Drafting Deep Space Nine
Among the Stars seems to have been designed to push nearly every one of my nerd buttons. An alliance of aliens working together? Egalitarian Future Button! Assembling a unique space station? Deep Space Nine Button! Card drafting? Drafting Button! Designed by a dude whose name is so unpronounceable to my thick English tongue that it might as well belong to an alien? Alien Board Game Designers Button!
On the surface, Among the Stars is very similar to pretty much every other drafting game out there, including but not limited to that gone-mainstream behemoth which I won’t name but which rhymes with “Eleven Blunders.” Though, hm, that makes it sound like I have an axe to grind with it… so how about we go with “Heaven Thunders” instead. Better? Cool.
Starting with a wad of space-cash, a central reactor that provides a bit of power, and a hand of cards that represent a bunch of possible modules you can add to your station, you’ll pick one, decide whether to add it to your station (depending on whether you can afford the credits and/or energy) and then pass the hand to the next player. Which makes sense, if you know space-contractors — they’re the fickle sort, always bouncing from employer to employer and making it hard to decide which of their offered space-structures to build.
Like most drafting games, it’s a pleasant experience. Everyone is studying their hands of cards at once, so there’s very little downtime. There are plenty of choices, none of them intimidating, usually revolving around whether to purchase a module or to discard it for some extra cash or a power reactor for more energy. The special cards in the deck pool are randomized each game, as are the objectives you’ll strive to complete for bonus points, adding a bit of unique flavor to each play. And it’s breezy, always fun and rarely particularly competitive, though it’s possible to pay closer-than-average attention to your opponents’ space-stations and steal or dump the modules they might need.
In short, like pretty much every drafting game out there, it’s inoffensive, light, and fun.
What gives Among the Stars that bit of extra luster is its spatial component. See, rather than just drafting your modules to a tableau, you’re actually adding them right onto the surface of your expanding station. This adds an extra layer of consideration to each drafted card.
For example, one of the objectives might be that you get some bonus points for having the most recreational facilities on your station. You have a Garden in hand, a prime piece of recreational real-estate; however, it gives you extra points if you can situate it far away from power reactors and military locations (possibly because the thrum of space-lasers and generators distresses the sentient plants that dwell within), and you’ve set up your station in such a way that you don’t have anywhere to put it that isn’t too near a reactor or your newly-built Shield Generator. Do you go for the objective but accept fewer points by building the Garden now, or pass it along and hope that everyone else will be too busy pursuing other goals to bother with it?
Another example. Let’s say you’re building tons of administrative facilities and you’d like to get some bonus points for your effort. There’s a Command Centre available, which gives you an extra point per administrative building; however, you’ve just realized that you only have one energy left in your outermost reactor, and both the Command Centre and the upcoming (and very lucrative) Fighter Launch Bay require one energy to build. It might seem like the Command Centre is the obvious choice, but you can hopefully build it closer to the center of your station later on; the Fighter Launch Bay, on the other hand, is rare in that it must be built far from your central reactor. So which do you go for?
Those are just a couple of examples. There are lots of modules that give you points for being near, far, or surrounded by other types of buildings, making the layout of your station every bit as important as the actual drafting portion of the game.
All in all, Among the Stars isn’t the sort of game to build an evening around. It’s best for filling in the gaps between meatier games, as a breather between competitive bouts. At that, provided you have the table space, it will never let you down. Watching your space station grow from a tiny frontier outpost to a center of commerce, recreation, military, and diplomacy, is sort of like watching a child grow up, with all the pride and fastidiousness that suits a helicopter parent but none of the dirty diapers and college fund. It’s a filler through and through, and easily one of the better drafting games out there. And yes, “out there” has double meaning right there. Very astute.