such as reroll the dice, bail after the ship is crashing, or to force someone else to bail after they’ve decided to stay. In a heavier or longer game I wouldn’t like these cards, especially the last one. I’m not a fan of take that mechanisms, but this game is so light and silly that it ends up just adding more story moments and that’s not a bad thing.
Art, Theme, & Components
I’ve already talked quite a bit about the theme in the previous section. It really comes through in this game and the art and components really bring it to life. The artwork reminds me of a Pixar film, with goofy, animated characters and bright colors even when things are looking dim.
The airship with the pawns that are actually moved in and out of it to represent players bailing might feel like overkill to some but is part of the fully embraced theme that makes this game so compelling. If I’m getting off the ship, I have to get myself off the ship. How we play is that when the ship crashes, the captain actually physically tips the ship over, causing the remaining pawns to fall out of it. No one made that rule, it just feels so natural that someone did it at some point and now everyone does it.
Quality wise, the components are all standard fair. The cards could be thicker but the game doesn’t really need that and it’s such a cheap game that if you’re playing it enough to wear them out then it’s really not a big deal to buy another copy of the game. The chipboard is solid, with the art on it being much more noticeable than any quality one way or the other.
Strategy & Replayability
Like many social deduction games, much of the replayability comes from interacting with the players around you. There are definitely strategy aspects of choosing when to play special cards and when to jump or not, but that’s not going to be what brings people back to this game. I can lose horribly and want to play again immediately because I want those interactions. This game does a fantastic job of getting the players playing with one another, not just with the game. That said, it is a faster, lighter game. It’s main place for most gaming groups is probably as a light warm up or wind down game before or after the main game for the evening.
Celestia is a delightful game that combines silly moments with fun decision making, while not overstaying its welcome. It plays best with a larger group, but is worth taking the time to play with everyone there. While I don’t have it yet, it’s definitely a game that I want to own and that I’m always happy to play. Just remember, the captain always goes down with the ship.
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