Star Scrappers: Cave-in (2018) Review
For several years, the authors of Eastern Europe have continued to distinguish themselves by games with original themes and refreshing mechanisms. At this level, the two people we immediately think of are Vlaada Chvátil and Ignacy Trzewiczek. But behind these two great talents, many other authors have managed to impose their styles like, Oleksandr Nevskiy (Mysterium), Adam Kwapiński (Nemesis), Michał Oracz (Neuroshima Hex!), Adam Kałuża (K2). And I'm not talking about illustrators who are more and more numerous and who also bring their own styles. Not to mention also the publishers who have found their places on the international scene as Awaken Realms, Czech Games Edition, Rebel, Portal Games ... As such, Poland is a country that tends to pull out of the game. Authors and creations are constantly increasing. And best of all? The majority of these games are good or very good. Faced with a current production that constantly seeks to renew itself, the contribution of these new visions offers a significant fresh wind.
I discovered the game I'm going to talk about today thanks to the Institut Polonais de Paris. For more than three years in particular, this institution seeks to highlight the board game made in Poland. And rightly so. Present especially during events like Paris is Ludique (French games festival), it is above all players who seek to share their passions playful. If like me, you like Polish productions, I can only invite you to get closer to this institution to discover more because the Polish ludique landscape deserves to linger and devote time to.
Star Crappers: Cave-In is a game produced with Kickstarter. The game is now finally available in 2018. Released to a bit of anonymity, this game made by Filip Miłuński (CV) and Jan Zalewski (Andromeda) is published by FoxGames and Hexy Studio.
As often in games from Kickstarter, the game has benefited from exclusive elements. My version being a "retail" version does not have this additional material. Some are only aesthetic as an improvement to the faction busts, but others are used in gameplay as new objective cards. It is difficult for me to judge their contribution and their interests without having played. That being said, let's get to the game itself.
Star Scrappers: Cave-In is a futuristic apocalyptic game. Fifty years after the last interstellar war, civilizations have found common ground and live in relative peace. The commercial war thus ignites the universe especially after the discovery of a new resource: Xendryd crystals. These resources offer power and influence to those who possess them. This is how many companies, coming from all different races, meet on the moon of the planet Cyrkon Prime: Corund. You end up at the head of a mercenary company. Your mission is to extract as many crystals as possible in order to impose yourself and sell to the highest bidder.
Enchanting, is it not? Well, as I have spoil the surprise immediately, once in play, the theme is quickly forgotten. There is indeed the desire to attach the mechanisms to the theme, but it is quickly forgotten in favor of the best way to manage his cards and score the most points of victory. Usually, I would say it's a very sad thing. It is true that the theme in a game is a very important thing. However, Star Scrappers belongs to a category of games where finally, this lack is not too disabling.
The installation of the game is fast enough especially if you ask the other players to contribute. Once done, each player starts by drawing three cards (one level 2 and two level 1’s). At random? Yes. Do not leave, not only is it a very small bit of chance but especially it is the only bit of chance in the game (except of course the pick at the resets, but hey, if you weigh on it we can not do anything anymore for you...).
Armed with your three cards, the game will begin. On your turn, you will be able to perform two actions. Sometimes, some cards will allow you to perform an additional action. The two actions are chosen from four available. With our normal actions, it is forbidden to do the same twice. But nothing prevents it if you have specific bonus actions. Example: for my first action, I extract a crystal. In my second action I can not do it again unless I have a card that tells me precisely "you have an action to extract more crystal". If so, I can do another different action with my second action.
The available actions are:
The main game engine is the management and use of its cards. Star Scrappers offers an interesting mechanism for this management. We are dealing with a mix of Splendor and deckbuilding. The cards recovered in hand will be played to carry out the actions. Cards recovered during a turn can be played directly after the action. The combo factor is therefore important in this game.
Here, no decks or picks. The cards played will be discarded face up in front of you and accumulate. Each discarded card is placed over the previous card. This is your base. The card visible, so above your stack, will become your leader. There can only be a maximum of seven cards in your base, which also corresponds to your maximum number of cards. This principle is very important to assimilate well in the game, but we will come back to this. Thus, each action will ask to use certain combinations of cards according to their colors or their numbers.
