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Subject: A Detailed Overview of Ad Astra rss

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Mark Collett
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To the Stars to Save the Human Race

So, What am I Doing?
Ad Astra is, essentially, a card placement type game for 3-5 players. Using various plastic figures and a hand of 11 different potential actions, players lay out cards and carry out actions in an attempt to expand their own human faction within the cosmos. The game ends when a player reaches 50 points (or 40 points for a short game or 60 points for a longer game).

What’s in the Box? (I once had a fortune from a fortune cookie ask this question of me!)
Ad Astra contains plastic figurines, cardboard chits, and 12 decks of cards (small decks, mind you).

To Space…in Plastics!
The game comes with five different colors of plastic pieces. There are 5 pieces of each building although only 4 pieces are needed for game play. It is a good thing that the game includes extra plastic pieces as they are quite flimsy (especially the starships). The plastic buildings consist of the following items:

Starships – Used to travel through deep space and explore other planets, the starship is necessary for the expansion of your cosmic empire. Starships are also able to gather 1 resource from the planet that they occupy (assuming that a production card has been played).

Colonies – Used to establish your presence in a specific star system (starships also count for presence as well), they are needed to produce 1 resource on a settled planet (assuming that a production card has been played). This allows your starship to take off and explore new worlds.

Factories – If you have built a colony, you can next build a factory on that planet. The factory replaces the colony, returning it to the supply, and allows the production of 2 resources from the planet (assuming that a production card has been played).

Terraformers – Only allowed to be built on planets containing water or vegetation, this building is simply for gathering points. That’s really it (one scoring card allows you to gain 3 points for each terraformer you have in play). You build it, get 4 points, and move on. If, for instance, you are unable to build a colony where your starship is located, you can instead build a terraformer, gain the points, move the starship, and then later build a colony on the planet. However, the terraformer is NOT removed from the planet.

The Game Board of Numbers
There is an actual game board with the game, but its sole purpose is to track victory points and provide a field for playing cards. The card playing field consists of 15 slots that can be used by the players to perform actions.

An Unconventional Play Area
The actual play area is quite interesting. The game includes many cardboard planets and 9 cardboard stars. Each star is unique (e.g. Large Yellow Star, Red Nebula, Twin Yellow Star, etc.) and is surrounded by 3-7 planets. There are 7 different types of planets, 6 of which contain 1 of the 6 resource types; the other planet tokens are alien worlds that produce no resources but provide a different effect. The stars, and their surrounding planets, are placed on the table in any order and in any fashion (so long as the planets orbit the star, of course).

There is also the cardboard start player token…it’s about the size of a nickel, so good luck keeping track of who is first!

12 Decks of Cards, 11 for the Players, 10…
There are a total of 12 decks of cards. Five of these decks contain the 11 possible actions that a player may take on his turn. Six of the decks are simply resource cards (Water, Vegetation, Energy, and three types of Ore). The final deck contains the Alien Artifacts which are attained by a player when exploring an alien planet. These cards are named in Latin, but the player sheet provides an overview of the card’s purpose. (NOTE: The game manual details two Alien Artifact cards that may be removed from the game for their unpredictability. One of these scores the player a massive amount of points, and another allows that player to win automatically at the end of the game if he has EXACTLY 42 points, a nice shout out to A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

Player Reference Sheet
The player reference sheet is, unfortunately, printed on heavy duty paper rather than sturdier cardboard, so don’t bend them! The sheet details the costs of each building, the movement cost of a starship, and the point values when playing scoring cards. On the reverse side, it provides an overview of each of the Alien Artifact cards.

Making Your Way Through Space
The game is setup by placing the game board to the side of the table and then laying out the stars in the middle of the play area. The planet tiles are flipped over so that the actual planet is hidden, shuffled, and then laid out among the stars. Stars need to have between 3-7 planets on each. (NOTE: This could become a problem for players who grow more experienced with the game. Every player’s movement cards only have 6 planets; 2 planets are only accessible through other players’ cards. As such, a player could potentially tip the planets in his favor by placing the majority around the planets his color has access to (to be honest, I’m not sure if this is even a valid strategy!). Chances are, however, that this won’t be the case.) The Sol system, where the players start, has the same number of planets as players. A starting player is selected, and each player goes in turn flipping over one planet in the Sol system and placing a factory on that planet (alien planets must be replaced in the Sol system with a planet from another star). A starship of the player’s color is also placed in deep space (the open area of the game board, i.e. not on a planet or star tile). Additionally, each player has a scoring token that is placed on the scoring track of the game board.

