Afternova fills what seems to be a bit of a void in the sci-fi board game arena; it is a simple-to-learn, resource management card game in a small box. It has a good amount of gameplay to it. The designers of 2018’s Crypt, the company’s list of good things coming in small packages with Afternova.
After the Big Bang
Afternova is a 3-6 player resource collection and negotiation game. Set in a solar system that has been destroyed by a supernova, players operate their own mining organisations. Sending out missions to various ruined planets, players aim to mine them for valuable resources. They can be used to develop new technologies for profit. Building your blueprints is the main source of points for the end of the game. So the faster you can create them, the better.
Unfortunately for you, monetising the death of a solar system is not something you can do solo. This is where the negotiation aspect comes in. Throughout the game you can strike deals with your competitors to reach and drain a planet of its resources. Before your rivals beat you to it that is.
As a game of Afternova begins, all players will receive their own spaceship, a set of Hired Paws (the amount of these is dictated by player order), and a single Blueprint card. The spaceship cards all feature an identical storage side, and a list of objectives on the reverse. Two of the three objectives are the same for each player, but the third will be different. This secret objective always works the same way. It offers bonus points to each player for each use of two specific colours in their constructed blueprints at the end of the game.
Three planet cards are set up, each being randomly filled with resources drawn from a bag. Below these planets the Market is created, consisting of eight face-up cards. Four of these are Hired Paws, and four are Blueprints. This area sets up the main gameplay area for the game. On each player’s turn, they may either choose to take the Market or Extract action.
Upon taking the Market action, a player gains three points to spend in the Market. These may be spent to pick up cards from the Market in any combination from the two decks. A player may also use a point to wipe and redraw the line-up of cards from one of the two decks. This comes at the cost of picking up fewer cards this turn.
Alternatively, a player can choose the Extract action. They must pick one of the three planets and, spending Hired Paws to meet the required skill costs, obtain the resources from the planet. These resources may be spent at the end of any player’s turn. These can be used to construct any Blueprint card from the players’ hand.
Negotiating a Deal
Up to this point, the options given to players on their turns may feel similar to other economy games such as Splendor. The meat of this game comes from the option for players to negotiate with other players to launch joint extraction missions.
Any player may extend an open invite to other players to join an Extraction. Asking them to provide Hired Paws to fill any missing skills. Any players can offer to join in the mission, and players can also bargain for the price of their assistance. For example, I may offer to join a mission that requires some of my cards piloting skills. My only condition being if I can have both the orange gems on the planet.
For the mission to go ahead, all players offering to take part must reach an agreement on what resources they will each obtain from the Extraction. This could take some time to agree on though as other players may try and undercut my offer. They may also offer gems from their own storage to other players to secure a better deal for themselves.
If a deal cannot be reached the active player may change their intent from Extracting and take a Market action as usual.
Blueprints and Upgrades
After acquiring the required resources, players can build Blueprints from their hands. Blueprints serve several purposes in the game. The main purpose of these cards is to provide victory points, helping players win.
Secondly, some blueprints do offer upgrades for the players. These range from simple things like an increase to the storage capacity of your ship, to some more powerful upgrades such as being able to spend certain resources as any colour. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to more challenges later in the game. Building upgrades that give you advantages for assisting in Extraction means players become less likely to accept your help. Or they may actively refuse to give you certain colour gems if these can be used as a wildcard colour by you.
Blueprints are also the key to the game’s end. Once any player builds their sixth blueprint, all players get the option to construct one final blueprint. Players then total their points from constructed blueprints, stored resources, and the bonuses. These are scored for certain colours used in their blueprints.
Afternova is one of my favourite small box games. The amount of content they manage to build into this game can rival some larger economy and building games, such as Century Spice Road. But with the bonus of active player interaction. Utilising simple ideas and mechanics, the game creates an interesting and engaging game with little downtime and a reason to take active interest in the turns and moves of your competitors.
The components are well designed. The artwork is fun and features some great jokes and puns thrown into the mix. Why we are staffing our crews with strange animal people and not humans is never explained but it does add a nice charm to the game.
Unfortunately, the game can feel like it overstays its welcome at larger player counts. It is roughly 10 minutes per player, but at 6 players an hour of this game can become dull by the time someone builds their sixth blueprint.
Also the hidden missions will often overlap between players. While this creates good competition at larger player counts, with smaller groups there is a possibility that only 2 or 3 players missions overlap. This can lead to a slight mismatch as the player with no overlap will not be fighting for resources or blueprints as much as the others. This can be solved by selecting which hidden missions will be used in a game. This small flaw does have an easy fix, if this is a concern.
Overall, Afternova does a fantastic job taking its core ideas and turning them into a small, concise game for players who prefer a quicker gameplay pace than many economy games offer. This game could also be a good gateway to some of the more in-depth negotiation strategy games, such as Chinatown, Sheriff of Nottingham, or even Dune.