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designed by TOM SCHOEPS

3-5 players, playing time 30-45 minutes

reviewed by STEVE OWEN

One of four new games released by Goldsieber, this is a rather clever abstract game with some elegant window-dressing. Imagine a seven inch circular board on which appears a mixture of large and small stars. Some of these stars are linked together and all are set against the dark blue background of space. There are twelve boards in all, three of which are in play at any one time, each depicting a stylised constellation from the signs of the Zodiac. The constellations are not particularly accurate according to the ``New Atlas of the Universe'' but do look very attractive.

Each player has a number of markers, one of which is played each turn. The markers can be one of three types: a number (1-10), a doubling marker or a black hole. Some scope for bluffing is provided by the markers being placed face down on the large stars but face up on the small ones. Once a board is filled, and you can play to any board in circulation, scoring takes place. The winner receives a score equal to the number of stars in the constellation and the runner-up approximately two less (both numbers being printed on the board).Other players with markers on the same board gain a point for each one present which is paid out of the winner's earnings. This is a quirky rule which can mean, especially on the larger constellations, that it is more profitable to be second rather than first. As for the markers themselves, the numbers are counted normally but may be increased in value by an adjacent doubling marker of any colour. The black hole is the most powerful marker, causing the loss of every adjacent piece unless another is also a black hole in which case mutual annihilation occurs. Once a board is completed the next is turned over and all twelve take about forty minutes irrespective of the number of players.

So what's the attraction? Well it looks great, there is plenty of player interaction and it does reward devious play with those lurking black holes. As is usual with multi-player abstract games you retain most control with the least number of participants (in this case, 3). The 5 player version is still enjoyable but you need to be more in line with the main focus of activity and there is usually less room for manoeuvre.

Winning tips? 1. Keep your options open. 2. Decide between playing every board or monopolising a few. 3. Place at least one hidden marker on the majority of boards: it helps to disguise your intentions and also reveals fewer of your markers. 4. Bear in mind the potential drawback of winning on large constellations. 5. Remember that you recover all your markers from a completed board and it may pay to make a nondescript move to allow this. One rule which escaped me on the first few playings is that the black holes are not removed with their victims but remain to break ties if needed.

In summary, highly recommended if you have an interest in beautifully produced, intriguing abstract games.

(Ref: Mapping of the Constellations pp196-201 in ``The New Atlas of the Universe'' Patrick Moore 1988 Mitchell Beazley.)

Steve Owen

(SWD: There is a rule error in Steve's fourth sentence and I couldn't think of a way to correct it without destroying the structure of the sentence. Hence this footnote. The number of boards in play at any one time is equal to the number of players. Presumably Steve's first game was with three players and they omitted to go back to the rules when they subsequently tried it with more. Been there; done that!)

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Next: LINIE 1 Up: No Title Previous: DIE SIEDLER VON CATAN
Stuart Dagger