Join me for a look to the stars in this review of Astra from Mindclash Games, a game about stargazing where players are attempting to bring the gods, legendary heroes, and creatures to life by discovering their constellations.
Players who spot the last star in the constellation get to claim its card but everyone who helped fill the card will get a reward. Determining what’s the better option is the heart of Astra.
Disclosure: Thank you to Mindclash Games for letting us take a review copy of Astra home from Origins 2023. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these costs you nothing but may earn us a small commission on eligible items.
What is the stargazing board game Astra all about?
Astra comes from the design team of Patrik Porkoláb, Frigyes Schőberl, and Eszter Krisztina Sas. It features some very pretty artwork from Csilla Fekete. It was published in 2022 by Mindclash Games, who have been known for heavier games like Anachrony and Perseverance.
Astra is an area majority, set collection, point salad, for two to five players. Games take forty-five minutes to an hour, based mainly on the player count. The box says ages 10+, but we could see some younger players also enjoying it.
In Astra players are ancient astronomers determined to explore and understand the various constellations. Gameplay has players spending stardust to mark stars off on constellation cards. The player to mark the last star on a card collects the card and can use its abilities, but every other player who helped along the way gets a reward. The game features an interesting mix of give and take and simple rules that hide surprising depth.
Get a look at the great artwork, oversized cards, and other components of this game in our Astra Unboxing Video on YouTube.
There you can see the game’s smallish and very solid box, some very nice oversized laminate cards, dry erase markers, stardust crystals, telescope markers, two sided player boards, the rulebook, and a few other components.
Component quality here really is great and features the best dry erase cards and boards I’ve ever written on.
One minor issue that I want to call out is that when you first get the game the cards, due to their plastic coating, tend to stick together. Be aware of this when sorting out the cards for your first game. When first assembling the deck we had to recount three times as we kept finding cards stuck together.
I also want to call out the rulebook for being extremely clear and complete, with reference pages for every card in the game.
How to play Astra
Setting up Astra is pretty quick. You take the deck of constellation cards, shuffle it, and pull off a number of cards based on the player count. You then put the game end card, slightly askew, on top of these and put the remaining cards on top of that. You then flip up and discard one card, starting the discard pile.
Place the appropriate round main board at the centre of the table and draw and place cards around it. The board you place and number of cards that go out are based on the player count. You then place the sphere marker on the element shown on the card that you discarded from the deck a moment ago.
Each player collects a player board, eight stardust tokens, and a dry-erase marker in the colour of their choice. Each player also gets a rule summary and scoring card.
These scoring cards give the game some asymmetry. One side of the scoring cards has some information that should be hidden from other players.
The player who last saw a shooting star starts the game.
On a player’s turn, they first have a chance to activate any or all of their active constellation cards that they collected on previous turns. They then choose one of two actions, observe or pass.
When a player chooses to observe, they mark off a number of stars on a single constellation card in play equal to the amount of stardust they are willing to spend. Astra has very specific rules for what you can fill out during an observe action. To start with, the first star being filled in on any card has to be the shooting star (each card has only one). You also can’t branch your path, and there’s no doubling back.
When observing, if you fill in a grand star, represented on the cards by a starburst symbol, you get to mark off one wisdom on your player board. The amount of wisdom you have determines how many cards you can have in your tableau. Also, your end game wisdom level will score you some points.
At the end of each player’s turn, you check to see if any of the cards now have every star on them filled in. When this happens, the player who filled in the last star on the card gets to take the card. Before they do any other players who marked at least one star on that card get a bonus.
Each card lists four different bonuses and players get a choice of these based on area majority rules. The player who helped the most (filled in the most stars) gets the first pick of the bonuses. The player who filled in the second most stars then gets to pick from what’s left. This continues until all players who have contributed pick their bonus.
Note that the player taking the card gets to keep the card and doesn’t get any of these bonuses. The card itself is their reward. Once all completed cards are claimed, new cards are added to any vacancies created.
The card bonuses include things like giving a player more stardust, awarding points, increasing the size of your stardust bag (which gives you more stardust when you rest and is worth points at the end), readying exhausted cards, or collecting telescope tokens.
Telescope tokens can be spent on a player’s turn, after taking an observe action, to take another observe action. This is one of the few ways that a player can complete a constellation card on their own as it is a way to take two different branch paths or to fill in different sections of the same card.
The other action you can take is to pass. In this case, you collect stardust up to your stardust pouch value. You also ready any constellation cards that match the element the sphere marker is on and then move the sphere marker clockwise. This may cause you to have to discard a card off the top of the deck.
It may be worth passing even if you still have stardust in order to ready some of your cards, but be aware that when resting you collect stardust up to your pouch value and never beyond it.
As for the constellation cards themselves, every card you collect in Astra has an ability on it and is also worth points at the end of the game, as long it is ready. You can use the abilities on these cards at the start of your turn and each turn you can use as many ready cards as you want.
The abilities on the cards do all kinds of interesting things. These include letting you draw for free, collecting stardust, drawing on more than one constellation a turn, earning points for filing in grand stars, and a lot more.
