Stars Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 12 and up
  • For 2 players
  • About 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Hard
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • None

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek rejected!

Overview

The peaceful night sky that twinkle above us at night is hardly the tranquil starscape we imagine it to be. The stars have grown jealous and petty. Instead of being content with their lot in interstellar life, they now push and shove each other in an attempt to be the brightest star in the sky.

Stars is comprised of one 1 game board, 1 Black Hole cube, 1 White Nova cube, 5 White Star cubes, and 5 Orange Star cubes. If you buy the game, you will need to put stickers on the cubes, but don’t let this scare you off. The instructions are easy to follow and very clear. The stickers are easy to apply and will not take you anymore than about 1o-minutes to complete. The game also comes with a number of additional stickers allowing you wiggle room if you should make a mistake.

Painting the Sky with Stars

To set up the game, place the game board in the middle of the playing area between the two players. The White Nova cube is placed on the “Zero” located on the outside border of the game board. This number track keeps count of how many action points a player has on their turn. In the middle of the game board, place the Black Hole cube.

Each player will be given a set of 5 cubes, all of the same color. These represent the stars the player will be using during the game. On one side of the cube is a “Bright Star” and on the other side is a “Dim Star”. To continue setting up the board, each player places their five cubes so their Bright Star is facing upward and all the red sides are facing the Black Hole cube. Once completed, you are ready to play!

Example of Dim and Bright stars, as well as initial game set up

Star Wars

Stars is played in turns with the players taking as many actions as possible based on the actions points allocated to them. When the game starts, the players will have very few action points which will greatly reduce what they can do on their turn. As the game progresses, the players will be given more actions points and increase the overall number of actions possible.  The number of actions points the player has to spend on their turn is tracked by the White Nova cube. On a player’s turn, they first advance the Nova cube by 1, increasing the total number of actions points the player has each turn. The first player will have 1 action point and the 2nd player will have 2 actions points. On the first player’s next turn, they will have 3 actions points and so on.

The actions a player can perform on their turn are as follows and each action needs a specific amount of action points to complete. The rules do not state if the player is required to use all their action points. We played the game where taking actions was optional.

Rotate One Bright Star (cost: 1 action point)

  • Rotate one Bright Star 90 degrees in any direction

Pulse One Bright Star (cost: 2 action points)

  • When a star pulses, it sends out a beam of light vertically and horizontally in a straight line. If that beam of light, based on the color of that cube’s side, connects with another cube with a color that matches (red facing red, for example), different results will occur.
  • Red: If the pulse strikes a Bright Star, it is flipped to a Dim Star, with the color facing not changing once it is flipped. Dim Stars cannot be activated directly using action points. Future pulses from other stars can change the Dim Star’s state and location.
  • Blue: The star that is struck, be it Bright or Dim, can be pushed or pulled by one space in a straight line towards or away from the star that pulsed. Pushed stars can push other stars next to them creating a chain of pushed stars. If a Dim Star is pushed off the board or into the Black Hole, it is removed from the game. Bright Stars can never be pushed off the board or into the Black Hole.
  • Green: If the pulse strikes a Dim Star, it is flipped to a Bright Star, with the color facing not changing once it is flipped.
  • Yellow: The pulse causes the struck star to move 90 degrees in any direction.
  • As soon as a pulse strikes a cube, be it a star or the Black Hole, it stops.
  • A player can pulse their own stars.

Move One Bright Star (cost: 3 action points)

  • Move one Bright star one space on the board in any direction (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally)
  • Stars cannot move off the game board, onto the same space as another star, or onto the same space as the Black Hole cube

Players continue to use as many actions points as possible during their turn, reducing their total number of actions points (determined by the White Nova cube) until their total actions points is zero or they no longer want to take any actions.

It is then the next player’s turn and the White Nova cube is advanced 1 space forward.

Winning Stars

The game continues until one of two conditions are met:

  • One player has nothing but Dim Stars left, which makes the other player the winner
  • Three or more star of one player have been pushed off the game board, which makes the other player the winner

Game Variants

  • Pro: All red lines on the game board are considered the new edges, greatly reducing the playing area, as well as all players only starting with 4 star cubes
  • Sunspots: Players may choose to move the White Nova cube on their turn or not
  • Binary Stars: The White Nova cube is not used – instead, each player only has 10 actions points to spend on their turn
  • Solar Flares: Players may “bank” up to 3 actions points to be used on a later turn in addition to any action points they might already have
  • Star War: With a second set, up to 4-players may play on one game board. Each player only gets 4 stars each, grouped in a square formation in the corners of the game board during game set up – players may set their stars directions however they like.
  • Full Refraction: All stars struck by a pulse will be affected as normal, then send out a pulse of their own under the control of the active player, whether the originating pulse affected them or not. No star may pulse twice in a turn.
  • Anomaly: During play, the Black Hole cube may be pushed or pulled as if it was a star with all blue sides

To learn more about Stars and read the complete rules, see the game’s official web site.

