Ticket to Ride Germany: A four-sided review

Ticket to Ride Germany is the latest (2017) standalone version of the top-selling family game, Ticket to Ride. It comes with everything you need to play, so you don’t need the base game (or Europe) to play this particular map.

While it’s not an expansion per se, I’m not going to talk through the basic mechanisms of the game here. If you want to learn about those, check out my review of the original Ticket to Ride. Here, I’ll talk about what’s different in this version.

In the box you’ll find a large game board, 225 plastic trains, 200 full-size cards, 60 wooden meeples, 5 wooden markers and a cloth bag. Board game comparison site Board Game Prices lists Ticket to Ride Germany for around £30 with a variety of retailers. This is about the same as the original; great value, seeing as you get more components here. And importantly for some, it includes a purple train set (alongside the nicely German black, yellow and red – plus white).

Teaching Ticket to Ride Germany

I won’t go over the basics here. Please see my original Ticket to Ride review for a rules overview (linked above). Instead, I’ll focus on what the Germany edition adds. But it’s important to note this is a standalone game and the version described below is the only one you get in the box. These all add to the basic rules from the original. But there isn’t an option in the German rules showing how you could play this without the changes made below. So it may not be the best version to teach to, or gift, beginners.

The track in Ticket to Ride Germany is all standard, as in the original. There are no ferries, tunnels or whatnot. So locomotive (wild) cards also work basically, as in the original. There are a few countries to travel to, rather than cities. But the only mechanical difference with these locations is that two routes going into a country do not directly connect to each other. The end game bonus here is the ‘Globetrotter’, which awards 15 points to the player who completes the most tickets. Which, with the other changes below, makes sense.

Destinations and passengers

The destination tickets come in two sets, short (3-11 points) and long (12-22) routes. Whenever you draw tickets, you choose which combination of tickets to choose – announcing the ratio before you take any tickets. At the beginning you much keep any two (or more); while later, you only need to keep one (or more). This may sound minor, but it makes a noticeable difference and certainly helps gives you room to try different strategies.

The game turn is the same as in the base game: either draw two cards (or one face-up wild); claim a route, or draw new destination tickets. However, when you claim a route (put trains on the board) you can also claim some passenger meeples. These are ceded from the bag at the start of the game, with most stations/countries getting a single meeple. But with the main hubs getting three to five. If available, you can claim one from each end of the route just claimed. At game end, in addition to standard scoring, players score 20 points for any colour (of the six) they have the most meeples in – and 10 points for second place.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’m a big fan of Ticket to Ride Germany. The meeples have a similar effect to the shares on the Pennsylvania map, but are simpler to parse and score. But the effect is to give players a different way to score points. Sure, you still need to complete tickets. But it makes the end game decisions more interesting. Just spamming down track is a viable option, if you can get meeples. Or you can just go for four short routes, knowing you’ll have a good chance of getting simple ones to complete. It gives players a little more control.
  • The thinker: I see the value of Ticket to Ride to the hobby, but it really isn’t for me. There’s too much luck over skill, especially in the simpler versions. This version does give you an added route to victory, but you’re still largely at the whim of the card draws. If I had to play, I’d go for a more complex map, such as United Kingdom, which adds a little more strategy.
  • The trasher: I don’t mind this game. And the addition of the passengers in Ticket to Ride Germany does add more to think about in terms of your opponents. There are just 10 in each colour, so it’s easy for fortunes to change and to work out who needs what for majorities. This also means that potential blocking moves also come with a meepley bonus!
  • The dabbler: Even as someone who dabbles in board games, I found the simplest (original) version of Ticket to Ride did get a little tiresome after a while – especially with less players. This edition adds just enough to make things more interesting, without a new rules overload. The board is one of the prettier ones too, while also being easy to find things on. Even the new card art is a step up. So overall, this is definitely a positive upgrade across the board.

Key observations

I feel the passengers add a nice dimension to the game, but not everyone agrees. Some see them as overpowered (no need for tickets), while others see them as too much setup faff for little benefit. As always, it’s horses for course. But these extreme opinions clearly miss the point (and both can’t be right). If you don’t want to add a new way to score, you’ll want to avoid this and perhaps try TtR Europe (which adds a little complexity in other ways).

Is this version OK for beginners? Personally, I’d say yes. The taking of meeples is very simple and feels intuitive. And the extra rules only add about two minutes to the teach. Is it for more experienced players? Possibly not. The meeples are less involved than the shares in Pennsylvania, and you only get the one map, plus a load of content you don’t need if you already have a base game. So, you’re better off buying the UK/Pen expansion set.

