Star Requiem: Humanity’s Last Stand

Reviewed by: Peter Sbirakos

(Steve Hawkins, 1 player, ages 14 and up, 300 minutes, Print & Play,

starrequiemboxI am drawn to military science fiction/horror novels and very much enjoy themes of destruction, bleak and desperate situations, and thrilling accounts of protagonists doing their utmost to survive in dire circumstances. But can these plot lines and themes be designed into solitaire style board games when you, as the protagonist, must race against time to stop an evil Necromancer from destroying the world? Will the game provide you with enough choices and, based on those choices, a healthy dose of tension to bring about the destruction of said evil Necromancer? Or, in making poor choices, will you watch with horror as that Necromancer destroys the world?

These kinds of decisions in the course of a game raise the prospect of providing a narrative that slowly unfolds in the course of an evening whereby you experience drama, high tension, excitement and deep thinking in order to beat the game’s artificial intelligence (AI). Based on the many gameplay After Action Report (AAR) posts Steve Hawkins has published on Boardgamegeek (BGG) and the many books I have read on military science fiction, I felt confident that Star Requiem: Humanity’s Last Stand would capture gameplay elements that hopefully told a good story but, overall, provided a challenging game, hence the decision to bring this game to the table was an easy one.

Star Requiem: Humanity’s Last Stand (SR) is a solitaire boardgame designed by Steve Hawkins. Steve released the print and play files in 2013 ( after many posts detailing his design decisions, providing AARs, and receiving feedback from BGG community members. However, other than Steve’s AARs, no else on the ‘geek had provided any information on what they felt about the game play or the difficulties in crafting it up. It was from that lack of information that I made the decision to go ahead, build it, and witness the game play for myself. After all, who doesn’t want to be the savior of the Human Race?

Humanity is situated in a corner of the galaxy that borders an artificial intelligence (AI) known as the Xeno Cyborg Lifeform or XYL for short. Although the XYL resemble the Borg (think Star Trek) in many ways, the difference is that they are not interested in assimilating other species but in their total annihilation. Humanity, therefore, is right on the brink of destruction and you, as a player, have 50 turns to build the infrastructure required to defend your home systems. Through the use of star bases, ship yards, outposts, capital ships and other assets, you try to defend those systems that the XYL threaten, all the while researching new ship types and weapons technologies to take the fight to the XYL.

Since the XYL are an AI, you can also perform science based missions that will allow for breakthroughs in nanovirus technology that you can deploy and thus reprogram the aliens AI core – in effect, shutting it down. But the XYL have other ideas and want to deploy a doomsday weapon to destroy the humans. If you are unsuccessful in developing the nanovirus and the XYL deploy their device, the game is lost. If you are able to effectively stop the XYL from deploying their device but unsuccessful in researching the nanovirus, the game is a draw or according to the rules, a minor victory for Humanity. But if the nanovirus is deployed, you win! The countdown is on: T – minus 50 turns and counting!

starreqmapSteve professes not to be an artist but he has done an excellent job in developing the art work displayed on the components. There are a ton of components that include:

The Star Grid or Star Map – This is the main board and is used to populate this sphere of the galaxy. It is in the shape of a grid with 5 planetary systems along rows and 4 planetary systems along columns for a total of 20 planetary systems. At start of play, 16 planetary systems are populated, 8 human and 8 XYL.

Human Scientific Progress Board – This tracks your progress to developing 3 specific types of technologies such as Starship Theory and associated ship size classes and ship speed modifiers, Weapons Theory and associated weapons modifiers and, finally, the nanovirus research that you use for deployment to the XYL core worlds.

Human Builds Tracking Board – As the name implies, this board tracks your build points storage and build points per turn. These build points are generated from both orbital and ground installations. In addition, there is space for a ship yard that allows for construction of ship units of different sizes such as size 1, 2, 3 and 4. Bigger ship sized units such as size 3 and 4 are expensive in both building and maintaining.

Human Fleets Tracking board – Ship units built from your shipyards are then placed here in the Reserve Box of the Human Fleets Tracking Board ready for deployment as Fleets. Other than scouts, ships cannot move alone but must move as Fleets. A minimum of 2 units designate a fleet and the movement speed of a fleet used that of the slowest unit. This board tracks the mission types that fleets undertake on the Star Grid and the Command Points required to deploy the fleets including the experience commanders receive irrespective of mission success or failure. Command Points are generated from Star Bases, Outposts and the Human Home World.

