Star Plus is a hand management card game designed by Park Tae Woo, originally published in Korea. Star Plus plays 2 to 6 players in 20 minutes or less and is suitable for ages 7 and up. Korea Board Games has partnered with Sweet Lemon Publishing to bring Star Plus to the English market, currently available for order on NiceGameShop.
How to Play Star Plus
Star Plus is very simple, the goal of the game is to be the first player out of cards and have played the most cards. Players take turns playing cards that add up to 1, then 2, then 3, and all the way up to 12. Once 12 is played, it starts again back at 1. Players can play any number of cards on a turn to add up to the required number. If you cannot play the correct total, you must draw 2 cards. If you play 3 or more cards, this triggers a “Black Hole”. This means that all players must now use 3 or more cards to make their total, until someone cannot and they draw 4 cards. The game plays over 3 rounds, which end if any player is out of cards or the main draw deck is exhausted. Points are awarded for cards in a player’s discard pile and deducted for cards still in hand. Players ending rounds with no cards in hand earn bonus points and whoever earns the most points after 3 rounds wins the game.
The deck contains 74 cards, both positive and negative. There are also a few cards with special abilities. The lightning bolt card let’s you use the power of Zeus to skip a turn, even during a black hole. Cards 7 and 8 let the player take two cards from the opponent on their right and left, respectively. Playing a 9 card in a total causes play order to reverse.
Star Plus is a great game for the whole family. It is super easy to teach and can be played with younger children. The game is a particularly useful tool is you are teaching your kids addition and subtraction. The whole game revolves around adding numbers from 1 to 9 or subtracting the negative cards from 1 to 3. For adult gamers, Star Plus is just going to be a filler game, but can be fun as you attempt to make totals with multiple cards and unleash a black hole on your opponents. The simple math does not require lots of brain power, so Star Plus is great if you are looking for something quick and relaxing.
At times it felt like there were not enough negative cards in the deck. With a handful of sevens, eights, and nines, it is impossible to sum to the lower totals. This is where the hand management aspect really comes into play. It was very uncommon (I don’t recall it ever happening) where a player discarded all of their hand before counting reset from 12 to 1. After a few rounds, you learn to not squander the negative cards on larger numbers. But that is a choice you have to make, use it to help open a black hole or save it for low numbers.
The constellation theme is there to provide artwork for the cards and explain why the game counts to 12 (the zodiac signs). Though the theme doesn’t really matter, it does serve to make the game more appealing to kids (than a standard deck of cards for example). Basically “let’s add numbers together” versus “let’s combine constellations to create starry sky for the annual festival.” The same can be said of other popular games like Hanabi, “play numbers in sequence” or “build fireworks.” Which do you think will get your kids to the table?
Deciding between a bunch of cards that can be used to add up to the same number in a variety of ways is my favorite part of the game. This is often encountered, and then it becomes less about playing the required total but about what cards you keep. If you have good foresight, you can determine what number you’ll be at on your next turn and hold onto cards to sum to that number. Just keep in mind, some people may not be able to play and your plans will be spoiled when you have to total to a different number.
Star Plus is recommended for families with young children or for playing with groups of friends who only play games like Uno, Phase 10, etc. A far more exciting and competitive way to bring learning math into the home (when I was young, we just had boring flash cards). It provides suitable enjoyment as a filler game for the more seasoned tabletop player, but can grow stale after frequent plays. At only 10€ (~ $11 USD/$15 CAD) plus shipping, Star Plus is a good gift option.