Humanity has evolved into five different races all living throughout our solar system. We’ve adapted to every environment we’ve encountered and even flourished. We need to move though since our star, Sol, is dying. We must reach beyond the stars we know and explore new systems, find new places to live in order to survive. A great adventure lies ahead! Which race will be able to create the greatest star-spanning civilization?
Programming, resource management
Number of Players
3-5, but you could probably play with 2 if you made sure the correct movement system cards were in their decks or removed the systems they couldn’t get to.
90 minutes is the suggested play time, but 2 hours seems more realistic.
For the most part there is very little downtime, but like all programming games there can be analysis paralysis during the initial planning phase. Trying to decide all the actions you want to make that turn, what order to put them in, and trying to figure out what the other players might be up to can leave some people incapable of deciding what to do for a while.
This mainly happened in the beginning when people didn’t fully understand how things worked or at the end of a game when the stakes were high and nobody wanted to make a mistake.
How Does it Play
Instead of a normal game board, Ad Astra has various stars and planets that create unique solar systems for each game. To do this, the players randomly place the stars on the table and surround them with 3 to 7 planets. The sun goes in the middle and each player gets their own starting planet around that sun.
Since the planets produce different resources, the planet you get first could affect your initial strategy. For example, if you get energy to start you’ll probably be moving between systems more often than other players since that requires energy.
At the beginning of each round there’s a planning phase which allows all of the players to decide what actions they want to do that round. This is one of the many unique things about Ad Astra since players put their actions facedown and in any order on the planning board they want.
Once everyone has added all of their actions, the cards get flipped in the order they were placed. Each action is then carried out by all of the players, if they want, but the person who actually played the card gets a bonus. This really adds some strategy to the game and makes you wonder what actions the other players are going to do that round. Since they’re facedown, sometimes you end up with multiples of the same card all in a row. For example, one round all of us played build cards right next to each other. The worst part of this is that I have a terrible memory, so half the time I forgot which actions I put where so it would be a surprise even to me when they got flipped.
Below is a discussion on each of the actions you can take.
Building: You have to build something on a planet, or at least have a starship there, to collect resources. This makes building pretty important, but what you choose to build can change what points you’ll get.
What’s really nice about Ad Astra, is that some items have a choice of resource in their build cost which makes building them a lot easier. For example, building a colony requires food, water, and one of the three ore types.
If it was your action card, you can build however many things you want as long as you have enough resources. Every other player can only build one item.
Production: One great thing about Ad Astra is that gaining resources isn’t left up to a random dice roll. The players instead have action cards that can be played to produce whichever resource they want. This allows a lot more control over the game and opens up a few resource production strategies like claiming a planet that produces the same resource as other people so that you can “piggyback” off their production actions too. Or you could go for a resource that’s highly in demand so people will trade with you more often.
If it was your action card, you pick which of the two resources on the card is going to be produced that turn. This is a great benefit for playing the card, but it would have been nice to also get an additional resource of that type or something.
Movement: Players can move to a different planet in the same system, to a new system, or into deep space (the area between planets) depending on how much energy they have and what movement card was played.
Movement thankfully isn’t as random as I expected it to be. Instead of being forced to pick one random facedown planet, the player gets to look at all of the facedown planets in their current system and choose which one they want. This again allows the players to have more control over the game.
Which system you move to can get tricky though since each set of player cards only has movement cards for 6 of the system types, but Ad Astra has 8 different system types. This forces all of the players to rely on each other to move into the 2 systems their decks don’t have access to. For this reason, I’d suggest setting up all the stars and planets before choosing a starting deck since seasoned players might know which systems their deck can get to and put more planets around those stars, which wouldn’t be fair.
If it was your action card, you can move as many ships as you want, but everyone else can only move one.
Trading: When a trading action card is played, every player puts their cards face up so the owner of the trading card can see what they have. This eliminates the “go fish” aspect of a lot of trading games and cuts out some of the guess work. Nobody is forced to trade though, so the owner of the card could just trade with the resource bank instead.
If it was your action card, all other players can only trade with you instead of with each other. You can also trade to the bank.
