Honestly, I must confess that I have never had anything to do with ice hockey in my life. I would never think of watching Ice hockey on TV or even live. It is one of the sports that totally passed me by - probably also because it is a rather unusual sport in the northern Ruhr area and Münsterland. So I was correspondingly skeptical when I held All-Star Draft in my hands for the first time.
In All-Star Draft, two to six players take on the role of managers who try to lead their Ice hockey team successfully through the season. A season consists, as usual in North American professional leagues, of the preliminary round (regular season) and a final tournament (play-off) that is played in a knockout system. Before the season starts, of course, the team has to be put together and prepared with the help of the coach. Whoever fills the stadiums and inspires the fans in the game has a good chance of holding the coveted All-Star Cup in his hands at the end of the tournament.
Let's get ready to rumble
The game setup is quickly done. Each manager gets a coach, three Team Bus Tokens, and two Fan Tokens that serve as scorekeepers on the scoring board. For each manager, any two teams are shuffled together in a pile. This pile, along with the arenas, is placed next to the scoring board as a draw pile. Playoff tickets are dealt according to the number of managers. At this point I describe the game for three or more people. For the game with two players there are some different rules (scoring board, arenas, number of players). The All-Star Cup should have an elevated place on the table, so that all managers can see it well ;-)
The Regular Season
At the start of the new season, an arena is revealed and each manager is dealt six cards face down from the draw pile. From these cards, each then selects a player for the bench. Then it's on to the eponymous part of the game: drafting. The cards are passed to the neighbor to the left, and you pick a new player for your team until there are no cards left. The teams are placed face down. If you have a coach for the corresponding season, he can now be used as well.
The teams are turned over at the same time and scored according to the number of identical symbols, identical numbers or card colors, or identical animals. The strongest team is then marked on the scoring board with the Fan Tokens. In the case of teams of equal strength, symbols are scored first, then numbers and then the animals. Points are then distributed as indicated on the arena. There are some arenas where even poorly performing teams are rewarded with loyal spectators. This means that the first-place teams in the round receive fewer fans than those in the last places. The team then remains face up and trains for the next mission.
At the beginning of the next round, six cards are dealt again, but this time two arenas are revealed. After drafting, you have the option to swap a player from the first team. The replaced player is placed face down. Once all of the drafts have been completed, the teams on the table (the face-up team from the first round and the face-down team from the current round) are distributed to the arenas. Which arena you want to send which team to is indicated by the Team Bus Tokens. Then all cards are turned face up again and a new scoring begins. The third and last round is the same as the second round, but with three arenas and three teams in the scoring. These three teams including substitutes form the team for the playoffs.
In the playoffs, the Team Bus Tokens and Arena Cards are no longer needed. Each manager now places a team face down in front of him - with a coach, if available. Then all teams are turned over and ranked according to the order of the Regular Season. The loser has to hand in a playoff ticket. If more than one manager occupies the last rank, there is a penalty shootout. Each manager sends one player of his team into the race. The scoring is based on the categories on the scoring board.
For the next round the managers have to change their team and exchange two to four players. The replaced players are then no longer placed on the reserve bench, but are completely eliminated from the game. Afterwards, the scoring is done again. These steps are repeated until only one manager is left with his team. This manager is the winner of the playoffs and receives the points or fans indicated on the All-Star Cup.
The All-Star Cup goes to ...
All-Star Draft is a great game with more tactics in it than you first think. My initial skepticism about it was completely unfounded - as it just gives the game structure. It would work exactly the same way with any other team sport. But what speaks for the field hockey theme are the beautiful illustrations and the coherent characters of the teams. The instructions are very detailed and include extensively illustrated examples of how each round plays out. This makes getting into the game especially easy.
Drafting games usually work better with more people than just two. All-Star Draft takes a slightly different approach by providing special rules for two players that work really well. However, you then have to think through your tactics differently for the preliminary round and playoffs. When drafting in the preliminary round you can roughly estimate how your opponent will specialize, and in the play-offs it doesn't make sense to directly send your strongest team into the race, but to rotate players accordingly.
Another well thought-out highlight in the game are the arenas, which reward a manager for a bad team in the regular season. In rounds two and three, you can bring your team to the right stadium with a little tactical skill and then pick up the most fans accordingly. If you like drafting, All-Star Draft is an entertaining game that works well in the family and in the players' group and will also often end up on our table.
All-Star Draft was kindly provided to us by Suncoregames free of charge. This has no influence on our rating.