Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Albedo

Game: Albedo

Publisher: Herbertz Entertainment UG

Designer: Kai Herbertz

Year: 2017


Albedo was shown to us by the designer, Kai Herbertz at the UK Games Expo 2018. We were interested to try this small deck-building game to find out about a few of the unique aspects of the game that initially got us intrigued. We're really glad we sat down to try it, it is indeed pretty unique.

As a very small indie publisher designer, only 60 copies were printed and sold out at Essen 2017 and now further copies are available at European conventions. However, an expansion for the game is coming to Kickstarter and will provide the opportunity for many people to get hold of this lovely game. We're extremely excited to tell you all about it!


Gameplay

As with many deck builders you start a game of Albedo with a small deck of basic cards that you can expect to improve as the game goes on. Cards are sorted into two colours, blue cards are spaceships which provide mostly air combat (though they can be rotated to equip them with missiles for minor ground combat abilities), while red cards are troops that provide ground combat. Of the two values ground combat is your typical currency in the game, you use it to add new cards, buy victory points etc, while air combat dictates player order.

Each round there will be 2-3 (depending on player count) planets to fight over. Players will draw 6 cards from their deck to play with, should their deck have run out then they reshuffle the remains and draw until they have 6. They will also have 3 cards numbered 1-3 which dictate which planet you are sending which cards to. Simultaneously players will arrange their hands so that the 1 card is on top, followed by all the troops being sent to planet 1, followed by the 2 card and the associated troops and the 3 card with any troops sent there afterwards. Once chosen this hand of 9 cards is placed in front of you with the 1 showing on top.

Players will then reveal their cards assigned to planet 1. First you will check who has the higher air combat value, that player gets first choice on what part of the planet to exploit. The planet is then exploited using your ground combat values. The first player will have free reign over where to go, most planets offer victory points at the top (which only 1 player can claim), a chance to buy one of the most powerful cards at the bottom (again only 1 player can go here), and finally the area to the left allows you to recruit the less powerful cards, or to remove cards from your deck (any number of players can go here).

There are a fixed number of planets at the start of the game and therefore a set number of rounds. Eventually the last planet will be revealed and at the end of that round the game begins. Players will score points for planets that they chose to conquer for points and for every card they have removed from their deck throughout the game. The player with the most points wins.

Albedo set up for a 2 player game, The two planets ripe for exploitation are in the center, the market of cards above them, some of the markets have several types of units so buying at the right time is important.
Amy’s Final Thoughts

Albedo immediately caught my eye with the unique mechanics. I love the fact that there is a hand of 6 cards and a deck of 9, meaning that if you buy a new card on your first turn you will be shuffling it into your deck and maybe drawing it for your second turn! On top of this the simultaneous turns keep everyone interested at all times as you actively try to out-think your opponents. I found myself agonising over whether to load my fighters up with missiles, was that extra ground combat going to be worth it if I ended up getting second choice on the planet?

While there is a lot of player interaction you rarely feel completely victimised. Sure sometimes you send most of your forces to a planet only to find you didn't send enough air forces to get first pick, but none of the options are bad. Trimming your deck of bad cards is usually hard to do in deckbuilders, but in Albedo it's your default action when you can't do anything else!

You won't find any complex combos in Albedo, there are no cards that let you chain together actions or draw your entire deck in one play (well... unless you trim your deck down to 6 cards). You also won't always get full choice over how to customise your deck, there are only so many recruit actions available each turn after all. I still feel that I've managed to do a good level of deck customisation in the 30-40 minutes that a game takes, but I can see deck builder fans being a little disappointed.

The card design does take a little getting used to, there is a lot of symbology and the symbols could use being a bit bigger, you can end up staring at the planets at the start of the round trying to work out what you can actually do there. You do get used to this, particularly as there are 2 best card types to look out for and the symbols for recruiting those are almost always found at the bottom of planets. These are all relatively minor flaws though, I'm trying to be picky at this point. Albedo is a lightning fast, small box deckbuilding game which has concentrated on doing one thing really well, and I highly recommend you track a copy down!
Half way through this game this player currently has 11 points from planets and another 5 points for having trimmed cards from their deck.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

We love deck-building as a mechanism. Dominion is still one of our favourites, in spite of its age. Star Realms is probably our conflict driven deck-builder of choice. However, Albedo is hot on their tails with it's blend of deck-building, blind bidding and hand management.

As a deck-builder alone, it's lacking some of the variety I expect, as well as the typical special card abilities, but I don't miss this as it has a few key elements that feel really special. Firstly, you need to be very aware of the ability to spin cards 180 degrees - this will allow you to find some ground combat where you may not have drawn any dedicated ground combat cards and in almost every case will result in you never wasting a turn. Secondly, the hand management as you try to out-think your opponents and pick which planet you want to focus on, or which rewards mean the most to you - splitting your hand into two teams is a really fun decision. Finally you have to choose whether to deck-build at all, timing your moment to take points, trim your deck or add some powerful cards to your hand.

Combat rages over the second planet. Both players have 4 ground combat as player two equipped their fighters with missiles, unfortunately this means player 1 has air superiority and will get first choice of the rewards.
The game has a limited variety of cards, but somehow a far stronger set of decisions than most standard deck-building games, which bring variability to each game. The art style may not be the best, but there aren't many deck-builders out there that are dripping with theme and instead I'm often looking to pay quickly and enjoy a game with smoothly designed mechanisms. Albedo hits all the right notes in this regard.

Albedo gets a really strong recommendation from me and I hope it gets out to a wider audience soon!

The Good
  • Although the game claims to be conflict-based, it does not feel at all confrontational, even with just two-players.
  • Unlike many deck-building games, there is definitely player interaction and an element of trying to predict and out-think other players.
  • Albedo is a quick, small-box game with a lot of depth and a mixture of mechanisms that blend really clearly together.
The Bad
  • The card art and design may not be everyone's taste and is not up to the high standards of many modern board games.
  • There is not as much chance to customise your deck in the game as in most games where deck-building is the core mechanic. If deck-building is all that you're looking for then Albedo may not be the game for you.
The Verdict
8/10 Albedo is a refreshing take on deck-building, incorporating lots of great, innovative ideas. It was our best small game of the UK Games Expo 2018 and we highly recommend that you try to get hold of a copy and try it yourself!

Albedo was a review copy provided to us by the designer, Kai Herbertz. You can check out the game and it's new expansion coming to Kickstarter in June 2018.

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