StarCraft: The Board Game detailed review
Greetings all, thanks for taking some time to check out my review of Starcraft: The Board Game. I will review each component of the game, in broken down paragraphs and then give my over all opinion on the game.
This game ships with plenty of components! No question that if someone is looking to undertake some serious miniature painting, this game comes packed full of miniature goodness. Now the miniatures are numerous yet this does not, I repeat, does not, sacrifice any detail in each miniature whatsoever, and fans of the computer game can easily recognize every piece the game ships with, including the expansion, at a moment’s glance.(OPINION: except the Zerg Queen, which was terribly done! Eek!). From minor detail such as the muscle striations on the Zerg units, to the mechanical intricacies that the Terran and Protoss mech units show off, these miniatures are great! It adds a lot of depth and feeling for a board game when the playing pieces are truly enjoyable to look at, and the power level of pieces is depicted greatly by their on board appearance, which again, only adds to the emersion into the game environment.
With the miniatures behind us, the pieces that make up the playing board, which in this case are planets or asteroids, are done with excellent artwork. Each planet posses its own distinctive characteristics and showcases exactly what a solar system, or universe for that matter, would look like in all of our geeky imaginations. Full gaseous planets, icy lost planets, burning magma flowing volcanic planets, and even dead planets, it’s all here, and it’s all incredibly done. The cards are also top quality, made from great card stock, with an array of visual components that would make any fan of the computer game happy. Looking at the Zerg we expect to see heat signature life readings, whereas the Terran come in the wireframe style, and the Protoss come with shields glowing blue, it is all truly here!
The token-type pieces that are utilized for game play are also of excellent quality. Everything has its own distinctive piece, from the lowly worker to the unappreciated transport – nothing is duplicated and nothing is left out. The game offers each player a “Base” Sheet that shows several types of buildings that can be built to further progress the game, and pictures of each unit and quick reference cards of their “typical” (more on this later) power are shown at their side. I have never found myself once saying, “I wish I had a piece for this” or, “They could have done better on this part.” (Except for that darned Zerg Queen miniature!!) In a game that encompasses such a large variety of play elements (building bases, researching technology and special abilities, attacking, inter-planetary travel, resource gathering) the components are outstanding, and add such a huge amount of depth to the game and the level in which players can get into what they are doing is only enhanced by said components.
The rulebook offers a good amount of reading, and several items really can’t be understood accurately until at least one play through session. The artwork inside the rule book however is exceptional, very colourful and the wording is not going to give anyone a difficult time. This is a good thing, since the rule book will have to be close to whomever’s turn it is, and will see a lot of “Pass the Book” as my playgroup likes to call it, during each players turn so that everyone can look into the book and find out what they are allowed to do, and how to resolve certain situations.
Readers be warned, this game is not an easy play by any means. It will have players looking over rules and diving in the rule book countless times during the first few sessions of play, simply put, the game has a lot to memorize, and a lot to keep track off during play.
Once game play starts, players enter the planning phase, which consists of placing orders that all players will resolve in the following phase. Orders consist of the following; Mobilize, Build, Research, and in addition to these each of those orders comes in a Specialized Order version, which allows for added benefits but only one for each special order module can be placed per planning phase. On top of that, a Defend order can also be placed at one location, giving all of the defending players units +1 to their Health. If that doesn’t sound complicated already, then you’re in good shape because it only gets tougher once you know how to resolve these things.
If you chose to Mobilize, it simply means you may move around on the planets you control, invade an enemy player’s planet, or attempt to settle an unclaimed planet. Each planet is divided into sub-sections which can each hold a certain amount of units, this information is easily depicted on each planet by easy to identify icons (for example: If attempting to place units on an Asteroid, a icon with stars and blackness is present, representing the ability for only flying units to be able to be placed on said location). A small issue with this mobilize order is that you have to telegraph your intended action to the other players, as the mobilize order must be placed upon the destination of the troops, so enemies know when and where your attacking when your order goes down on a planet they control. While all other orders may only be placed on planets you control, unless you use some creative trickery (and waste the order) by putting a Build Order on a planet that you cannot build on, effectively bluffing the mobilize order. Although any order that cannot be carried out draws a card from the event deck, which could play to your advantage or the advantage of another player.
