Before There Were Stars by Smirk and Laughter Review

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Theme and What is it?

Before There Were Stars places you and your fellow players around a campfire in prehistoric times where tribes would come together and tell stories about where they come from, and what happened before there were stars…. 

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Components in the tray.

Gameplay Mechanics

There are three basic phases to the game:

  1. The Stargazing Phase
  2. The Storytelling Phase
  3. The Appreciation Phase

During the Stargazing Phase, five cards are flipped face-up. These cards have constellations on them formed from stars, AKA the pips on dice. Each player rolls all 12 of the dice at once, representing the stars they see in the sky. They then select the constellation that they want to incorporate into their civilization’s mythology. Two sets of dice (gold stars and silver) are included to make the rolling and choosing go a bit faster. Players choose cards in a clockwise fashion until everyone has two cards.

Then the Storytelling Phase begins. Players use the prompts on their Myth card and the constellations they’ve chosen to begin a tale about how their civilization came to be.  

There is an optional app you can download to use as a timer if play needs assistance in moving quickly. We chose not to play with it.

In the Appreciation Phase, players are rewarded for their storytelling abilities. Your favorite stories are rewarded with rarer stars tucked into the storyteller’s bag. Each player gets a star from each other player, but the stars are put into the bag in secret, so no one knows who gives who what, or who is winning until the end of the game. There’s a feature of the game’s scoring that I’m saving till the conclusion because I need space to rave about it. 

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Components.

Initial Impressions

My nine-year-old is a HUGE fan of foxes, so the box art was the initial draw for me, silly as that may sound. Once I found out the game was about using your creativity to tell stories, I was hooked. Couldn’t wait to play. 

Game Build Quality

The cards are great, and I love the stars. The bags are made of coarse cloth, as is appropriate for a game that is about ancient times. The bags are dyed beautifully. I do wish that the player mats were large enough to actually lay the cards on top of them.

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The golden set of dice.

Artistic Direction

Beautiful. A single word that about sums up the artistic choices for the game. The art is simple, but elegant. Natural, but also fanciful. It perfectly suits the theme of the game. 

Fun Factor

As the company is named, so went the game. There were smirks and laughter. We enjoyed moments of silliness (my mother’s story featured a lying tree and a rock that suddenly sprouted a mouth) and moments of solemnity (twins entering an angry goddess’s temple). We had a really, really good time. 

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Purple player mat.

Age Range & Weight

Age range on the box suggests 10+. My nine-year-old played quite comfortably. I’d tell you that even younger children could play, especially if treated like a learn-through-play experience. It teaches beginning/middle/end really, really well. Also: see the next section for my favorite part of the game.

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A sample of constellations available.

Conclusions

OK, so my favorite feature of the game is….

HOW you determine who gets the highest point stars. 

As you may have guessed, the criteria are pretty subjective. Very, very subjective as a matter of fact. Players are given complete control over why they choose who they choose to receive the highest points that round. 

Maybe Grandma used the most unique word in her story, and taught us all what it means. Maybe Daddy had the most interesting twist in his story. Maybe the Boy got the most creative with his cast of characters. Maybe Mommy was the funniest.

It’s not about who tells the “best” story or who’s “best” at storytelling (so even shy kids can shine!); it’s about rewarding players for their thoughtfulness and effort, and I love that about this game. If the nine-year-old puts in effort appropriate for his age, then he has JUST as good a chance to win as me (who went to graduate school to study creative writing). It levels the playing field and makes it more fun for everyone involved. The most well-read or well-spoken player won’t necessarily win!

Getting the hang of following the format of the myth outlined on the player mat can be a little difficult for the younger crowd, but it’s a point that’s easily glossed over if they don’t follow it to a T. The reverse side of the player mat has a different format for more advanced challenges, which I also really appreciate about the game. This is something that I’m likely to play with kids and adults alike. 

Another neat fact about the game is that although some things on the player mat are color-coded, they are also symbol-coded so that players who happen to be colorblind can play just as easily. Great thinking, Smirk and Laughter!

I love everything about this game, from the art to stories to the player interaction. At the end of the game, but before points are counted, “Over The Moon” tokens are passed out. Each player is given one token to bestow upon another player, and they are tasked with telling the recipient why they are receiving the extra points. It leaves all the players with a deep sort of happy feeling of fulfillment and fulfilling others’ need to be appreciated. This is definitely staying on my easy-access shelf!