Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Space Smuggling Meets Poker in ‘Antematter’

Gaming Kickstarter Reviews Tabletop Games

The Conflux is a system of planets that orbit around a synthetic star known as the Engine Star. In the past, the Conflux has been a site of conflict between three great empires. However, as the empires retreated from this system, they left behind debris from their battles. Filling the power vacuum, the Corner Booth has taken charge of the Conflux. They are putting out invitations to fill a seat at the Booth for the boss of an outfit who can demonstrate their ability to accumulate wealth. The race is on.

What Is Antematter?

Antematter is a game for 3-6 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 45-120 minutes to play depending on the number of players. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $60 for a standard Kickstarter edition of the game or $120 for a premier edition complete with metal planets and ships as well as upgraded game board and cards. Antematter is the flagship of a series of products in the original Engine Star Universe created by Bardshark that will also include comic books and a video game.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Antematter Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.

  • Game Board
  • 6 Rocs
  • 12 Ravens
  • 30 Bridges
  • 6 Planets
  • 188 Chips
  • 6 Dives
  • 6 Tokens of Respect
  • 30 Cargo Cubes
  • 56-Card Poker Deck
  • 6 25-Card Crew Decks
  • 15-Card Enigmata Deck
  • Dealer Chip
Players use their Roc, a couple Ravens, and some bridges to loot the Conflux. Image by Michael Knight.

Each player gets 2 Ravens, 1 Roc, and 4 bridges. Players use this smuggler fleet of ships to loot the Conflux and earn Nephelium, the currency of the game. Ravens are the scout ships. They can move up to two spaces during a burn. They can loot plunder hexes to gain Nephelium as well as gain a crew card. Ravens can also place or move bridges within their current space or an adjacent space. Rocs are the cargo ships and can only move one space per burn. They can loot planets to gain cargo and then carry it to the Engine Star for a payout. Both types of ships can land at dives to recruit a full hand of crew cards. Bridges can be used by Rocs to increase their movement. When they move onto a space with one of your bridges, Rocs can move one extra space. Link together bridges for even longer movements.

Loot planets for cargo and then smuggle it to the Engine Star for a reward. Image by Michael Knight.

Six planets orbit the Engine Star. Each offers a cargo of their same color when looted by a Roc. Some planets also provide Nephelium as well. Rocs can carry only one piece of cargo of each color at a time. When a Roc arrives at the Engine Star, the controlling player receives 100 Nephelium for each piece of cargo. If you have all five colors of cargo, there is a 250 Nephelium bonus. At the end of each cycle, the planets move along their orbital paths at differing rates. Planets can also provide additional movement for Rocs. If one is at a planet when it moves at the end of the cycle, it can hitch a ride with the planet. Also, when starting a burn at a planet, you can use the gravity to slingshot and move two spaces for that burn instead of only one.

You want to loot, win, and steal as many of this chips as you can to win the game. Image by Michael Knight.

Nephelium is the currency of the game and comes in different denominations. White chips are worth 25 Nephelium, red 50, blue 100, and black are worth 500. The dealer token signifies which player is the dealer for the current cycle.

Earn a token of respect by accumulating Nephelium and keep your hand of crew cards full by visiting dive bars. Image by Michael Knight.

Dive chips are placed around the edge of the system and represent dive bars. Ships landing at them can recruit new crew members. You can either draw crew cards from your deck up to your hand limit of 7. Or you can discard your entire hand and draw 7 new crew cards. Once you have accumulated a requisite amount of Nephelium, you receive a token of respect. This is required to win the game. You must have a token of respect for at least one entire cycle before you can win the game. This gives other players a final chance to try to beat you.

The Grifter cards replace the Jokers in this poker deck complete with original art representing the Engine Star Universe. Image by Michael Knight.

The poker deck is  similar to a standard deck of playing cards with the four suits and cards ranging from ace through king. However, instead of jokers, this deck as four Grifters. During the poker phase, if you get a Grifter into your draw, you can reveal it and draw another card. If you choose to keep it, you cannot win with it in your hand during the showdown. However, if you can get all of the other players to fold and then reveal it, you not only get the pot, but also 20 times the ante.

Crew cards can be used in either the Loot or Poker phases and provide some great advantages when played. Image by Michael Knight.