A build order simply initiates exactly what its name implies; building a unit producing structure, or building actual units. It is simple and easy, and the minerals and gas that your workers harvest are expended by building structures and adding to your army. (Each planet sub-section gives a said amount of minerals/gas as long as the planet has a Base Structure built upon it). And with each build order, you can build as much as your resources and build limit allow so long as you have enough workers to get the jobs done, and the right technology researched to increase your build limits. A research order allows for additional special abilities to be added to your combat card deck, as well as drawing more combat cards to add to your hand. Spend the required resources on a tech, and then shuffle that tech into your combat deck so that in future turns you have a chance to draw it. My only issue with this is that it further dilutes your combat deck, but we will cover more on this later, in depth, in the combat section of this review.
Each of these orders is further extended by the ability to place Specialized Orders of each of the respective type, however only 1 special order may be placed per turn per special module added to your base that allows such an order. Which leads to the decision of what order requires more attention for that turn, unless the player invests heavily on the module required to place each Specialized Order, which would in turn sacrifice his military strength. Specialized Mobility orders add additional combat cards to your hand, from your deck, and give your attackers +1 to their attack values. Specialized Research allow you to take a card from the special ability you researched and instead of shuffling it into your deck, you take 1 of the cards, and shuffle the rest into the deck, instead of all. And lastly a specialized build order offers discounts to build structures and units, as well as increasing build limits.
The defender order allows your units to theoretically “hunker down” in anticipation of an incoming attack and gain some extra health. Now, it’s time to think the reverse of how the human mind typically works. Orders are placed, on planets, however, players take turns placing orders as 4 orders must be placed per player per turn. So if I place Order 1, then the player to my left gets to place his Order 1, then so on an so forth, up to every placing their 4th order, all the while, orders from other players are placed on top of my orders on each planet, as my subsequent orders are placed over theirs. The way this works in reverse of the human mind, is that if I want to build something and then move, I actually have to place the orders in reverse, because the orders resolve from the last order placed, to the first order placed, or Top of the Order Stack down to the bottom. So if I wanted to build and then move my military, I would have to place Mobilize FIRST, and then a Build order on top of that, to Build First then get to my Mobilize and move when I just built.
It leads to several confusing turns, and often in the first couple of plays a lot of the players are remarking at how abstract this order placement becomes, and most of the time the turn never seems to end up the way it had been planned. This can be frustrating, believe me when I say it can be frustrating, but should correct itself after the 4th or so play of the game. However, with more play comes the ideas of blocking other players orders by placing your own on top of theirs, or bluffing attack orders by placing a Build order on an enemy controlled planet, and making that player act accordingly anticipating an attack that will never come.
The combinations and mind games used in this game are endless, and it gets very heated amongst players when an order was misplaced or another player intentionally locks up a pending order. As you can tell by the length of this section that the game is a very tough game to learn, and extremely tough to master, but this sounds just like the way the computer game was advertised, so I guess the game stays true to its roots. However readers should be aware that I have only grazed the surface of the cycle of play and the available options in the previous paragraphs, and the game offers more rules, and more abilities then this review could ever cover, without being the rulebook.
Combat is tackled in a very different manner then one would expect in a game that focuses on such specifics. Combat is handled via a card based system, trading off the dice entirely for the combat card deck. This is an interesting trade off, considering combat cards relate specifically to certain units, some of which you may not have built into your army. Let me dive further into depth on this with an example. Let’s say I have a burning desire in my heart to have an army that consists of several Zerg Zergling (A quick close combat melee fighter) with some ranged support from a Zerg Hydralisk (think alien marine) however all the cards I draw relate to other creatures, ie; Zerg Ultralisks (think tank) or Zerg Mutalisks (Alien F-14’s) and thus, my army that I have spent time and resources on, does not correspond to my combat card hand. The game gets around this in a terrible manner by having each card display two combat values. A Major Value and a Minor Value for both hit points and damage. If your unit matches the cards Creature, it can utilize the Major Value, if it does not however, it utilizes the Minor Value.
So what happens with my army of Zerglings and Hydralisk when all I have is Ultralisk, Mutalisk, and Queen combat cards in my hand? Quite simply, they stink, and they lose. Which has caused my playgroup to build to meet their combat card hand, as opposed to building to meet their own strategy. This is a huge, huge flaw in a game like this, that offers so many different unit types, and so many potential strategies. Why build Zerglings and Hydralisk when they will just get the minor, sufficiently lower numeric values on my cards, when my cards would boost the Ultralisk and the Mutalisk to be unstoppable? I wouldn’t, and that’s a problem.
Combat in this game feels as if the control of what my army consists of is determined by the luck of the draw and what the game tells me I can make powerful, not by what plans I may have, or what units I enjoy building and massing.
