Astra is a casual connect-the-dots game where you compete to claim constellations. Each constellation gives you a new ability, but anyone who contributed to its discovery gets a perk, too!
The night sky is peppered with thousands of stars that we can see with the naked eye. And do you see that one? That one’s mine! Hi, it’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Here’s how you play Astra.
You and your friends play astronomers who are bringing famous constellations to life. You’ll spend stardust to claim stars on constellation cards using your coloured dry erase marker. When you colour in the last star on a card, that constellation comes to life and gives you a special reusable power. And anyone else who claimed a star on that card gets some kind of benefit too. When you drill down to a certain card in the draw deck, that triggers the end of the game. Whichever player has earned the most points from a variety of sources wins the game as the world’s most famous astronomer!
You can play Astra with 2-5 players. Here it is set up for a 4 player game. You’ve got a journal that has your pouch full of stardust – this is the stuff you’ll spend to colour in stars. This is a cap on the amount of stardust you can replenish later in the game, but as you see, you can eventually mark off these circles to increase the amount of stardust your pouch can hold. If you get any telescope tokens, you store them here – they’ll give you more flexibility and let you extend your turn whenever you colour in stars. And the bottom of your journal tracks your wisdom. The more wisdom you have, the more constellations you’ll be able to hold onto when you discover them. You also have a final scoring card that lets you earn points for the different constellation cards you collect. We’ll look at that a little later.
Off the top of your turn, you perform the Ability Phase, where you can activate your constellation cards to use their powers. But since this is the beginning of the game, you don’t have any constellation cards, so we’ll skip that bit and loop back around to it. After that, you move on to the Actions Phase. You have two options: you can either take one or more Observe Actions, or you can take a Rest Action. Resting is how you replenish your stardust supply and recharge your constellations’ abilities, so it doesn’t make any sense to do that right now either. So let’s take an Observe Action and colour in some stars!
When you observe, you get to pick one of the constellations in the middle of the table and colour in one of the stars on it. Each constellation has a starting star: if you’re the first player to colour a star on this card, you need to begin with that star. Each star you colour in costs you one nugget of stardust from your pouch. After you colour in one star on that card, you can colour in another if you have more stardust to spend, but you have to colour in a star that’s connected to the star you just marked. Stars are considered connected when there’s a white line between them. So this starting star is connected to these two stars. You could spend a second chunk of stardust to mark one or the other. But you couldn’t jump all the way over here and mark this one, because it’s more than one star away from the one you just coloured in.
So you can keep marking stars until you either run out of stardust to spend, or you decide you want to stop, or you reach a dead end where there are no more connected stars you can colour in. That’s your complete Observe Action finished. From that point, you can either end your turn, or you can spend a telescope token, if you have it, to take another Observe Action, which lets you keep marking one or more stars, either on the constellation you were just marking – so you could, for example, jump over to this star and start marking from there – or you can jump to an entirely different constellation card and start marking stars on that one. Note that it’s the spent telescope that allows you to do this: you can’t bounce around to unconnected stars or entirely different constellation cards within the same Observe Action. You can keep spending telescopes to keep extending your turn taking additional Observe actions, until you either decide to stop, or you run out of telescopes and/or stardust to spend.
At the beginning of a star-marking sesh, if you start with a card that already has some stars marked on it, the first star you mark has to be connected to a star that has already been marked. It doesn’t have to have been marked by you, but it could be. So in this example, you could start by marking this one or this one, but you couldn’t start over here, since that star isn’t connected to one that someone has already marked. Each constellation card is like a miniature maze, and by carefully choosing which stars to mark, you can head your opponents off at the pass.
Certain stars are all sparkly… if you manage to mark one of these special grand stars, you increase your wisdom by colouring in the leftmost empty circle on your wisdom track. Increasing your wisdom lets you hang on to more constellation cards, which we’ll talk about shortly.
You perform the Discovery Phase after either the Ability or Action phases – that’s when you check to see if you coloured in the last star on one or more constellation cards. If you did, you have discovered that constellation, and you get to claim the card and put it beneath your journal where it will give you some sort of special ability.
But before you go hogging all the stars and naming them after yourself, you have to give credit to the other astronomers who helped you discover that constellation.