I should also point out (if it’s not already obvious) that this is a very different/simpler passenger mechanic to the one used in the Marklin edition. Which may feel odd, as this edition uses the same map as that (and the Deutschland) edition. That is a superior, but more complex, mechanism that makes that version unique.

Conclusion: Ticket to Ride Germany

I’ve very much enjoyed my plays of Germany. But it sits in a slightly odd place in terms of who should purchase it. for me, I think it will replace the vanilla (US) version, which I’ll probably pass on to a new gamer as a gift. So, for me it’s a keeper. And if you’re looking to buy your first Ticket to Ride, I would suggest this one – or Europe, if you’d prefer the challenge to come more from how to lay routes than in ways to score.

However, if you already have a base game you’re happy with, this is probably a pass. There’s only one map and a bunch of extra bits you don’t need. So you’d be better of getting one of the map packs (I’d suggest looking at Japan/Italy or the UK/Pennsylvania set mentioned above). But either way, this is another solid addition to the Ticket to Ride canon.

Essen Spiel 2021 reviews incoming: The aftermath

Essen Spiel 2021 reviews game pile

Despite a mountain of bureaucracy, the threat of ever changing COVID threat levels, and all the anxiety that went with both, I’m home. Now the more pleasant pressure of the Essen spiel 2021 review pile kicks in!

As the lovely folks over at the Semi Co-op webcomic so rightly point out in this week’s strip, its most definitely a first world problem. But with so many COVID restrictions still in place, getting games to the table is still a genuine issue.

I got through some hot titles while in Germany. I played Riverside with the Semi Co-op guys – a great roll-and-write with an added board element. I demoed euro game Hippocrates (solid) before it sold out and knocked Furnace off my wish list before I picked it up (nice auction mechanism, but the engine-building is meh and I can’t see any replay value). Ten was an OK (but unremarkable) lighter card game experience. While What’s That Sound? is a proper giggle of a party game (think charades, but you’re making noises to describe what the cards depict…). But there are a lot left to play…

Wednesday’s press event

A unique Essen Spiel experience

COVID clearly hit Spiel 2021 hard. There were around half the usual number of exhibitors. And an event that is usually heaving only occasionally felt busy, despite a marked increase in the spacing of stands and width of walkways. There was a noticeable lack of Americans, from press people to publishers. While Asmodee told all its companies to stay home (although a lot of them had representatives sneaking about having meetings).

It was a shame some hot games, and good friends, weren’t able to make it – but I loved the knock-on effect. A lot of smaller publishers got the extra love they so richly deserve. While it was much easier to get meetings. And once booked, they were much less stressful to get to! Moving around was a breeze and, generally, it all added up to a slightly more chilled con vibe. Without exception, those I spoke to about Spiel 2021 were really glad they’d made the (often considerable) effort to attend.

I usually avoid Kickstarters, but got a long overview of Federation, next year’s euro release from The Specialists (see below) publisher Explor8, at Spiel. It’s a colourful sci-fi worker placement game with several cool and unique twists.

It’s one of those games where the rules get out of the way quite fast, but the complexity comes in how and where you trigger actions. There are lots of ways to do the same thing – but each triggers different end game scores, majority influences or individual bonuses.

If you love this kind of passive interaction, this is a must to check out. The tense, interactive, clever and already funded Federation is on Kickstarter until October 30.

Essen Spiel 2021 reviews incoming

This might be the highest number of review games I’ve brought home in one year. I filled an entire massive suitcase and that included most games being packed Russian doll style, with expansions and smaller boxes crammed into every nook and cranny. Sixteen games in total, alongside two expansions. Anyone fancy a game of something…?

In no particular order:

  • The Specialists
  • Bad Company
  • Settlement
  • Watch
  • Pacific Rails Inc
  • Kingdomino Origins
  • Twinkle
  • Neko Harbour: The Card Game
  • Sobek: 2 Players
  • Qwixx Longo
  • Splitter
  • Maeshowe
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth
  • 1923 Cotton Club
  • Almadi
  • Matcha
  • Concordia Expansion: Solitaria
  • Lost Ruins of Arnak Expansion: Expedition Leaders

I’ll link these titles to the reviews as they happen, so feel free to bookmark the page and check back to see how I’m getting on. I’ve already played four of them at least once, which is a pretty good start. But if you’re jonesing for any of these in particular, let me know on Facebook or in the comments below and I’ll sneak them to the top of the pile.

