Essen Preview #11: Two Games from Artipia – Among the Stars and Briefcase

Artipia Games came on the scene last year with their hit, Drum Roll – a beautifully produced set collection game that received many positive reviews last year.  The fledgling company is back at Essen this year with two new releases, Among the Stars and Briefcase.  The designers of both of these games are different than the designer of Drum Roll, so hopefully this is pointing to a upswing in good Greek designers.

While the games are not yet available, I’ve taken a look at the rulebooks to summarize the games and give my thoughts on what I expect from them.

Among the Stars

Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Players:  2-4
Time: 30min
Ages: 12+

Theme: space exploration, space station (city) building
Main Mechanics: card drafting


Setup: location deck made of 72 basic locations + 6 special locations per player, each player chooses a race (gets special ability). N objective cards face up on table – end game bonuses (most X, least Y, etc)

* note – 2 variants of play, non-aggressive and aggressive – difference is direct conflict or not…

Game is 4 rounds of 6 turns each (simultaneous play during each round). You get 10 credits and hand of 6 location cards at start of each round.  Each player gets one main reactor card  to start w/ 2 cubes on it

On a turn,  take a location card from hand and give rest to next player

Then 3 options on your turn –

  1. Build location card – cost in credits in upper right of locatoin plus possibly cubes (must come from power reactor within 2 spaces). must build adjacent to existing card.  score vps in lower right corner.  any card text in white box happens now, card text in yellow box happens at end of game
  2. Build power reactor – replace location card with power reactor card. cost is 1 credit, and it comes with 2 cubes on it
  3. Discard location card and gain 3 credits

Example of a location card

Complete a round by doing this 6 times. At end of round, check neighbor’s board to make sure it is correct.  If there are errors, fix board and lose VPs that you would have gained.  Lather, rinse, repeat x 4

Endgame – check yellow text boxes for endgame bonus, 1 VP/3 credits, 1 VP/power reactor with no cubes, plus bonuses for objectives (if you are playing with them)

Aggressive mode – as above, but conflict cards added to deck starting in Round 2. Players get 7 cards each round. if conflict card played, you can choose to use it at cost of 1 credit.  Generally causes bad things to happen to opponents.

2p mode – set up as 4p game with dummy players between each real player. Dummy players simply discard one at random for their turn. They don’t build cards or otherwise participate

Thoughts from reading rules: intrigued by the drafting and “city building” ideas here.  I’m personally interested because it sounds very similar in framework to Suburbia (the game that I’m developing currently).  It’s a bit different with the drafting part.  Of course, it all depends on how the cards are designed and if they interact well.   This is probably something that can only be determined by playing the cards a few times and seeing for yourself.

Examples of a race card

At this point, I am a bit leery of the conflict cards.  No examples are given in the rules, so it’s hard to know what sort of effect they can have on the game.  Though it’s nice to see that the non-aggressive rules are the main ones outlined in the rulebook, so the game appears to work just fine without them.  Also, I have only seen one example of the racial bonuses – would like to see what those are as well.  Rules show 8 different races – and if the powers are balanced, it could increase replay value.
Jennifer Geske – From reading the rules, this seems to be a fast drafting game with a city/station building theme – kind of like City Tycoon (the race cards can add more of a 7 Wonders flavor with different special abilities). As Dale already pointed out, it’s difficult to judge the game without knowing all the location cards, conflict cards, racial abilities and objectives. The good news is that it should be pretty fast to play so it’ll probably hit the table soon after the Essen loot arrives. I don’t really see how the 2 variants listed in the ‘almost final’ rulebook add to the game, and it is unlikely we’ll play it as a 2-player game.

