Good buddy Jason Matthews was in town on business over the weekend, so we made time to get together for quite a bit of gaming. Jason is an attorney and aid in Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's office in Washtington, DC and gets to New Orleans a few times a year. Further, we got together with our good friends the Cortazzos Saturday evening for even more fun at the gaming table.
Since Jason didn't arrive until Thursday morning, he wasn't able to join us for our Wednesday night Westbank Gamers session. So, we instead traveled to Michael and Shanna Labranche's home to meet with their group on Friday night. Lo and behold, on Friday afternoon a package arrived from Boulder Games containing a whole batch of games, including the latest Rio Grande releases. So, I feverishly read over the rules to a few of the games and brought them along.
First on the table was this new Alan Moon space design. The rules seemed straight-forward enough, and we really didn't have any problems learning and playing the game. It is really rather simple.
The idea is for each player to establish stations on the economic centers orbiting above the seven planets in the Andromeda galaxy. To accomplish this, players must first establish stations on the planets themselves and then move them to these economic centers via the 'mystic planetary ring', as we dubbed the plastic gizmo which is used to randomly select a cube).
The game has various mechanisms, the most interesting being the trading procedure. Even though the procedure is reminiscent of that used in Reiner Knizia's Money (a game which I am not fond of ... and that's being kind), it has some novel twists and works in this context. The 'start' player places one of his cards (which depict the various planets in the system) face up before him. All players must then lay a card face-down which is DIFFERENT from the card laid by the start player. These cards are then revealed. The start player then lays a second card face up. Again, all players must lay face-down a card which is DIFFERENT from both those cards laid by the start player. The start player then MAY lay a third card if he desires, and again all other players must follow the procedure described above.
At this point, the start player MUST exchange his cards with those laid by another player, adding these to his hand. The player he just exchanged cards with may either add these newly acquired cards to his hand, or keep them in front of him. The player to the left of the start player now has the option of exchanging cards with an opponent in an identical fashion, or retrieving his cards back into his hand. This exchange procedure continues until only one player has cards remaining in front of him, at which point he replaces them into his hand.
It is this trading mechanism that can be used to great strategic advantage. Since players are trying to build sets of cards (ala Rummy), this procedure can be used to flush out desired cards from opponents hands. It is also great fun to see players being forced to lay cards they wanted to keep but can't due to the rule of having to play a card different from those played by the start player.
Once the trading is complete, the start player may take three of five potential actions, while all other players may take two actions. The various actions include:
1) Moving stations from earth to a planet. To accomplish this a player must lay a set of cards matching the planet to which he desires to move the station(s). The more cards in the set, the more stations he can move to that planet.
2) Develop his space ship. By playing sets of cards, the player can increase the cargo capacity of his spaceship, allowing the player to hold more cards in his hand.
3) Trade planet cards. The player can discard up to two cards and draw replacements.
4) Increase his technology. Again, by playing sets of cards, a player can gain increasing levels of technology, with each level granting an increased ability or power. Plus, these increased levels are worth victory points at game's end.
5) Attempt to establish an economic center. This is where the game tilts heavily towards the luck factor. The player lays a set of cards matching the planet from which he wishes to establish an economic center. He then places all of the markers on that planet beneath this large jar-lid apparatus (the 'mystic planetary ring') and rubs it around in a circle, mixing the tokens. Then, he slides the apparatus across the board until one of the cubes emerges from the small opening in the ring.
If the marker which emerged is that of the player, he is successful and places it on one of the planets three economic stations. If it is an opponent's marker which emerges, that marker is returned to earth. The player has as many chances as the number of cards he played in the set divided by two.
The rules do point out that a player can increase his odds by making sure he gets a large number of his tokens on a planet before attempting to establish an economic center. That's true ... but this mechanism is still heavily luck dependent. One only will have a limited number of chances to attempt this maneuver as establishing an economic base is a two step process, both steps requiring sets of cards to be played which match the planet in question. It is quite likely that no matter how much planning one does, the luck of the 'shake' (or ring) will ultimately determine the winner. That's a shame as the game is fun until one realizes that luck may be playing an overriding factor in the game's outcome.
Don't get me wrong .. I don't mind some luck in a game. In fact, I enjoy many games which are predominately luck based ( Can't Stop, Fill or Bust, etc.). However, these games don't make any pretensions about being strategy or skill based games. What I have a problem with is games which are marketed as strategy and skill based, but turn on a die roll ... or shake of a jar lid.
Another beef I have is that there should have been a chart on the board outlining the potential actions a player can take on his turn. It was bothersome to continually consult the rulebook to restate these actions to the players. This would have been a very easy step to take, but was somehow overlooked.
Now, I don't intend to dismiss Andromeda offhand - it is a fun game. I enjoyed myself, as did the other participants. I do see myself playing this one several more times. However, due mainly to this inordinate luck factor, I fear that it won't have a long 'table' life and quickly be assigned a permanent place on my game shelf.
In our game, the participants were Jason Matthews, Shanna Labranche, Michael Labranche Peter Wooten and myself. Peter shot out to an early lead, using the mystic planetary ring early and often. Even when the odds were against him, his marker emerged the majority of the time (there's that luck factor again). I had some success in establishing economic centers, but I was mostly present on the lower valued planets.
Michael made a late run, successfully establishing several bases. On the very last turn of the game, Michael took a chance and used the ring to attempt to establish a base. If he was successful, he would win. If not, Peter would. Again, the odds were against him, but he was successful with the ring and emerged victorious.
Finals: Mike 42, Peter 39, Shanna 39, Greg 35, Jason 33
Ratings: Greg 6, everyone else 7.