To recover new mercenaries, you have to pay the price. The mercenaries are divided into four levels. They form a pyramid, therefore you have more level 1 than level 4 cards for example. At the end of the round, if a mercenary has been recovered, it is replaced by another of its level. This feels a little like Splendor. Each mercenary has several values and informations to take into account. Already, there is its level which corresponds to a number going from 1 to 4. Then, one finds its color (depending on its race). Finally, each mercenary has a capacity that can be immediate or permanent. These three bits data are important depending on the action you want to take later. To recover a character, it is enough to pay his cost by discarding mercenaries from his hand. A level 1 requires only one action. A level 2 requires an action and a card (any color) with a minimum value of 1. A level 3 is an action and a value of two and finally level 4 is an action and a value of three (this can come from several cards). The choice of recruitment is important throughout the game. The chosen card goes directly into your hand and it becomes available right away. Discarded cards join your base.
Mercenaries in hand, can now go in search of victory points. The first way is the acquisition of artifact. These cards are face-up and can be purchased by all players. Their cost varies according to their importance. Each card is divided into two parts. Most often, the artifacts are a way to win victory points and has a power or a very interesting ability to help players (improved action, cost reduction, ...). The subtlety is found at the time of the purchase of such a card.
When a player acquires it, they must choose one of the two sides and position it under the card of their faction so that everyone sees only one of the two texts. It will match the chosen capacity and can not change for the rest of the game It has to be said that both sides are very interesting and that the choice is sometimes very difficult. To recover one of these cards, you must pay the cost with mercenary cards. Regardless of the color and the number of cards, it is sufficient that your total value corresponds to at least the number written on the artifact (you can discard for more). Artifacts are often expensive to buy but offer abilities or ways to score very important points. It is important to take those that best fit your way of playing and not necessarily leave them to other players.
After all that, maybe you will have to get a little work done. You're not there for sightseeing, are you? So you will be able to send your mercenaries to harvest the precious minerals. A little like the mercenary cards, the crystals are arranged in a pyramid on the other side. They correspond to four levels. Levels 1 are easier to acquire than Levels 4. To recover a crystal, you must discard mercenaries from your hand. The value of discarded cards must be equal to or greater than the value of the crystal. But that's not all. The color of the cards played is important. Indeed, all the cards discarded must be of the same color between them and of the same color as the wanted crystal. The crystals yield victory points shown on it. But beware, not all crystals are the same. Some have symbols that at the end of the game, will offer more significant points, depending on the different symbols obtained.
The last action focuses on your mercenaries. Each card has a special ability. These abilities most often allow you to circumvent the prohibition to perform the same action twice. But it can also be a bonus cost reduction during your turn. To benefit from a capacity of a mercenary, it is necessary to play the card for its power. Small exception for your leader, if it has a permanent power, it will be active all along when it is not covered by another card. At first glance, this action does not always seem the most important. And yet, it can allow you to make some pretty interesting combos.
We have gone through the normal actions available during a game turn. But, there is one that gives, almost alone, all the peculiarity to this game. This is the action "Attack a base". Attacking a base is an action that requires you to spend both your actions on your turn. In other words, unless you have an additional free action, you will only do this. Yes it's expensive, especially for a game where the concept of race for victory points is important. You are free to target any base. It can be an opponents or yours. Yes, you can attack your own base (I do not see thematic logic, someone explain please). But what can this serve? Besides the fact that it adds a little interaction, this action allows essentially more strategy. After choosing the targeted base, you automatically win. Obviously, they are too busy with their mining to protect their achievements. But being attacked is not so punitive.
Already, the defender recovers their leader into their hand. This card is never lost. This notion is very important during the discard phase of your cards when you are playing. Benefit from a permanent power or protecting another card ... The choice of your leader is in itself an important notion. In exchange, the attacker receives the leader token of the faction's color. Attention, not the player but the recovered leader mercenary card. Owning a leader token to a permanent reduction of 1 during the crystal extraction action on the same color. Finally, permanent ... until you no longer have the faction counter in your possession.
Then, the attacker can steal as many cards available from that base and fill their hand to their card limit. Remember that a base is limited to seven cards, and that the hand is also limited to seven cards. The hand can never exceed seven. If you have to draw a card while you are full, it's impossible, simply. Paying attention to your hand is a very important notion.