Ad Astra makes use of two phases for all of the action: the planning phase and the action phase. During these phases, players play their cards, take the actions, score their points, rinse and repeat.

The Planning Phase
The planning phase consists of some potentially time consuming decisions. I say “potentially” because it simply depends on how quickly one can plan his or her actions to make the most use of the cards. For the purposes of this review, I’ll refer to the rules as though it is for a four player game.

The game board contains 15 card positions, but with 4 players, only 12 are used (3 cards per player). Each player begins by secretly selecting 3 of the 11 cards from the player’s deck. The cards are as such, in brief:

Production Cards – Each player has 3 of these and each shows two different resources. When played, a player may only choose 1 resource to produce. (e.g. a production card has Water and Ore (Gold color); when played, the player chooses either Water or Ore to produce, and each player, in turn, produces the exact same resource.) Players may not choose to produce a different resource than the one declared by the player of that card’s color.

Movement Cards – Again, each player has 3 of these, and they allow the players to move starships. Each card depicts 2 possible stars to travel to; thus, only 6 stars may be traveled to by that player with his cards. When this card is played, each player may choose one of the two stars depicted and travel to that system for free (assuming they are moving from deep space to the star system). It begins to cost Energy resources to move the ship from a planet to another system or back to deep space. When a ship moves to a star system, that player may secretly look at each of the planets in that system and land on one of them. This is when a player may land on an alien planet and gain an Alien Artifact card to be used at a later date.

Build Card – There is only one build card, and it allows each player, in turn, to produce buildings or starships by expending the necessary resources. If building a starship, it is placed in deep space and cannot be moved until a movement card is shown. A starship must be on a planet to build either a colony or a terraformer. A colony must be present to build a factory. (See above under To Space…in Plastic).

NOTE: Alien planets, although they produce nothing, may be built upon to provide victory points. A colony and then a factory may be built.

Trade Card – This card (only 1) allows that player to see the hands of the other players and initiate trading deals with them. The other players may not trade among each other. The player can also trade two resources to the bank to receive 1 different resource.

Scoring Cards – There are three scoring cards that allow a player to score based on 6 different factors detailed on the player sheet. A player can score points based on the number of colonies and factories, the number of terraformers, the number of starships, and the number of systems in which that player has presence (two total cards for these scoring conditions). Another scoring card allows a player to discard either 2 cards of the same resource or 2 different resources to score 1 point. This card requires that the player to the LEFT of the starting player go first. Why? The starting player can then see how many points the other players have earned; if he earns more points, he scores a bonus 3 points! This bonus of 3 points applies to any person who earns the most points on a scoring card. Additionally, the scoring card causes the starting player token to be moved; the person who plays a scoring card takes the token.

After deciding on the cards to play, the starting player plays a card face down on the game board in any of the 12 available slots (e.g. the first player may play a card in ANY space on the board, and thus strategically place his cards). This continues, laying one card each in turn, until the slots are full. When this is accomplished, the next phase begins.

The Action Phase
During this phase, the first card on the numbered card track of the game board is flipped face up. Each player, in turn, completes the action, if possible. When that card is completed, the next is flipped and so on. It is important to note that each player carries out the action. Therefore, playing a scoring card at specific times is critical!

When all of the cards have been flipped face up, these cards are collected by each player EXCEPT the scoring card(s). Scoring cards are moved to the side of the board and remain there face up. Only when a player has played all 3 of his scoring cards does he take these cards back into his hand. This is, obviously, a way to prevent players from spamming their scoring cards during game play and thus winning a quick victory through abuse. I think it’s a great idea! The game comes to an end during the action phase. If a player attains the required number of victory points early in the phase, the game continues until all of the cards have been played.

