26 August 2009

In The Depths of Space

An Ad Astra designer diary from Serge Laget

What was the inspiration for the game, and how did you incorporate it?

I am with Bruno when he says that what was first with Ad Astra was our desire to make a game together. We have enough common points -the insistence on theme, the inspiration in literature, the interest for clever little systems easy to explain and hard to master- to work together, and enough differences (Bruno told more about them) to complete one another.

If you had to compare Ad Astra to another game, which would you choose?

Of course, the resource production system is similar with Settlers of Catan. What makes Ad Astra different is the combination of this system with a secret programming system. Also, the modular board, with the random and secret placement of planets, gives a great replayability to the game – but this also was in part in Catan.

Which strategy is your favorite?

It’s true that I really like to play terraforming. I like the idea of the human race spreading in the universe and adapting it to suit its needs – may be it’s a way to reassure me on the sense of life ;-). But what I really like in this game is that no strategy is clearly better than others. It depends on one’s starting planet, on one’s faction (the resource production pairing are different, and it’s hard to play terraforming when you have water and plants on the same production card), and of course on what planets you discover through the game. The way the other players build and try to score can also be important.

Which aspect did you enjoying designing most?

The programming system was the hardest and most challenging part. I’d like to add one thing: I really like the fact that one’s movement cards allow movement in only some of the sun systems. This means that, to explore the galaxy, you’ll have to count on your opponents’ cards and moves. We’ve made lots of tests to find the right cards balance, and I’d like to thank Eric Hautemont, at Days of Wonder, who helped us a lot in this part of the design.

What is it like working with each other?

It’s true that we both like good whiskey. But, and it’s probably more important, we really complement one another when it comes to game design. When one feels blocked, the other is always there to bring a new idea and restart the design engine. That’s what happened with alien artifact planets – they were a late addition to the game, both to strengthen the theme and to make some strategies more efficient – more or less like the Hare cards in David Parlett’s Hare and Tortoise.

A lot of science fiction games have a number of inside jokes, any you can let us in on?

The spirit of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy was probably with us when we designed Ad Astra! I’m also a fan of Jack Vance, a wonderful world designer – must read: The Languages of Pao, The Houses of Izm – and of Ursula Le Guin, who brought a deep sensibility to this genre, after first works in which the Hero was an all-powerful superman – must read: the Earthsea cycle (OK, this one is not sci-fi…). I read much Sci-fi, and I’m even at this moment trying to read Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles in English.

What game do you currently play the most?

I took part in chess tournaments for years. I played Magic the Gathering a lot, probably too much if I am to believe my bank account reports. I still play a lot, but since now I’m also designing games, I play mostly my own prototypes, and I don’t have enough time to play all the new stuff. Among recent games, my favorites are probably Small World, Snow Tails and Modern Art (the latter may not be new for US readers, but it has just been published in French).

Ad•Astra takes three to five players into a possible future where five disparate human subraces must take the next step and explore the wider galaxy, searching for new planets to call home. In the search for a New Earth, players will discover uninhabited resource-rich planets and mine them for the building blocks of a new galactic empire, space ships, colonies, and factories.

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