Thank you for checking review #27 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Disclaimer: I was provided the print and play files to help playtest the solo version of this game. Photos used were provided by the publisher, Weird Giraffe Games, and any components and/or gameplay items contained in this review may be different when the final game is released in 2018.
This game launched on Kickstarter on 9/18/2017. You can find a link to it here and at the bottom of this review: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/weirdgiraffegames/stellar-leap?ref=preview&token=56424aeb&utm_campaign=720b0da637-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_09_09&utm_content=KickstarterPage&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Weird+Giraffe+Games+Newsletter&utm_term=0_398cfe025e-720b0da637-133444817
There was no compensation provided in exchange for the playtesting or for the honest review.
An Overview of Stellar Leap
Stellar Leap is a game designed by Carla Kopp and is published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 40-80 minute play time.
Explore the galaxy in Stellar Leap! Take on the role of an alien species as you discover new planets and complete missions in this family-friendly space exploration game. Become the most prestigious alien species in the galaxy by completing missions, discovering new planets, increasing population, and fulfilling your hidden trait’s objective.
Be the player with the most prestige at the end of the game.
During your turn perform two High Command actions such as increasing your population, taxing for more resources, discovering a planet, or attacking your opponents. You also have the following Division Actions at your disposal that can be activated once per turn: Labor, Intelligence, and Mining.
These Actions may be taken in any order you choose.
Variable Player Powers mean that you can manipulate the planets that generate resources each turn in different ways than your opponent can, which leads to different strategies for each power. Are you going to team up with your opponents so that everyone gets resources on your turn or will you attack them and cause them to scatter to other parts of the galaxy?
Game altering events are triggered by player actions and can have minor or lasting effects, usually being better for the player that triggered the event.
The game ends after the sixth event and the round is completed.
The player with the most total prestige is declared the winner!
Setup and gameplay for 1 Player
(For more on the setup and gameplay for 2+ players, check out Eric’s excellent preview: https://whatsericplaying.com/2017/09/11/stellar-leap/)
All of the setup for the solo game is the same as you’d do for a 2-player game, except you add in a player board and instructions for one or more AI opponents. You’ll get to place your home world first, which can go under the numbers 1-6, and then the AI will take the first open spot to the right. So it will select 6, unless you took that number in which case it selects the 5.
Like the standard game, Stellar Leap in played over the course of a series of rounds until six events have been triggered and resolved. Both you and the AI will complete an equal number of turns and then it will move into the final scoring.
Gameplay is simple. For your own turns, the game proceeds with no changes from the standard game. You will take two High Command actions, as well as up to three division actions. You may also complete the Move action any number of times, provided you have the necessary resources. After your turn ends, the play shifts to the AI and here’s where I’ll go into a little more detail:
At the start of the AI’s turn, you roll the dice for resource generation. Since there is no die manipulation on their turn, the roll is what it is. You also reduce the highest-valued Asteroid by 1, and then you move on to the AI’s actions for the turn. Each of the three AI that I playtested followed a similar formula: complete X number of actions, following an order of importance. You simply go down the list and take the first action whose requirements are met, then mark its action space to show it was taken. Repeat the process until you’ve completed all of the AI’s actions. Each AI had its own unique objectives they focused on: one was trying to generate and spread its population, one tried to be an aggressor and attack every chance it could, and the last one tried to end the game as quickly as possible.
Playing the AI’s turn is easy and becomes intuitive. At the end of the game each AI will score bonuses based on their player board (for population, discoveries, and attacks) as well as their own special scoring conditions. After your score and the AI’s scores are tallied, the higher score wins.
One of the most important things about a solo game is to consider how much work you are required to do during the AI’s turn. This game nails that aspect, providing a simple and easy-to-complete list of possibilities to happen during the AI’s turn. While this does allow you to know and plan around the AI during your turns, it also makes it so you aren’t dedicating a lot of time and thought to how the AI will act. This will allow you to enjoy the experience of playing your turns while providing the challenge of figuring out how to outmaneuver what the opponent will do next.
There is resource generation via die rolls, much like Catan, but the system here is considerably better. It is typically a system I dislike because it leaves you feeling like too much is left to chance. A few things contribute to this being a good system: Planets generate resources for the columns based on the individual numbers rolled AND the sum which means that low and high rolls are great for the 5-6 slots, there is a community die power that can be used by everyone to manipulate the dice on their roll, and each player has a unique die power to further manipulate the dice on their turn. Not only that, but one of your High Command actions is to gain 2 resources of your choice, meaning you can always use that to get what you really need.
The missions require a decent number of resources, but always pay back a smaller number of resources in addition to VP. This is helpful because it means you aren’t losing all of those hard-earned resources, but rather converting some of them into a different resource. This can help open the path for selecting one mission in order to get the resources needed to complete another mission on your next turn. Another nice thing with the missions is they ramp up nicely in point value without feeling like they give too many points. Some may feel overcosted in Tier 3, but they should be hard to purchase.
