- Designers: Stephen Avery and Eugene Bryant
- Publisher: Wizkids
- Players 2-6
- Age: 12+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Wizkids
The Kardashev Scale is not only the name of this game, but also an actual method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on the amount of energy it is able to use.
- A Type I civilization, also called a Planetary civilization — can use and store all of the energy available on its planet.
- A Type II civilization, also called a Stellar civilization — can use and control energy at the scale of its planetary system.
- A Type III civilization, also called a Galactic civilization — can use and control energy at the scale of its entire host galaxy.
The measure was proposed by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. The scale is hypothetical, and regards energy consumption on a cosmic scale. Various extensions of the scale have since been proposed, including a wider range of power levels (types 0, IV through VI) and the use of metrics other than pure power.
I had never heard of this measure before, and honestly it sounds like something out of Star Trek. But it serves as the foundation for this engine building game, and it gave me an interesting page on Wikipedia to read up on.
Each player takes on the role of an alien civilization, taking a dial with a picture of their lifeform on it – this rotating disc allows you to secretly choose one of the four possible actions each turn. The three types of cards (Planetary, Stellar, Galactic) are shuffled and placed in a column – a pyramid is made up on the table with 4 Planetary, 3 Stellar and 2 Galactic cards revealed on the table. Each card has a number of different attributes on it – VP value, purchase cost (in the three different resources), and a special ability that happens when the card is built.
In each round, all players secretly and simultaneously choose one of the four actions on their dial. Then, they are revealed and the first part of the round is a Rock-Paper-Scissors round. Three of the icons look very similar to familiar icons: Red fists = rock, Blue Trade is a map that looks like a piece of paper, Green Research is a forked plant which you can easily turn into a scissors in your mind. The fourth option is the black card – it simply loses to any of the three RPS icons. Each player compares their icon to their left and right neighbors, and takes 2 Resource tokens matching their icon if they win, and 1 if they tie. Thus, in each round, you could win a max of 4 tokens – if you defeat both of your neighbors. You may only keep a total of 10 resources at the end of this phase.
Now, any players who chose to Advance (the black card icon) get a chance to buy a card from the tableau. The cost for the card is seen in the upper left portion of the card. Spend previously collected tokens to buy the card. You may also trade in any 3 resources for 1 other resource. Take the card and place it in the area in front of you. As soon as you buy and place a card, any effect printed on the card takes effect. Replace the purchased card from the corresponding deck.
You must initially buy Planetary cards, and then once you have two adjacent Planetary Cards, you could then buy a Stellar card to place on top, in between the two Planetary cards. Similarly, in order to buy a Galactic card, you must have 2 adjacent Stellar cards in your area. If the player with the Starting token is able to buy a card, pass the Starting token clockwise to the next player. That new player will keep the Starting token until they are able to buy a card.
Once all players have had a chance to buy a card (that chose the Advance action), play another round. Continue to do this until a player has 25 or more VPs printed on their cards or if any of the decks are exhausted. The game now ends. Players calculate their final score by summing up the VPs printed on their cards as well as adding in any additional points offered on their Advancement cards. The player with the most points wins, ties go to the player with the most Galactic cards, the most Stellar cards, then most Planetary cards.
Below is a winning tableau
My thoughts on the game
Well, when I read the tagline on the box, “an engine-building card game”, I didn’t expect it to turn into a RPS fest! As with all RPS games, there is a certain monotony in the repeated decisions but also a certain amount of fun as you try to think, outthink and doublethink your opponent. Of course, each player may also be motivated to choose certain things based on the tokens they want to gain, so be sure to monitor each opponent’s resource inventory before deciding your course of action.
The game starts out most with players trying to gain resource tokens; after all, you can’t buy any cards without the resources. There is some decision to be made as to playing the Advance action. On the downside, you guarantee that your opponents will win the RPS (as long as they play any of the 3 sides). But, you have to do this at some point in order to score points, get extra abilities, etc. You do need to build a base of the simple cards in order to move onto the medium cards – but there is no limit to the number of cards you have in any level, so long as you have the support underneath them. I have seen a nearly successful strategy that went for mostly easy to obtain Planetary cards (many of which offer resource bonuses and card discounts), and then a surprising surge at the end to get only a few second level cards using all the stacked bonuses.
The actions on the cards vary, and thus far, in each of my games, my overall strategy has changed over the course of the game based on what special abilities or scoring criteria I was able to pick up on my cards. You’ll definitely have to watch what your opponents are doing, and there may be a race to acquire certain cards from the tableau. And… don’t forget that this will affect how players will play the RPS rounds – they might need certain resources, and you can use this to your advantage! But, then again, they might know this, and may play the opposite icon to defeat you, and then hope to trade in the unwanted resource at 3-to-1 to get the card they need.
The game does have a bit of confrontation to it – some of the Advancement cards allow you to steal or destroy other player’s resources. Some cause players to discard resources after the RPS battle. I don’t think those actions are unbalanced, and in any event, all players get nearly an equal chance to see and acquire them (only different based on the vagaries of where the start player marker is when the card is flipped up) – so if you don’t like being stolen from, get the card yourself and be the thief instead! But, I do think it is worth mentioning that the game has this as some euro-gamers may not be expecting this sort of direct conflict.
The artwork is decent; I like the bits of flavor art for each card, but more importantly, most of the icons on the card are easy to read and see from across the table. My only quibble would be the icon for card type. There are 3 different card types, and they are all white squiggles within a black card shaped rectangle. They can be confusing from a distance, and when they are in small form (in the action text of a card), they can be quite hard to read even when I’m holding them in my own hand. A more distinct set of icons would have been preferable for me; though again remember that I don’t have great eyesight and the gaming basement doesn’t have ideal lighting for games (or photos).
Though the repeated RPS duels feel a little stale by the end of the game, our games only last 20-30 minutes, and that’s not enough time to really get tired of them. You have enough time to build a small engine, hopefully find a few synergistic card actions, and then before you know it, it’s time to tally up the points. Probably not a keeper (as I do not prefer games with targeted stealing/attacking), but I’ve enjoyed my plays enough, and I managed to learn a little scientific tidbit as well.
If you want to learn more – watch this: https://youtu.be/rhFK5_Nx9xY
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor