I’ve just been wanting to write this one for a while, so I went for it. I have a lot more free time, lately. Once you eliminate the commute and all of my potential board game nights, I’m suddenly a lot more flexible. I just almost never feel like writing because I do a ton of work in the house, already. Alas. You’ve already seen that from my relatively aggressive turndown in terms of output, but, yeah, them’s the breaks. Trying to see what can be done about that, but we’ll see long-term what happens. In the meantime, let’s talk about some new stuff!
These promos consist of a few different things. First is the Kickstarter Promos that came with the initial game, then the Imago promo that I got at some point, and then five more cards that comprise the Stars Below expansion. That one is wild. This means we’ll have a couple ratings at the end of the review, and we’ll cover that when we get to it. Either way, you’re back in The Shipwreck Arcana‘s nightmare, and you need to read each others’ fortunes to avoid perilous outcomes. Unfortunately, the cards are even more unfavorable than you feared, and a prophecy of doom is pretty solidly at hand. Will you be able to avert your terrible fate?
None. Shuffle the new cards into the game. You’ve got your promo cards:
And you’ve got your Stars Below cards:
You just shuffle them into the standard deck. For a much more challenging game, use only these cards. Good luck! It’s tough. Either way, flip The Hours and four more cards and you’re ready to rock!
The game plays identically to the base game of The Shipwreck Arcana. There are, however, a few fun upgrades for this one. Some of the Stars Below cards add essentially reactive effects. These three cards allow you to do an action (or force an action) as a reaction to something else. For instance:
- The Ash: Fragile fades if a 1 or a 2 was played on any card this turn.
- The Fall: Inevitable fades if the sum of the visible fate tiles on it is at least double the fate that you didn’t play.
- The Thief: Steal forces you to move a visible fate that’s higher than your unplayed fate to its card, if you can.
These can really change up the game, especially if you’re not expecting them. This is also in addition to The Ash and The Fall’s standard effects. The other two cards are no slouches, either:
- The Musicians: Make 11 allows you to play a fate there if the sum of your fates and at most one visible fate equals 11. Note that it can be 0 additional fates or 1, which makes this one nasty.
- The North Wind: Tiers allows you to play there if one of your fates has exactly one more pip on it than the other. It’s not particularly useful if you’re trying to imply anything other than a 7 (which is still in your hand).
The remaining promos build off of the existing game’s structure and all add their own challenges. The last one worth mentioning is the specific additional promo, the Imago:
- The Imago: Delay allows you to play any fate on this card, but a 7 only counts as one pip towards whether or not it fades. It’s an interesting stalling tactic, especially when cards like The Ash make it less-than-ideal to play lower-value fates.
Either way, the same rules apply as the base game. Whenever a card has more pips on fate tiles than moon symbols at the bottom, it fades. If your co-players guessed your remaining fate correctly, nothing happens. (You will gain 1 point [tracked by the green score token] at the end of your turn, though.) If not, gain 2 Doom (tracked by the red token). Note that this happens each time a card fades, so if two cards fade in the same turn, you’ll gain 2 Doom each time. This is in addition to the 1 Doom you gain if your opponents guess your fate incorrectly. Good luck with that.
Play until you gain 7 points or 7 Doom. If you score 7, you win! If you hit 7 Doom, you lose!
Player Count Differences
Basically none, and that’s what I love about this franchise. It supports drop-in / drop-out play, and basically all players that aren’t the player who is playing a fate are cooperatively working to figure it out. Now, granted, it’s harder with these cards, but there aren’t a lot of disadvantages to playing this at two versus playing it at five beyond having more people to think about it with. But, similar to Codenames, more players does not guarantee a necessarily better solution. It just means that some noise might get amplified even louder. That said, it’s often nice to have at least one other player available to check my work, so I do have a soft preference for this game at 3+. The nice thing about the game is that the art is so incredibly good that often you can convince someone passing by to join for a turn, and the game is completely supportive of that (they can just … pop in). It’s great.
- You need to look at all the cards before you play anything, now. The reactive cards will fade whether or not you fully read them, so, don’t accidentally make a mistake that will have long-term consequences. Certain cards just require that you avoid playing certain tiles, which can also be helpful; if you see someone playing one of those tiles, they may not have had a choice. Consider that when you’re guessing.
- If you’ve got a very easy play, try to activate one of the cards that will react by fading. The best thing you can do is get a guaranteed score on a turn where you’re going to lose more than one card. Your co-players need to read that correctly, though; if they think you’re making this play because you’re confident, then they need to be able to suss out what your other fate is.
- Remember that you must use Steal, if you can. This is very useful, as it can potentially tell you what fates are remaining in their hand. Is there a 6 on the board that didn’t get stolen? They must have a 7. Use that to your advantage to get additional information. But also, remember that when you’re playing so that you don’t junk up Steal with tiles accidentally, or worse, cause it to fade when you’re not expecting it.
