Full disclosure: A review copy of Star Maps was provided by Button Shy.
Alright, time for another potential month’s theme: roll and write games! Specifically roll and writes, since we lack an industry standard for flip and fill / draw and draw / whatever games. You already saw Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky from two weeks ago, and this week we’ll be checking out a roll and write game from … Button Shy! This is a mild surprise, because before maybe a couple months ago I assumed they really only sold wallet games, but they also have these roll and write campaign booklets. Naturally, Star Maps seems interesting, so let’s check it out.
In Star Maps, you play as astronomers who seek to chart the skies, but your telescope only works so well. You’ll have to see where you can catch some glimmers and views if you want to do the best job charting the cosmos around you. Which of you will end up the superior cosmologist?
Not much. Tear a sheet out of the book for each player:
Make sure, preferably, that they all share the same layout. Once you’ve done that, make sure you have two d6s, and you should be ready to start!
Alright, so, as rounds progress, you’re going to be rolling dice and filling in squares to try and discover stars, earning points for your discovery. Once any player can no longer play, the game immediately ends and the player with the most points wins! Let’s dive right in.
To start a round, roll both dice. You may write or ignore the roll. If you choose to write, choose one die. That die indicates a color of star. You’ll write the other number in a box adjacent to that star. Note that if a box is connected to that star by a broken line, it is only considered adjacent if the circle on that line is filled in.
If you fill in both squares on either side of a star, fill the star in with the difference of those two values (it must be positive or 0). You’ll score that many points later on. Certain spots have a number pre-written; you only score those points if you can get the numbers set up so that they yield that number.
Certain spots (known as “arms”) only count if they’re connected by the end of the game. To connect them, you’ll need to fill in the lock circles, which usually requires also making sure you get one of the pre-written stars completed, as well. There are other ways to fill in the normal lock circles, however.
If you choose to ignore the dice roll, you may fill in any locked circle that’s not adjacent to a star with a printed number. This will allow you to connect arms, as well as occasionally suns or other cosmic bodies.
If, at some point in the game, you manage to fill in every star of a color, you unlock a bonus! Cross out one of the bonus boxes and take any bonus from the bonuses page in the book. If none have been filled out yet, well, then you get no bonus! Sad.
Once any one player is unable to play, the game immediately ends after that round! Total the values in your stars and write them in the corresponding spots on your player board. Remember that arms that haven’t been unlocked cannot be scored. Also note that every board has a different unique scoring condition; make sure to include that as well. The player with the most points wins!
But the game doesn’t end there.
The winner can turn to the Star Chart and name one of the stars, and then either draw a line between any two stars to form a constellation, or improve your Observatory, allowing you to discover new stars in subsequent games.
And the loser(s)? They can collaboratively unlock a bonus for all subsequent games. Now you can get bonus die rolls, write in new numbers, whatever. The sky is the limit, provided the bonus is an available one.
Player Count Differences
Not really any. Some of the bonuses allow for more player interaction, but I’m not planning on ever unlocking those, to be honest; I like the pleasantness of players just doing their own thing until one person can’t. I suppose at higher player counts it becomes harder to track how other players are doing, so you might be on the receiving end of a nasty surprise if the game ends before you unlock an arm. Solo, you just play to beat the suggested score, so there’s nothing particularly special there, either. Either way, I don’t have a strong preference for player count in this game.
- Don’t close yourself off too quickly. It’s tempting to rush through certain colors and fill them out as quickly as possible, but if you’re not careful you’ll limit your options down the line. You might get better rolls later! Or, at the very least, you might need some spots to place numbers in so that you don’t inadvertently end the game.
- Focus on unlocking arms. A major mistake players can make in their first few games is not paying attention to whether or not the arms are unlocked and filling them in anyways, which means they’re just dead weight if the game ends before you can unlock them. Don’t let that happen to you. It’s a real bummer and it’s kinda frustrating.
