A perennial favorite at my game table is Suburbia, the classic game of urban planning. Suburbia challenges players to build up different districts to make the best city, and includes interaction effects, like your airports are more valuable if other players have airports too. If you’ve played Suburbia, you’ll understand when I say Among the Stars from Artipia Games is basically Suburbia in space.
Among the Stars is a competitive game for 2-4 players (more with expansions) and takes between 30 and 60 minutes to play. The mechanics are fairly simple. Each in-game year, the players start with a hand of square cards, and use a drafting mechanism (take one, pass your hand to the next player) to select the cards they want. Each card can be played onto a player’s station at a cost in “credits”, discarded for credits, or replaced by building a power reactor. Each power reactor has two “power cubes” which can be used to power nearby cards. The station builds up on a square grid, but can be anything from perfectly square to long and linear.
When a card is played, it may have an immediate or end-game scoring effect. Immediate effects score either a flat amount or an amount based on the location of the card, number of similar cards, or number of cards in other stations. End-game scoring usually depends on the number of similar cards (same colors, which indicate station function like red for military) in your station, which can drive specialization.
One of the things I like about both Suburbia and Among the Stars is the simplicity of the rules. I can teach Among the Stars in 5 minutes and have players up and running at a reasonable level of proficiency. At the same time, making decisions about which cards to keep or pass, where to place station cards, and how to manage power can be complex and deep. The combination of the two makes for a really fun game.
It’s probably obvious, but I highly recommend Among the Stars. It plays best with three or four because of the interaction, but it’s still fun at two players. The expansions add some interesting wrinkles and more players, but the base game is a ton of fun in a relatively short time to play.