Kemet Blood & Sand board game: A four-sided review

The Kemet Blood & Sand board game is an area majority battle game for 2-5 players, taking around 2-3 hours to play. The box says ages 14+, but young gamers closer to 10-years-old should be OK. There are a lot of choices to make, but within a relatively tight rules system.

The original Kemet was released in 2012. This 2021 edition is largely an upgrade (new art, map, rulebook etc), rather than introducing large gameplay changes.

The theme evokes a mythical squabble between Egyptian gods, as soldiers go to war alongside mythical monsters in a (pre)biblical battle for dominance. In reality, there’s no depth to the theme in terms of gameplay. But the components and frankly, the fun of the fair, do enough to carry it off.

Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £50-60 delivered from a number of retailers. While some may see this as expensive, this is a large box packed full of high-quality components. You’ll find nine boards (one main board plus eight others), 76 plastic miniatures (plus 65 other plastic pieces), 64 cardboard tiles (plus 125 cardboard tokens), 90 cards, plus five player aids – which are actually fully blown eight-page A5 stapled booklets. Not to mention five plastic trays to keep all the components in. In short, you’re not getting burgled here…

Teaching the Kemet Blood & Sand board game 

The general rules are simple for anyone with a basic understanding of modern board games. Each player has five action tokens which they take it in turns to use (one token each following a turn order set each turn). The basic actions are gaining prayer points (currency); summoning units (soldiers); moving units, and building pyramids.

The pyramids come in four colours, three of which you’ll use in each game. Each player starts with a few levels in the pyramids of their choice, with each being able to be raised to level four. Each level four pyramid gives you a victory point. But more importantly, allows you to gain power tiles to their current level in that colour (the other action type).

Each set of coloured power tiles gives an array of benefits to those taking them. This varies from powerful creatures you can add to your units, through to bonus or enhanced actions. This version of Kemet comes with a handy booklet for every player, covering what every power tile does. This is incredibly useful, allowing you to take a good look at your options between turns.

Let battle commence…

This might sound like a euro game so far. But once the action starts, it is very much a ‘dudes on a map’ combat game. Sure, you can get victory points from building pyramids and controlling temples. But you also get a point for every battle you win – and you only need nine points to win the game. And points gained for controlling temples and your level four pyramids are temporary, while you hold them. Points from winning battles are permanent.

Battles are simple. Each player has an identical deck of eight battle cards, showing numbers for attack strength, troops killed and defence (reducing the ‘troops killed’ number). Simply move to a region with an opponent’s troops to initiate battle. You each secretly choose a battle card, add troop numbers and other bonuses, then resolve the outcomes. You may win and get your precious victory point. But at what cost to your troops? It’s a fine balance.

After each full round of five turns, the player with the fewest victory points (and so on) decides which turn order position they want in the next round. This continues until, at the start of any of their turns, one player has an outright lead on nine (or more) victory points. At that point, the game ends immediately.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’m not generally a fan of battle/area control games. But, much like Blood Rage, the Kemet Blood & Sand board game combines euro mechanics with relentless combat which constantly drives the game forward. Combat is essential and control always fleeting, so it doesn’t feel like you’re being picked on. And it is always easy to get back into the action. Everyone has a limited number of troops, so battles tend to be tight. While there’s just the right amount of variety in powers to make the game different each time.
  • The thinker: It’s nice to play what amounts to a war game where chance is largely removed. And where there is some – the battle cards – it’s actually a positive. Each time you play one, you also discard one face down. So players get a feel for what you have as they know what you’ve played. But when you’re down to two cards, they’ve only seen you play three – so the mystery remains. Building a strong tableau of power tiles is also an interesting balancing act. And I constantly find myself surprised by new combinations. A fine game indeed.
  • The trasher: Excellent game. Plain and simple. The plastic minis are great! And let’s not forget the ‘Divine Intervention cards’, which add a bit of bluff and villainy. You get some each round and while some are used elsewhere, many help in battle. They’re small cards you can slip beneath your battle card before a fight – or placed deliberately as bluffs to draw out your opponent’s cards. And they can genuinely swing a battle, adding attack strength or damage.
  • The dabbler: I expect Kemet is a good game, if you like this sort of thing. And I do appreciate the detailed, stapled, eight-page A5 booklet is a nice touch of detail. But all I see is a ‘cards with words’ game in board-and-tile-and-mini-plastic-dolls form. Not for me, ta. Also, the theme is fine but only really pasted on. And while the minis are nice, the board artwork is really underwhelming.

