Subastral Review

31 December 2021
A smart follow up to Stellar

This article originally appeared in issue 62 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.

Back in 2020, designers Ben Pinchback and Chris Riddle released the stargazing two player card-drafter Stellar. This year they’ve teamed up with prolific illustrator Beth Sobel for its spiritual sequel Subastral; a clever set collection game which diverts our gaze from the skies and points
them toward the diverse biomes around us.

Despite this more focused and grounded setting, Subastral expands the player count to five whilst still practicing the former’s quietly contemplative, crunchy gameplay.

Players will be compiling research notes in the form of their individual card displays, competing to create the largest mixed and matched sets.

Each turn follows the same structure of playing a biome card to one of the columns of clouds comprising the central display before choosing to take any stack of biomes from either the right or left of the card placed. This is Subastral’s ingenious and frequently agonising quirk. Unlike similar games, cards can never be played into players’ tableaus directly from their hand. Indeed, if Diana Ross were here, she’d likely agree that – much like love – Subastral is a game of give and take, and frequently just as cruel. You may have every hope of picking up the card you just played on a future turn, but there’s always the looming feeling that you’ve just delivered it straight into an opponent’s lap.

Furthermore, the game’s decision to have players choose biomes from either the left or right isn’t for the simple luxury of offering a broader choice, but conversely to add another hurdle to players’ strategies. Only cards taken from the right of the played card will find their way into players’ tableaus, with those taken from the left being added to their hand. This introduces some clever hand management as players identify which card will give them access to the desired column.

Overall, this is a smart follow up to Stellar, with plentiful depth hidden in its surprisingly snappy playtime.

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Designer: Ben Pinchback & Chris Riddle

Publisher: Renegade Games

Time: 15-30 minutes

Players: 2-5

Ages: 10+

Price: £18

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