Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Jerason Banes. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, especially since this is not a particularly art-intensive game. Please note that final artwork and rules may change, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
So I still love space games. There’s something about doing spaceship things that I find really appealing. That’s part of why I think Roll for the Galaxy is such a great game, for instance, and also really like Tiny Epic Galaxies. Neither are particularly combat-heavy games, though, which seems like a missing niche in my space game library.
Enter Stellar Armada.
First off, let’s talk about one thing — this is an attempt to successfully Kickstart a $1 game. That alone makes it kind of worth taking a look. My photography will use the $5 Deluxe version, but I’ll also show you what the basic version looks like:
Now, onto the game. You have a ship. Your opponent has a ship. Only one of you can survive. In 10 minutes or so, you’ll find out which one. Can you successfully overwhelm your opponent? Or will you get unlucky and have your ship explode around you like pretty much every Faster Than Light player, at some point?
So, assuming you don’t have the Deluxe version, you’ll want to grab yourself a die or three; you’ll need them for the game.
First, you’ll notice your ships:
Each card is its own ship, and on the back is a helpful rules card:
Give each player a ship card. Now, you’ll also see some cubes and dice in the Deluxe version (or little tokens in the Basic version):
Each player should get assigned a set of dice and a set of cubes, and place them on their systems like so:
- Red cubes should go on the Missile Launcher 3, the Maser 3, and the Missile Ammo 10.
- The Blue cube should go on the Engines 3.
- The Yellow cube should go on the Shields 5.
- The Pink cube should go on the Reactor 6.
- The Green cube should go on the Repair Systems 3.
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start! Your play area should look something like this:
So, you’re fighting ships. Your goal, essentially, is to either render your opponent incapable of attacking or destroy their ship by blowing up their reactor. Their goal is to do the same thing, but to you, because why would they blow up their own ship that doesn’t make any sense.
You can do this a variety of ways, but it helps to understand what the various systems on your ship do, first.
It might help to start with offensive maneuvers:
- Missile Launchers allow you to spend 1 energy to shoot one of your 10 missiles at your opponent. You may shoot up to two missiles or your Missile Launcher system’s current power level per turn, whichever is lower. A successful hit with a missile does 5 damage, which is kind of a lot.
- Masers don’t do as much damage, but aren’t quite as limited as missiles. You may shoot X Masers per turn, where X is the Maser system’s current power level (starts at 3). Each successful hit with a Maser does 2 damage.
How do you determine if you hit? Well, roll a die. You must roll at least a 2 + the opponent’s Engine Boost, which can be 0 – 3. This means you may need anywhere from a 2 to a 5+ to hit your opponent. On the first turn of the game, the defending player is assumed to have an Engine Boost of +3 (because otherwise there’d be a huge advantage to going first).
Generally, if you hit your opponent you’ll do damage to a system of your choice (unless their Shields are up, in which case you’ll hit those first). If you manage to overkill a system (say, hitting the Missile Launcher system with a Missile – 5 damage to a 3-power system), the damage overflows into the Reactor, which can take up to 2 overflow damage. If your opponent’s Reactor ever takes 6 total damage, the ship blows up and you win!
Now, let’s talk defensive / other:
- Shields block damage done to your ship as the first line of defense. They can take up to five damage, and on your turn you can provide a unit of power to recharge them. If an opponent does more damage to your Shields than you have power for (say, 2 damage when you’re at 1 Shields), the damage overflows into a subsystem of their choice (except for the Reactor). EDIT: THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE. Shields now no longer overflow after a recent rules change.
- Engines attempt to be the zeroth line of defense, as there’s no need for Shields if nobody can hit you. On your turn, you can provide X units of energy to set your Engine Boost to +X, where X is the current Engine power level. Note that your Engine Boost cannot be changed when it’s not your turn, so even if your entire Engine system is destroyed, if you started the turn with a +3 boost you’ll maintain it.
- Repair Systems allow you to fix broken parts of your ship (except for the Reactor, and also the Shields because you repair them directly). You can provide X units of energy to repair a broken system by 1 at a time, to a total of X repairs, where X is the Repair System’s power level.
- The Reactor is the most important part of your ship, as it supplies power to your other functions. On any given turn, you have X power to provide to subsystems, where X is the current number that the Reactor’s marker is on. Note that you can only damage the Reactor 2 damage for every completely destroyed system around it, so you have to take down three systems before you can deal a finishing blow to your opponent.
Unfortunately there’s no real easy way to keep track of how you’re allocating your energy on a turn. Just make sure you keep track on your own, since the cubes are used to track the power level of the system, not whether or not you’re adding energy to it that turn.