Key observations

The fact Matagot felt the need to give every player a booklet of tile descriptions highlights why Kemet will be a ‘no-no’ for many. Deck-builders such as Dominion do a great job of taking the collectable card game idea and reducing it to bite-sized chunks. Kemet goes half that distance, severely limiting its audience by keeping 30+ choices. Of which each player may use five or six per game. However, I’d argue the richness of the reward is worth talking semi-sceptics into it. After you’ve played once, the amount left to learn drops considerably.

While I’ve talked up the euro-ness of the game’s core mechanisms, there’s a definite smash mouth feel to the way it plays out. There’s no room for negotiation or politics, which also means there’s little banter beyond calling each other out. The game play is skilfully crafted and rewards good engine building, but via a pretty barbaric experience. And those with a love of all things ameritrash may baulk at the relatively cold ‘play a card’ combat system.

Which brings us to kingmaking and leader-bashing – regular curses of the battle game genre. Can poor play lead to another player winning? Sure. But that’s the same in most games of any genre. It’s just perhaps more obvious here. As for kingmaking, I don’t see it as particular problem – in fact it is often a feature of play, not a bug. The key is to score a flurry of points to get over the line, if possible, so you can’t be stopped. Or cash in from just behind if someone scrapes over the line. Again, not for everyone – but I think it works well here.

Conclusion: Kemet Blood & Sand board game

Kemet is an excellent game. It hijacks some pretty standard euro mechanics, throws them in a room, then makes them fight to the death. As with many great combat games, the basic rules quickly get out of the way and leave players to create their armies and strategies. Much like a deck-builder, you develop and react as the game moves forward. Which creates a delicious game arc of shifting loyalties. An absolute keeper and an instant Top 50 of all-time contender. And a recommendation for any euro gamer who likes games with varied player abilities and asymmetry.

  • Thanks to Matagot (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.
  • Follow this link for 200+ more of my board game reviews.

Essen Spiel 2021 games – My Top 20

Essen Spiel 2021 games

With the convention now just a few weeks away, I’ve put together this list of my Top 20 Essen Spiel 2021 games. I’ve been through to look at around 400 titles so far (thanks to the Tabletop together Tool) and narrowed it down to these, my top targets.

Of course, there will be loads more great games at the show and who knows what I’ll actually end up loving or hating. But these are the games that had the personality to make me want to definitely take a closer look. So please remember that as you look through the list. I have read the rules, watched a video, or read a pre-release review. Please don’t take these as recommendations.

don’t know much/anything about Essen? You can check out more details in my Essen Spiel 2021 preview. This post is purely going to be about the games. And it’s also going to largely be games that ma be a little more obscure, or less talked about. Because it’s often the hidden gems that really win me over at the show. Finally, I’d pay no heed to the age ranges. Many publishers put higher numbers on to avoid having to pay for expensive children’s games checks.

Essen Spiel 2021 games – under 60 minutes

  • Almadi (2-5 players, ages 10+). A simple yet restrictive tile-layer with clever, brain burning scoring makes this look right up my street.
  • Bad Company (1-6, 8+). Use your gang (dice actions) to pull off heists (complete cards) while staying ahead of the police (or instantly lose).
  • Furnace (2-4 players, ages 12+). A short and classic-feeling engine-builder, fuelled by a series of auctions where the losers get cool compensation effects instead.
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1-50, 10+). Cool looking flip-and-write with gorgeous art and some nice looking nice push-your-luck touches.
  • Matcha (2, 10+). Smart looking two-player game of bluff, where players secretly play then reveal cards in the hope of winning bids to make sets.
  • Neko Harbour: The Card Game (2-4, 12+). Beneath a cute penguin theme hides what looks like a clever, thinky, drafting and planning card game.
  • Neoville (2-4, 10+). A typically simple and elegant Phil Walker-Harding design, where players try to optimise a 4×4 tile grid to score points.
  • One Card Wonder (2-6, 8+). A light but thinky engine building, hand management and set collection game with asymmetric player abilities – all in a 15-minute experience.
  • Twinkle (1-4, 8+). Cool looking abstract dice game where you build constellations to score points in various ways (depending on dice colours).
  • Winter Queen (2-4s, 10+). Collect crystals to match patterns and score points in this interactive abstract strategy game.