Remember when I said we would look at the Research orders Special Ability cards up in the Ease of Play section? Well, by adding more cards to my combat deck by researching abilities for specific units, all I am doing is diluting my deck even further, so that it’s that much harder and takes that many more turns to draw those cards that I have been waiting for. This issue in my opinion could have been corrected with values for each unit, attack and defense, given the random factor of a dice roll. Zerg Zergling deals 1 six sided die worth of damage, plus 1 per Zergling attacking with this Zergling, versus the Terran Siege Tank that has 8 Armor. If this was the method (although more thought out and balanced then my example) It would make combat more predictable, and more planning and strategic depth could occur. However as it stands, If I have Zergling combat cards in my hand, and the Terran Player has no Terran Siege Tank cards, a simple Zergling could best a mighty Siege Tank because of the Minor Value of Health used to attempt to defend against my Major Value attack.
This combat method cannot be justified in any way, a tank is still a tank, and should be treated as a tank. However, if the combat cards don’t match, the tank apparently forgets to equip its armored steel and takes a load of damage from some claws of little Zergling. Combat is broken in this game, and the Expansion set: Brood War, attempts to improve this with re-balancing the combat card deck, however the combat card system is the cause of the imbalance.
Economics wise, this game is deep. It is deep and it is great. Orders lead to countless outcomes, and planning for next move for orders and building is fun, exciting and really feels like your leading your own inter-galactic military unit. Building it from nothing to taking over several planets amounts to a feeling that your tactics are paying off.
Even victory can be determined by several factors, such as conquest points (points gained for controlling Planets) or playing to each races leader’s Special Victory Conditions (such as the Zerg winning if they control double the amount of planets the enemy controls). This all adds up to some serious depth and tactics that occur in secret in each players mind, “How can I get what I need, and trick the others into letting me get it!?” its fun.
Then you get to combat, and lose all Depth or Tactics the economic game just gave you. How can I stay immersed in the atmosphere when my Mighty Zerg Ultralisk was just crushed by a few puny marines, all because I didn’t draw the right card? It makes for playing the game to my liking trivial, if someone is playing the game to favor their combat card hand. Why did I just spend the resources on these monstrous creatures, only to have it perform subpar, because I couldn’t play the corresponding card? One of my playgroup members likes Terran Firebats (think flame throwers) but didn’t have any cards for that unit, after massing that unit and sending them to their deaths, he realized he couldn’t build what he wanted or enjoyed and that player had a terrible taste for the game from that point forward, and still does.
The game is long, and on several occasions players will be sitting around waiting for orders or combat to resolve that has nothing to do with them at all. This is exciting for a while, watching other players outcomes, but becomes a little monotonous as the battles get larger and the orders get more complicated. Towards the end of the 3 hours we had been playing, some players turns took well into the 5 minute mark just to get into combat, this coupled with the occasional glance back into the rule book from time to time only added to the time it took for the game to finish. The time did sufficiently lower itself once we all become fluid in the game rules, cutting our previous 3 hour game time into about an hour and forty five minutes give or take, and that was only after several plays (ranging in 4 or 5 to be more exact).
Unfortunately I could not compare this game to anything on the market at the time of writing this review as I have not played something that offers all the components that this game offers and makes them flow in such a fluid fashion. I know that others have compared it to other games on the market, however I unfortunately cannot.
I like this game, I really do. This setting for a game of this type is excellent at giving depth and relating how things should work if intergalactic space warfare was a reality. It gives a lot for a variety of players, and caters to the tactician over the casual player, which to me, is a plus as most games try to be as user friendly to the new, none board gamer as possible. I love the way this game handles building bases, and training a military force, as well as the way it utilizes trickery and mind manipulation. However,I am a very competitive individual, and when I spend time and money to invest into a certain creature or unit I love, only to see it annihilated due to improper cards, it seriously detracts from play. I understand that playing to the combat card hand you have is the way the game is suppose to be played, but it just doesn’t allow for the type of player input that I need in this type of game. Units should have glaring weakness’ and extreme strengths towards other units, and the combat card factor just negates this.
Overall I would recommend this game, but only to those that are either die hard Starcraft Fans (at which point you will feel the pain I felt with the combat card deck, see my house rules below for an idea.) Or those interested in an excellent economic micromanagement game, who intend to play to the cards. This game has great potential but fell short in a crucial area. (My House Rules: My playgroup and I have since modified the combat by creating damage dice values and armor values, as well as special abilities that deal with said values, and replaced the combat card deck entirely and have had an outstanding time playing. Everything else has been left unchanged.)
Thanks for reading! Hope to see some comments!
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