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.