Longer games (over an hour)

  • Ark Nova (1-4 players, ages 14+). A typically complex euro game from Feuerland Spiele. It’s card driven, with a clever action selection mechanism to manage.
  • Betwixt & Between (1-4, 14+). Clever and thinky tile layer, where players collect resources and place them in patterns to trigger spells ands abilities.
  • Bitoku (1-4, 12+). Stunning looking euro using cards and dice as actions, gathering resources and points while improving your hand cards to more powerful ones.
  • Messina 1347 (1-4, 12+). Build up the city and collect resources, while saving people from the plague. All the fun of the 14th Century…
  • Pessoa (1-4, 10+). A hand management and worker placement game with a nice theme (the Portuguese poet). Much like the man himself, it has some crazy but interesting ideas.
  • Settlement (1-4, 10+). Players draft tiles (terrain/buildings) and cards (artefacts/heroes) to build then activate their settlements in this territory building euro.
  • Shinkansen: Zero Kei (1-4, 10+). Collect cards to build up your bullet train, with each new carriage adding another ability or action – while also adding to your network.
  • Squaring Circleville (1-4, 12+). A rondel-style euro action selection game, where players ‘build’ in areas to gain majorities (for scoring) and improve their actions.
  • The Specialists (1-4, 14+). Use dice to recruit your ‘specialists’, putting together the perfect team to pull of the heist (via cascading skills and set collection).
  • Witchstone (2-4, 12+). Route building, an interesting domino action selection system, while making patterns with resources to trigger effects. all in a wizardy environment.

Some bigger Essen Spiel 2021 games also on my radar

Some classic franchises are getting milked a bit more this year – but they all actually look really interesting to me:

  • Azul: Queen’s Garden (2-4 players, 45-60 mins, ages 10+). This fourth version of the brilliant Azul changes things up with players needing to build their board, as well as collecting pieces to fill it. While also retaining some scoring/placement aspects from Summer Pavilion.
  • Kingdomino: Origins (2-4 players, 15 mins, ages 8+). This looks like a cute revision of the base game, with a few extra rules. I’ve not been overly taken by the previous iterations, but the original Kingdomino is an absolute classic.
  • Sobek: 2 Players (2 players, 10-30 mins, ages 10+). I enjoy the original Sobek – a light set collection card game with some clever ideas. This two player version is also set collection, but this time in the form of a card grid. you can play it now over at Board Game Arena.
  • Welcome to the Moon (1-6 players, 30 mins, ages 10+). I really enjoy the original Welcome To, but haven’t been overly impressed with the expansions of the Las Vegas version. But this has a campaign mode, alongside other big changes from the original.

Subastral board game: A four-sided review

The Subastral board game is a small box card game for 2-5 players. It takes about 30 minutes to play and is recommended for ages 10+. But gamer kids a bit younger will probably be fine with it after a play.

Comparison site Board Game Prices lists multiple retailers delivering it (UK) for around £20, which feels a little steep for what you get: a scorepad and 112 cards (seven of them oversized). But the card and box art are nice and the component quality decent.

The theme has absolutely no bearing on the game, which is wholly abstract. While the name and box cover give off a sci-fi vibe which simply isn’t there. What you actually get is a pack of numbered cards in eight suits, along with a few cards that help with table layout etc. That said, the artwork is gorgeous and the cards include nice little factoids about the various biomes they represent (savanna, rainforest, tundra etc).

Teaching the Subastral board game

Subastral is one of those simple card games where it’s almost easier to just start playing than spend time teaching. You choose from one of two actions on your turn, both of which become routine after doing them once or twice. The complexity comes in what cards to take and what to do with them. And you’ll really need to score a game before that really sinks in. luckily, it’s a very quick game.

The central play area has the card draw pile and six numbered placement card, which are seeded with one/two cards each during setup. Each player starts with three random cards from the deck in hand. On your turn, you always lay a card to one of the numbers in the middle, then take all the cards from one of the other numbers. If you take a pile left of where you placed, the cards go into your hand. From the right, they go directly into your score area/tableau. If you place into the left or rightmost piles, you get slightly different choices. But the concept remains the same (cards to hand or score area).

Taking cards to hand gives you more choice of what to play on later turns. Which can be hugely important, as you’re usually looking for specific cards. But it’s also a useful tactic to get cards away from other players. One way to score points is by collecting different suits. And not all suits are created equal. For example, in a two-player game, the number of cards in each suit ranges from 4-8. So, with a bit of luck, denial is a potential strategy.

scoring

Alternatively, take the pile (or single card) for your scoring area. If multiple cards, you choose the order to play them. But only the suit is relevant (card numbers are purely used for placement in the main area). Your tableau can have eight score piles, one for each suit. Once you start a suit, extra cards in it will be added to that pile. And the order is important, as both ways of scoring take the suit’s position (from left to right) into account. Once laid, the order can’t be altered. So the first card you lay will always be in the leftmost (number 1) slot.

