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Sword of the Stars: Control! Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look: Sword of the Stars: Control!

Designer: Martin Cirulis
Artist: N/A
Publisher: Kerberos Productions
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 3-5
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 10+ min (variable)

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Sword of the Stars: Control! All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


tl;dr: Quick and dirty area control with a little take that, needs either more or less theme.

Getting to the Game: Six planets are laid out in the center of the play area. Each starts out with a single civilian counter. Shuffle the huge stack of cards, leaving out the "Cease Fire" card. Add that card randomly to the bottom 30 cards, and then deal three cards to each player from the top of the deck.

Quoting from the rulebook: "Each player is an aspiring warlord seeking control of a galactic sector. The six suits of numbered cards represent the alien armies best suited for life on six different planets." The object here is to use the cards in your hand and match their suits to the planets, while also making sure that the sum of the values of the cards are higher than the current cards there. Succeed, and you take over the planet, adding the number of cards you just played to the population of the planet. When the Cease Fire card is drawn, it signals one more round for everyone (including the player who drew the card), and then... I dunno. The intergalactic negotiators have sued for peace, perhaps? Regardless, the highest total controlled population wins the round. You can either play to a total score or a set number of rounds.

Playing the Game: Even though you start the game with three cards in your hand, you'll draw two every turn, and your hand limit at the end of the turn is seven. In practice, this is enough to stockpile the cards you want, so escalating the conflicts feels about right. The game also limits you to one invasion per turn, which also feels solid and prevents someone from holding high cards until the last round, sniping a ton of points. Control! also provides "Spec Ops" cards in the deck, which allow for powerful abilities like nuking all life on the planet (but only if you immediately move at least one of your armies there?), assassinating an army card from an enemy world, adding 5 civilian colonists to a world you control, and so on. A round takes 10 minutes or so, if everyone's playing quickly, and overall, time and mechanics suit each other nicely. This is a fun mix of escalating conflicts and has the perfect amount of interaction and messing with your opponents' plans.

My main problem with the game is the theme. Kerberos is a video game development house, so I understand their background is different from the average board game designer. Sword of the Stars: Control! bills itself as "A fast-paced card game of planetary conquest." The names of the planets are ridiculous, and could just as easily be something far more pronounceable (even, say, planets in our solar system). When you move armies to a planet, you're moving "alien species capable of living and fighting well" on that particular planet. Where did these aliens come from? If you move an army of two cards, totaling say ten strength, you increase the "civilian population" of the planet by two, the number of cards you played. Where did these civilians come from? When you eliminate army cards from a planet, that action doesn't reduce the civilian population, so it's not the armies themselves. Nuking a planet "destroys all armies and civilians on a planet," but you can't play that card unless you have an army card to immediately play there. Who are these soldiers you're sentencing to a fallout-ridden world to do body cleanup?

This might seem like nitpicking, but there's intentional flavor in place here, and it doesn't make sense in the universe it's creating. There's no reason this couldn't be a game about colonizing our own solar system with each player taking control of a mega-corporation acquiring terraforming tech unique to each planet's atmosphere. It could also just as easily be about different species of pollinating insects dropping off unique flora to different regions of a farm. The game seems built to encourage direct conflict between players, and while that works within the game mechanics, it doesn't seem like design space was dedicated to much beyond that. It's a shame, because there's real potential here if the theme was more grounded.

Artwork and Components: There's not much art to speak of, which could very easily be due to the prototype and not indicative of the final design. Currently, each planet is a generic circle with a symbol superimposed over the top. Each of the cards contains only a number and that symbol. The box art shows planes, quadcopters, and tanks, but there's no in-game differentiation. 


The components of the preview copy I have are placeholder, so I won't belabor that too much. The planets are a little big to keep in front of you if you control more than two or so. The civilization clips at the top of the planets are decent and don't suffer from the dreaded Betrayal at House on the Hill slippage.

The Good: Quick, satisfying gameplay. Spec Ops cards provide nice variety.

The Bad: Theme is silly and inconsistent. 

Score: Overall, Control! is in no way a bad game, it just feels it's just trying to be more than it is. If it embraced the simple nature of its gameplay, it would be a solid addition to anyone's quick-game collection. As it stands currently, there's not enough here to warrant a recommendation, but if the art, components, or theme change, it would be worthy of a look. I'm giving Sword of the Stars: Control! a score of Out of Control.


About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Sword of the Stars: Control! Kickstarter Preview Sword of the Stars: Control! Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on August 08, 2018 Rating: 5

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