A wonderful thing about board games is that opinion can easily change with multiple plays. If you like a game your first time playing, a second game a few months later might be terrible. The mood you’re in, the people you play with, or learning a rule you missed the first time can all alter your initial perception of a game. I had this experience with Ad Astra, and I want to offer a follow up to my previous review.
I played Ad Astra again, this time with a full group of five players. This doesn’t drastically change the game like it would in something like A Game of Thrones, but it did feel like a substantial difference. Three people had played before, and the other two picked it up very quickly. This meant that a lot more strategy was happening from the start. Where the programming cards felt messy to me at first, the five player game limits how many you are able to play in a round. Since everybody can use other players actions, this creates a bit of the mind game that I thought was missing.
While Laget may have compared the starships to Catan’s roads, I think they are more than that. Commanding your fleet feels more like sending out explorers or ships full of colonists waiting to build a new settlement. Once their job is complete, they are free to move wherever they have the fuel to go. This adds to the feel of guiding the remnants of humanity to a new home more than just using them as a bridge between planets.
I stand by my opinion that the game is derivative of other games, but the game gains an identity once all the aspects gel. As I mentioned previously, the scoring is a unique part of the game. It’s the best part of the game too. Having three cards with six options can lead to some great combos. The flexibility is a blast, and knowing when to play which scoring action is an important part of the strategy. Building terraformers is the strongest way to victory, but I managed to halt an opponents victory when one of my ships landed in another star system so that I could score big on the system influence scoring phase. Our five player game actually ended with one person’s final scoring action being the arbitrator of whether one of two other players would be the victor. He chose to abstain from the choice, and the game ended as a tie.
I’ll take a moment to mention that all the components are of good quality. There are four pawns that represent colonies, factories, terraformers, and starships, and these are unique designs made of plastic. the planets are thick card board, and they are really fun to place around the table. The game lacks a board (excluding the scoring/action card track), but the empty table space between solar systems counts as the deep space portions of the field. The character designs are fun, and they add some incentive to want to play a particular race. The races are mostly inconsequential to play, but the combinations of planets and resources on the action cards vary for each species to add some strategy to their selection.
I admit, I was hasty to review Ad Astra the first time. I was unable to see into its unique strategies and mechanics in my first few games. It seems silly to have a second opinion from the same reviewer, but it can happen sometimes. Five years ago I could have told you Risk was the greatest game ever made, but I would not be so kind now. I liked Ad Astra my first few times playing it, but this last game blew me away with how much fun it was. It is fast to play, quick to set up, and well balanced. I think some of my fellow players find the terraformers overpowered, but I think the system is flexible enough. Please do yourself a favor, and check out SPACE CATAN!
Sorry, I did it again!