2 - 5
Original take on bidding games
Theme well-represented by game mechanics
Fun and interactive play
Tiny fonts on tiny cards
A remote planet on the edge of space, where competing fleets converge to fight for resources and influence: this is the setting for Sky Dynasty. Similarly, the game itself is an interesting coming-together of several different game mechanics, which interact with each other in interesting ways.
At its heart, Sky Dynasty is a bidding game. Each turn, players will draw a hand of ten cards from their starting twenty card deck. Starting decks are the same for all players, and consist of three location cards and seventeen ships. Most of the ships have the potential to earn you some extra money (just by playing them, or more frequently for surviving combat), but five of your starters are combat ships, which you’ll try to leverage to win control of one of seven important spaces on the table.
Bidding is simultaneous, with players secretly picking anywhere from zero cards up to their entire remaining hand, and then revealing them at the same time. This continues round after round until everyone passes (by playing zero cards). Your bids represent dispatch orders to your fleets of ships. If you bid some ships and a location card, you’re saying that you’re sending those ships to that matching location on the table. This is usually your most important bid, as it is how you’ll be sending your attack ships to a particular spot. However, knowing where your opponents will be committing their forces can be key, so you’ll often engage in a series of delaying bids, dancing around making a final decision on where to send your main force as long as possible. To this end, there are a couple other types of bids you can make.
You can bid just some ships, which will send them to the Open Space spot, which has no inherent rewards for the winner, but you can only do this twice per turn. You can also bid just a location card, which typically has no benefit at all, other than delaying. Finally, you can bid a number of ships and multiple locations. When this happens, everyone who took that option on the current round secretly picks from among those locations they just threw and makes one final selection. It’s a neat little sub-bid within the bid.
Once everyone has passed for the round, the seven spots on the map are resolved, in numerical order. Players only start with location cards corresponding to spots number four, five, and six, so at the beginning of the game, spots one, two, and three are off-limits. One through three grant the winner (the player with the most combat strength in their deployed ships) bonuses like trashing cards from their deck, and gaining victory points. Spots four through six are for gaining new ship and location cards for your deck. Spot seven is the previously-mentioned Open Space card.
If you’ve played deck-building games before you’ve probably just figured out, from the talk of trashing cards and acquiring new cards, that Sky Dynasty is also a deck-builder. This hybrid bidding/deck-building aspect is perhaps the most exciting part of the game. Imagine acquiring new, better bidding cards: cards that, when you bid with them, allow you to draw new cards from your deck with which to continue bidding; location cards that your opponents don’t have yet, meaning you can win the space with a lowly cargo shuttle; dynamic ship cards that can move around and alter the board state post-bidding. There’s some really cool ideas here.
You probably also noticed the mention of victory points. Sky Dynasty is a “first person to ten points wins” game. Before playing, we were concerned that the nature of the game might lead to runaway victories, with a player winning an early bid to get better cards thereafter having an advantage on future turns in bidding. In practice, we found that catching up to and passing the early leader was completely plausible. The game has a decent pace as well, with decks slowly increasing in strength until suddenly everyone seems to turn a corner, and then there are a few breakneck turns at the end to determine the winner.
Now for our few complaints about the game. Sky Dynasty’s cards are of the small variety, and the combat strength for ships is an even smaller number tucked in an upper corner. It is rendered in dark red on black, and is hard to see from across the table, in low light, or if your eyes are just failing in general. It’s not the worst, by any means, but it could be better.
The rulebook is a bit of a mess. We had to read it twice, check it constantly the first time we played, and then give up in frustration and go watch the “how to play” video on their website. The explanations for how bidding work are golden, but when it comes to resolving battles we’re kind of left on our own. And while there is an extensive glossary with entries for every ship card in the game (even the crushingly-simple ones), there is no mention of the special, improved location cards you can acquire. We don’t even have guidance on that age-old, deck-builder query: How many cards can I buy in a turn?
The only other complaint we might have is that there is a lot of picking up and putting down cards. And since there are so many cards on the table, everyone gets a handful of cute little rocket ships in their color to mark their cards with. They’re those lovely retro designs that you’ve seen in a half-dozen other games: very cool, but one more fiddly thing to move around.
The two decks of cards that restock the ship and location vendors are absolutely massive (nearly 300 in total). You’re going to have a lot of variability in which cards appear in any given game, and which ones manage to make it into your own deck. If you enjoy the basic mechanics of this game, you’ll be able to come back to this many times over.
Sky Dynasty is a really clever recombination of existing game mechanics to make a wholly-unique new experience. It’s fun to play, and probably deserves a home on the shelf of anyone who loves bidding games.