Looking at The Stars Are Right on the shelves, you’d notice a few things: it’s a Steve Jackson game (maker of Munchkin), the shape of the box is oddly familiar (same box shape as other Munchkin boxes), and the creatures depicted on the box are Lovecraftian(ish) cartoons by Goomi (artist for Munchkin Cthulhu). So it’s a Munchkin game! YAY!!! (or BOO!!! whichever way you tend to lean).
Except, it’s not a Munchkin game. In fact, I’m a little pressed to call it a game at all. Strictly speaking, while The Stars Are Right fits the textbook definition of a game, at its core, it’s really little more than a spatial puzzle– one you try to solve faster than everyone else at the table with strategic placement of cards.
You play the role of a cultist– as you do in any Cthulhu inspired game where you aren’t playing one of the hopeless saps (aka investigators) trying to keep the ancient beasties from inevitably waking. And your goal as a cultist is to invoke the power of said indescribable horrors to manipulate the night sky, aligning the stars to summon more and more powerful tentacly critters. Except you have rival cultists trying to wrest control of the night sky from you to raise their own servitors and elder gods.
Mechanically, the game is not at all complex. You start the game with fairly limited options, slowly escalating as you recruit more beings with unpronounceable names. And at most, you’re simply using three separate actions– in different sequence and combination– to jostle the stars into alignment. Learning the rules and actions of the game is therefore easy to grasp, even for first time players.
Reflecting this simplicity, the game is also light on components. Not only does this keep the retail value of The Stars Are Right comparable to other casual games like Munchkin, but it makes the setup and re-boxing of the game quick. Which is good since the game is packed with surprising amount of replay value and mental challenge. So much so, that players can sometimes feel a little brain-fried after one game. Despite the relatively short length, it’s rare to feel up to playing this game more than once a night.
Nearly all of the challenge comes from the other players mucking up your finely tuned plans. The more players engaged at the same time, the higher the challenge. However, there’s actually very little player interaction, though the game feels like there’s a lot more. Each player’s star pattern goals are secret, so it’s impossible to know if what you’re doing to the sky is spitefully messing up your opponent’s incantation, or if you’re lining up their stars to be just right. If you’re looking for more ‘Take That’ mechanics– normally found aplenty in Munchkin games– you might be a tad disappointed.
One thing The Stars Are Right does share with Munchkin is its zaniness. This isn’t a game you’re going to whip out to your hard-nosed, stern-faced Eurogamers that think agriculture makes for interesting game concepts. This game is like the script writers of Animaniacs got hold of Lovecraft anthology and decided to make some “improvements.” In this way, the concept, mechanics, goal, and player experience all support one another fairly well.
But, is it any fun? Well, that’s a difficult one to answer. For the most part, I’d say yes– with a couple strict caveats. It’s a niche game to be sure: not quite a strategy card game, not purely a spatial puzzle, with a theme that both pays homage to and shamelessly mocks its source material. First time I played this game, I made myself cross eyed trying to locate patterns in the constellations in the tiles on the table as they constantly changed with each passing turn– loving every minute of it. But playing with others, there were a couple people that found the puzzly bits more heady– if not downright frustrating– than they prefer in a casual game, which The Stars Are Right certainly attempts to pose as.
On a personal note: this is the first board game I ever purchased for myself. Steve Jackson Games had it on demo as a brand new release at a convention and I practically bought it on the spot. The honeymoon phase lapsed quickly, however. And since then, while it’s never a game I’ll get super excited about, it’s one of the games that consistently gets pulled off the shelf and played, both for my new-to-tabletop friends and my extended game group. It makes for a fantastic starter game and icebreaker for those longer game nights.
- Setup time: ~2 minutes
- Play time: ~15 minutes per player
- Cleanup time: ~2 minutes
- Number of players: 2-4 (better with more)
- Table Footprint: 4 sq ft. (18 inches min. each side)
- Core Mechanics:
- Pattern Recognition
- Modular Board
- Hand Management
You may like if you also like:
- Lovecraft Mythos
- Spatial Puzzles
- Games that can be completed in under 1 hour
You may not like if you prefer:
- Games that are ‘Serious Business’
- Cooperative or team games
- Games with direct player interaction
All images from Steve Jackson Games: The Stars Are Right page.