Review of Carpe Astra

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

January 28, 2009


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

A brain-burning science-fiction game that takes careful and deep thought, as you try to Seize the Stars.

Shannon Appelcline has written 681 reviews (including 358 board/tactical game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of Draco Mundis.

This review has been read 4062 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Carpe Astra
Publisher: Reiver Games
Author: Ted Cheatham, Jackson Pope
Category: Board/Tactical Game

Cost: £22
Year: 2008

SKU: 3


Review of Carpe Astra
Carpe Astra is an innovative and brain-burning game of placements and majorities by Ted Cheatham and Jackson Pope, published by Reiver Games. It's just now starting to have some availability in the United States.

Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 1-2 hours

The Components

Carpe Astra contains a fair amount of cardboard, wood, and cards in a small box.

Cardboard: All of the cardboard in Carpe Astra is sturdy linen-textured stock. There are several different parts.

First, you have the "game board" which is made up of standalone hexes. There is a colored hex for each of the players, a hex for the Senate, and double "domino" hexes called guild tiles (because they show two of the six guild icons) which fill out the rest of the board.

There are also 36 triangular guild support tokens and 49 money tokens, which players will collect over the course of the game.

Everything is attractively produced with good artwork and icons that help to keep things differentiated.

Wood: 5 octagonal agent markers in each of the player colors (red, yellow, blue, and black).

Cards: The cards are all medium weight, printed on slightly glossy stock. There are a bunch of different cards, including 27 event cards, 35 network cards, 35 slander cards, and a rules and character card for each player. Most of the cards have icons and text which basically say the same things--which guilds are affected (or required) by the card. There's some color text on the cards, which is cute, but kind of repetitive too.

Overall, Carpe Astra has good quality components with nice design and good usability. I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Style.

The Gameplay

The object of Carpe Astra is to gain the most victory points through controlling majorities in the six guilds.

Setup: A board is laid out with the players' character tiles on the outskirts and two to four double-guild tiles arranged in the middle (plus a senate tile in the 4-player game). Three additional double-guild tiles are placed face-up, near the board.

The event track is also laid out. This is a row of ten event cards, the second and third of which are face-up.

Each player receives two network cards, his five agent markers, five credits, and two guild support tokens that match the color of his character.

The Guilds. There are six guilds in the game, which are at the heart of both the play and the victory. Four of the guilds match characters, giving those players a slight advantage in control, while the last two do not. Control in each guild is marked by support tokens.

Support tokens are gained by the use of network and slander card.

Network Cards. These cards require a player to connect his character tile (or the senate) with either two or three specific guilds, as listed on the card.

Slander Cards. These cards require a player to connect another character's tile with either two or three specific guilds, as listed on the card.

Event Cards. These cards give bonuses (either money or extra card draws) for playing network or slander cards containing certain guilds. Each round, the foremost event card in the event row is active.

Order of Play: Over the course of ten rounds, the players will each engage in five phases each round:

  1. Change Tack
  2. Make New Contacts
  3. Infiltrate Guilds
  4. Gain Support
  5. Draw

Change Tack: By optionally paying one credit, you can draw two cards from the network and/or slander decks, then discard two cards. This can help you to improve your cards for the current play situation.

Make New Contacts: You can optionally pay a credit to clear the current face-up double-guild tiles, then you can optionally pay a credit to place one of the face-up tiles so that it's adjacent to at least one other hex side on the board.

Infiltrate Guilds: Now you place your agents, either from your supply or from elsewhere on the board. Each agent must be placed adjacent to another of your agents. You can not place agents on both halves of a double-guild domino tile. If you place an agent on a guild hex which already has another player's agent, you remove that other agent.

You get two agent placements for free, with additional ones costing 1 credit each.

During this phase, you can also rotate double-guild tiles for 1 credit.

Gain Support: Hopefully you placed your agents in such a way as to meet the criteria of the network and/or slander cards in your hand. If so, you reveal the completed cards now.

If you completed a network card, then you take one of the depicted guild support tokens from the supply (if there are any). If you completed a slander card, then you force the slandered player to discard one of the depicted guild support tokens--and you can take it yourself if you pay 1 credit.

At the end of the Gain Support phase, you remove your agents from other characters' tiles if they were used to slander that character.

Some event cards will give you credits, based on the guilds depicted on the cards you played; you take those now.

Draw: Finally, you draw back up to two cards. Some events cards will give you additional cards, based on the guilds depicted on the cards you played; you take those now.

Ending the Round: At the end of the round, the current round's event card is discarded. (There isn't an active card in the first round, which is why it's left face down.) Then the event card for the third round out is revealed, to help you plan. Some of these cards have a special symbol which causes you to change the event card for the second round out (meaning that you can always plan, but that further-out plans sometimes come to naught).

Finally, the first player rotates.

Ending the Game: At the end of the game, players count up all their support tokens. Usually a guild gives 4 VPs to the player with the most support tokens and 2 VPs to the second place player (though there are some permutations for ties and sole control). The player with the most VPs wins.

Relationships to Other Games

Carpe Astra is a fairly unique design. It's ultimately a majority control game that depends on token placement, but you're actually using your tokens for pattern matching (by laying them on top of the appropriate guilds), and you eventually gain the majority markers from that.

There's also a bit of an American feel to the largely European design of Carpe Astra, thanks to the very direct conflicts between players, where you can take their majority markers away from your opponents with Slander cards.

The Game Design

Carpe Astra is a game that I have some troubles reviewing. I think it's a good design, but it moves so far from my own sensibilities that I have troubles verifying that.

At heart, Carpe Astra is a real brain burner. Your resources, particularly the 5 agents that you can have on the board, are exceedingly limited. You have to really work hard to figure out how they can be used to accomplish the goals of one of your cards, let alone two simultaneously.

It was that brain-burning aspect which I personally disliked. It was just way too much thinking, as I tried to figure out what possibilities I could accomplish through what multiple placements. The limitation of only placing on half of a domino and the possibility of flipping a domino around just make things that much tougher to figure out.

I do think there are some shortcuts that can make you start to figure out things easier. For example, it took me a while to realize that if you have two cards that depict five different guilds among them, it's impossible to accomplish both of them (since you only have five agents, and one must be on a character tile or the senate). Similarly if you have cards showing three guilds that you're not currently on, and you have no gold, you can't accomplish them (since you only get two worker placements for free). However, I found these shortcuts hard won, not intuitive.

With that said, I believe this to be a good game for players who like tough brain burners. The choices of placement and of coin usage are not only important, but also offer for a lot of various tactics. The game design seems tight and well-considered. In short, if you like brain burners, take everything I said about my own limitations with regard to the game, flip them around, then try it on for size.

On that basis, I've given it a tentative "4" out of "5" for Substance.

Conclusion

Carpe Astra is a game that I found hard to review because it's a serious brain burner that takes considerable thought to play. There are deep and meaningful choices, but their outcomes aren't immediately obvious without careful consideration. If that sort of thing appeals to you, this small, attractively produced game will probably be a winner.

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