Dale Yu: First Impressions of Subastral

Subastral

  • Designers: Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback
  • Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
  • Players: 3-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Renegade Game Studios

subastral

Subastral is a strategic card game brought to you by the same pair who earlier designed Stellar.  In this game, players try to take notes on the eight different biomes of the planet – hoping to be rewarded for the breadth of their research as well as for the in-depth view of two in particular.  Like Stellar, players will be collecting cards and playing them in front of them.  While some of the mechanics are familiar, this is a game that definitely stands on its own.

To start the game, the Biome deck is prepared (for the specific number of players), shuffled, and then the Game end card is placed at a specific point near the end of the deck.  Each player gets a starting hand of 3 cards.  The cloud cards (numbered 1 to 6) are placed in a row on the table with the Sun card to the right of the 6 card.  One card is placed face-up underneath each of the cloud cards – and then cards are flipped from the deck and placed face-up specifically underneath the cloud whose number matches that on the card.  Do this until two clouds have at least 2 cards underneath them.

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On a turn, the player first must play a card from his hand to the board – it is played face up underneath the cloud which matches the number on the card.  (In the unlikely situation that you have no cards in hand, your entire turn is spent drawing a card from the top of the deck..)

Next, you take cards from the display.  You are NOT allowed to take the cards from the cloud where you played this turn.  If you choose a cloud to the left of where you played, you take all the cards underneath and add them to your hand.  Additionally you draw an extra card from the deck.  If you choose a cloud to the right of the cloud where you played, you instead add the cards to your display – i.e. you take notes in your journal.  

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As you take notes, you must put each biome in a separate column, and the columns are organized from left to right in the order in which you gained the first one.  If you gain multiple new biomes in a single turn, you can choose the order in which they enter the journal.  Stack cards of the same biome in a way that it is easy to count how many you have in the stack.  If you have played on the extreme ends, you are allowed to wrap around (i.e. choose 6 if you played on 1, or choose 1 if you played on 6) – and in this case, you are allowed to choose from either option (Adding to your hand or to the journal).

Finally, you refresh the display. Draw the top card from the deck and place it on the cloud which was just emptied.  Then, check to make sure that at least 2 clouds have at least 2 cards underneath.  If not, reveal the top card from the deck and place it under the cloud of matching number.  Continue until at least 2 clouds have 2 cards underneath them.  Then the next player goes.

The end of the game is triggered when the “End of Game” card is drawn.  When this happens, the current round continues so that all players have had the same number of turns, and then each player gets one more additional turn.  Then the game moves to scoring

There are two types of scoring – first is Mixed Sets – this rewards you for sets of different biomes.  Looking at your notebook, going across the top row from left to right, count how many biomes you have:  score 1/3/6/10/15/21/28/36 for 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8 biomes. Then move to the next row down and do the same.  Stop counting as soon as you encounter a column which does not have a card in it – even if you have cards in columns further to the right, you don’t score for them.  Continue scoring mixed sets for each row that you have a card in the leftmost column.

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Then score matching sets.  Count the number of cards in each of the biome types and score the two with the most cards.  If there is a tie, you must use the leftmost column.  For each of these two chosen columns, score a number of points per card equal to the column number (1 for the left most going up to 8 at the right).

The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the fewest cards in their journal.

My thoughts on the game

Subastral packs a lot of interesting decisions in a short game; in fact, for me, I kind of wish the game had a few more rounds!  In this short game, you are trying to decide which cards you would like to add to the journal – or whether you should take this opportunity to draw cards.  You should always keep an eye out on what your opponents seem to need; and try not to give them too good of a choice on their turn.

Of course, the card choices are determined a lot by the cards you have in your hand.  If you want to have good flexibility in drawing, you will need higher numbered cards; and if you want more flexibility in adding to your journal, then you want lower numbered cards.  

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The two scoring systems are at odds with each other, and it is very hard to do good at both.  For the mixed sets, you want a bunch of the first biomes that you collected – this way, you can score more rows.  However, this also likely means that your matched sets will be the leftmost columns, thus scoring the minimum possible per card.  On the other hand, you could try to max out your matched sets by collecting many cards in the sets you started near the end of the game – but this is inherently risky as you might not be able to collect enough of them to make the strategy worthwhile. 

In any event, there is no obvious path to a good score in Subastral, and I have enjoyed trying to figure out the scoring puzzle in each of my plays.  The games are short, and it is the kind of game that is easy to play multiple games in a single session.  It would also be a good fit for an opener or closer.  If you change the number of players in your group, be aware that it will take a few minutes to get the correct cards in the deck for the player count.  It’s not a difficult thing to do, but the player count numbers aren’t huge on the cards, and you’d like to be sure that you have the right card distribution for your player count.

Subastral is another nice and challenging game from the design team of Riddle and Pinchback, and I will keep playing it as I’m trying to figure out a reliable strategy to score a lot of points…

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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