#926 – Stella

Base price: $40.
3 – 6 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays:
9

I took a bit of time off to travel to Seattle and do some sightseeing! That was lovely, but now, as always, I’m a bit behind on reviews, so we’re back to writing! Had a few days off to game and write and whatnot, and now, I’ve got more games to share with y’all! I’ve actually been wanting to write up this game for a while, since I played it at my friend Annette’s house. I don’t pick up as many games as I used to, but, figured, why not? Let’s talk about it.

Stella is a game set in the Dixit universe, as players seek stars throughout the sky. How that works into a word-based party game is beyond me, but seek the stars too aggressively and you might end up in the dark, where nobody else can find you. Will you be able to illuminate a path to victory?

Contents

Setup

First up, assemble the board! Set the Start Player token nearby, and the four round tokens get slotted in place (I on top, IV on bottom):

Shuffle the various cards that are included in the game, and create three rows of five cards face-up:

Select four Word Cards and place them next to the board as a draw pile. You can start with the Discovery Word Cards, if you’d like:

You can, alternatively, shuffle the deck and use whatever cards you want:

Each player gets a Player Board, next:

Give them markers and an eraser cloth as well. Also, give them a Lantern Token in the same color. One player should keep track of the score on the scoreboard:

Choose a player to start, and you’re ready to begin!

Gameplay

A game of Stella is a game of word association! Your goal is to find the most cards that everyone associates with the round’s Clue Word, over four rounds. Each round has the same phases, so let’s go through them.

Associate

To start a round, the current start player chooses one of the two Clue Words on the Word Card. If every player agrees that it’s not the right Clue Word, they can use a different word. Your game; use your best judgment. Otherwise, slide the Word Card at the top of the board so that it’s visible. Now, choose up to ten cards to associate with the Clue Word. Use your best judgment, feel the word out, let the cards speak to you, et cetera. As you choose words, mark their location on your Personal Slate to keep track of how many words you’ve picked. You must pick at least one.

Once everyone has chose their words, move on to the next phase!

Announce

All players then announce the number of cards they’ve selected! Indicate how many cards you’ve picked by placing your Lantern Token by the appropriate number on the board.

If you, unfortunately, happen to be the player who selected the highest number of cards, you are “In the Dark!”. Careful. Being In the Dark carries some risk! More of that later, with Scoring. Note that if multiple players select the highest number of cards, no player is In the Dark, this round.

Reveal

Now, beginning with the Start Player, each player, in turn, chooses a card from their Personal Slate, revealing it to the other players. Each player checks their Personal Slate: have they chosen that card, as well? Three possible outcomes can happen:

  1. Spark: If multiple players also selected that card, they Spark! All players who selected the card fill in two stars next to that card on their player board.
  2. Super-Spark: If only one other player selected the same card, the two players Super-Spark! They fill in three stars next to that card on their player board. That’s even better than two.
  3. The Fall: If no other players selected the card that player picked, that player Falls. They don’t fill any stars in, and they cannot fill stars or bonus stars in for the remainder of the round. That said, they still count as another player for other players getting Sparks or Super-Sparks! It’s a bummer. For them.

Scoring

Each player scores one point for each star that’s been filled in on their player board, with one exception! The player who went In the Dark scores normally if they never Fell; if they did Fall, they earn one fewer point on each Spark and Super-Spark (essentially, they earn one fewer point for each set of stars they filled in on their player board).

Add up your total, put it on the player board, and move on to the next round!

End of the Game

After four rounds, the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

The major difference at different player counts of Stella is that you can usually expect scores to be a bit higher with more players than with fewer, just mathematically. With more players, there will likely be a bit more variance to guesses, which should, in turn, help get everyone more points. With fewer players, you’re more likely to hit more gaps and Fall, as a result. It’s not bad; it’s just worth anticipating. It does mean that there’s probably a sweet spot around 4 and 5 players, but I don’t have a specific player count preference beyond that. I would assume the game is a bit simpler at higher player counts and a bit tougher at lower, but beyond that, not many differences. I enjoy it at any player count!

Strategy

  • Generally speaking, you should try to guess cards based on which you feel most strongly about. You want to match with other players, after all. Lead with your strongest guess! Your goal isn’t really to try and suss out Super-Sparks, since, functionally, they’re either there or not when the round starts. Picking the card you think is the most likely outcome can usually help, unless your intuition is completely wrong. If your intuition is totally wrong, however, there’s not much that will help you out.
  • I actually put little numbers by my various Xs on my player board to indicate what order I want to guess in. Nothing says you can’t do that, I guess, but I do that to try and give myself a sense of which cards I’m hoping to guess first and how well I match up with other players’ guesses. If I’m doing really badly, then I adjust my strategy a bit. If I’m doing well, then I know that I can relatively easily trust my guesses in subsequent rounds.
  • I wouldn’t recommend going for super esoteric on your guesses. It really does pay to pick cards that seem immediately obvious. The more you pick, the more you risk going In the Dark. That said, if they’re all obvious picks, maybe you’ll be able to land it. It’s just hard to do! Nonetheless, try to keep it simple.
  • There will be some variability to scoring within rounds. Don’t necessarily make plans around being able to score a ton of points in one round. Some rounds, you might go In the Dark with four guesses! Sometimes the lowest guess is eight! The variability makes it hard to pinpoint how many points you can expect to score, so playing strategically may not be the easiest thing to do. That said, this is kind of a party game, so, you may not also want to.
  • Going “In the Dark” is tough, since you take essentially 50% fewer points if you mess up at all. That said, sometimes you gotta, if you want to score anything at all. Risk and reward! You might, to try and get ahead on points, need to take a big swing one round. Just make sure you actually think you can land it!