XYL Fleet Intel Display Tracking board – XYL units are composed of scout fleets, minor fleets and major fleets. XYL fleet types are intimately connected to what is known as the XYL Confidence Level (CL). The CL is composed of 4 phases with each phase allowing for more XYL unit variety and greater options in their quest to destroy humanity.

starreqcards1Planetary System Cards – The Human and XYL system cards (seen at right) display information such as defense and detection ratings and Infrastructure ratings. There is space on the cards to add ground installations and docked fleets too. Both the Human and XYL races have 18 planetary systems with different characteristics such as Infra levels, Defense and Detection ratings etc. The cards are designated as Inner, Middle and Outer Systems which are shuffled into their respective draw decks. 2 x Inner, 2 x Middle and 3 x Outer cards are drawn randomly (plus home world) to populate the galaxy for both the Human and XYL. The XYL cards are placed face down with the Unscouted system cards relating to which particular system (Inner, Middle and Outer) placed face up and on top of the XYL cards. Out of a possibility of 36 cards, 16 are placed at any one time leaving 4 empty spaces.

Ship Yards – During the course of the game, you can build 4 of these and each provides different characteristics such as the ability to build ship units and defend systems. A ship unit type is drawn randomly from its unit size draw pile and placed face down on the Lay Keel. During the Human Strategic Phase of the game, the player has the option to roll against the next printed number of the particular Slip and if equal or greater than that number, the unit is moved further along the Slip until it is complete. If the roll is missed, then the ship must stay put AND its cost paid in BP regardless of build success or not.

The Counters – These represent Human and XYL ship units of different classes and corresponding attributes such as movement, defense ratings, electronics ratings and more. Other counters include Starbases, Outposts, Shipyards, Research Labs and Production Facilities. Also included are the various counters that assist and record gameplay such as spin counters, level counters, moral counters and action counters.

Combat and Mission Tables – Six specific XYL tables drive the AI in the game. Depending on which phase of the game you are in, you will roll to determine the XYL strategy for that turn such as the number of Human systems targeted, whether or not a XYL fleet arrives at those systems, the chances of success those fleets might have, the composition of those fleets and whether you can engage in fleet action combat. For the Human side, there are 4 tables that consist of Science/Weapons Theory, Science/Starship Theory, Science/Nanovirus Lethality and the System Defense Table.

It’s probably not worthwhile in describing the rules since they are readily available online suffice to say that sections of the rules were difficult to interpret. Steve writes well and the intent is clear enough. However, the problem is that there are gaps in some sections of the rules and, in addition, the rules reference counters or graphic items on the Star Grid that no longer exist or may exist but with a different name. For example, the bottom right corner box of a Human system is labeled “No Intel” and coloured blue, yet on page 10 of the rule book, the picture example shows the same box as labeled “Mission/Scouted” and coloured red. While the rules reference Mission/Scouted, there is no mention whatsoever of No Intel and its function. Mission/Scouted and No Intel have very different meanings from each other

There are many other problems with the rules too. Terminology is used interchangeably to refer to different counters and not enough is described in the rules to perform a game function. For example, the rules reference intelligence counters but what exactly are they and where are they placed? The only clue you get is on page 12 with ‘1TURN OLD’ side up. As for placing them, the only information you receive is reset them or advance them on the Star Grid. This version of the rules set is clearly out of date and doesn’t quite align with the some of the counters and the variously graphical displays on the Star Grid. Perhaps not all ship units need to be described since they share the same functions but certainly board game counters must be described and examples provided in their use.

But it’s not all a failure and I must remind myself of the effort that Steve took to design, develop, produce and write the files. I can also see the massive undertaking he took in writing the rules and he can be forgiven for gaps. The feel of the writing is one of passion and honesty (is there such a thing as honest rules?) and his prose is good. There are some typos such as misplaced commas and just a grammatical issue or two but I didn’t detect any spelling mistakes. It really is a remarkable effort for a one man job. I say well done!

From his AAR’s of the game play, Steve clearly has a great time playing it and I can sense both frustration and joy in smacking down the XYL. From the AARs, I was able to piece together some of those rules gaps and go on to enjoying this game. Of course this was extremely important to me because I had invested a number of hours in crafting this up and I SO wanted this one to play well.