When you use a card it becomes exhausted. Be aware you can only hold as many cards as the wisdom level on your player board indicates. If you gain more cards than you can hold you have to discard down to your wisdom limit. Cards become readied when you pass at the right time as well as by various card abilities and bonuses.
Play continues until you hit the end of game card which gives clear instructions on whether anyone gets another turn. You play through any remaining turns and then everyone totals their points.
Players will have earned some points during the game through bonuses and card abilities. To that total, they will add the point value of all of their readied cards, the value of their current stardust bag size, their current wisdom value, and then points for collecting sets of cards.
The score card that each player gets at the beginning of a game of Astra shows a grid with all four card elements. On each card, two elements will start with one square already crossed off.
During end game scoring, players will add marks for each of the elements of the cards they have collected. Collecting three or more different elements is worth points as is collecting two or more cards of the same element, with the best score being awarded for holding four cards of the same element.
Whoever has the most points wins. In the case of a tie, tied players share the victory.
Astra surprised me in a few ways.
The most shocking thing to me about Astra is that it comes from Mindclash Games, the people behind my favourite board game of all time Anachrony. The only thing these two games have in common, except for the publisher, is that their names both start with the letter A.
Anachrony is a big meaty game, an epic game experience in both production quality and gameplay. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Astra features a nice quick playtime and basic mechanics that are easy to learn and master.
That said, Astra is no party game. Games of Astra often go longer than half an hour and while the mechanics are easy to understand, the decisions you have to make aren’t easy.
I really enjoy the simplicity and purity of Astra. There are only two options to choose from each turn, at least until you collect a few cards. You either draw some stars or pass.
Trying to figure out what to draw, where to draw, and how much, is quite tactical and strategic. Then there’s the decision of what cards you want to try to collect. Do you go for abilities, cards of specific elements to complete sets, or cards that are worth the most points?
Maybe you don’t want to collect many cards at all. You will quickly notice when playing Astra that the bonus rewards for players who help can be much more valuable than the actual cards themselves. You can’t completely ignore collecting cards though, as the end game set scoring can cause a huge swing in points.
I have also found Astra to be a fantastic public play game. This is a board game that I can get set up and running in minutes. It’s also a game that works just as well at all player counts from two to five. The artwork, oversized cards, and bright marker colours catch people’s attention and the theme is very approachable.
My wife and oldest daughter are the ones who really love Astra. It was Deanna who convinced me to ask for a review copy at Origins after we played a short demo game. She still loves it and often requests I bring it with us when heading out to a public play event she will be at as it’s also a game she is willing to teach.
As for me, I don’t love it quite as much as her but I have been enjoying my plays of Astra. The game grew on me the more I played it, as I started to discover various combos you could make out of the card abilities.
Now I know others, including my podcast co-host Sean, who are totally turned off by the theme in this game. While he enjoyed the mechanics, the theme actually made the game less fun for him.
One of the things I try to do with any game we review is to play it with different groups of gamers. Doing this with Astra has proved interesting. It surprised me just how different the game plays depending on who you play it with. Everyone seems to have their own strategy that they like.
Some players are all about spending every bit of stardust they have every turn, resting often and winning a lot of majorities. Other players like to make sure they have at least one star on each constellation card so they get a bonus no matter what happens. Then there are players who focus on collecting cards and using the powers on them to pull off some very cool combos.
I’ve played with players who try to never rest, and players who rest all the time so they can keep using and re-using their cards. The best part of all of this is that I haven’t seen any one strategy that seems to dominate any of the others.
Overall Astra ended up being better and more popular than I expected. Sure it was initially a huge surprise to me when I compared it to Mindclash’s other games but it’s not strange for a publisher to have a wide mix of game styles in their collection.
I was more surprised by how the game grew on me the more I played it and the more depth I discovered with each. I was also shocked by just how well it has worked at public play events and for hooking new gamers.
If you are into stargazing, constellations, or maybe even star signs, I don’t know of many other games with this theme and it’s probably worth checking out Astra just for that reason. With its easy to learn mechanics and constantly engaging gameplay, it’s probably going to be a hit.
Similarly, if you know someone who’s into these things Astra could be a great gift. The rules are approachable enough that even non-hobby gamers should be able to pick them up.
Even if the theme does nothing for you, I suggest seeing if there’s a way you can try Astra out. There’s more going on here than just colouring in stars. The area majority and bonus mechanics are really solid and the set collection scoring is extremely tight.
What you aren’t going to find here is an epic game night filled with back and forth, where you are building an engine and giving yourself more and more options each round, or where players fight over who gets to do what and try to save the world at the same time. For that kind of experience check out Mindclash’s other games like Anachrony or Trickerion.
Honestly, I think the biggest shock to me about Astra is how much Sean didn’t like the game just because of its theme. It just goes to show how much the theme of a game can matter. For another example of this check out our review of boop., the abstract strategy game that wouldn’t be the hit it is without its cute cat based theme.
What’s a game that you think is a solid game but that you have no interest in playing because of its theme? Tell me about it in the comments below!