Fractal Juegos' Nebula was among the games the Board's Eye View team brought back from Spiel Essen 2023. Loosely themed around the stars and constellations in the galaxy, Nebula is essentially an abstract strategy game where players are drafting various colour stars and placing them out on their individual boards in order to meet various scoring objectives.
On your turn, you get to draft up to three stars; a maximum of one for each of the three star nurseries. You select by moving your marker a total of exactly five spaces around the three nurseries (so, for example, you might move one marker three spaces, another two and the third not at all). You must then place out two stars on your board (not necessarily the ones you've just drafted) but if you drafted and place out a star that matches the current colour of the central star, you can place three stars rather than just two.
When you place stars out on your board you must start from the centre and all subsequent placements must be adjacent to another star. Stars may be connected by orbit, by direct (solid) line or they may have an 'indirect' (broken line) connection. In any event, you can never have two stars of the same colour in adjacent positions. Within these restrictions, you'll be trying to place stars so that they meet your personal objective and as many as possible of the shared objectives. All the objectives are on cards, so are randomised and will vary from game to game, but the shared objectives fall into two distinct categories; those harder-to-achieve objectives that award a higher number of points to the player that is first to achieve the objective (for example, completing a specific orbit using exactly three colours of star), and those that can potentially be scored multiple times (for example, having an orange star connected to a blue star). Black stars don't get placed in your star field but instead go onto a scoring track at the top of your individual board. Here they contribute directly to your end-game score but whenever you place out a black star you also get to move a marker on a central scoring track that can determine which colours, which constellations and which of the multiple objectives get to score.
With a design by Cristian Bustos and Bernardo Vásquez, and art by Luna Vargas, Nebula is an attractive puzzle optimisation game which certainly rewards forward planning. There's an element of jostling for position on the black-star-controlled scoring track and you'll certainly be in a race with the other players for the objectives that score higher for the first player to complete them. The game has an attractive table presence and it's generally well produced, with dual-layer boards so that the stars all slot into indentations. It's just a pity that there aren't similar indentations for the markers that indicate which stars you are taking; these are all too easily jogged in play. When you place a star in position on your individual board, you cover up the indication of which constellation it's in; that's mostly not a problem except that some of the scoring objectives require you to know which stars are in which constellation. It's also unfortunate that the orange and red stars can be difficult to distinguish in less-than-perfect light. These are all minor gripes tho' for a game that's easy to learn and teach, and which delivers a satisfying 2-4 player experience in its 30-40 minute playing time.