Stella: Dixit Universe is a wonderfully dreamy board game. Like Dixit, its classic predecessor, it revolves around 3-6 players forming associations between one key word (per round), and an array of surreal images, brought to life in beautiful illustrations. With few rules about this interpretation, and gameplay backed by whims and whimsy, Stella allows for a wholesome and calming multiplayer experience that feels genuinely transportive. It’s a game that tickles your brain, and gives you space to think without the pressure of time, or significant competition.
While there is a goal in Stella: Dixit Universe, in that you’re aiming to essentially “mind meld” with other players to form shared sparks of inspiration, the game’s slow pace and subjective mechanics make it perfect for lazier, friendlier board game afternoons.
Stella: Dixit Universe – Setup and Gameplay
Stella: Dixit Universe is designed to be as all-ages friendly as possible, and you can see that clearly in its approach to simple rules and setup. As with Dixit, setup begins with laying out a position tracker, and a slate of cards – in this case, 15 – with players given “spark” boards to record their interpretations.
Thanks to an effectively packed box and high-quality components, you can put together your Stella board in under a minute, with everyone prepared and up to speed very quickly. As for the rules, they’re fairly simple and can be learned in 5-10 minutes, which is ideal when you’ve got to wrangle 3+ players for gameplay.
For a quick rundown, Stella: Dixit Universe is played over four rounds, each determined by the selection of a key word. These words range from objects or beings (Zombie, Spy, Alien) to more esoteric themes (Treasure, Pleasure, Home, Wonder, Victory) which require players to think more deeply about their image associations.
Once the word is selected, players analyse their boards (which reflect the layout of the cards) and mark the cards they think most relate to that word. You want to choose a reasonable amount of cards, but not be too greedy with your potential picks – as you’re aiming to share choices with other players. There’s also the added twist that if you pick the most card associations of everyone (ie. you check off the most boxes) you may end up “in the dark” – a state which impacts your final score for a particular round.
When it comes to scoring, it’s all about having a shared “spark” with your fellow players. If one or more players have chosen the same image to associate as you have, you’ll get two stars. If only one other player has chosen your same image, you’ll get a “super-spark” worth three points. If nobody has chosen your card, you “fall” and can no longer claim sparks for that round.
After a round is over, scores are tallied, the art cards are refreshed, and play continues for three additional rounds, before the game ends with a final winner.
Strategy plays a key role
What’s most intriguing about Stella: Dixit Universe is its approach to scoring – which must be completely understood and strategised around for victory. While the nature of the game is typically calming, thanks to its approach to whimsical art, and its slower rounds, you can make easy mistakes here, and wind up well behind your opponents.
Stella is premised around finding image associations with a particular word, but rather than creating strictly personal associations, the best tactic is in analysing which cards you think other players would pick to associate with that word. You might have memories or associations tied to a particular image, but if nobody else associates that word with that image, then you’ll end up falling, and being unable to claim the rest of your picks.
With each player choosing a card until they fall or run out of images to cross-check with other players, you’ll want to start by selecting the picks you think will net guaranteed sparks. For example, if the word is “Spring” you’ll want to cross-check the cards with flowers or greenery first, as they’re more likely to feature on other player boards. Once you fall, the rest of your picks are void – so thinking about your opponents, and how their minds work is key.
You won’t be able to mind-read, but there are clever ways to make this scoring system work for you. In some cases, it may be better to select multiple options – thus “entering the dark” – if only to ensure you have ample options to cross-check with other players, to ensure you’re earning the most points in each round. Deciding on your strategy provides extra spice to each round, as the tide can turn at any moment, and you’ll want to be in the best position when another player falls (or you do).
Beyond this layer of strategy and deep thinking, Stella: Dixit Universe impresses in other avenues – most notably, in its high production and build quality. It’s a simple board game overall, encompassing a number of art cards and dry erase boards, but everything here has been carefully thought out.
The box is a particular standout, with each colourful component fitting neatly into their slots, to keep the box compact and easy to carry around. It’s a minor feature in the grand scheme, but given Stella is positioned as a group-based multiplayer game, it’s a handy feature to have. Beyond making the innards look swish, it means taking Stella to your friends is simple.
As an added benefit, it’s also very eye-catching, with a pink, blue, and purple-hued design that makes it stand out. Then, you take out the game’s many illustrated cards, and you’re even more well-served. Stella builds on the beauty of Dixit considerably, with many of its cards being phenomenally gorgeous.
There are cosy scenes of baking, relaxing, reading, and exploring, dazzling action scenes, cute animals, nightmarish visions, and wholesome dreams. The variety – and the sheer number of cards – is stunning, and contributes to a sense of endless replayability for Stella.
In every good board game collection, you need a game that can be played multiple times, for the familiarity of players, and for those afternoons where you don’t want to be constantly learning new rules. I can certainly see Stella becoming that game for me.
With its inviting gameplay, easy-to-learn rules, variety of image and word cards, and its layers of potential strategy, Stella: Dixit Universe is an impressive spin on the Dixit formula, and one that allows for a level and rewarding playing field. Its scoring system may occasionally cause trouble and frustration, but with each round passing like a warm breeze, this gameplay presents a wonderful, brain-tickling challenge, rather than an obstacle.
Four stars: ★★★★
Stella: Dixit Universe
Designer: Gérald Cattiaux and Jean-Louis Roubira
Release Date: 2022
A copy of Stella: Dixit Universe was provided by VR Distribution and Rocket Comms for the purposes of this review.