Stellarium (2020) first impressions
Please note, these are first impressions of a prototype. Rules and components may change before final release.
There is nothing more relaxing than on a hot summer night, than to lay out on the cool soil of your garden and letting your eyes wonder at the little dots that are so far away. Living out in the country allows me to see the trillions of stars that line the dome around our globe. It’s something that I adored doing as a kid and speculating on what those twinkling lights are. In Stellarium, you’ll be doing the same thing. But with a little astronomical experience. Knowing the names of constellations and using them to navigate your way around the seas.
1 to 4 players (yes, there is a solo mode, that I haven't tried) will have two star constellation cards at the beginning of the game. A basic very easy starting formation and an easyish one too. Each card has a selection of the three different coloured stars scattered on square spaces. These indicate the distance between each star and their colour. Fulfilling a card, by observing it in the playing area, or night sky will score you a number of points and tiles as marked on the bottom. And in between all of the players, a grid of random tiles will be drawn from the bag and placed out. This is the night sky. Somewhere in this Sky is the formations that you seek. But sometimes not. A majority of the game will be spent staring at this night sky and trying to catch stars that match your constellations you are searching for.
So far, this sounds like a quick fire observation game. But this is not a race against the other players but a race against the clock. Players will take 30-second turns to point out their constellations in the night sky that match their card. If you fail to find one or mistakenly point out the wrong stars, either in colour or distance, you miss a turn and the opportunity to score points. When you do find one, the other players must concur that you have placed tokens on the tiles that correspond to your constellation, you’ll score that card at the end of the game. An added bonus is provided on that card. It will tell you how many tiles you can take as a bonus. But only the tiles that you place the tokens on. These also score at the end of the game. One point per star on a tiles you have. So there's some benefits of taking a tile which has three stars depicted on it instead of one. The remove tiles up replaced with random tiles drawn from the sack. And now you have the choice of drawing a new constellation card, this time you'll have a choice of the difficulty.
There are three difficulties in the game. Choosing the very hard formations to find will obviously give you more points if you do find them at the end of the game and also let you collect more tiles. But of course, these will be harder to find as they have have large areas of the sky and more stars in the correct position to pinpoint. There is also a variant with the game which has another deck of constellation, and these are even harder. One is revealed to all the players during the game, meaning that any player, on their turn can discover and score this card instead of one of their own. There are only a handful of these and they are quite possible of finding. If playing with this variant, there will always be one on the table for all players to search for.
The good thing about having turns, where each player is put in the spotlight to try and score points, is it eliminates those very powerful observant people from winning. We’ve all played a speed observation game, like Ghost Blitz or Set, where one play racks up points because they can process everything rapidly. These players don’t stand out as much in this game. They have their own turn to talk and take actions, as well as push themselves to pick the harder constellations to find. Yes, these are more point than the easy and medium difficulty cards, but they are darn hard. Sometime hard to find in the time limit but occasionally because of the random layout of tiles, sith their 3 colours and numbers. So the game has a kind of balancing mechanism for different skilled opponents. If you're playing with the variant, they may accelerate their score rapidly by finding these mega point cards instead of the two they have in hand. Plus, if you're playing at the full player count, if you’re a slower player, you'll have much more time to try and find your constellations, even before your turn starts. But sometimes that time is never enough, possibly because you're constellation does not exist...
Yes, yes it is possible to look into the night sky and not find what you're looking for. But you shouldn't freet, as this sky will be changing when players collect tiles. On top of that, these bonus tiles that you have collected can be used to force your constellation to appear. A really nice touch is if you are struggling to find what you're looking for, for you have the power to place out one of your collected tiles. This is kind of a forfeit, as you will be losing the points from it. But by placing this one tile out, it will help you advance a little in removing a card from your hand that might be difficult to complete. This is great if you have a three starred tile as it acts like a joker. The sad news is, you will be losing those three points, as this tile cannot be collected from the selection of tiles that you collect. Being observant and resourceful can really be a big payoff in this game. Making stupid mistakes, like placing out one of your tiles to complete a card. Then finding out that the constellation is still not correct will have you kicking yourself as you have missed your turn, but also lose your tile with its points. That then becomes a permanent fixture in the sky and helps out another player.
The game continues until there are no more tiles to replace the empty spaces in the night sky. It's at this moment players count up the amount of points from constellation cards and from the stars on your tiles to see who has the most points. This ending seems a little unbalanced and is very swings and roundabouts. Having another player complete more cards due to the fact that they had more turns will seen a little unjust. And like any speed observation game, even though this one gives each player that own slot, is still unfair to slower players. Faster players are always guaranteed to score more, especially if you play with the verient. Where as slowest player may miss a turn due to not finding the most advantageous constellation. But it kind of even outs. Only playing many times will tell.