Every player who isn’t you, who marked at least one star on the constellation you’re claiming, gets one of these prizes along the bottom of the card, which the game calls boons. The player who marked the most stars gets to choose a boon first, and you cross off that boon so it’s unavailable to the other contributors. Then the player who marked the next highest number of stars gets to choose a boon from the ones that remain. If two players who aren’t you marked the same number of stars on a card, they choose a boon simultaneously. They can both pick the same boon if they want to, or they can each pick a different boon – either way, cross off whatever gets picked.
We’ll see what the boons do in a sec.
After dealing with one constellation, if you’ve filled in any other constellations, you keep claiming those cards and letting contributing players choose their boons like the boon-choosers they are.
When you’ve claimed all of the constellations you’ve discovered, you have to figure out whether or not you can keep them. Your Wisdom track limits the number of constellations you can hang onto. Let’s say you discovered a third and fourth constellation by the end of your turn, but your wisdom track isn’t quite full enough to let you keep four cards. Sadly, you have to discard two of your constellation cards. You can get rid of the two you just discovered, or the two you already own, or a mix of both.
Once your Discovery Phase ends, refill the empty slots around the sphere board with cards from the deck.
Now that we’ve seen how you can discover constellations, let’s loop back to the beginning of your turn, where you get to use your constellations’ abilities. Here you are with two constellations you discovered on previous turns. Each card has an ability: Canis Minor lets you gain 1 wisdom, and Cetus lets you mark any star on an undiscovered constellation without spending any stardust. To use a constellation’s ability, you tip it sideways like this. Once you’ve exhausted a constellation, you can’t use its ability again until it gets refreshed, and we’ll see how that happens in a bit.
The constellations do all kinds of things for you, from gaining fame for every undiscovered card where you’ve marked a star, to getting you extra wisdom or telescope tokens. This one’s a horsey, this one gives you lupus, and this one makes you shake your booties. I dunno. There are 48 of them, so i’m not gonna go over each one in detail. But they’re all cool and interesting, and discovering them is part of the fun of the game.
There are a couple of ways you can refresh your exhausted constellations. Let’s look at one of them.
On your turn, instead of taking one or more Observe actions, you can take a Rest action. Resting lets you refill your pouch, and re-activate your constellations.
So first, look at the capacity of your pouch. It says 7 stardust, and you have 1 stardust, so you can take 6 more stardust to bring you up to your pouch limit of 7. This limit only matters when you refill your pouch by resting… if you get a boon or a special ability that nets you some stardust, you’re allowed to go over your pouch limit.
Then, you get to refresh your exhausted constellations so that you can use their abilities again on a later turn. But there’s a catch to which constellations you get to refresh. Each constellation is associated with a different element: earth, wind, and fire … and water. This token on the sphere board marks which element is active, and you can only refresh a constellation ability if its element matches that active element. So because element is active, you could refresh your Canis Minor card, but your Cetus card is aligned to water, so it stays exhausted.
Finally, the last step of your Rest Action is to move that token clockwise to the next element. If it crosses over this icon, you discard the top card of the draw pile, which brings you closer to reaching that trigger card and ending the game.
Once you take a rest action, your turn is finished – you can’t start spending telescopes to take Observe Actions, and likewise, you can’t take one or more Observe Actions and then finish your turn with a Rest. You either Observe or Rest during the Action Phase of your turn.
Now let’s look at the boons you can claim on a constellation card that another player discovers, but you’ve contributed to by marking one or more stars on it.
The Boon of Fame gets you the indicated number of Fame points. These Fame Points are what you need to win the game, and you mark them along the outside of your journal. i recommend you start by circling them, so that if you do a full lap, you can start colouring them in to indicate that you’ve gone around once.
The Boon of Stardust gets you the indicated number of stardust lumps, and you can take them in excess of your pouch limit.
The Boon of Observation gets you a certain number of telescope tokens.
The Boon of Improvement lets you increase your pouch size by a certain amount so that you can gain a higher number of stardust wads whenever you take a Rest Action.
The Boon of Wisdom lets you fill in Wisdom circles so you can hang on to more constellations. And the Boon of Activation lets you refresh a certain number of constellation cards, regardless of which element is active.
The draw deck has this special game-ending card that gets inserted at a different depth level at the beginning of the game, depending on your player count. If that card gets uncovered on the starting player’s turn, everyone else gets one more turn and the game ends. If someone other than the starting player uncovers that card, everyone finishes a turn until you get back around to the starting player, and then everyone at the table gets one more turn before the game ends. Then it’s time to score.
