The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Twin Stars
Twin Stars: Adventure Series I is a solo micro-game system designed by Jason Tagmire and Mike Mullins and published by Button Shy Games. If you follow Button Shy Games at all, you know what to expect from them when they release a new game -- a wallet game featuring eighteen cards and possibly a few tokens. While Twin Stars does technically have eighteen cards which fit into a wallet sleeve, it isn’t one game, but six interconnected games that make up a solo system. Oh, and there’s also four dice and thirty tokens.
How does this work?
Twin Stars consists of six sets of three cards, with each set containing a scenario and two characters. Those sets of three cards, along with four dice and some tokens, make a series of playable solo micro-games. While each scenario has a suggested pair of characters to play, the scenarios and characters are all completely interchangeable, making 396 different potential gameplay combinations.
There are two versions of the game you can choose from. The first is a Wallet version that comes with twelve characters and six scenarios in a wallet sleeve, requiring you to supply your own dice and tokens. There is also a Deluxe version that includes four dice, thirty tokens, and a token pouch.
How do you play?
Each scenario gives you a goal, such as “escape to win” or “eliminate all Starfighters to win,” and a loss condition, such as “if either character runs out of health, you lose.” The scenario also gives you a list of paired symbols, and explains what those symbols do in that particular scenario. The symbols are stars, checks, and exclamation marks, with stars and checks being good and exclamation points being bad.
Each character has six slots that contain symbols and/or instant abilities -- one slot for each potential dice roll. Most slots will have symbols on them, but some will have instant effects that can be beneficial, such as allowing a character to gain a health. At the beginning of your turn, you’ll roll two dice and assign one to each character. If you assign them so they create a pair of symbols that match the scenario card, you’ll set off that effect. A pair of stars, for example, will allow you to move one space closer on the escape track in the Escape the Brig! scenario. A pair of exclamation points, however, will decrease your funding and reset your instrument precision in The Quark Star scenario. If you don’t create a pair of symbols that matches that scenario card, you will reroll one die and roll down the other one by one value, creating some interesting decisions.
The game continues until you either succeed or trigger the loss condition. Each scenario features multiple difficulty levels, with the easier levels giving you more energy tokens, which grant dice rerolls.
What’s it like?
Once characters and a scenario are selected, Twin Stars sets up in seconds. The basic gameplay is simple. Roll two dice, assign them, and resolve the effects. Then either roll down one die and reroll, or reroll both dice, and repeat. There are, however, some rules ambiguities and shortcomings, and some tracking of resources and meters for players to remember, along with special abilities and scenario specific effects.
Each scenario really does feel different due to the elasticity of the Twin Stars system. Since the symbol pairs have different functions in each scenario, it allows for a lot of narrative freedom. The actions in the Escape the Brig! scenario really make you feel like you are trying to escape before being caught by the guard. In the Rule the World! scenario, you do feel like you are charging an Ion Cannon while being attacked by Liberation forces.
Pros: Twin Stars is a small package with a small footprint, making for an ideal solo game for an airline tray table or similarly limited situation. The gameplay features some interesting decisions, as managing your characters' health and your resources can be tricky when the dice rolls don't cooperate. The game does not overstay its welcome at the table, playing in about fifteen to twenty minutes. Twin Stars features a nice use of the generic space theme, as each scenario plays with various tropes in fun ways. The cute alien characters also helps sell the theme, and lampshade characters from popular sci-fi franchises.
Cons: The game, at its core, is dice reliant, and won’t work for anyone that is unwilling to accept dice randomness in games. The tokens that track player’s health and the scenario goals can be a bit difficult to manipulate, as in some cases they are a bit too big for their intended functions. The rules to the Twin Stars system, while simple, have aspects that were not explained clearly, and some edge cases I had trouble figuring out. (Since the time of writing, Jason Tagmire has released a how-to-play video, which hopefully alleviates some of the rules confusion I had.)
For anyone that regularly plays board and card games solo, Twin Stars is a no-brainer, especially at its price point. With twelve characters, six scenarios, and multiple difficulty levels, Twin Stars provides hours of unique, fresh, engaging gameplay for the solo gamer.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Twin Stars from the publisher.