The game is quite tranquil as you gaze at a bunch of tiles, trying to to find your objectives. I enjoy observation games like “word searches” and “spot the difference”, so this game appeals to me on that level. As well as the theme and mechanism. And again, more relaxing with more players, as you will have time to find your constellations a few times over. If someone takes a tile from that formation before your turn, you can adopt from the new tiles or fallback to the second card in your hand. But that's it. It is pretty shallow and repetitive, but doesn’t drag out. A game can last for about 20 minute and at that point, you'll be ready to move on or play again. With all the playtester I encountered, some found it relaxing and pleasurable, while some found it stressful and frantic, and others found it a tad dull and drab. Not only in the colour palette but also so in the gameplay itself.
Now, this is the prototype version that I played, that had missing pieces. Again, I am unsure if the style of the games art and design will be the same or change. But what I had was all clear and easy to interpriate. Games ran smoothly. We even player without a timer. This was not as fun. Maybe if you were playing with children, this would be an option. I’ll finish by saying that this is a great introductory game for those getting into the hobby and a sweet family game. Short and easy to understand. Some interesting ideas, but not enough to keep coming back. Extra rules or a fourth colour or larger night skies, would all be nice. We shall see when the final version comes to stores later this year from Precisamente.
Red outpost (2019) first impressions
(Remember, this is a first impression and not a final review. The game was played on a well rendered prototype, of an upcoming Kickstarter game. These words and thoughts are of a one-time play play with a 3 player count.)
If you're looking for a game with a unique theme and gameplay, here is a game that should pique your interest. Theme wise, Red Outpost is about the Russians winning the Space Race. And instead of going to the moon, they crash on another planet and start inhabiting it. Mechanics wise, this is a worker displacement, resource gathering and and Influence scoring game. Where are all the workers and resources are shared between all players. But this is no “co-op game” by any shape or means. Players are going to be scrambling to manipulate these workers for their own benefits and mainly trying to hold the others back from doing the same. Each, trying to keep their head about the water, at the same, submerging the heads of others.
The ruleset for the game is very simple. You’ll move an unused worker to a unique empty location, place one of your influence tokens on that workers image, possibly change the mood of that worker, before taking the action as indicated on the location. As simple as that. Although so your first game, you may occasionally forget to place out your influence token. This can sometimes screw up the game. Or at least your score, if you forget to do so. But that's an easy player error to make in your first game. Quickly forgotten in this very rapid, slick, elegant game. To help the game run smoother, it has its own simple to read, iconography at each location. This, players will pick up very quickly and make your gaming experience run very smoothly. But with all that being said, this game is easy to pick up and play (with a possible error...lol) but is no easy game to master.
The game is played over 2 rounds, which represents 2 days. Each day is broken down into 5 phases. Morning, first half of the day, lunch, second half of the day and evening. All of the six unique workers will start their day in the barracks, sleeping. Waking up from they're wonderful dreams and preparing for that hard but yet satisfying day of work. In the morning, lunch and evening phase, each player will be able to move a worker to a new unoccupied location. Whereas as in the first and second half of the day, players will activate all available workers until they have all been utilised. This may mean at certain player accounts, some players will activate two workers while others only one in this phase. Here there are some little thematic ideas that play into each of these times of the day. For example, any workers that are not moved in the morning phase will sleep in and instantly be satisfied, augmenting their mood level. That's true in the real world, yes? The kitchen space is only open at lunchtime, but you're not obliged to send a worker out there to elevate their mood. Again in the evening, the barracks is the only place that you can send a worker. And not all workers will go there, but any that do will have their mood increased.
To add a bit of variety to this, the game comes with 3 morning and evening tokens. These can be placed out randomly or in set locations, rendering them closed for that part of the day. Reducing the amount of locations during two phases of a round. This is not as restrictive as it sounds, although it will make a few players feel claustrophobic, as they become first play and have free reign of the board. But that one action they want to do is not available! But it will add a little more to your thought process from game to game. Plus with the restriction of only one worker being able to move to an unoccupied location, will consume a little bit of your grey matter.
Let's talk a little bit about these locations and what they do. Most of the locations will gather resources, like wheat from the fields or coal from the coal mine. A few of them will allow you to draw cards to see whether you collect resources, like whether you catch a fish from the lake. All resources are pooled together the storehouse. For each resource your worker collects, you will move your token on the production wheel. Once it passes a certain space, you're received two points and a crystal, which is its own unique resource. More about these crystals later. If at the end of your turn, you have added a third resource of the same type already stored there, you’ll score some additional points. This is an action that can be stolen from you by other players, so don’t try to think too far ahead. Two of these resources are removed while the other is placed on a resource score track. At first, this track will only give you one point. Over time, as more players contribute to this resource gathering, that score we'll go up to a level before caping itself to a solitary point. Making resource gathering important but at the same time only at certain stages in the game. As the game goes on, players may be forced to collect resources and add them to the pool, which in turn may lead to another player scoring off of that action.