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • My group(s) have an ongoing rule that you have to yell “STELLAAAAA” when you fall, and I will admit, it does make the game more fun. It’s just a very good reaction and it makes losing feel a little less bad? It’s also extremely silly, which, every game can use a bit more of. No, I haven’t seen the movie. It’s probably not relevant.
  • Oh, hey, I finally have something I can do with my old Dixit cards! I need to dig them out of the box in my closet! I’ll probably combine the cards and just hope that the wear is a little bit harder to notice. I do need to make sure that I do my photography for Stella before that integration, otherwise things will get somewhat confusing.
  • I really like how Stella adds some scaffolding and structure to Dixit’s beautiful art. I just really like how this game works. It’s got some form without being overwrought, and they do a nice job injecting new cards and new words every round to keep things orderly. Plus, the combinations of cards, words, and which cards and words come together at which times keeps the game feeling pretty fresh from play to play, but I appreciate that I can also inject additional expansions as I need.
  • The cards are, predictably, very nice, as well. There are a lot of really cool cards in this one! I really like a few of them, so I’ll try to feature them in photography if I can.
  • I think, at the core, what I like most about of this game, is that there’s no inherent conflict? Players are essentially trying to agree on interpretations of cards, and you just score more points for agreeing with more players. It’s a really nice party game, kind of like Match 5, in that you’re not really fighting against players; you’re just trying to build consensus with them, which is fun. I like that everyone just either agrees with you or doesn’t, and then you can argue your case that way (usually after yelling “STELLAAAAA”).
  • The push-your-luck element of trying to get as many points as possible but not being the person who bids the highest is a very quick and simple way to create player-centric tension that’s not based on conflict with other players, and I love that, too. It’s a really fun problem! You need to make sure that you bid high enough to score points, but you also want to make sure that you don’t bid so high that you’re In the Dark and you have no chance of success. It’s very difficult to figure out an exact science of how to do this because the words are abstract and the cards are even worse. This all makes it really hard to know how to do well, and I think that’s very fun!
  • I also really like that players who Fall are still in the game but reduced to just helping other players score. They’re still around, unfortunately, but they only get to essentially bear witness to helping other players score points. I think that’s fun.
  • A remarkably simple game to teach. You really just pick cards that you think match with words; the scoring is kind of perfunctory, which I like. Your goal isn’t really to pick cards hoping for a Super-Spark; you just want to pick the best matches, read the room, and understand the vibe of the cards. I like that I can really drop this game in front of any group and get it picked up fast.
  • The component quality is nice, as well. They’re pleasant boards and player boards and whatnot. It looks nice!

Mehs

  • I know one of my friends is going to let my markers dry out, and I’m preemptively mad. Just my ongoing nightmare of games with dry-erase markers. I do wish that there were some way to convince some of the folks I play with to just … keep my markers capped. What can you do.
  • The little cloths they included in lieu of erasers are … weird? But fun. I think it may make more sense than erasers? Erasers tend to trap stuff and stay gross for long periods of time, so this might be more efficient? I really have no idea. It just struck me as a fun little oddity.

Cons

  • You can run strangely afoul of the “In the Dark” rules with new players, just because they tend to be mildly conservative early in their first games. It’s funny; I tend to see players be mildly anxious about going In the Dark, so they tend to underbid in the first round, which is weird and can be a bit rough early on. Not really a way to get around that, but it usually shakes out in the first round or so.
  • If you’re trying to play strategically, that may not necessarily work in your favor. There’s some randomness to rounds, and some rounds by their very nature may not necessarily be high-scoring ones. It’s nice to have some level of strategy, even in a party game, and you may find that it’s hard to really plan ahead without some foreknowledge of the words or something. That said, it’s a party game; try to relax. You may just find it hard to come back if you end up with a low-scoring round, which, while frustrating, doesn’t really have any in-game solve, as far as I’ve found. We haven’t been too bothered, thankfully, but I can see that being somewhat-frustrating, though it’s fairly common in party games?

Overall: 9 / 10

Overall, I really quite enjoy Stella! I think it’s a fantastic, modern-feeling iteration on the Dixit formula that’s unique, compelling, and still true to the core of Dixit, which is really cool! I thought, honestly, it was going to be another Dixit-style clone, but instead, it’s a nice and clean party game that really works well with just about any group I’ve sat it down with! Big fan. For me, it’s also nice to have a game that uses the Dixit cards I used to accumulate for another purpose; it’s a form of upcycling or something, probably. I will say that, strategically, it’s lacking, somewhat; it’s hard to make up for lost ground in Stella without a confluence of the right word, the right cards, and the right other players. This is probably an issue, but also, for the right party game, who cares, really? Stella has grown to be one of my favorite games to play with large groups on Board Game Arena, as well; it works well remotely and the asynchronous play doesn’t actually bring it down, either. If you’re looking for a party game that plays well with a lot of groups, you’re also overloaded on Dixit cards, or you’re just looking for a game with some nice art, I’d definitely recommend checking out Stella! It’s a lot of fun.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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