Reviewed by: Peter Sbirakos
[In this issue, we say “G’day” to Australian Peter Sbirakos as we welcome him to our pages. Like many of us, Peter started his gaming early. He says:
“I purchased my first game in 1979 at the tender age of 12 from the supermarket which was Attack Force by the TSR company. Over the next few years in the early 1980s as I started to do a little work for pocket money over the weekends, I purchased games like Titan, Talisman, Centurion: Blood and Steel, Dungeon Quest, Battlestar Galactica and Star Fleet Battles Commanders Edition. As I got older around 1985 when I completed high school, board games just seemed to fall by the wayside and it wasn’t until 2006 that I rediscovered the hobby with my purchase of Days of Wonder’s Battlelore. I haven’t looked back since and in between life pressures, I enjoy the hobby very much and try to get a gaming session in at least once a week.”
And a gaming session occupies a big chunk of Peter’s first contribution as he (and a friend) go from Down Under to UP into Outer Space!]
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Set within the Astra Titanus and Forlorn: Hope game universe, Imperial Stars II (IS2) by designer Chris Taylor sports a mighty punch all packaged within a small tabletop footprint. With relations breaking down and diplomacy non-existent, two human civilisations, The Northern Union and Marasian Empire must now develop their respective war machines and launch into all-out war with each other. As the war progresses and planetary systems fall, resources become scarce and thus make this conflict a desperate race for survival.
Planetary systems are colonized, base stations are built and fleets are deployed ready for action and the intensity of the upcoming conflict becomes readily apparent. Potent Capital ships with their squadrons of fighters and Escort ships engage with enemy forces in fleet action that deliver weapons of destruction and explosions that etch brilliant lightning against the backdrop of stars. But the euphoria that comes when enemy ships are vanquished is coupled with the dread that a Captain’s ship and her crew may very well meet the same fate.
This game of conflict between two opposing players is a survival race against time impacted by the fact that sector maps are so small that one can see an opponent’s jugular right into their galactic back yard, hence the intensity of the conflict is a get-go right from the start. Like in the HBO series True Blood, the hunger for blood makes this fan of the series, a vampire for this game – that’s how good it is!
Imperial Stars II comes with two player aid mats, two double-sided cardstock maps, over 100 counters, 4 six-sided dice (two Yellow, two Red) and full color 32 page rulebook.
My good friend Björn Dressel is a Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University (and a seriously intelligent man) and just happens to love games. Although he very much enjoys wargames, he really isn’t a fan of the science fiction style wargame. My goal was to convince him otherwise and so we sat down and gave IS2 a good shot in the arm. As I’m sure many others do with respect to board games, we seek meaningful and intelligent choices that allow us to participate in a game that is above all fun, otherwise what is the point?
I’ve never designed a game in my life, but I do understand that freedom of choice within a games design constraints irrespective of genre, allows us to have that fun since:
• During a turn, you can have myriad of choices to select and make a move;
• Those choices flow well within the mechanics of the game;
• Depending on how well you play or not, those choices may well increases or decrease;
• But you have the ability to recover and perhaps come back from behind and even win.
I’m sure there is more to the above and many more points can be added by those with more in depth knowledge but in a nutshell, it probably just boils down to, are you having fun?
Four maps are supplied with IS2 and we chose to play Sector Map 1. The home world (HW) for each player is situated along the middle edge of the long side of the rectangular map. This means the home worlds are a maximum distance of 8 hexes and with
some ship units being able to travel a maximum of 4 hexes, you can be at each other’s throats in next to no time. However, this is mitigated due to the fact that Sector 1 is heavy with space terrain such as asteroids and nebulae. These natural terrain elements will slow down units (nebulae) or stop units (asteroids) and can act as natural choke points. (In figure 1 below right, we are into a couple of turns of Galactic Cycle 1. Both the Red and Yellow units are expanding and colonizing planetary systems.)
C:\Users\Peter\Desktop\analysis books\Galactic Cycle 1.jpg
Players’ forces are deployed at each other’s respective Home Worlds (HWs) and Operations (OPS) are then randomly selected.
If planetary systems have been colonized by a player, then 1 OPS point per system is added to that players OPS track thus OPS act as currency to spend on the various actions that players will undertake. Furthermore, expanding and colonising planetary systems act as a financial incentive to fund your war machine since you also receive the randomly placed planetary markers that further deliver options to help put that final nail to your opponent’s coffin. There is no doubt in my mind that failing to expand is not a viable strategic option!
Each player has 5 OPS counters of various values printed at their disposal and once all OPS counters are used, then 1 Galactic Cycle (GC) has been completed. As the game progresses, the length of a GC will decrease since the smallest value of an OPS counter is set aside until a GC will only consist of the last and highest value OPS counter, at which point once the players have had their turns, the game ends and victory points awarded which by the way, may end in a draw. If at any point during the match a HW is conquered, the game ends and that player will lose. The incentive to act quickly is measured by the GCs countdown, so don’t wait too long.
As the ever desperate race against GC time begins to unfold and the arms race build-up spreads to near and far planetary systems, contested hexes become the flashpoint for conflict. You had better be prepared; the fate of worlds and civilizations lie in your hands. Each player has a pool of units designated Reinforcement Zone A or Zone B and after paying a unit’s cost in OPS, then the unit(s) mayC:\Users\Peter\Desktop\analysis books\Galactic Cycle 2.jpg be deployed either to that player’s HW or at a planetary system that has a Base Station. If the funds are still available, then those same unit(s) may be activated to move and engage in combat. In addition, players may stockpile and use planetary markers from planetary systems that provide benefits such as additional OPS funds or deploying units from Reinforcement Zones A or B etc. These markers are extremely valuable that will help the war effort. (In Figure 2 at right, we are still on Galactic Cycle 1 with large stacks of enemy forces ready for the upcoming battle.)