The Subtle Spin of the Galaxy
The game itself flows very nicely. The cards are easily understood and, mostly, quickly carried out. The down time mostly comes from the planning phase as each player decides, given his relevant position to the starting player, what card slots will be available to him, what the other players may potentially play, and how he can best utilize his own cards given the unknown circumstances of the cards in play.

Final Overview
Overall, I think the game is well designed, well balanced, especially in regards to the scoring cards, and entertaining.

Theme
I can’t help it! I’m a fan of sci-fi games as well as classical/medieval themed games. As such, this game has interested me since I first read about it. The theme fits well with the mechanics of the game, especially given that space is a bit unpredictable as are the cards!

Analysis Paralysis
Yes, AP could become a serious problem in this game as players jockey for position on the game board to play cards. Sitting down to it myself for the first time, I thought long and hard about what moves should be taken and which would be most beneficial to my end goals. But with the right players, the planning phase should go fairly smoothly and quickly.

Replayability
I feel this game has great replay value. Each game can be different given the starting conditions in Sol and the fact that each star system will have randomized planets. Additionally, different strategies may be employed for scoring points. Mixing up which color you play (since movement cards are semi-different for each player) may potentially result in a bit of a different game as well.

Setup
Setting up the game is pretty quick. Sorting the cards for each color and resources is fairly quick. Arranging the stars and planets around them goes rather quickly as well since it’s all random!

Final Points
9.5
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Brett Hudoba
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Thanks for the thorough review! thumbsup

The only thing that strikes me as odd is that it sounds like you don't have much (or any) control over your own movement and are most often at the mercy of the goals of the other players. I'd think it would be really annoying and/or frustrating; but not having played myself, is it much of a factor, or even noticeable? Or in practice, is the mechanic in actuality not that far removed from role selection--similar to, say, Puerto Rico?
 
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Ed Browne
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Each movement card has two systems' pictures on it. You can only move into one of the two systems on the card (or between them if you want a quicker trip and have the fuel necessary). Most of the time, movement is a two-step process. You can move the first step ("Deep Space") with any movement card, and then play (or wait for someone else to play) a system you want to move into.

Each faction has different system combinations in their movement cards, but I believe all systems are represented on the cards in each deck somewhere.

This game has some similarity to Puerto Rico in that, with many cards, the player who placed it gets a special advantage, but everyone else can work from that card. Like Puerto Rico, often the person who can make best use of other players' actions, not just his own, is the one that has a good chance of winning.

Unlike, Puerto Rico, however, you aren't competing for the same actions. Each deck has a trading card, production cards, etc., so you don't have to wait a complete round to be able to do what the guy in front of you chose to do.

I hope this helps. If you like Puerto Rico, you will probably like Ad Astra.
 
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Trevor Schadt
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Grimstax wrote:
Unlike, Puerto Rico, however, you aren't competing for the same actions. Each deck has a trading card, production cards, etc., so you don't have to wait a complete round to be able to do what the guy in front of you chose to do.

I hope this helps. If you like Puerto Rico, you will probably like Ad Astra.


My usual comparison for the game is "it's part Starfarers of Catan, part Race for the Galaxy." If you like both of those games, chances are very high that you'll like Ad Astra.
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Doug Cooley
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ryudoowaru wrote:
Grimstax wrote:
Unlike, Puerto Rico, however, you aren't competing for the same actions. Each deck has a trading card, production cards, etc., so you don't have to wait a complete round to be able to do what the guy in front of you chose to do.

I hope this helps. If you like Puerto Rico, you will probably like Ad Astra.


My usual comparison for the game is "it's part Starfarers of Catan, part Race for the Galaxy." If you like both of those games, chances are very high that you'll like Ad Astra.


I like both of those games and hated Ad Astra.

Think Starfarers with a completely random starting resource planet. And you can't go to some other systems unless someone else plays their card that does (you only can pick from six of the nine systems).

Throw in a tempo curve that is glacial at the beginning but hyperactive at the end and one bad blind system choice and your game is over. If you don't have either water or food at the beginning you will fall behind slowly but surely.

Our game took nearly two hours, including 'splainin'. It was a three-person game.