(Roughly) when the deck runs out, it’s time to score. This is done in two ways (sound the ‘clever Knizia-esque scoring’ klaxon). First, sets (or rows): you get points for each set of cards you have (from 1 card (1 point) to 8 (36 points), with the caveat each row must start at card slot 1 and have no gaps. So, if your second row has cards in rows 1,3,4,5,6,7,8, sorry – that space in column 2 means you’re only getting 1 point for a one-card row.

Now score your two longest columns. Longest means most cards, with ties going to the column furthest to the left. So if your 1st, 3rd and 8th column all have three cards, you’ll be scoring columns 1 and 3. Upsetting, as the column scores its position multiplied by the number of cards in it. So in this example, you’ll score 3+9 for 12. And miss out on 24 points from that eighth column. Hence, what you want is lots of full rows of eight cards. Which also have the longest columns on the right. Good luck with that! Highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: It’s nice to find a modern game with a smart idea, but doesn’t over or under do it. Fails for me include long-winded euros which rehash too many old ideas around one new one (such as Underwater Cities). Why bury your smart mechanism as an also-ran element of a three-hour grind-fest? Or games which are a mechanism, waiting for a game (see Splendor, Spice Road etc). I think it’s insulting to new gamers’ intelligence to think they can’t handle both at once. Subastral delivers a quick, unique-feeling experience, with some nice ‘aha’ moments. A proper game, with depth and replayability growing from interaction.
  • The thinker: As filler card games go, this is a good one. You usually have genuine choices to make and it feels as if you’re influencing the game. That said, there’s a little too much luck of the drawer for it to become a favourite. And with two players it is a little short and zero sum. It’s not a bad two-player game, but it didn’t work for me. But with more, it’s a fun and interactive filler card game.
  • The trasher: While Subastral isn’t exactly a take-that game, a good (read: winning) player will never ignore what their opponent is collecting. However, this can create the ‘who’s to my right?’ problem. If the player to my right isn’t looking/ thinking, quids in! I’ll probably get what I want. But if they’re like me, I’ll be starved of opportunities. Either way though, it’s a real brain burner. You have to score both ways (at least a bit) to win. But it’s hard! The ‘clever’ scoring is a bit too much of the game to make this a favourite – but I’ll play it.
  • The dabbler: I had no idea what was going on in the first game. And kind of still didn’t after the second one. And it didn’t help that the colour palette went from blue to brown. The pretty cards drew me in. But then you realise the important part is actually hard to see at all! I’ve managed to avoid a third game so far…

Key observations: The Subastral board game

Renegade Game Studio is successful publisher, with several BGG Top 100 games. But it was only founded in 2014 and sometimes it shows. Here, the only relevant card info is the suit and number. This info is squeezed into a tiny corner, with small/thin icon on nondescript colours. Worse, the potentially useful card reference on the back of the rulebook shows the (even more wishy-washy colour-wise) whole card of each suit, rather than the icon.

Then there are the oversized cards used as table props. These look lovely. But placed as intended take up a ridiculous 2.5+ feet of real estate. It’s no surprise there has already been a request for smaller ‘cloud cards’ on BGG. As well as a few player-made rules to fix some distribution issues with the two player rules. So while it looks super pretty on first look, there are quite a few niggles under the surface. nothing that can’t be overcome. But at £20 for a card game, I’d like the polish to go beyond the cosmetics.

In terms of gameplay, the only real issue is whether the level of trickiness in scoring is undermined by the amount of luck of the draw. This will come down to personal taste. And with a play time this low, I think it’s absolutely acceptable. But if your group strongly prefers skill over luck, it may be a pass.

Finally, from a two-player perspective, I’d have liked to see a variant that uses more cards or less suits. Something like the 7×7 variant in Kingdomino. The game works with two, but it’s hard to get much of anything going due to the restrictive nature of the card deck. So while fun, it doesn’t quite feel as good as a game with more.

Conclusion

I’ve enjoyed my plays of Subastral and it will definitely be staying in my collection. I’m a sucker for a simple, elegant game with clever scoring and this is exactly that. Would I have preferred it in a smaller box with a lower price tag and better colour choices/iconography? Sure. And would I have liked more thought going into the two-player experience? Absolutely. But the fact these things don’t get in the way of me giving Subastral a solid recommendation says just how clever and satisfying the rest if it feels.