Squadrons of fighters deployed from Capital units inflict serious damage to enemy forces and, if deployed in an asteroid field pack, even more devastating firepower – they exhibit greater accuracy. Hits are applied simultaneously firstly onto Escort units that are destroyed with one hit and then onto Capital units that require 2 hits to destroy. After the fighters have spent their ammo, then all Units including Escorts fire beam attack weapons. Ship units will flare and be vaporized instantly but if somehow they have survived the maelstrom, then fighters once again become fully stocked and begin their second assault. These battle rounds continue until the units of a player are destroyed or units of both players are destroyed or if the defender decides at some point in time to disengage and exercise his retreat option. When the first battle round is over and it is the next player’s turn, they may exercise an option to disengage if they wish. There is great flexibility in combat and it is a heck of a lot of fun. Surviving these kinds of battles reminds me of that science fiction series Earth: Above andC:\Users\Peter\Desktop\analysis books\Galactic Cycle 3.jpg Beyond – be prepared for short lived love affairs! (In Figure 3 at left, we are into Galactic Cycle 2. The initial engagement was a disaster for the Red units losing the whole fleet with only a loss of 3 Yellow units. The Scrapyard is full for the Reds!)
Ships that have movement values of 4 are capable of intercepting enemy forces moving in to engage you at another location or simply moving for a more advantageous position. These intercepts can act as delays enabling and giving you some breathing space to reinforce for the upcoming battle. A lone ship capable of an intercept will delay a large force of enemy stacked units and though it might be a suicide mission, may well be the ticket you just need.
Destroyed units are sent to players’ Scrapyards and may be recycled for various benefits such as OPS, sent to a Zone and Redeployed back to the conflict or, if available, may be used to fund for planetary markers that may be outside the Sector Map. Note: this is in addition to the originally placed markers in the planetary systems. Any damaged Capital units that have survived the battle, may of course be repaired at Base Stations.
Sometimes, due to poor decisions in the match, the inexorable march to oblivion begins. Actually, I completely and utterly suck at board games such as these although I do love them (strangely though, I tend to win more often than not with Race for the Galaxy). AC:\Users\Peter\Desktop\analysis books\Galactic Cycle 3.jpg maximum stack of 6 units per hex is allowed so a battle may consist of 12 units which include the enemy’s forces. So, partway through the 2nd GC, I attempted an assault on Björn’s force. What I failed to take into account was the nature of his force; he had 9 fighter squadrons to my 1 which was devastating. I still had time to bring in other units from the map and also to deploy from my Zone and was able to reinforce. But by the 3rd GC, Björn had conquered my HW. (In Figure 4 at right, we are in Galactic cycle 3. The march to oblivion for the Red and victory for the Yellows. The Northern Union (Yellow) has assaulted the Galactic Cycle 3 – The march to oblivion for the Reds and victory for the Yellows. The Northern Union (Yellow) has assaulted the Marasian Empires Home World (Red) with only a damaged Base Station (BS) and Heavy Cruiser (CA) left to defend it. Note both units are rotated 90 degrees to indicate this. Figure 5: Below, the aftermath. The Marasian Empire is no more. Note a fleet of Marasian units heading for the Northern Union Home World which is of course too little, too late. Conquering the opposing Home World is considered a “sudden death” victory. C:\Users\Peter\Desktop\analysis books\Galactic Cycle 3B.jpg
However, if an enemy Home World is not conquered, victory is also achieved by the player collecting the most Victory Points through control of Planetary Systems and Colonies (each of which is worth 1 VP). High scorer wins.
This game will reward good planning such as developing a force that has a nice mix of Capital units and Escorts. A player cannot see what they will deploy from their reinforcement zone since the units are placed face down. Therefore, deploying units with that right mix may take some time so don’t rush into battle too early and take the time to know your enemy well. In addition, the correct timing and use of the planetary markers is vital to help the war effort so take the time to expand and exploit those resources.
The use of dice and Combat Results Tables to resolve battles is standard fare and results will always be prone to the mercy of the dice role. In my battles with Björn, I was rolling quite poorly and missing while he was rolling high more often than not. I have absolutely no issue with that since we were both playing under the same rule set.
The intensity this game generates is a function of both the size of the map and the countdown of the GC. Since HWs are only a short distance apart, you have to be on the lookout for a quick offense to your opponents system (and vice versa) including the ability to hold a defensive line. You must also expand so as to generate funds and also to build forward Base Stations that can be used as staging posts for an assault. In short, use every means at your disposal to reward your gameplay.
For the boxed game, the price is excellent. The artwork on the counters is nice; they are thick and feel great when handled. The maps are fine although not mounted. The rule book does an excellent job in its description of the game although I would have liked an Index to have been included. I believe that all rule books should contain a quality index.
In this review/article/replay, I wanted to point out the importance of players having enough choice so as to make decisions that were meaningful, that could go some way to helping achieve victory but, if not, at least to make the game competitive and fun. I am happy to report that this game does that in every sense of the word. For such a small footprint, this game does indeed wield an almighty punch and leaves players thinking about gameplay elements long after the last battle has been fought.
I thoroughly enjoy it and will continue to play this as friends pop over for a beer or two over a gaming section. Did I also manage to convince Björn into liking these types of science fiction wargames? Well, he certainly liked winning!
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Fall 2014 GA Reports