Full disclosure: A review copy of The Stars Align was provided by Breaking Games.
Getting to play some lighter games is always a relief; some of these reviews end up being 3000+ words because I have to explain the whole setup process and that’s just a major to-do for me. With smaller games, I can just bust out a review in a few hours and the photos don’t take that long either, which is appreciated. Either way, there are always more games to review, so let’s check out The Stars Align, a new abstract strategy game from Breaking Games!
In The Stars Align, you play as two people out in the evening trying to see the most shooting stars so that their (likely selfish) wish can be granted. Watch the constellations and keep an eye out for a bright spot along the way. Will you be able to see the most shooting stars? Will you get your wish?
All you really need to do is flip over the bag, revealing the board:
Shuffle the cards:
Place the star tokens nearby, any side up:
The point tokens should be given to the light / dark side players, respectively. Start at 0 points:
Once you’ve done that, you’re all ready to go!
So there are two phases, Dusk and Night. Your goal over both phases is to be the first person to score 5 points by seeing five shooting stars! Here’s how it works.
During this phase, every turn you’ll draw a card and add stars of your color in that shape to the board. You can rotate the piece however you want prior to adding it. You cannot cover other players’ pieces, however. Once you finish playing a card, your opponent goes, and so on.
During this phase, if you manage to make a complete row or column of your color, clear it from the board and take a point. You just saw a star shoot across the night sky, and you wished on it to earn a point. I assume. This … seems unlikely without some negligence from your opponent.
Once one player cannot play the piece they drew, the game switches to the Night Phase.
Here’s where it gets challenging. The game still plays the same, but now you can cover pieces with your play. Here’s how that works:
- Covering your opponent’s pieces: Flip them to your color. You may only cover up to three of your opponent’s pieces in a play. This is likely to prevent stalemating and “undos”.
- Covering your own pieces: Flip them to your opponent’s color. You can cover as many of your own pieces as you’d like in a play, though, maybe don’t do that? That seems strategically unsound.
- Covering a blank space: It plays like normal. Add a star of your color to the spot. Nothing new.
Like the previous phase, if you ever make a complete row or column of your color, clear it from the board and take a point.
The first player to earn five points wins!
Player Count Differences
Only two players can see stars, sorry.
- You want to be the first player into the Night Phase. That gives you the first chance to make real headway and earn a quick point. Play somewhat spaciously so that you can force your opponent to take the last move of Dusk. It’s tough, but definitely doable.
- Do not let your opponent score during the Dusk Phase. Seriously, make sure you block them. That would just be … frustrating.
- Don’t forget to block your opponent. You’ll need to be smart about how you block them, though. If you do it wrong, they can invert it with only one move. What you want to do is make surgical incisions into their lines, usually spaced at least one or more stars apart. This way, they can’t flip your stars without either making suboptimal moves or flipping some of theirs, as well (which is still pretty suboptimal).
- Try to avoid relying on a lucky draw. There are certainly ways you could count the number of cards remaining, but, I mean, I don’t have time for that; maybe you do. The pieces are all Tetris-style pieces, so, I mean, you know what your options are. If you’re waiting for the 1×4 piece, you may be waiting a while. Better to rely on the S or the L pieces, instead.
- Generally, I think of the Night Phase as adding a star of my color and flipping three of my opponent’s stars. It’s a decent way to make slow headway; just make sure you’re actually progressing towards something.
- Try to establish enough of your stars that it becomes difficult to flip them. Remember, you cannot flip more than three stars of your opponent’s with an action, so, this starts to restrict what you can do, especially if your opponent makes smart (and large) blocks of their color. Try to be that opponent and force your opponent into positions where they can only make largely undesirable moves.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The bag-as-a-board is a cute move. It gives the game a nice overall presentation, which I appreciate.
- Very easy to learn. The only challenging thing is the night phase, but that’s a pretty quick explanation once you get there. You can almost wait to teach that bit until it happens. Worst case, play another game once you have the rules down; it’s plenty short enough.
- Plays quickly. 10 – 15 minutes; sometimes less. You can bust out multiple games of this if you have a bit of free time with a coplayer.
- Cute theme / aesthetic. I see a fair number of space games but not as many star games as I’d like. I think the only other constellation game I can think of is Starfall, which I haven’t played (and haven’t heard much about, lately).
- Decently tight little game. It’s quick, fast, and abstract; that’s gonna scratch the right itch for a lot of people, I think.
- Square cards are still my nightmare. I’m not sure why I don’t like them as much as I don’t, but, I don’t. These in particular are mildly frustrating because the back isn’t symmetric, so it aggravates my sense of order if the cards are flipped the wrong way, and since they’re square there are three different wrong ways to have the cards. It’s a personal problem, but, alas.
- The scores seem like they’ll be generally close with players of about the same skill level. Not bad, just an observation. I think all of the games I’ve played were 5 – 4, final.
- It would work much better as a travel game if the tokens were a bit heavier. Currently, they’re made of a pretty light / cheap-feeling wood that doesn’t hold its position very well. This + a bag being used as a board means that you’ve got a pretty high risk of pieces getting jostled whenever you try to move other pieces, which matters a bit in an abstract strategy board game, unfortunately. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s definitely a little unfortunate. Would definitely recommend a deluxe version that’s a bit bigger and has weightier components, if such a thing were possible.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, The Stars Align is pretty good! I wouldn’t call it my favorite abstract strategy game, but it’s got a couple things going for it — it’s a very quick spatial game and it doesn’t take much to get started. That’s a pretty strong argument in its favor, especially when you’re packing for a trip or looking for a light game to play between games or in line at a con or something. The nice thing is that if they want to expand it, there are plenty of ways to do so — bigger boards, new rules, new cards, new piece types; it’s kind of wide open for that sort of thing. Even if they don’t, though, Breaking Games has a fun little two-player abstract, here. If you’re looking for a quick, spatial abstract and you want to catch some shooting stars, The Stars Align is not a bad choice!