Open Seat Gaming: Triple Threat Review - Stellar Leap
Description: Explore the galaxy in Stellar Leap! Take on the role of an alien species as you discover new planets and complete missions in this family-friendly space exploration game. Become the most prestigious alien species in the galaxy by completing missions, discovering new planets, increasing population, and fulfilling your hidden trait’s objective.
Each turn, the active player rolls 2 dice which trigger resource production on planets that match the individual dice and the sum of the dice. The player can manipulate these results using their species power or the universal power. After collecting resources, the player performs up to 2 high command actions and up to 3 division actions. Division actions are specific things like mining asteroids or completing missions and each of the 3 divisions has a unique action usable once per turn. High command actions can be used on any of the non-divisional actions like populating, exploring, attacking, or taxing for additional resources.
Events are triggered by certain thresholds being met, such as every player having a certain amount of population on planets or all missions of a level being completed, and the end game is triggered once 6 event cards have been revealed. The round is finished (so that each player has had the same number of turns) and then prestige is counted. You earn prestige for planets explored, players attacked, population on planets, and also your hidden trait card. The player with the most prestige wins!
Marti: Weird Giraffe Games has been on our radar since Sarah and I met Carla, the head Giraffe, at PAX Unplugged 2017. Since then, we've kept an eye on everything that she's been doing, and we even did a preview of Fire in the Library, which they're also publishing.
Stellar Leap was definitely of interest to us, with its unique art and fun theme, and Scott got it from the Weird Giraffe booth at Origins. The first time we cracked it out, we fell in love with the game, and it's hit the table multiple times since.
The game is super engaging from the beginning until the end, and I really appreciate that there are so many different paths that you can take to victory. You're being guided by your hidden objective, sure, but 1) you get to pick from 2 different objectives at the beginning of the game and 2) there are tons of other ways to score points as well. If you want to push population, you can. If you want to discover a ton of planets, you can!
The events are probably my favorite part of the game. There are tons of ways that they get triggered and they're basically your endgame timer. There are several different types of events and they all change up gameplay, even if it's just a little bit. That constant adjusting and changing what you're doing just adds another layer to your strategy.
The love that was put into this game is absolutely obvious. Carla even kicked in for a stretch goal after the fact, which provided players with a recessed player board. Let me tell you, it wasn't necessarily needed, but it is super appreciated and I think that larger publishers can and should learn from this attention to detail that benefits players in immense ways. I never had to worry about bumping the cubes or messing up my resource counts.
Sarah: Stellar Leap gives you a myriad of paths to victory. With each player having their own unique hidden objective, you can focus on different strategies than your opponents. Your hidden trait cards also tell you how many points you get per the number of leftover resources at the end. I like that you don't feel like you have wasted your resources in the end if you don't happen to be able to use them all.
You can focus on exploring the galaxies and racking up points for your discovered planets and asteroids, or focus on spreading your population throughout space, or focus on your resources very well and complete a lot of missions with your Intel action each turn. You get to set up your own strategy and decide for yourself what is your best path every time your play. This makes the replayability of Stellar Leap exponential.
Especially appreciated are the universal and species powers for dice mitigation. You can either use your own power, or the universal power that everyone may access, to change the value of your rolled dice in the manner described on the card. This can help you immensely when it comes to what planets are activated for resource production. It was exciting to see how fruitful each player's differing strategies could be.
We didn't utilize attacks, even though they could have given plenty of endgame points, because we don't generally like ultra attacky games and we enjoyed the other parts of the game better. I like that the players can decide for themselves whether it is worth the effort to attack or not, and that it isn't essential to the game as a whole.
The overall production quality from art to components is superb. One of the most impressive components of Stellar Leap are the player boards. For each resource and action type, you have recessed tracks within the board which helps you prevent losing your place in case you were to bump one of your cubes. I am definitely impressed with Weird Giraffe Games for being able to implement such an exquisite player board. It also shows off your species, lists what things activate events, shows you how many discoveries and attacks you need to get end game point bonuses, in addition to tracking your four resources and five possible actions. Each species' meeples, which track your population in the game, are distinctive to their species and well crafted. The player aid cards are very organized and double sided, most questions you may have about gameplay have an answer on the player aid that each player has. The card art is excellent and gives each planet its own feeling, too.
Scott: This past summer was my first Origins and a lot of the time was spent visiting the booths of companies we like, saying hi, and checking out their offerings. I bought a lot more things than I had intended to, and Stellar Leap was one of them. Carla is a lovely person, I had met her at Unpub earlier in the year, and her excitement and passion for the game were palpable and infectious. Between her spirited discussion and Marti/Sarah's interest in the game I decided to pick it up. I'm glad I did because it's become my favorite game that I got from Origins (of the ones I've played thus far)!
The rules do a good job of laying out all the options you have for actions on your turn, and it seems like a lot up front but once you start your first game it all quickly comes together. The player aids are among the best I've ever played with and give you helpful reminders of all the actions and core game mechanics. You can tell the game was created with love as the components are all great, especially the recessed player boards that give you slots/tracks for cubes. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing other creators go this route with their games!
The gameplay is tight and very thematic. The pacing of the game is good, and you have enough actions on your turn to feel like you're making progress but not enough that the inactive players spend long periods of time not doing anything. Events being the game length tracker is really nifty, it means you can speed up or slow down the end-game by paying attention to how close you are to a trigger, and I really like that. The events themselves are varied and interesting, some are one-time effects and others are ongoing and change things for better or worse for the remainder of the game.
Try, Buy, Deny: If you want a game that makes you feel like you are exploring planets and galaxies, Stellar Leap is definitely for you and it is a buy. It definitely takes the 4x (exploration, expansion, exploitation, extermination) and puts it into a much more reasonable timeframe. The game is engaging, exciting, and keeps you engaged until the end of tallying scores. Even if you're into larger scale and heavier space exploration games, it's worth trying - it could be a welcome addition to your collection because it scratches the 4x itch!
You can order Stellar Leap from the Weird Giraffe Games website. It is $49, and well worth the price as well.
Marti, Scott, and Sarah