- You really want high or low numbers, if you can make it work. On the third map there’s actually a “black hole” that has certain spots that reduce the number written there by 1. This means you can actually write a 0 (we assumed), which is kind of awesome if you want to bulk up on points. By the same virtue, placing a 6 on spots is a great way to gain additional points, if you can. You’ll need more than 1s and 6s, though, if you want to win.
- Bonus-wise, I usually recommend the “Roll a die and place it anywhere” bonus. That can be a really useful thing, especially if you get a 1, 5, or 6. It may even help you unlock certain arms, if you’re particularly lucky, which is very nice. Some of the ones that let you place numbers or erase numbers aren’t bad, either; just take what you think you’re going to need. I can’t recommend all of the bonuses; the take-that one isn’t that great, in my opinion, because this is a fairly peaceful game.
- Unlocks are important, but don’t save them all until the end. If you do, you run the risk (that I’ll expand on below) that your opponent will end the game first, causing you to fail to make those connections, which might cost you some major points. Try taking them when your only options are to take 3s or 4s somewhere; that’s usually bad.
- Keep an eye on what your opponent is doing. The absolute worst-case scenario in Star Maps is that you save a lot of your most important work (unlocking arms, connecting to the sun, connecting high-scoring stars) until the end and your opponent just clowns their way into ending the game fairly prematurely, which leaves you taking a ton of zeroes. You don’t want that, so lock some high-scoring things down as soon as you get the opportunity.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. I think these kind-of somber space games are some of my favorites. It’s part of the reason I love Sol: Last Days of a Star so much (wonder what they’re up to, these days). I particularly like that the winner can make constellations and the loser(s) get to choose bonuses; everyone gets something cool to do over the course of the game.
- Very pleasant art. I don’t know if I’d say it makes me feel any particular way, but it’s clean, colorful, and fun to look at. It’s very much a like, kid-friendly kind of space art.
- The books are an interesting conceit. A full campaign book with detachable sheets that you can write in, where the game unlocks additional secrets as you progress? That’s pretty nifty. I wonder if we’re going to be seeing many more of these books over time.
- Very portable. You don’t even need dice! You can just use random.org’s dice and keep the book handy. It might be one of the perfect plane games (along with MetroX and a bunch of flip-and-fill games).
- I like the progression. It’s not just one game (which I appreciate); it’s four distinct maps, each with their own quirks and special scoring rules. It creates a nifty game system, one which I’d love to see expanded.
- Pretty easy to learn. It’s one of the lighter roll-and-write games I’ve played; even moreso than, say, Qwinto.
- It would be nice if the book laid flat for bonus / star reasons. It lays kind of flat, but you have to aggressively bend the spine so that everyone can see the bonuses. It’s a nitpick, but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed over a few games; I may just take a picture.
- The book is a very particular shape. I’m mostly mad that I couldn’t laminate two sheets at a time, which made for a lot of wasted laminating sheets. I guess I need a bigger laminator?
- The abrupt ending can be kind of jarring. It makes you wish there were something like Welcome To where you took a mild penalty the first time and then after the second or third time, the game would end. That would also give you a heads up that your opponent is coming closer to ending the game, so you could prepare. As it stands, not the case.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, Star Maps is rapidly becoming one of my favorite roll and write games! I think that I just happen to find the puzzle super interesting, and I like that it has multiple different boards to allow for a few different games. Naturally, I am also a big fan of the theme; as I mentioned, I really enjoy the kind of somber, meditative mood that the space games with no colonization / empire-building component create. Add in a neat campaign component and you’ve got yourself a fun little book of roll and write games! I particularly appreciate that you can also get by without dice if you have a dice rolling app, so you can really kick back and just fill out the whole book if you so choose. For me, it’s the perfect length, the perfect level of intensity, and the perfect level of complexity; I just wish it didn’t end so abruptly, especially if I’m still trying to put together a perfect combination. Either way, I’m a big fan of Star Maps, and if you’re looking for either a solid Button Shy game or a solid roll and write title, I’d definitely recommend checking this one out!