Scoring: Ad Astra has a unique scoring system since it happens during the game whenever a player plays a scoring card. Everyone has an opportunity to score points whenever a scoring card is played so it’s best to play these cards when it will benefit you the most. The tricky thing is that you’ll only get your scoring cards back in your hand once you’ve used all three of them. It’s always good to remember that you can, and often should, play scoring cards early to get them back in your hand for later in the game.
If it was your action card, you can choose which items are being scored. Also, there’s usually a three point bonus for whoever scores the most points.
The rules aren’t very difficult to understand, but the strategies in Ad Astra can get complex depending on the players. There are so many things to keep in mind and so many different ways to win.
The planets and star systems are all on nice cardboard. They look really great when they’re all laid out to form the board. My only tiny issue was that the movement card icons for the stars match the little icon near the edge instead of the actual big picture on the token so once in a while players weren’t sure which star the card represented.
The player tokens feel a little flimsy, especially the ships, but it’s such a nice thematic touch that they’re not generic wooden squares or anything like that. Ad Astra does come with extra pieces in case anything breaks.
The player boards have a lot of helpful information on them and are a great size. The first player token is so tiny that it’s unusable since it generally just gets lost. That’s a small nitpick though since it’s not necessary for gameplay. In case you’re wondering, it’s the itty bitty red circle in the bottom of the picture below.
The resource cards are the same size as the player’s deck of cards and all have nice artwork. Side note, the ore names are ridiculous in Ad Astra. Nobody can remember Xanthium, Yoyodium, or Zozodium. One person pointed out that they’re x,y,z, but we usually just call them silver, bronze, and gold or something of that nature.
Everything fits well in the box to the point that I even have room to spare.
Ad Astra fits the space exploration theme really well, even the name translates to “to the stars”. Having the planets facedown until you get into that system is fantastic since you’re flying into the unknown. Building colonies and factories to mine precious materials and using those resources to build new things is perfectly in tune with the theme. There are also a few alien planets with ancient artifacts on them that add some mystery to the game.
The board is set up with different planet arrangements each game, but that doesn’t really give a new feel. The player decks are only different in terms of which movement cards they have, so that doesn’t give a lot of freshness either. Strategy and play style is really where the game gets its replay value. Depending on how you play and who you’re with, it’s an entirely different game from one play to the next which is fantastic.
I like that there aren’t really any “wrong” moves you can make. Since you’re programming all your actions in the beginning of the round, having severe consequences for bad decisions would drag this game down. Thankfully, even if the action card isn’t exactly what you needed it will probably still do something for you. The most noticeable negative thing would be if you played a scoring card that somebody beat you in, but even that isn’t usually horrible since you’d still get points too.
Least Favorite Part
It’s not a huge negative, but all resource management games have the flaw of sometimes you just can’t get a certain resource you need. Half the game or more could be spent trying to get a planet that has the resource you want or you’ll have to trade with the bank a lot. This isn’t always a huge deal though since there’s a lot of planets with each resource.
Ad Astra definitely feels similar to Settlers of Catan, except without the dice rolling randomness that so many people dislike in Catan.
The Bottom Line
Ad Astra is a good space exploration game that gives players a lot of control over the outcome instead of being at the whim of devilish dice. I’d recommend playing it more than once to really get a grasp on different strategies and fully enjoy the game.
This section is for confusing rules. Basically, if I had to look a strange rule up, I’d rather make it easier on anyone reading this and list it here. I apologize if I’m wrong on any of them, please feel free to correct me.
Extra Pieces: On page 2 of the rules, “1 pawn of each type per color is included in the game as a replacement for lost or broken pieces. However each player is only allowed 4 pawns of each type during the game.”
Missing Movement Cards: On page 6 of the rules, “Since each player has only six systems represented on his movement cards, he will have to use the action cards of other players to move to the two remaining systems.”
3 Point Bonus Scoring Tie: If there’s a tie, nobody gets the bonus points.
Terraformers: This was our biggest mistake on the first play. You can only put a terraformer on a water or a wheat planet.