First, you score as many points as your pouch capacity. Pouch capacity’s 10? Get 10 points. Same with your wisdom – if the highest capacity you marked was 5, you get 5 points. Every 3 leftover stardust clod gets you a point. Every two stars you marked on undiscovered constellations around the sphere board get you a point. Each of your discovered constellation cards has a point value on it: if that constellation is active at the end of the game, you get that many points. Card is exhausted? No points a-for you!
Finally, you were dealt one of these scoring cards off the top of the game. Some of the boxes are already filled in. For every constellation you collected that’s tied to a certain element, you fill in a box in that element’s row. Doesn’t matter if the card is active or exhausted. You’ve got two water constellations, so you fill in the two leftmost empty boxes in the water row. When you’re finished, you’ll score a certain number of points for each row… 0, 2, 6, or 11 points if you filled in the whole row… and then, a certain number of points for each column. If you filled in 3 boxes in a column, you get 3 points, and if you filled in an entire column, you get 6 points. Write all those scores down and sum them all up in this corner of the card, then track those points along the edge of your journal.
Whoever ends up with the most points wins the game as the most famous astronomer, joining the ranks of Galileo or Madame Zora. In the case of a tie, all tied players share in the victory.
There’s a special set of rules if you want to try Astra with 2 players.
Pick a marker that will represent a dummy player, which the game calls the Dreamer. If you take a rest phase, pay attention to the number on the wedge that you move the sphere marker into. That’s how many stars you have to mark with the Dreamer pen.
Which stars do you mark? Well, if any of the constellations have zero marked stars, that’s the card you choose. If there’s a tie for unmarked stars, you pick the card with the most stars. And if that’s still a tie, you get to choose which card to mark. Otherwise, if every card has at least 1 mark on it, go with the card that has the most stars on it. And if that’s still a tie, you pick. Then, follow the rules to mark a number of stars matching the number on the sphere board, following the usual rules for marking stars.
Sometimes, the Dreamer will finish a constellation card, in which case you and your opponent get to choose boons as usual, with the player who marked the most stars getting first choice. Then, you discard the card.
Maybe you claim a card that both your opponent and the Dreamer have contributed to? If the Dreamer has marked more stars than your opponent, you cross out the two leftmost boons on the card before your opponent gets to choose a boon. But if your opponent has marked more stars than the Dreamer, your opponent gets to choose from the full range of boons.
To set up the game, lay down the sphere board that matches your player count. Shuffle the constellation cards and then count out a certain number of them – 29, 25, 18, or 11 for a 2, 3, 4, or 5 player game, and stick the game-ending card on top of that stack, and knock it out a tick so that everyone can see it coming. Then, place a certain number of cards on top of that – 19, 23, 30, or 37 depending on your player count – more players, more cards. At any point in the game, players are allowed to count how many cards are left until that game-ending card shows up, but you’re not allowed to look at the faces of the cards themselves. Flip one card face-up to start the discard pile, and the element on that card determines where the element marker starts. Fill the spots around the sphere board with undiscovered constellation cards from the draw deck.
Pile the stardust clods and the telescope tokens nearby, and then give everyone a journal, a marker, and 8 globs of stardust to start. Deal a final scoring card to each player, which should be kept secret until the end of the game. Whoever most recently saw a shooting star takes this token, and remains the starting player for the entire game. Play begins with that player, and continues around the table going clockwise.
And now, you’re ready to play Astra!
At 3:24, i explain that spending a telescope token allows you to take an additional Observe action, which lets you either keep marking stars on the same constellation you were just marking, or let you jump to a completely different constellation and mark some stars over there. But in my example, i depict the player marking a star on the same constellation that’s completely unconnected to any previously marked stars. That’s against the rules! You still have to follow all the star-marking rules when you spend a telescope, which means the next star you mark must be connected to an already-marked star (or it must be the “starting star,” if this is the first star to be marked on the card). Mea culpa!
Get Your Own Copy of Astra
Astra publisher Mindclash Games has, until now, launched games on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter – titles like Trickerion:Legends of Illusion and Anachrony. Astra marks a departure for the company, both in game complexity and in sales strategy — for the first time ever, you can skip Kickstarter and buy the game direct from the company’s website by following this link.