As I’ve mentioned, play goes back and forth until one player is incapable of returning fire (Repair Systems + Missile Launchers + Masers are destroyed), or their Reactor is destroyed. It shouldn’t take too long.
Player Count Differences
Not a real thing in a two-player only game. That said, they now have a four-player ruleset that allows you to play with, as you might expect, four players.
I haven’t personally tested it, but you are only permitted to attack players on your left and right. Once one of those players is eliminated, you can attack the last player, who you could not normally have hit before. This gives you some incentive to avoid eliminating the player in between you and the last player so that they can’t attack you on their turn either without eliminating the player in between you two. Seems fun.
This is kind of a highly luck-based game (especially since it’s so short), but here’s what I do:
- Pretty much every turn possible you want that Engine Boost +3. It makes your odds of survival a lot better.
- Keep in mind what an opponent can do. If they hit you with two missiles and a maser, that’s 12 damage. That’s a LOT of damage! Try to make sure you’re prepared to take that on, I suppose.
- Keep in mind what YOU can do. I tend to forget that I can fire two missiles and three masers per turn. Try not to do that, because those are a lot of solid options.
- Generally, the first systems I damage are the Repair Systems, if I can. If you can hurt your opponent’s ability to repair stuff, that will make the game a bit more risky for them. That said, you can literally go after any system — they all have pros and cons.
- Remember that damaging the Reactor reduces the amount of energy they have available next turn. This means you might want to prioritize going after the Reactor, since that could be a crippling blow to them.
- Keep your shields up as long as you can, but don’t be afraid to take the fight to your opponent. There’ll likely come a point where you realize that you don’t have enough energy to get a +3 Engine Boost and keep your Shields up. It might not be a bad idea to switch to Attack mode, but … that’s a bit of a judgment call.
- My first turns are usually +3 Engine Boost, Missile, Missile, Maser. The Missiles can usually take care of the Shields if I’m lucky, and the Engine Boost keeps me protected. Note that I can’t do this if I’m repairing, say, my Shields during my turn. Note that this was with the old rules.
- With the new rules, you might want to consider more heavily leaning on your masers. Since Shield damage no longer overflows, using your second missile to take out the shields doesn’t really help you, that much. It would torch an entire system, if you do that, but at a cost, since you use up missiles when you do that.
- Try to keep your opponent repairing systems on their turn / regenerating Shields. If they’re trying to bolster their defense, they might not have the resources or energy to attack you back. That could be to your advantage.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Space game! I love space games.
- Super fast. It really only takes 10 minutes.
- Very inexpensive. If you’re looking for a cheap game to try, it really is gonna be just $1 on Kickstarter for the basic version.
- Easy to transport / play. The whole game fits into, like, half a deck’s tuckbox. You only need maybe a sheet of paper-sized area to actually play it, so it works pretty well anywhere that’s stable enough to not lose the dice / cubes / tokens.
- Feels very “space combat-y”. It reminds me a lot of Faster Than Light (as I mentioned previously), in that yeah, damage to your ship kind of snowballs as you lose the ability to fix things efficiently. For a game of its length, I like that.
- The game snowballs pretty aggressively. If you take damage early or get unlucky, it can be very hard to get out from behind it. Especially based on how the reactor works — if you take damage to the Reactor, you will have a TON of trouble getting back out ahead unless your opponent gets super unlucky. It’s very much a poor-get-poorer game, which might not be everyone’s up of tea.
- Pretty luck-based. Just based on the way the dice rolling is integrated into the game, you can’t always do something about a bad roll, and there’s very little luck mitigation. That said, it’s only a 10m game, so it’s hard for me to care about that too much.
- I wish there were more ship types. I think that, say, War Co. does this sort of thing interestingly because they have multiple types of decks but the basic idea of the game is the same. I think it might feel a bit more varied if you had 2-5 different ship designs that you could use each game.
- Having the rules on the back of a card you’ll normally keep rules-side-down makes it really hard to remember or check the rules during the game. It usually means that one player has to slide all their cubes off so that we can check the rules, which isn’t super ideal.
- I don’t really like that there isn’t a good way to keep track of where you put your energy units on your turn. It relies on a bit of mental bookkeeping, which can be problematic.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think it’s a super cool little game! As far as a proof-of-concept goes, I think it’s neat. It’s definitely something you can carry in a pocket and play a quick game of while you’re waiting for something, as, sure, it’s luck-based and has a bit of a snowballing thing, but it rapidly ends once someone gets behind the 8-ball. I think it’s a great little game (especially for the price) and I look forward to seeing what else Stellar Armada has to offer.