Gamer in All Mediums
Hello folks. I bought this game, as the title suggests, with my SO on impulse in my FLGS. I was looking for a moderately priced, interesting tactical game, and, to my great surprise, I found one.
In Carpe Astra, you are attempting to seize power over the Galactic Empire ruled (for the moment) by a dying emperor. To do this you will need the support and aid of many powerful guilds: the Mechanics, the Navy, the Church, the Settlers, the Merchants, the Politicos...that sort of thing. You are opposed by a number of equally powerful foes all aiming for the same thing. What this political maneuvering, corruption, slander, and backstabbing actually amounts to, it seems, is set collecting...
To win, you need the most points, scored by having complete, majority, and second-majority dominance of the various guilds. To get dominance, you collect influence chips (from a set number) by forming a linked line of chips on the tile-mat board to match 'network' cards in your hand. You can also remove opposing influence by linking opposing players and playing 'slander' cards. For each game, you build the board from two-joined hexagons, and may place a pawn from your stack of five on one side, and you may only have one 'network' of pawns, with any other groups not connected being removed.
All in all, the game is rather simple to learn, and once you get your head around the rules governing the placement of your pawns, quick to play. Whilst I'd shy away from calling it elegant, you could do much worse. There is a fair amount of luck involved in the game but also a surprising amount of tactics. Changing your hand, the board, and playing numerous pieces is quite easy, and the game has a nice catch-up mechanic that not collecting influence gives you money which, in turn, allows easier play. The 'event' deck limits the number of turns, which allows for control over the game length and also adds to tactics by making certain combinations of groups more profitable.
Whilst I wouldn't place it as one of the most strategic games out there (it's far from chess) it's a nice tactical game in which you try to maneuver your pieces, build the board, and collect a good set of cards whilst your opponents do the same, and occasionally knock your pieces off. The fact you have a hand of 2 cards for the most part means that there is little analysis paralysis once people learn the game: your options are limited and you have to work with what you've got, and what you know.
The game also scales well for 2-4 players. It's quick enough, even with four, to play well; and two doesn't diminish it too much. This is achieved by varying the board and victory chip composition in different game sizes, which is sufficient to keep things brutal. Whilst I'd recommend aiming for 3-4 players, if you are looking for a two player game or a game with flexibility this is a distinct possibility.
The one annoying thing I will point out is the disparity between 2-group and 3-group cards which require you to link yourself to each group on them. Thus, the three group cards are harder and offer no greater benefit to completion at all (you get one influence, as with every card). This seems to me to add an unnecessary luck-element into the game which can feel a bit cheap but, for the most part, I can deal with it and it only tarnishes an otherwise neat game.
Okay, it's perhaps a little pasted on. The game could just as easily be anything, and even the space theme seems unnecessarily pasted onto the pasted on politics theme. However none of this matters because it's good. The artwork, whilst not to everyones taste, does present you a good feel of the not-too-shiny people you're playing. The simple iconography means that at a glance the status of the board is apparent, and the symbols, cards, and boards all fit the theme well.
In addition to this, all the cards have flavor text explaining what's happening to cause the events: you could be accusing an opponent of stealing supplies bound for starving settlers, or pressing for increased outer-rim representation in the senate, or Pirate attacks could make supporting the military profitable. Reading out the cards, in many cases, makes it apparent what's happening whilst keeping in theme with the game, and, with the right group, it's very easy to get into the spirit.
The game comes with a nice selection of components. The hexagons which make up the board are sturdy card, the cards are good quality (not the best, but sufficient), and the pawns are nice wood. Each player gets a coulour-coded rules summary card, and a portrait of their leader, which is a nice touch.
My only minor issue is with the score chips which are tiny little triangle-tokens of the thinner type of card. Whilst (I hope...) we are yet to lose any of these, they are both fiddly and we have had some near misses. This being said, they do their purpose, and for those who like fiddling with their pieces they do serve as a nice distraction, as you can arrange them into lots of interesting hexagonal patterns...
All in all, a nice little game which I'd advocate picking up. It's what I'd describe as light-tactics; the better player will often win, but there is a bit of luck involved too. There have been some cheap wins/losses, but not enough for anyone in our group to take a disliking to the game.
The theme is well implemented, and you could mistake this for a space-politics game if you wanted to, but it can equally well be dispensed with if you'd prefer it. Sum: a nicely made, quick game.
I played this game once. I did like the game, I did like the artwork and the theme was OK, but I really disliked the combination. This game would do much better as an abstract game IMO.