Prediction

Abstract games are a big hit with my little geeks and I don’t think Stars will be any different. In fact, the longer I keep playing games with them, the Prediction part of the review becomes less and less critical because of the experience my little geeks already have. Regardless, I like to play the pros and cons of a game before turning it over to my little geeks, family, and friends to try. Part of it is a game to me where I attempt to predict how well a game will be received based on what I know of the game and the players.

Stars is more complicated than my 4-year-old can muster at the moment and I am not all together sure if my 7-year-old can keep up, either. While the rules of Stars is very straight forward and not at all lengthy, the game difficulty increases on every turn. The players are given more and more action points, meaning they will need to make more and more choices. This is unlike any other game my little geeks have ever played, which by default, makes it a tough one to call.

When I showed it to my 7-year-old and explained the rules, he immediately grasped the challenge and the game’s intent. He had no questions other than if a pulse would continue once it struck another star. Since we were just playing the normal rules without the game variants, the answer was no. This seemed to put him at ease as I demoed each action and how the pulses of the stars worked. In very little time, he told me he was ready to go and we should play the game. As I set up the game, he told me the following:

“Game doesn’t look all that tough.” ~ Liam (age 7)

I like the sound of confidence, but I’m not altogether sure he fully appreciates the game yet. Let’s give it a try and find out.

Final Word

Stars is a challenging game and slowly starts to put its weight on you. This was an odd experience for both my little geek and me. At first, the game moves exceedingly fast as the number of action points are few. As the game progresses, the player is left with more and more choices. The game board suddenly becomes much more dangerous as it begins to open up. For me, this was brilliant and I was loving every second of it. For my little geek, it began to beat him up. The level of stress and importance of each move became more and more apparent. Eventually, he cracked under the pressure and started making mistakes. In the end, he was left feeling run over rather than entertained.

The same could be said with the adults and more elite gamers I played with. At first, the game starts out as kind of a joke. Move one cube, shift another, slowly advance, and not much more. Around the 25 action point mark, however, your attitudes shifts. The mounting difficulty sneaks up on you, which was always commented on. A game that played very simply changes into a mighty exercise of math as players attempt to think through their moves before they move their cubes. Several times, I caught players simply moving cubes because they didn’t know what else to do. Rather than vapor lock, they put themselves on autopilot and just went through the motions. Around the 50 action point mark, the casual gamer is quickly separated from the elitist gamer. Victory almost always went to the player with the higher mental and emotional stamina.

My little geeks makes his move - also, there's a lot of orange in this image...

Gamer Geeks, Stars is a very interesting abstract game that gives the player more and more options on their turn, making it more of a strategic race than an area control experience. Although area control is very much needed, the area in which you are attempting to control is always shifting. Your opponent will always have one more action point than you which could give them just enough of an edge to slightly move out of your reach. While this might seem exasperating at first, it makes you really focus in on moving multiple cubes at a time, essentially setting up traps. You’ll spend energy attempting to bait your opponent while you create combos and move your cubes in for perfect positioning. Of course, your opponent is doing the same thing which will keep you second guessing, suffering from the bitter shocks of hindsight, and scratching your head about what to do next. Very challenging, very rewarding, and mentally exhausting.

Parent Geeks, this is a wonderful abstract game that is sure to make even the smartest of family members and friends sit up straight and take notice. The game is nothing special to look at, but what it lacks in glam it makes up for in-depth. The rules are very straight forward but the game becomes more and more difficult as the player is given more and more choices. This end result might lead to many players suffering from vapor lock or blindly moving cubes around until their next move is more clear. Do expect a challenge and a very rewarding game.

Child Geeks, this is a tough call. My little geek enjoyed the game but found it became more and more frustrating. The added action points caused more confusion than anything else and he became overwhelmed. While he admits he likes it, it is not a game he would like to play again for a bit. For that reason, I’m going to agree with the game designer’s recommended age and suggest that this is a game for the older little geeks. Do give it a try, though, and find out for yourselves! For now, it is rejected but will most certainly be revisited.

Stars was a real surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting much by reading the rules and the game components do not make the game pop or get me excited. The cubes are exceedingly functional as is the game board. Once I played the game, however, I was hooked. I became completely engrossed in the game play and the level of thought I had to put in my moves. Several times I thought I had my opponent on the ropes, only to find that I was just short an action point or just out of range. The ever-increasing number of action points make it necessary to continue to adjust your tactics as you attempt to position and control the game board. Simply outstanding and highly recommended, Stars is one game that’ll keep you thinking well after it has been put away.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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