This game feels like a light 4X game, which is a very desirable trait. Those are among my favorite types of games, and to have another nice, quick, soloable 4X game option is a great benefit. If you like 4X games, or want to explore your first title in that category, this one would serve as a nice entry point or an excellent addition. Outside of dungeon crawlers, there aren’t enough soloable 4X games out there.
I really enjoy the action selection choices. You can choose two High Command actions, which allow you to grow population, gain resources of your choice, attack, and discover new planets. You can even use the same one twice. You also can use any or all of the three Divisions on your turn, allowing you to complete a mission, mine an asteroid, and exhaust a population for resources. So you get up to five actions, although three of them cannot be repeated. All of this provides valuable decisions while preventing someone from being able to overuse certain actions. Careful planning, and a willingness to adapt, are important.
Speaking of action selection, the player boards are fantastic and I have no doubt the final cards for the AI will be equally great. You can see and track everything you need to know right in front of you. Some might call it fiddly, and I could see that, but overall this is a great addition for this game.
The events are fun and have a nice mix of benefits and bad things. They can elevate you for a late push, or they can set you back. Since the AI doesn’t use resources, sometimes the event drawn will only affect you. This is arguably the biggest element of randomness in the game, but it is also fun seeing what will come about as a result.
The names on some of the mission cards make me smile. I always think of Wash from Firefly when I see the Leaf on the Wind card, and that is a good thing. It doesn’t affect the gameplay, but it makes the geek in me happy.
There were certain traits that, if you used them against the right AI, felt extremely overpowered. In particular, there was one which scored 5 VP for every mission you completed. That made the cheap missions, worth 2 VP, more worthwhile and the Tier 3 missions ultimately worth 10-11 VP rather than the 5-6. Almost every turn I was able to complete a mission during each solo play which meant I was scoring at least 7 points every turn from the start. The obvious decision, after learning which trait is powerful against which AI, would be to choose the other trait when this one is dealt to you (since you get 2 and choose 1 at the beginning of the game).
One of my biggest issues is that the game against the AI can drag on for too long. There is no incentive to take more than a single Tier 1 mission, and once the Tier 3 get out there is no incentive to finish out the Tier 2 missions. The planet decks have yet to deplete, and sometimes asteroids are few and far between. Which means many games see events triggered by just population growth and the completion of solar systems. By that point, my own engine is built so well that I can take a Tier 3 mission every turn, allowing me to outpace the AI. The Game Ender AI fixed that issue, and is the one I enjoyed playing against the most. Without using this one, it can feel like you get too much time to make sure you’ve secured a victory.
Attacking in a solo game has minimal value. Unless you want it for the points, or just have an overabundance of fuel and oxygen, the cost to attack is never worthwhile. Some of the AI get to spread back out onto planets without using one of their actions, completely rendering your attack useless apart from the minimal VP gain. This is still a fun and enjoyable solo experience without the use of attacking, but I’d like to see it become a viable tool in solo play. Right now, attacking would set the player back more than it does the AI. There is more benefit to using those High Commands to explore or grow your population. Adding in more AI will increase that action’s value, but a standard solo game with one AI will rarely see a good time to attack.
As a solo game, this is a fantastic experience. It can be set up, played, and torn down in under an hour for sure and usually closer to 30-40 minutes. It offers some meaningful decisions, and it has several difficulties to adjust your preferences. Had it been just the three AI challenges themselves, it might have been a pass on getting this as a game only to be played solo. But the ability to play against more than one in a single session makes this into a really challenging puzzle that is definitely worth the price tag. Even moreso if you plan to play it with other player counts.
There are some traits that are clearly more powerful against certain AI than others, but I have no knowledge if they end up being better-balanced with more players. But because you get dealt two of them, you can choose the less-powerful option in order to increase your challenge. That allows you to adjust the difficulty even within the game itself.
My respect for Carla is really high, given that she specifically sought out blind testers for the solo play and responded really well to feedback along the way. Some of the tweaks made certainly helped to benefit the solo experience, taking it from fun yet unremarkable and turning it into an excellent game experience. It reminds me, in a good way, of Race for the Galaxy and that solo gameplay which hooked me onto solo gaming. While the easier AI in Steller Leap isn’t quite as brutal as RftG’s Easy Robot, the ability to add extra challenge while operating the same basic system makes this a game anyone could try solo. There are no complex rules or changes, no lengthy system of charts or puzzles to solve when taking the AI’s turn. You know what it can do and the order it is likely to do those things in. That makes it so you can plan your own turns accordingly, feeling at the end of the day like your victory or defeat was due to your own skill at playing rather than the unfortunate swings of chance.
I very much recommend this one as a solo game, and have full confidence that it will be just as fun at higher player counts. Be sure to check it out on Kickstarter, starting on 9/18/2017.
Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign. I’d be more than willing to answer any questions you might have before you decide to back, based upon my experience with the game: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/weirdgiraffegames/stellar-leap?ref=preview&token=56424aeb&utm_campaign=720b0da637-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_09_09&utm_content=KickstarterPage&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Weird+Giraffe+Games+Newsletter&utm_term=0_398cfe025e-720b0da637-133444817
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.