I won't be back. Amazingly, I played this at a four day gaming retreat that I hold in Central Oregon for friends, and out of 30 games played, this was the *only* dud. I really tried to find the love, but it just isn't there. I strongly recommend you try before you buy. I'm floored that *this* was the first in a line of games intended to celebrate designers and they throw out a crap design.

But hey, it's very pretty.

YMMV.
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Robert
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Goodness, I couldn't have had a more different first experience. I really liked how the elements that Ad Astra borrows from other games melded together.

Starfarers of Catan lends it's exploration model. The role choices are similar to a bunch of games, Race For the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc. The action placement table reminds me a bit of Space Alert (and again, Race, where you often hope that others will choose the role YOU want.)

Thing is, I'm not a real big fan of any of the games that AA borrows from, with the exception of Race, but yet, I really enjoyed AA.

But hey, it'd be a boring world if we all liked the same game.
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Doug Cooley
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Escher26 wrote:
Goodness, I couldn't have had a more different first experience. I really liked how the elements that Ad Astra borrows from other games melded together.

Starfarers of Catan lends it's exploration model. The role choices are similar to a bunch of games, Race For the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc. The action placement table reminds me a bit of Space Alert (and again, Race, where you often hope that others will choose the role YOU want.)

Thing is, I'm not a real big fan of any of the games that AA borrows from, with the exception of Race, but yet, I really enjoyed AA.

But hey, it'd be a boring world if we all liked the same game.


Believe me, this game sounded *awesome* from reading the rules. I thought it was going to be Settlers with more control. It turned out to be Starfarers with considerably more luck of the draw in where you started. I'd go so far to say that you have *less* control over your destiny in this game than in Settlers. At least in Starfarers you can play the Funny Voice variant where you have to read the cards in a funny voice someone else nominates.

I'm delighted to hear the game is popular, it will make it easier to sell.
 
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Sergey Tolmachev
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Agree

The game is nothing more than borrowing (read: envy at success of other games). As for me the authors and publishers made it preaty but without soul. Just to make fast money-pump on Brand names.

Play Bruno's 'Mission:Red Planat'. Cheaper and better but with the same entourage.

I started to be disappointed with Bruno...too bad - because my love to board games started from Citadels
 
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Jason Kossowan
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dcooley wrote:
Throw in a tempo curve that is glacial at the beginning but hyperactive at the end and one bad blind system choice and your game is over. If you don't have either water or food at the beginning you will fall behind slowly but surely.

I disagree here - playing early resource scoring cards can make for some tough decisions early and there are viable strategies (ships/system presence) that involve nothing but minerals. The galactic economy must be considered as a hole on the flop of the starting planets - not just what you're producing. If you're not trading 1 for 1 with the other guy producing what you don't have you're missing the point of trade in the game. It's simple, but it's crucial.
 
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Ian Allen
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kossowankenobi wrote:
dcooley wrote:
Throw in a tempo curve that is glacial at the beginning but hyperactive at the end and one bad blind system choice and your game is over. If you don't have either water or food at the beginning you will fall behind slowly but surely.

I disagree here - playing early resource scoring cards can make for some tough decisions early and there are viable strategies (ships/system presence) that involve nothing but minerals. The galactic economy must be considered as a hole on the flop of the starting planets - not just what you're producing. If you're not trading 1 for 1 with the other guy producing what you don't have you're missing the point of trade in the game. It's simple, but it's crucial.


I also disagree about the comment that if you don't start with food or water you fall behind. The last game of this I played I had neither food nor water for at least half the game. My starting colony was on the gold colored mineral.

I built more ships in the beginning than anyone else and scored on that early. I had only built 2 colonies and no factories and no terraformers by the end of the game. I had presence in 7 systems and I got that bonus once during early game and then twice later in end game when I used my scoring card in the 15 position and then used it again on turn 1 of the next turn for a quick 20 points ((7+3 bonus =10) X 2)

Someone caught up with me on ships and that was scored a couple more times. Neither of us got the bonus but we did get more points than the other 3 players so it kept us moving ahead. I won by a pretty decent margin. By the end of the game I had at least 1 of every type of resource coming in, but I didn't get food or water until late in the game. One of my two colonies was bought very late in the game and it was almost superfluous.
 
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