StelCon: Infinity is a game I knew nothing about before purchasing it. I saw it in my local board game wholesaler for a significantly reduced price and it appealed to me. I love space themed games and it looked like it could get some play in my local groups. Well, after playing it a few times, I feel like I can give enough of an opinion to determine whether I can recommend it or not. I know I am a little late to the party, but if you are still on the fence, maybe I can help you determine if it is the game for you.
Note: I have only played this game all the way through with other players twice. One playthrough was with four and the other was with the six player variant.
StelCon is a fairly light 4X space game. It was a successfully backed kickstarter project that was released in 2013 by Conquest Gaming LLC. It supports 2-5 players and a variant allowing for 6 players. Gametime is roughly 45 minutes per player, excluding rules explanation. Player type and familiarity with the game may vary game length.
Each player selects an alien race from six unique races. Each race has their own special ability and homeworld. The main objective of the game is to destroy an opponent's homeworld using your fleet of five upgradable starships. Each homeworld produces fuel crystals that power your ships and their upgrades. There is also a victory point variant.
In order to increase your production, you must travel to sector locations and draw a new planet card from the planet deck. Each planet has a different level of fuel production, firepower, and an exploration value. When a player is able to beat the planet's firepower, they then must roll a die to determine how successfully they explored the planet. This determines if the fuel production stays the same as it is printed on the card or if it becomes better or worse. There are two copies of each planet card in the sector deck and when two copies of a planet exist on the gameboard, a wormhole is created and they are treated as adjacent. This provides some very interesting gameplay.
Combat is fairly simple. Players count the firepower of their ships and roll one six-sided die. The player with the highest firepower is determined the winner. That sounds a little too simple though, right? To add a great deal of variability (and randomness) players utilize Conquest Cards. These cards come from a shared deck of over 100 cards. Players initially have a hand limit of 5, which is replenished at the end of their turn. Conquest cards are the main driving force of the gameplay, as they allow players to do a huge range of actions. These cards allow you to upgrade your conquered planets, add firepower during battles, help you win ties in combat, add crew to ships, and alter the gameboard to increase mobility. They are hard to predict and add a great sense of tension to the game.
Plenty of players will dislike these cards, as they can be incredibly powerful. For example, in the first game I played, one player moved his entire fleet into another player's zone. It looked like he was going to win by sheer firepower alone, however the defending player had a card that allowed him to warp into the attacking players base and attack their homeworld uncontested for the win. These cards make planning for future turns difficult, but on the other hand it can lead to some really unpredictable and exciting gameplay. If you are a player that plans their moves far in advance, you will most likely dislike this mechanic, as it spurns careful planning for quick and decisive maneuvers.
The components are hit-and-miss. I love the idea of the modular boards and the cardboard they are printed on is high quality. The ships are made of good cardboard too and adding mods onto them directly is just plain cool. However, the mod components themselves are tiny and don't always fit into the board well. The developers recommend trying other pieces if one doesn't fit.
The artwork is unfortunately bland. They attempted to add some flavor to cards by unique names and descriptions, but they fail to paint a picture of the universe you are fighting in. There are plenty of spelling errors on the cards and the text on the cards is sometimes worded unusually.
The game itself is fairly easy to play once it is learned, but the rules are very poorly explained and organized. Some terms could have changed to be easier to understand and crucial mechanics are buried under lengthy explanations of gameplay.
The biggest fault of the rulebooks is that they have a section for "learning while you play". This isn't a bad idea in theory, but they are full of unnecessary detail and explain important parts of the gameplay that could have been in better sections. Trying to figure out certain rules can be a real headache, and the people I played with just decided on house-ruling certain parts of the game just for the sake of having fun.
Some examples of rules not explained in the book well include having multiple ships attack in unison, removing mods from ship when scuttling, and limit on ship upgrades.
I have played this game twice all the way through, once with four players and once with six. The four player variant went smoothly, but started to feel just a bit too long towards the end. In the six player variant, the game has the six players create three teams of two, with the teams taking turns simultaneously. The six player variant helped to speed things up, but created some confusion in ship navigation. I haven't player with three players, but to me, that looked like it would be the ideal number of players in terms of game length.
StelCon is a very fun, unpredictable game that will have its fair share of supporters and detractors alike. It's messy rulebook and lack of compelling theme hold it back from standing out too much, but it has many admirable components. I doubt that it will get future support or expansions, but there is plenty of room for creating variants and fan-made expansions.
It is not a perfect game, but it is definitely fun with the right crowd. It is running pretty cheap these days, so if you are willing to trod through the rulebook, you may find some enjoyment yourself. Overall, I give it a 7/10.