Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Aligning the symbols

When we play The Stars Are Right, I often joke about how much I hate it, but that's not really true. It really is a fun little game, and what I don't like is that my brain just isn't wired the right way to be good at it.

There are two elements to the game: a deck of cards, from which every player holds a hand of five, and a 5x5 grid of double-sided tiles in the center of the table. The tiles are printed with different symbols, and the idea is that each player needs to manipulate these tiles so that the symbols appear in the right patterns to bring their cards (representing Lovecraft's Great Old Ones and their minions) into play.

It's a lot harder than it sounds. Cards are printed with a particular pattern of symbols, which need to be found in the 5x5 grid in order to play the card. The more powerful the creature on the card, the more complex the pattern, and the more points the card is worth when played.

The cards are also printed with different combinations of moves that allow players to either flip a tile over (revealing the symbol on the other side) swap the places of two adjacent tiles, or push a whole row so that all five tiles move up one space, moving the tile on the end to the opposite side of the row. In this way, the symbols in the grid of tiles are constantly shifting and changing as players try to align the symbols in the right way to get their creatures into play.

Since the tiles are constantly shifting (especially in a game with three or four players), it is virtually impossible to plan more than one move ahead. If you need multiple turns to get the symbols aligned to play your Cthulhoo or Hastur card, chances are something is going to change between now and then, destroying your carefully laid plans. Maybe this is why Lovecraftian cultists are always insane...

It's really a game about spotting opportunities and seizing them. I tend to be a deliberate, methodical thinker, and I always want to win with the big, impressive creatures rather than the small, easier to play ones, so I'm always trying to control the board. And in this game, the board is uncontrollable.

Fortunately, I know the difference between a bad game and a good game that I'm just not very good at, and I don't need to be good at a game to enjoy playing it.

Rating 3 (out of 5) Too chaotic to allow for much in the way of strategy, but definitely an exercise in thinking on your feet.

Date played: October 18, 2014

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