Antematter comes with six different factions and each has their own deck of crew cards. Each deck contains three unique boss cards, two copies each of the three lieutenants, and four copies each of the four mates. Each crew card has a special ability that can be played either during the Loot phase or the Poker phase. Each faction has completely different crew members providing a unique flavor and way to play the game. After a crew card is played, it is placed in the discard pile. Look for combinations of cards that can be used together. For example, one crew could provide an additional movement for a Roc while a second card allows it to loot a second time during your turn. Others may allow you to look at your opponent’s discard pile during the Poker phase and a second card lets you take one of the crew cards from that pile and play it as your own.

Enigmata cards provide random changes to the rules of a Poker phase. Image by Michael Knight.

If a Grifter comes out during the flop, replace it with a regular card. However, also draw an Enigmata card. This adds a little mayhem to the poker phase for the cycle. For example, the Fate Displacer requires each player to choose one of their pocket cards and pass it to the player on the right. Some can help players while others can hinder them. There can only be one Engimata card in play. If another Grifter is revealed, just replace it with another card. 

How to Play Antematter

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to accumulate the largest stack of chips at the end of the game. This is accomplished by looting derelict space junk, smuggling cargo to the Engine Star and by winning at poker.

An initial setup of the game. Image by Michael Knight.

Setup

Each player selects a color and then gets their 2 Ravens, 1 Roc, and 4 Bridges as well as selects one of the six factions. After selecting a base of three hexes at one edge of the game board, the ships are placed within those three hexes. They can be placed in individual hexes or a single hex can even have 2 or all 3 ships. Next setup the board by placing white, red and blue Nephelium chips on plunder spaces of the same color. Place the dive bars in the designated locations at the edge of the game board. Each player draws four crew cards to form their hand.

Placing the planets comes next. Each player draws a poker card and the one with the high card places the purple planet anywhere in its orbit. Place the remaining planets in a straight line from the purple planet outwards from the Engine Star at the center. The second green planet goes on the other side of the board in the green orbit opposite the first green planet. Four non-face poker cards are then drawn to move the planets other than the purple planet. Take the number of the card and multiply it by the tiers on the planets base, then move that planet clock-wise in its orbit that many spaces. This creates a unique placement each game.

Finally, shuffle the poker deck. Each player draws one card. The player with the high card is the dealer and gets the dealer chip. The player to their right, who will deal last, goes first during the initial loot phase. The starting ante for a game is a white chip or 25 Nephelium. This ante will change over time and several cards have a multiplier that relates to the current ante.

Gameplay

Antematter is played in a series of cycles and intervals. A cycle is divided into two phases: Loot and Poker. Four completed cycles finish an interval. At the end of an interval, the ante is increased to the next highest value. A white chip becomes a red chip, a red chip becomes a blue chip, and a blue chip then becomes a black chip for the ante. If the game continues past this point, the ante starts back at white again. Also at the end of an interval, chips are placed on the game board in all the starting locations. If there is still a chip remaining in a space, you still add a new chip to that space.

Loot Phase

Each cycle starts with the Loot phase. Players take turns moving their ships with the first player moving all of their ships, then the second player and so forth until all players have gone. Players have three burns they can use. You can use one burn per ship, use all three burns for one ship, or any combination. Remember, Ravens can move two spaces per burn while Rocs only move one space. Ravens can also place one bridge once per turn in either its space or an adjacent space. Ravens can loot plunder spaces (those with a chip on them) to collect the chip and draw a crew card. Rocs can only plunder planets where they get a cargo cube and possibly some chips depending on the planet. Ships can only loot once per turn, even if you give them more than one burn. During the Loot phase, you can also play as many crew cards as you want that have the Loot designation. These crew cards can provide additional movement, the ability to loot a second time, let you steal from other players, and even move planets along their orbits.

Place bridges near each other to create a quick way for a Roc to move across the Conflux. Image by Michael Knight.

Poker Phase

After each player has had their turn in the Loot phase, the Poker phase begins. Antematter uses Texas hold’em as its poker game. Each player puts their ante into the pot. This ante depends on the current ante for the interval. The deal shuffles the poker deck and deals two cards to each player. This is the pocket and they are not shown to the other players (unless someone plays a crew card that allows this). After each player looks at their cards, the player to the left of the dealer checks or bets. Check means that the player passes to the next player without betting. Players can only check of no one else has bet. Subsequent players can check, bet, call a bet that has already been made, or raise the bet. They can also fold.

