11 January 2019
Before There Were Stars is a dice-drafting storytelling game of arranging constellations to form the creation myth of your people. Look, I have 250 words to boil down a unique, complex game to a pithy outline so you can decide if you’re interested: sometimes the opening lines will be a bit confusing.
You roll a big handful of dice (gorgeous, with stars for pips) and draft the result to choose two face-up constellation cards, which form the basis of a chapter of the myth or legend you have to make up. Each chapter takes about a minute to tell so it isn’t over-arduous. Players put beads into your offering bag depending on how much they liked the chapter, and after four chapters the story’s done and the player with the most beads wins.
It’s a recognisable descendant of Once Upon a Time and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, two games with my name on the cover, so I’m flattered as hell. At the same time I know the pitfalls of designing story-heavy games, and the main one is: should you reward players for good gameplay or for good storytelling? And if you’re rewarding storytelling, how can you stop the best storyteller from always winning?
Before There Were Stars does a decent job: the stories are cleverly structured, the constellations are well-chosen and the format is friendly and encouraging to novices. But the only real strategy on offer is ‘Tell the best story you can’, and for a lot of gamers that’ll be frustrating.
If you’re not already into storytelling games this will not convert you to the cause, but if you see games as a way to flex your creativity then this is a great, memorable and often funny way to spend time with friends. As a game it’s okay, but as an experience it’s lovely.
Designer: Alex Cutler, Alex Graffeo-Cohen, Matt Fantastic
Artist: Marthy Angue
Time: 40-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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