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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A more targeted solo experience
  • Included modules to expand play
  • The simple but refined gameplay

Might Not Like

  • The two-player limit
  • Base game alone is a little insubstantial
  • Rulebook could be more explicit
Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

Stellarion Review

stellarion

Return to designer Shadi Torbey’s Oniverse with this pretty little space-age adventure! Stellarion, a decidedly solo deck management experience (though there are rules allowances for two people to play cooperatively), sees you take on the role of director of the Observatory. You will scour the cosmos for stars, galaxies and planets, then launch rockets to them on daring expeditions. One thing’s for sure: it’s bursting with solar flares of thematic gameplay and fun.

Blast Off

Setup begins with setting aside the four pairs of Travel cards – two cards of each colour – representing your galactic destinations. Your goal as the mysterious Observatory’s director is to launch two voyages to each of these four galaxies. To do so, you will have to map out the right route through the night sky.

To complete the simple setup, shuffle the remaining eight decks of eight cards and place them all face down, then reveal the top card of each deck. Now, the really rewarding strategy of Stellarion comes not from the fact that you don’t know which cards will be drawn from these decks; instead, it’s precisely because you know exactly which cards ARE in each. There are four card types: Rocket, Star, Planet, and Nebula.

Besides the addition of any expansions (which we’ll cover below) the compositions of these decks never change; they’re each always arranged by the same colour or type. Using your knowledge of their contents, on your turn you may Launch - discarding four cards of different types in the same colour - to place one of the Travel cards in your victory pile. You win the game when all eight are in this pile.

But you have more at your disposal than just flinging spacecraft into orbit! The main bulk of gameplay sees you discard two face-up cards of the same type to perform the Coordination action. Each type gives you a different ability, a Minor power, with an even more effective Major power if you discard a pair of matching type and colour. These allow you to execute various manoeuvres like choosing a card from a discard pile and shuffling it back into its deck, or placing a card in the Outpost. This secondary play area acts as almost an additional deck for you to draw or discard from, but in the base rules, Eagle Nebulae of a feather flock together: the Outpost can only contain cards of the same colour.

If you cannot perform either of these two actions, the mission is a failure! But, unlike traditional 52-card solitaire, this never feels like the game’s fault, that the right order of cards just didn’t come up that time. This is your universe; only thing that has led to a failed voyage is your own actions, and it’s that carefully weighed decision-making that forms the basis of any solid solitaire outing which is very much present in Stellarion.

Bright Shining Stars

The game’s picturesque aesthetic is definitely worth mentioning. It’s like the science fiction drawings of childhood, stuck up on your bedroom walls to make your own little solar system. The box reinforces this, with an almost a pop-up book frame upon opening. The charming hand-drawn style is really original for a sci-fi game; where most would opt for precise technical readouts, glistening metal, and digital text, this is a rich splash of paint across the darkness of space.

But, speaking of stars: to keep the base game fresh, you can also loosely adjust the difficulty by giving yourself a certain number of Shooting Stars, one-time-use tokens that you can discard in place of the missing fourth component of a Launch action. But if you really want to explore the far reaches of this universe, the game comes with four exoplanetary expansions to mix and match.

Event Horizon

The Black Holes expansion shuffles rips in space-time into the decks at random, allowing you to perform a risky Crossing action. If at any point you can discard four black holes at once from the Observatory, you may do so to obtain three Travel cards of your choice.

This module links its gameplay mechanics very tightly to its theme. The ability to instantly obtain Travel cards makes it really feel like you’re suddenly jumping through a wormhole when you manage to pull off a Crossing, as opposed to having to carefully plot an interstellar route.

It’s Not Rocket Science

The Discoveries and Theories module has you tinkering away at your space-faring abilities like an engineer. You start the game with a random Theory token, displaying three icons of the same kind. When three cards of that same kind (three Stars, for instance) are in the Observatory, you may turn over a Discovery token. These amplify your Coordination actions, unlocking upgrades like allowing the Outpost to contain cards of more than one type, or letting you place cards on top of their respective deck in an order of your choice instead of shuffling them back into it.

The best part is that these new technologies all have tantalisingly thematic names like Inflatable Biodomes and Reversible Repellents. It adds a very satisfying game-ified progression system to a base game which has none.

Upon Reflection

Adding a decidedly ethereal, Space Odyssey feel, Mirrors and Orbits adds a Mirror wildcards to each deck, which can be discarded during a Coordination action to mimic the same type as the other card you’re discarding, but not the same colour, so only the minor power is triggered. But these intergalactic looking glasses are also reflected in the difficulty of your voyages: the Travel decks become two columns rather than separate decks, and you can only launch to the destinations at the bottom of each track.

This expansion will appeal to the challenge-seeker, launching the difficulty into the stratosphere because it limits your options. It’s nice to have the safety net of some wildcards, but you can feel trapped in a hall of mirrors by the alteration to the Travel decks.

Dark Side Of The Noon

Finally, the most expansive module is the Glaucous Sun, looming over the galaxy on the game’s box art. This solar saboteur will progress in its orbit every time you take a Minor or Major Coordination or a Launch action, each advancing the Sun one, two or four spaces on the track respectively.

However, you may stay ahead of the Sun’s creeping rays by giving up the benefit acquired from a Coordination. Forfeiting a Minor power pushes the Sun back four spaces, a Major power a whopping eight spaces. If one of these retreats lands the Sun on any of the four Meteor spaces, you may take a Meteor token. Discard a pair of these crafty comets to blast through the atmosphere and immediately obtain a Travel card.

This module adds the deepest layer of strategy to the game, like the thick mantle over a planet’s core. It opens up more options and therefore more complexity, and I found that after an initial practice run without any expansions, Stellarion plays best with the Glaucous Sun on its horizon.

Successful Launch

For such a small game, with its disarmingly painterly aesthetic, Stellarion feels surprisingly like an elegant race against time. As you utilise the components of each voyage, you will also be diminishing your constellation of options to discard and gain abilities; by the endgame, two entire decks will be gone, a quarter of the total. This all makes for a pleasing planetary puzzle.

The expansions, like an asteroid belt, add varying degrees of risk and reward to the game; the fact I’ve been able to talk about so small a box at such cosmic lengths should say enough.

If the first game in the Oniverse, Onirim, is the series’ home planet, Stellarion is truly the charming little moon you’ll want to have orbiting it.

That concludes our thoughts on Stellarion. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Stellarion today click here!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A more targeted solo experience
  • Included modules to expand play
  • The simple but refined gameplay

Might not like

  • The two-player limit
  • Base game alone is a little insubstantial
  • Rulebook could be more explicit

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