Board Game Review

Intergalactic Feng Shui (Stellium)

This review is also available in a galaxy near you, on Zatu, here!

When it comes to organisation, more often than not people fall into two categories; chaotic and ordered. You’ll either enjoy having nice neat piles, labelled pen pots, and specific houses for knick-knacks. Or, you’ll put something down and that will be its home until moved, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just how we function. Some people require a designated area for oddities and such to feel comfortable, and some people don’t! However, there’s no scope to hate on those who don’t follow your organisation… We don’t all follow the same categorisation groove. But everyone has a chaotic phase, probably part of growing up! It most often happens when you’re a teen – moving clean laundry around the room to avoid putting it away may well be an Olympic sport for some.

Stellium, published by Ankama and developed by Rémi Saunier, is a game of pure organisation, but on a galactic scale! You’ll be putting things in an order, placing things just right, making it an aesthetic spectacle… Whilst also spiting you’re other Universal Architects!

How To Play

Stellium is a pattern building game with a very abstract edge. It requires a keen eye, situational awareness, and a good understanding of cause and effect. The game has a similar style setup each time and has a relatively small footprint compared to other pattern based games. There’s an element of drafting, pattern recognition, and cause and effect throughout.

Players are the Architects of the Universe, they need to place drafted celestial bodies (marbles) to meet objectives. The aim of the game is to earn the most Victory Points (VP) by completing these objectives using corresponding marbles. These are placed on discs (galaxies), on the board (universe), and have different effects, allowing players to do different things.

Drafting marbles isn’t a unique concept in itself, many games rely on it as their main mechanic. What sets Stellium as unique is that the marbles are drafted blind, but are textured to correlate to their types. Players get time to feel in the bag to try to find the specific celestial body they need. However, what’s drafted won’t always be the one on their objective card!

To begin, the board is constructed, objective cards shuffled and eight set out, and galaxies populated. To do this, four bodies are drafted and placed in the indicated spots in each galaxy. After this, players take turns to run the sequence of the game – draft, place, activate influence and claim objectives, and draw new objectives. Players can use any celestial body’s ability instead of the drafted one, once, using their influence tokens.

Celestial Bodies come in four varieties: comets, supernovas, planets, and stars.

  • Planets allow you to swap another planet and any other adjacent celestial body
  • Supernovas allow you to move any celestial body adjacent to a black hole into it
  • Comets allow you to knock other celestial bodies in a line, replacing the first body in the line and moving them adjacently until a blank is filled or something leaves the universe
  • Stars allow you to rotate a galaxy up to 360°, but not full circle

Anytime an objective is fulfilled, all but one celestial body used to complete the objective is removed. Also, whenever a galaxy is emptied it is refilled by drafting four bodies in the same way as in setup. The game is won when any player attains the set number of VP, determined by the player count.

How It Feels to Play

Stellium is a game where you’ll feel like you’re taking your time, but you’ll fly through it. So long as you’ve got a game plan and more than one objective to achieve, you’re never left stuck. The objectives can be achieved in a multitude of ways across the board, and can be done through any number of body additions to the board.

The game’s unique drafting mechanism means that you’re not able to blame bad drafts. It’s not random, and therefore controlled within a skill set. Each celestial body feels different to the other, and is identifiable visually too on the board. The influence of each body is also unique enough to make the choice important, but useful enough to help regardless! Comets are the prime example; you’ll always want them to make straight up movements. That snooker ball effect is majestically beautiful in that it can make things fall into place visually. You literally move the heavens to achieve your goal. Chances are though, you may not get what you need. So you can plan ahead for next time, focus on achieving another objective, or set yourself up to ruin everyone else’s plans. Objectives may be secretly held, but you’ll see what people are trying to do throughout.

There’s clear competition in Stellium, but the game never allows itself to feel stressful. The beauty of pattern based games is that they don’t present themselves as ones requiring aggression (speaking from experience). You’re usually focussed on moving, placing, and correlating to win. No element of direct “take-that” whatsoever. Stellium follows this mostly, but with a smidge of interference. It allows you to know that you’re trying to beat the opposition, but you’ll have little idea of what they’re doing. As far as you’re aware, they’re simply constructing the galaxies, as are you. Only once you claim a pattern are you showing and level of offence to others, and even then they can’t do anything about it. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw on top of your opponents’ jigsaws, but everyone’s pieces can fit together. Recognising what can go where is a skill… Being able to claim three objectives at once using a single body’s influence is an art.

The game can feel quite heavy on its focus requirement. If you’re a fan of the tactical play and the long game, this is perfect. It’s not a game for anyone who doesn’t enjoy thinking! Stellium can be quite daunting at first – there’s a fair amount to consider. However, it never feels like it’s going to take long to achieve an objective as everything you need will be on the board. What does take time is lining up the correct celestial bodies to best trigger the perfect situations to claim them. You’ll want them in a way so you’re not going to claim just one objective, but you’re going to be ready to claim another next time!

Final Thoughts

Stellium is a game you’ll definitely remember when thinking about any pattern games. All pattern building games are different from one another; Azul is very different to Kingdomino, but the patterns are there. The biggest difference amongst most is how you place generate the patterns needed. Stellium is different in both its drafting and cause/effect mechanics. Its unique mechanics, lovely theme and excellent modular board set it aside from other pattern games, and give it more than some other pattern builders. Nothing beats the feeling of rotating a galaxy to match a pattern, or knocking a planet into the sweet spot for another big play. It’s a game of patience and keen eyes.

This is a clear choice for us when we fancy something that requires a good think. A game that stretches the mind and requires a plan. A real tactician’s game, but without the stress. The beautiful aesthetic this game presents is truly magnificent – it’s a really eye catching game when on the table! What’s more is the beauty this holds in the light. It’s not quite the majesty of the cosmos, but it holds its own in terms of how pretty it is! We’d recommend it as a pattern builder above others, but only if you can plan! So contact Houston, shoot for the stars, and watch for rotating galaxies and black holes!