Sky Dynasty is a 2- to 5-player deck-building card game by Robert Miedel currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. The game features simultaneous action selection and multiple phases of play with a sort of blind-bidding/worker-placement combat mechanic with an area control flair layered over its deck-building foundation.
If all that sounds confusing, I’ve misled you. The takeaway message from that description should really be that Sky Dynasty is mechanically unique and has been inventive with the deck-building genre, which can often feel stagnant and repetitive. We took a look at a pre-production version of the game to get an idea of how it will play in its final form.
The goal of Sky Dynasty is to be the first player to accrue 10 Influence points by visiting specific game locations and playing particular ships round after round. Ship and Location cards come from two separate decks and can be purchased throughout the game at certain locations to enhance players’ starting decks.
The game is set up with 7 location placards laid out in the center of the playing space. These include The Junkyard (primarily for trashing cards and streamlining a player’s deck), The Dealer (for buying Ship cards and gaining Influence), The Palace (for gaining lots of Influence), The Shipyard (for buying Ship cards), The Market (for buying Ship and Location cards and gaining coin), The Gateway (for buying Location cards), and Open Space, which affords players no specific action.
In a given round, each player secretly selects a combination of Ship and Location cards from their 10-card hand before simultaneously revealing this “Fleet” to the table. Location cards in this stack indicate where the Fleet will be flying, while Ship cards provide Force at that location, as well as bonuses claimed upon dispatch or at the end of the round if the ships survive any conflict with other players.
This Dispatch phase continues, with players playing Fleets until their cards are depleted or they opt to pass. If no Location cards are in hand, a Fleet comprised only of ships may dispatch to Open Space.
Following the Dispatch phase, locations are resolved in order. The player who sent the greatest Force to a location takes the action available there, and then earns the survival bonus of any ship in that Fleet (or Fleets; a player can dispatch to the same location twice to bolster forces if he has duplicate Location cards in hand). Players with less Force in a location simply discard those cards, taking no action or bonus before drawing up the next round’s hand.
Sky Dynasty continues in this manner, with players improving their decks by buying new cards at the various locations, in order to ultimately earn the most influence faster than other players. Play is well paced and the game is relatively speedy, becoming longer and more complex as the player count rises.
Two-player games are the least dynamic and the game can feel repetitive and automated at this count. The design seems to require higher player counts to realize its full potential and avoid runaway leaders who’ve snatched up the best Influence-generating cards early on. Even at three players, one or two can be completely locked out of the race based on luck of the draw in their hands or at the various locations.
Some Ship and Location cards do provide Influence independent of the standard location actions, however. This offers players at least some alternative options to be competitive, especially in those larger games where all locations are more hotly contested and resources are spread more evenly, naturally balancing some of the game’s admitted imbalance.
Sky Dynasty really shines in its inventive Dispatch phase, when players simultaneous reveal their Fleets and discover who is trying to go where and with how much Force. It becomes a strategic guessing game or a sort of high-stakes blind-bidding contest to control the various available locations. And because this action is repeated until players’ hands are depleted, the resulting opportunity to spread out forces, bolster presence in already-occupied locations, or even create diversions with early moves in order to better position oneself for later ones make for some big moments around the table when multiple hands are vying for dominance.
The concepts powering Sky Dynasty are very strong and have the potential to bring new life to the deck-building genre. Much work has gone into balancing this Kickstarter project, though I do feel that a bit more balancing and tweaking is in order before the game hits retail. I might even suggest that it be marketed as a 3- to 5-player game to ensure it puts its best foot forward.
Component quality is already solid for a prototype game; the cards are linen finished, and their small size keeps required table space at a minimum. The rocket-shaped pawns used to mark each player’s Fleets are only a lightweight plastic, but add a nice thematic touch to a fairly light-themed game. I’d love to see an upgrade both here and in the location placards – hoping for cardboard instead of card stock – if the project is backed.
Sky Dynasty is worth looking into, particularly for fans of space-themed games or those hoping for worthwhile additions to the deck-builder genre. The Kickstarter campaign is currently live and will run until October 15, 2016.