Other locations may require the aforementioned crystals. Going to the beer house will allow you to spend a crystal that will allow you to manipulate the mood tracks of 2 of the workers. While going into the palace will allow you to drop off a crystal to contribute towards the construction. Leading to another way to score. If at the end of the game you have contributed the most, there are some bonus points up for grabs. Going to the storehouse will allow you to use the resources to manipulate mood or collect crystals. Going to the administration will allow you to move other players influence around. This all sounds great and well, but most of these locations also have benefit or malediction depending on the worker that is sent there. Again this ties in with the theme of the game and can lead to some interesting decision making.
Let’s say you send the minor to go mine at the mine (that's a lot of mines). This will benefit you with 2 coal resources and no penalty. As the minor is used to working in the mine and will not be upset with the working conditions. Send any other worker to the mine, and as they are not at proficient as the minor, they only collect one coal. And as they are not accustomed to working in the mind, and their mood will decrease by 2 to. Making them a very sad bunny. And that's how most of the locations work. They will give you something but they also may change the mood of the worker that you have used to do that task. Each space thematically ties in with the worker. Another example is the commissar, who will lose morale if they visit the beer house (dull chap) but will gain morale every time another worker goes to the palace to contribute to the construction.
So I have done a lot of talking about morale, moods and influence. These are all important at the end of each day, as they will also add points to your game. Or lose them! Once the workers have gone to bed, your tally each of your your influence markers that you have used on each of the workers. If you have the most or are joined for the most influence on one of these meeple, you will gain or lose points depending on their mood. This adds an entire heavier level of planning in regards to just sending “so and so” over there to do this or that. It also prevents a player from using the same I'm working over and over again, due to too many of the locations making them sad rather than happy. Added to that is the restriction of only six different workers, which will force players to play dirty. Maybe leaving behind the last worker for you to influence, knowing they are on negative points. Just like real life, if we are all contributing to make this world better, but stabbing each other behind their backs.
This influence and mood scoring track is probably the hardest ball to juggle in the game. Sometimes it feels just like luck that you have been left with a certain meeple to manipulate or a certain location due to others being occupied. But that's part of the give-and-take of the game. Using a character and figuring out how to get a special bonus in a special location but also penalizing yourself we'll have you head scratching for awhile as you search to see if it is beneficial in the long run. But this can be overthrown by another who is quicker or wiser enough to manipulate the workers moods.
Is this all sounds too simple for you, then don't fret. There are also some special cards that you can add to your game that will make your decisions a bucket load more interesting. At the beginning of the game you can be dealt two cards. One location and one worker. Each has its own extra benefit when you either visit that location or use that worker. This variant of the game that we played with, did make the decision making process of your action a hell of a lot more interesting. Adding an additional level of though as you want to use that power, but it may hamper other benefactory ideas further along. Also these cards are open knowledge to all the other players, they may deliberately occupy that worker or location, just say you can't benefit from your special powers. I would definitely recommend playing with this variant if you have a group of experienced gamers.
So this game has a lot of interesting and thematic ideas in tangled inside it's small framework. And left me with the sensation of playing a kind of Mediaeval Academy meets Outlive hybrid. Even though the artwork and theme were reminiscent of Scythe. And a game does seem to be a cold logical puzzle, where you are having to adapt to what is available and whatever the other players are doing. Saying that, one detractor from the game is the luck factor.
There are two small decks of cards located next to the lake and the spaceship. Going to these locations is a bit of pot luck, as some of the cards don't contain resources, but a whopping big red “X”. Meaning there is nothing there and you have practically wasted an action. This can definitely sting you. And players adapted to this by not going to the spaceship or they use the fisherman and only the fishermen to go fishing at the lake. This guaranteed a resource. And then there's the nasty action which a player can take. Sending the bureaucrat to the administration office. Or spending crystals to create mood swings,not only to the workers, but also the players. This then just blatantly let's them move one of your disks of influence from a worker that will probably get you lots of points to another that's going to give you negative points. This can sometimes feel like a real kick in the nuts action to take. Even if it costs a crystal. Points win the games, while crystals can also contribute.
Apart from that, this is a real solid and interesting euro game. It seems well balanced in how you get points. Either from scoring from resource collecting and crystal depositing. To the influence and mood scoring. Though some players may have trouble trying to manage this second part of scoring or losing points, as it is player dependent. Plus it's a mechanism that is not frequently used, worker displacement and influence. Have to play with the leftovers of other players feels refreshing and also a little confusing. Possibly not everyone's cup of tea.
Even for a prototype, the components are very well realised for a euro style game. The rule book was very easy to digest, with a few added corrections and clarifications, it is near perfect. And the footprint of the box itself will not eat up a lot of shelf space. But saying all that, some of that is subject to change depending on the Kickstarter. There may be other components that add to the size of the book. Other rules that will add to the replayability or upgrades. These we will see in time. But if you're looking for a different type of solid and fluid euro, that has you thinking in a different fashion, as well as being fantastic themed, this is one you should be clicking on.
The Girl and the Robot: The Card Game