The action attack a base is one of the most interesting things in the game. Far from penalizing other players (especially that it is possible to target oneself), this action is very strategic game-wise. You have to know how to play it at the right time and maximize the gains it can bring you. At the same time, knowing this, you will be led to think more about how to play your own cards and especially when. Wait for the right moment, when the other players have well-filled hands to try to recover their cards the next round. Try to create an unattractive discard pile to prevent others from coming to you. But to do so means to deprive oneself of actions that can be powerful to you.
This notion is finally quite new and little used, even if it is not non-revolutionary. These hesitations offer a quite fun experience. Because in the end, even if you steal the cards you have patiently accumulated, you can steal them at the right time. Without going through the system of bluff / counter-bluff, this system adds a little tension and some tasty moments of reflections. Not to mention that it is one of the main factors of the interaction of the game. A real good find this mechanism!
But how does it end? By dint of drilling everywhere, the stability of the moon is less and less assured. On some crystals, there is a cave-in symbol. When one of these crystals is extracted, the collapse marker is advanced one notch. This is also the case when one of the slots becomes empty. Once the marker reaches the number of players (shown on the central board), this is the last turn before the site collapses.
Star Scrappers: Cave-In is a surprising game. At first glance, the game seems to correspond to a kind of inverted deck building with a strong connotation of Splendor. Until then nothing extraordinary. But the addition of the choice of artifacts and the method of using them (goal point of victory or permanent bonus), the method of recovering crystals and the way to use cards make it an interesting game. I was not counting the fact of this adding a layer of pleasure. The Attack the Basics action gives the game a sizeable hint of additional strategy and optimization. And this, without necessarily complicating the whole or weighing it down.
Star Scrappers is indeed a fluid game. In turn, the number of available actions are not important, however each mistake can be expensive. Under its few aspects of game development and card management, Cave-In is a race. A race for victory points but also against time. You have to be able to optimize your choices so that everything works for the better. But it's not so easy. With a chance close to zero (except in the appearance of cards), the game offers a highly interesting challenge.
With its gaming system, it goes off the beaten path and offers an experience, not new, but different. With a relative simplicity of approach and mastery, the game offers significant depth.
But the game is not free of defects. You can sometimes blame it on it’s repetitive side when everything goes according to your plan. Finally, if you summarize it, roughly you could assimilate it to "I take a card, I get a crystal". "I take a better card and I get something else." But that would be to forget a big part of what gives the charm of the game. To make abstraction of the present tension and some, not so easy choices to realize.
Being a little picky, we can also blame a little lack of theme and similar illustrations too. Indeed, even if the work of Mateusz "Draegg" Stanisławski and Łukasz Witusiński is interesting and gives a certain atmosphere, it is regrettable that too many cards have the same artworks (method well known fans of FFG licenses). A little more customization would have added immersion. Especially when we see the talent, we want to have more.
Star Scrappers is unfortunately a game that has not had the success it deserves. I'm not generally fond of this kind of optimization game. And yet, the sauce really sticks well. Simple, fluid, accessible, it offers a very appreciable challenge. Unlike many games of this style, it brings through its mechanisms an interesting and welcome interaction. The world of the game is inspired by a miniatures game developed by Hexy. An interesting universe that deserved to be more highlighted.
The replayability of the title is present by the implementation and the fact that at each game the available factions are not always the same. Another good idea lessening the winning combo. I can only advise you to try this game and discover the system of "discard-building game" (that's what they call it, not me).
Star Scrappers: Cave-In is a game that can put you directly in the mood and competition. Simple to access, it offers a pleasant depth. It also benefits from a fairly soft price choice, especially compared to the pleasure it brings. Playable from two to four, it is pleasant to play in all configurations. A very good surprise for a surprising game.
Technical note 9/10
It is unfortunate in view of the artistic quality of the illustrators to benefit only to have the same cards with illustrations so similar. More variety and customization would have been a bonus, especially for immersion. The rule is well written and the iconography is clear.
My score BGG 8/10
(Very good, enjoy playing and would suggest it.)
For this style of play, Star Scrappers offers one mechanic and an interesting challenge. Not devoid of any defect, it tries to transform known mechanisms to obtain a rather original play style. Without renewing the genre,ise proposes a style of its own, fluid, simple and yet worked. A nice surprise to try without delay for those who like the genre.
Combined score of 8.5 / 10
And now it's up to you...