Briefcase
Designer: Nikolas Sakaloglou, Sotirios Tsantilas
Players: 2-4
Ages: 45 min
Time: 10+

Theme – entrepreneurs building a stable of businesses
Main Mechanics – deck building


Setup – Make tableau of 8 first level and 6 second level companies. Each player gets starting deck of 3 Buy (B), 3 Activate (A), 6 Obstacle (O).  Shuffle and draw hand of 4 cards

Game – 2 phases: 1) playing cards, 2) discarding all cards and redrawing hand
Play decision cards – as many as you want, in any order

Buy

  1. purchase ONE company card from table – cost is green # in upper left
  2. purchase resources from market (1 B for basic, 2B for imported), but may not have more than 5 resources

Example of some of the promo company cards

Activate

  1. for each A, may activate a company – must now spend resources equal to bottom left of company card. Once active, you get special benefit on company card that is seen in bottom middle.  Also, you add new decision cards to deck matching icons in bottom right.
  2. Activate bank – if you have > 2 first level companies, can play A to use bank. Then permanently discard as many B cards from your hand – and gain 1 VP card per B card discarded (5VP cards per player available each game)

Obstacle

  1. Play in pairs to move a block card – there are 2 for resources and 2 for companies.  Blocked things cannot be bought from table.

Hire

  1. Give another player half of activation costs of one of their companies to then get that company’s production (i.e. new cards added to deck)

Card backs – on the right, you can see the A, B, H, and O cards

Discard all played cards and what is in your hand, draw new hand (base value is 4 cards), but some companies will give you special ability to draw more than 4.

Thoughts – interesting take on the deck builder genre – enough different here to make it worth a look.  I like the way that you indirectly build your deck here.  You use the basic buy cards to buy companies which when activated then add cards to your deck.  These company cards also offer special abilities, so it looks like sometimes you may be forced to choose between abilities you want more versus cards you want to add to your deck. A little different than previous deck builders because there are only 4 kinds of cards in the deck!  So, you’re really managing probabilities of getting certain hands.

I have some concerns about the complexity inherent in this indirect cycle. The addition of the resource cards is an extra step that could be fiddly.  It could, of course, be genius. But it gives players 2 things to track- first the composition of their deck and what’s in their hand.  But then you also have to consider having the right resources around to activate companies at the right time.

There is a fair bit of interaction here which should keep things interesting.  Of course, if you pland to do either of these things, you’ll need to build your deck appropriately.  First, there are block cards that you can use to stop your opponents from getting needed resources or companies.  Second, you can use Hire cards to take advantage of other people’s existing companies to make your own deck better.

Cards also appear easy to follow with good iconography. I like that the back cover of the rules has every icon depicted on it – will definitely make color copies of this to use as player aids, hopefully can shrink it down and still be legible.   Like Dominion, they allow for random setups, but also helpfully include a number of pre-constructed setups to ease people into the game.  Should be good replay value. There are 29 different company types in the game and you only use 14 each time out, and of course, the game is ripe for expansion possibilities with the simple addition of new company cards.

Jennifer Geske – I like games with corporate/business theme, which is why I pre-ordered Briefcase even though I am not a huge deck-building fan. As I read through the rules, I am slightly disappointed in the theme integration part (I had to think pretty hard to figure out the logic behind the special ability for some of the companies), but am now more intrigued by the game play/mechanic. I like how the special ability of the companies stay in effect so players can build their decks with specialization. The pre-construction setup suggestions allow different groups to pick the setup that fits the group dynamic. I think my groups will most likely stay away from the heavy interaction setups. However, even in setups without companies with interaction abilities, the game has built-in interaction in the Obstacle and Hire cards. Obstacle cards will be used as much to allow a player to get to the resources/companies he/she wants as it is used to block opponents. I can already hear the bellyaching from those who are ‘blocked’ in this manner. Hire cards add an interesting twist as a potentially more efficient way to improve one’s deck. Unlike some deck-building games where I feel there are perhaps only a couple viable winning strategies given a particular setup, and whoever is lucky enough to get there first has a huge advantage over the other players, I think Briefcase offers a more even playing field and allows for more diverse strategies. My one concern is that the game may not last long enough for the kind of engine-building strategies that my gaming groups enjoy. I would love to be proved wrong. I pre-ordered the game (without reading the rules) because of the theme, but it is now a game that I am looking forward to try as soon as the Essen loot arrives.

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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