After the first betting round, the dealer deals out three community cards face up which form the flop. A second betting round ensues. Then the dealer reveals another community card, the turn which is followed by the third betting round. Finally, the dealer draws the last community card, the river. A fourth betting round takes place. Once the betting is complete, the players make the best five card hand between their pocket cards and the community cards for the Showdown. The player with the highest hand wins the pot as well as goes first in the next Loot phase. The dealer token moves to the player to the left and the former dealer advances the planets along their orbits. Each faction has crew cards that can be used during the Poker phase. They will state when they are to be used. Some trump the bet, allowing a player to stay in the game and not have to bet or reduce the bet they must make. Float lets players take chips from the bank to make their bet, but must pay it back if they win the pot. Invest also lets players take chips from the bank to make a bet, but they do not have to give it back. There are other special abilities on crew cards that can really change the way the Poker phase is played.

Game End

Players want to get to or exceed the required amount of Nephelium to win the game. The amount to win depends on the number of players and ranges from 2000 Nephelium for a 3 player game to 3500 for a six player game. When a player reaches the threshold amount, which is 500 less than the winning amount, they receive a token of respect. The player must have it for a complete cycle before they can win, even if they exceed the amount need to win within the same turn as they get the token of respect. Whichever player has had the token for a complete cycle and reaches the required amount of Nephelium is the winner. In case more than one player reaches this amount, the one with the most Nephelium is the winner.

Why You Should Play Antematter

When I first saw that Antematter had a poker phase, I was not all that excited about it. I did not really understand how it fit in with a space game with ships and smuggling. After I read the rules, it sounded a bit more interesting. However, after I played Antematter for the first time, I was very impressed. I liked it even more as I Iearned better how to use the crew cards. Now that I have expressed my initial reservations and their resolution, let me get to my verdict on the matter.

Six unique factions provide for different strategies each time you play. Image by Michael Knight.

Antematter is a very unique game, and I am always looking for something different from the rest. The theme and story is great, which I really appreciate. Bardshark has been working on the Engine Star Universe for over 7 years and the depth of this universe is reflected not only in the feel of the gameplay, but the backstory for each of the factions and their crews. In fact, over half of the game manual is devoted to the lore of the game with information on each faction and crew member. Bardshark calls the artistic style of the game “decopunk” as it combines spacefaring and technology with the dash of the roaring twenties (1920s that is).

As mentioned earlier, the game has two phases. The Loot phase is fairly simple in that ships move one or two spaces per burn and each player gets three burns on their turn. You loot plunder hexes and planets, collect cargo, and recruit crew members. The ability to place bridges around the Conflux lets your Rocs move much farther and requires strategic thinking of where you want to go and where planets will be when you get there. This is fun by itself. However, throw in the crew cards that can be played in the Loot phase and anything can happen. Now you can make extra moves, loot multiple times per turn, and raid other players’ ships. I was totally caught off guard when my son who was the Conclave faction played crew cards that actually moved planets around in their orbits. Not to be outdone, I used crew cards from the Phalanx faction to move my Roc to a hex containing an enemy ship. After playing another crew card to raid his ship and steal two white tokens from him, I then did a burn to the planet he had moved and looted it–all in one turn.

During the Poker phase, the crew cards can also create a lot of unforeseen fun and chaos. Some allow you to increase the bets significantly without needing to put any of your own chips in the pot. Some crew cards require that community cards be placed face down and only the player who used that crew card can look at them. Some even let you steal chips from your opponents during the Poker phase. Just as in the Loot phase, crew cards add an entirely new strategic element to the Poker phase. Finally, the Grifter card adds a lot to tension to this phase. If one player is really raising bets, you have to wonder if that player has a good hand, or are they trying to get everyone to fold so they can collect the 20 times the ante bonus. Sometimes you feel you have to ride out a hand just to prevent this. Even players who are not fans of poker will still enjoy the Poker phase since it is so much more than just Texas hold’em.

The crew cards really make this a great game. Learn to make combos to maximize your advantage. Image by Michael Knight.

I had a great time playing Antematter. After the first game, I wanted to play again right away and try another faction. I feel that same way after every game. Some games go quickly while others last a bit longer. It really depends on how successful players are at both looting and winning the hands of poker. Playing crew cards is a major part of the game. I found myself burning through crew cards as quickly as I could, so in later games, I tried to keep a Raven near dives so I could quickly replenish my hand. The factions are designed to play combos of crew cards and the manual even provides examples of these combos to help players realize their power. Antematter is a fun and engaging game with an interesting story interwoven into the gameplay. The unique factions provide numerous variations that keep the game interesting game after game. I highly recommend Antematter for those players who value a rich theme and fun, engaging gameplay complete with unexpected twists and turns.

For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Kickstarter page!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.

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