Among The Stars takes place in the distant future. A horrible war between the races has been avoided because unknown aliens appeared out of nowhere, destroyed everyone’s ships, and then disappeared just as suddenly. The races are certain these aliens will return to destroy them all, so they form a fragile alliance, agreeing to develop space stations to promote trade and provide defenses to help them survive the aliens’ imminent return. Dislike runs deep still, though, and each race secretly wants to have the most impressive space station. Players take the role of one of the races and take turns drafting cards representing possible locations for their respective stations. There are military, administrative, entertainment, commercial, and scientific type locations in the base game. The game is played over 4 years. Each year consists of players drawing a secret hand of six location cards. Each player chooses a card and passes the rest of their cards to the player on their left in years 1 and 3, and to their right in years 2 and 4. After passing the cards each player reveals the location they want to build and pays money to do so. Most locations score some victory points immediately, while others provide bonuses at the end of the game if certain conditions are met.
The strategy in Among the Stars is deeper than it appears on the surface. As each player’s station starts to form such that you can see a theme taking shape. This theme usually points to greater bonuses at the end of the game (having the most military locations, fewest power reactors, etc). Once players can see what others are doing, this starts to influence which cards they play, since you have to pass your remaining cards each turn to another player. I often find myself choosing between playing a card I want in my own station or using a card just to keep it from another player.
Among The Stars is saturated with theme. It is reminiscent of that sterile spacey feel similar to the Mass Effect video games. I can almost hear the groovy synth music as I play ATS. During the game there are always little quips and brags about how this player has the most happening, fun, station in the galaxy, with its restaurants and observation deck, while that player is a war mongering, energy wasting scumbag, etc. The games are usually close, or at least they seem so, until that jerk in last place zooms past everyone with her end of game bonuses. All in all, great fun.