As we head into the summer break, it’s nice to look into new board games you can play with the entire family. We’ve recently been playing Stella, which is labeled as being part of the Dixit Universe, another line of popular titles from Asmodee. It was designed for three to six players with a minimum age of 8, but we found that younger players can also have fun with it when paired up with an adult.
An average game of Stella is about half an hour long once you’re comfortable with the rules, which are nice and elegant by design. Your first game might be five to ten minutes longer, but with a set structure you’ll find that most games are about the same length once you settle into a rhythm. This might happen instantly if you’ve played some of the other Dixit games before, but for us it was our first experience with the franchise.
We picked it up quickly though, as the rules are simple. Each player gets a board and marker, and from a deck of 84 picture cards just 15 are drawn and placed next to a small score tracker. The starting player then gets the starter token and draws a single word card, which will give you the clue word for that round. With this in mind, all players start checking out the picture cards that are laid down in a 3×5 grid, and they will mark (on their own board, which has a matching grid layout) which card they think correlates with the clue word.
This correlation can be anything – a mood they associate with a word, a color, or even a personal memory. Playing strategically, you might even pick cards that you know another player is going to associate with a word, even if you personally wouldn’t. Once everyone’s done marking, each player announces how many cards were marked. The more cards you mark, the bigger your chances of scoring, but get overzealous and you might incur a penalty during the scoring phase. If there’s one player who’s selected more cards than anyone else (you can mark a maximum of 10 per round), then that player’s token on the scoring tracker get turned over to a ‘darker side’.
Scoring is done by comparing answers. The first player to go will reveal a single picture they’ve chosen, and can score points if others have chosen the same one. Three points if only one other player chose that card, two points if more of them did. This first player should always pick the card they’re most sure that others will have chosen, as revealing a card that no one else chose doesn’t just give you zero point – it also eliminated your ability to score points at all during the round.
Play continues by having players reveal individual cards in turn, until either all the players have been eliminated from the round or all cards have been revealed. Eliminated players still play a role when others reveal cards though, and they can provide a match for others that earns those other players points (while not earning any yourself). Scoring a round is a simple matter of adding up your points (represented by stars), unless you’re the player who went “dark” because you chose more cards than anyone else. If all of your cards overlapped with those that others picked (this is more likely with more players) then you keep all your points, but if you eliminated yourself then you lose a point on each correct card.
A full game plays out over four rounds, and after each round one of the rows of cards is replaced with new ones to keep the selection somewhat fresh throughout the game. The starting player also rotates per round, and at the end it’s the player with the most points that wins – although it’s also possible to tie, as Stella isn’t an overly competitive game.
For a picture/word association game, there’s a nice amount of (basic) strategy involved though. If you’re playing with a larger group, it can feel safer to select more cards. If you’re pretty far from the starting player, you’ll have a few reveals in which you get to score points before you’re at risk of picking a wrong card and eliminating yourself, so maybe you’ll factor that into your selection as well.
But while older players tend to try and strategize that way, it’s just as much fun without any of that, and younger players tend to have a blast just letting their imagination take over while they associate the clue words with the cards. And we hadn’t played any Dixit game before, but the artwork on the cards is absolutely gorgeous and makes it a joy to just look at them for a bit and see which associations they evoke for you.
Stella – Dixit Universe certainly isn’t the most “gamey” title in the Asmodee library, but it’s a fun title that’s easy to play and spend time with. In many instances, just taking your time with it and talking about what each player sees in a card is half the fun and a great starting point for good conversation, which is an essential component of family time well spent.