- The Imago is critical to blocking 7s that would otherwise instantly fade cards. You can stall that card out for a while with 7s, which is excellent. Just try to avoid playing other tiles to it, since that kind of wastes its ability. To that end, watch for when a player plays a non-7 there; they likely didn’t have another choice and had to.
- Watch out for the Amplify ability. Amplify is great if you’re already going to score, and terrible if you’re worried that you’re going to lose out on something.
- The Exile ability is … weird. I usually burn it to exile a 7 so that way we have fewer pips running around in the game. If you’ve got certain cards, it may be worth exiling other numbers so that you’re not quite as on-the-hook for certain combinations. That’s up to you, though. Just remember to keep the tile you removed from the game visible; that’s valuable information.
- Basically only use Tiers to indicate that you still have a 7 in hand. It’s a bit of metagaming, but I would only ever play a 4 / 5 / 6 on Tiers if I had a 7 in my hand. Otherwise, I’d play a 1 / 2 / 3 because it pushes it to fade less quickly. Once you’ve gotten there, it’s pretty easy to figure out. It just requires players thinking a bit about the implications of some of their plays.
- Similarly, only use Make 11 when there are no visible fates or when you would have to use a visible fate to make 11. This is a very bad card to use when there are 4 – 5 different visible fates; then it’s unclear which one you’re using (if you’re using one at all). Similarly, it doesn’t work very well with higher numbers. You really want a 1 played with a 7 in hand and a single 3 visible, or some equivalent scenario.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Still some of the best art I’ve seen in a board game. The Shipwreck Arcana series continues to amaze. I love their use of color, I love how bold and stylistic it is, and I just … yeah I love the whole thing. It’s very good.
- Very easy to integrate with the base game. All you have to do is shuffle the new cards in. There’s barely a protocol for it; it just seamlessly integrates. I figure that’s probably why it’s so hard to make new ones. I assume it’s a lot like DLC for a fighting game; you have to make sure that everything is balanced as best as it can be against everything else so no Obviously Optimal Combinations begin to emerge. But the game is pretty well-loved, so, hopefully this isn’t the only time Meromorph returns to it.
- Still very portable. I can fit everything into the base game box, which I really appreciate.
- I appreciate the steps up in difficulty. The promo cards aren’t as hard as Stars Below, that’s for sure, but they’re both graduated increases in the challenge and complexity of cards compared to the base game, which is relatively simple in its conceit. Nothing wrong with any of that; I just like that a higher difficulty option is presented for players who are interested in exploring that side of the game (or who have plenty of experience).
- The new mechanics aren’t overcomplicated. There’s a tendency with expansions to add new tokens and modes and all sorts of stuff, and I appreciate that that didn’t happen here. It’s just more cards that work well with other cards (and some that just don’t really work at all, which I like).
- Some of the cards are aggressively situational, and I think that’s amazing. Just reading the High Odds card (Fortune) is confusing and it’s extremely difficult to parse when you’re in the thick of a game. Alone (The Ghost) is pretty similar in that regard. This just means that when you get the perfect combination of cards and fates and visible fates that those cards work perfectly, though, it’s awesome. Every time.
- I wish I had gotten something with the box art on it. It’s very good art! And I just ended up with a plastic bag for the expansion cards. I think that that, in part, is because there isn’t that many cards available.
- For the expansion, five cards isn’t a ton of content (even if the price is low). This isn’t really a complaint because there’s “not enough”, it’s more of a “I love this game and would love more content for it”. That’s my major complaint, I think; I’d really love a full-sized expansion rather than a mini-one, especially given how challenging the new concepts are. Hopefully, we’ll see one sooner rather than later!
Promo Cards: 8.5 / 10
Stars Below: 9 / 10
Overall, I think both aspects of this Shipwreck Arcana expansion are great. Naturally, I don’t play with them as often as I’d like, but that’s mostly because they really bump up the difficulty by adding in some more complexity to the uncertainty. In the base game, an experienced player can often mitigate the consequences of uncertainty by knowing which cards to play on to stall, effectively. The Stars Below expansion makes stalling much more dangerous, which I’m very into. My only real complaint about Stars Below is that functionally, it’s only five cards, and I crave more content for this game. The Shipwreck Arcana has rapidly become one of my all-time go-to travel games. I basically take it everywhere with me (or I did, when I used to go places), and I always include these promos. As players get more experienced with the cards, you can start gradually introducing expansion content. Since there’s so little, though, it essentially can get diluted by the base game content (I’ve definitely shuffled it in before and not seen it before the game ended). This means you’re likely going to play with just the promos and expansion content, which is fine, just hard. I think more expansion content would allow you to more finely-tune the difficulty to your play group, and I think that would be huge. But ultimately, I just want to play more Shipwreck Arcana with more new cards, and these fundamentally deliver on that desire. If you’re a fan of the cards, I think Stars Below’s reaction effects add a lot of cool complications to the game and I’d highly recommend checking them out!