When laid out, the Star Grid or Star Map looks fantastic and depicts planetary systems with corresponding side boxes giving you space to place orbital and ground installations. To the right of each planetary system, there are 3 boxes that represent Outer, Middle and Inner Systems and a player can move between these systems and onto Hyper Transit Boxes in order to travel between friendly systems and to explore unscouted XYL systems. Since the XYL can target your systems, you have the option to either engage with the XYL fleet (using either the quick combat resolution or the longer but far more satisfying tactical combat) and/or let your systems deal with the XYL invasion.

Many choices are to be had within this game and it really makes for a great experience. For both the player and the XYL, the game play consists of selecting missions. For the player, these missions (of which there are 8), depend on your available funds, your infrastructure, whether you wish to be more aggressive, whether you wish to conduct research and others. Whilst you have freedom of choice in missions, you can’t, for example, conduct research into Weapons Theory if you haven’t built any labs. For the XYL, their mission type is based on a player roll and cross referenced against the current XYL Strategy Phase such as Scout, Terror, Attrit or Conquer. The current Human Aggression Level is added to this roll and can potentially influence XYL fleets arriving. Furthermore, the player will roll to determine the human systems the XYL will target including the composition of the XYL fleet and chances of XYL success against those systems. If the XYL are successful, then the XCL (Xeno Confidence Level) continues to slide towards doomsday weapon deployment.

All this interstellar background is played out against 8 phases in the game, and they work well. Once you understand the sequence and intent for each phase, you can really begin to develop a strategy to counter the XYL threat. Each phase consists of Intelligence, Human Strategic, XYL Strategic, Human Tactical, XYL Tactical, Fleet Organization, Research and Victory/Reinforcement. There are of course sequences of steps that are undertaken for each phase but sometimes whole phases will be skipped. So turns can go by quickly.

It is nice to see your systems slowly coming alive with orbital facilities and ground installations. Along with your ship yards, your labs and fleets slowly being built, it is easy to imagine whole world populations in crisis working together to avert disaster. It is equally disheartening to see your systems successfully scouted and attacked with infrastructure blown out of the sky to finally being conquered. But the joy and triumph in leveling the alien XYL makes for an awesome gaming experience.

The addition of the Tactical Battle Board in fleshing out magnificent space battles is icing on the cake. While it does add some length to game play time, it enhances the board game experience. Of course, if you wish to switch back to the quick combat resolution, you can. This mechanic reminds me of the PC game series Total War – you can fight a real time battle or if short on time, use the PC to resolve immediately. I haven’t seen this type of mechanic implement in a board game and I enjoy that freedom to choose immensely.

A game with themes of destruction and a chance to divert disaster, I love it! The Humanity Moral Level (HML) suggests whether the mood is somber or one of jubilation. Letting the HML fall too low can end in defeat. The Humanity Aggression Level is an indicator in how aggressive you can scout and/or attack XYL fleets and systems. When being REALLY aggressive, the XYL can advance through each of phase of their XCL quite quickly, have more options in deploying fleets and increase the chance of attack. Balancing HAL against the XYL is the key to winning the game. Keeping Humanity’s aggression in check helps keeps the alien’s confidence in check and hence slows down XYL strategy. However, this is easier said than done with the XYL sending targeted missions of attack to your system worlds. With each XYL mission successfully scouting and/or conquering Human systems, their strategy becomes far more aggressive and there is that unrelenting slide to XYL doomsday weapon deployment. The balancing act in committing your forces to scout and patrol, to build your infrastructure and conduct science missions is terrific with plenty of hard choices to make.

The design effort by the one man team of Steve Hawkins has to be commended and there is excellent game play here to be had. But the current rules set is another matter and requires proofreading and editing. While the bulk of the information is there, further work to add missing game play information, update counter terminology including descriptions of all game counters with detailed examples of play is a requirement. There were times I had to puzzle out game play information that hadn’t been explained adequately and on occasion I was tempted to quit. But I’m glad I stuck with it.

I would love to see Star Requiem: Humanity’s Last Stand published professionally and, if any games publishing company would take a product that has been already been designed and tested but brought to that next level of professionalism, they might just have a best seller here.

I would like to offer some practical tips for those who have read this piece and would like to try the game for themselves. The print and play files are readily available on Boardgamegeek but there is no need to go ‘the whole hog’ like I did with crafting this up. I used glossy photo paper and made a 6-fold mounted board along with mounted counters and laminated system cards. Simply print up on normal sheets of paper, glue the counters and other game boards on some packet cardboard and away you go. I promise you its fun! On a final note, I would like to thank Steve for creating a fantastic solitaire game.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Winter 2015 GA Report Articles


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