(2015 - Artipia Games, Stronghold Games)
Beginning in the 2001 with Nexus, publisher Cheapass Games began printing and releasing a small line of card games under the Hip Pocket line, packaged with cards and folded rulebooks in ziplock bags. One of the games in the series, designed by James Ernest and Tom Jolly was entitled Light Speed, and had players face off in space conflict using cards to represent various ships. In 2012, Cheapass Games provided a quality print-and-play version of the game, but it wasn't until 2015 when publisher Artipia Games (now being distributed stateside by Stronghold Games) reimplemented the game that it received the wider distribution it deserved. Now with a more streamlined ruleset and quality components, the little 12-year old space card battle game has been renamed, Stellar Conflict.
Stellar Conflict is a 2-player card battle game played in under 10 minutes, in which players will simultaneously place out ship cards from their fleet on the table. Each ship contains lasers firing from various directions on the card, and players will position these card in an attempt to fire upon the opposing players ships. After placement has commenced, ships will resolve their attacks based on an initiative number referenced on each card. Players will earn Victory Points from the opposing ships they've destroyed, as well as other bonuses. The player with the most Victory Points after the battle is complete, has won the game.
- Ship cards (a set for each player)
- Asteroid cards (optional variant)
- Damage tokens (a set for each player)
- Delay tokens (used with the Wiss' racial ability)
- Cargo tokens
- Rubber bands
Setup is quite simple for Stellar Conflict. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a set of Ship cards (each set of Ship cards are divided by alien race). Each race provides a minor racial ability to the player. For instance, the Tetrakori contain scouts in their Ship cards that have a 0 "credit" cost (you'll see below how this can be helpful). Once a race is selected, each player will then receive a set of Damage tokens and rubber band matching their race's color.
Players will now need to agree on how large the battle for this session will be. Each Ship card contains a cost in "credits" on the top right corner of the card (slightly underneath the Victory Point number). If players choose a medium-sized conflict, the rulebook suggest using a 15 credit total. A small dispute is suggested at 10 credits and a full-scale war at 30 credits. Once a credit total is chosen, players will look through their Ship decks and select any number of cards to use for the battle, as long as their cumulative "credit" total does not exceed that chosen for the session. After these cards are chosen, they are shuffled together to form the new deck that players will be using in the game. All other cards are discarded.
Finally, all other components are set near the play area. It's preferable to have a playing surface that is quite large, and less confining. Stellar Conflict is also a timed game. Therefore players will need to provide a timer of some sort, whether it be a digital timer or a smartphone timer. The timer will be set depending on the chosen size of the battle; small dispute at 30 seconds, medium conflict at 60 seconds, and a full-scale war at 120 seconds. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A battle in Stellar Conflict is essentially made up of three phases; a Deployment phase, a Battle phase, and a Scoring phase. The Deployment phase consists of players simultaneously deploying their ships from their deck when the timer starts. Players will deploy one ship at a time by drawing the top Ship card on their deck, then placing it face-up on the table. A player can move and orientate the card however they chose once it has been placed on the table, as long as their finger remains on the card. Once their finger has been removed from the card, the Ship is considered deployed and can not be moved again. It's also important to note that when placing Ship cards on the table, a card can never touch or collide with another card previously placed.
Each card consist of various information. The first thing you'll notice on a card are the colored laser beams coming out from the ship. These represent what directions the ship is firing on. Different colored laser represent different amounts of damage. Many cards also contain red-sectioned borders on particular sides and corners of the card. This represents a shield, and no laser damage may enter through a shielded border.
The number in the top-left corner of each card represents the ship's initiative. During the Battle Phase, ships will take turns firing upon one another based on their initiative number, with the lowest numbers having priority. Below this initiative number is another number, representing the amount of direct damage the ship's hull can take before being destroyed.
Taking a look at the set of numbers in the top-right corner of the card, the larger top-most number represents the amount of Victory Points the ship will provide the opposing player if it is destroyed, while the number beneath it represents the amount of credits it is worth, which was used during initial setup. Finally, many of the Ship cards contain special text, which many times will supersede regular game rules.
For instance, taking a look at the Vak battleship seen above, called the Prudens, we can see that it contains a shield bordering the entire top of the card and halfway down the right side of the card. With an initiative number of 9, this battleship will not fire until much later in the battle. It's hull can take 4 damage before being destroyed, and when destroyed will be worth 5 Victory Points to the opponent. Finally, the Prudens has a special ability (besides the Vak's racial ability); the Prudens' lasers have the ability to pass through other Vak ships. Therefore the Prudens will never dish out friendly fire.
Once the timer goes off, both players must immediately stop drawing and placing cards. Players will then place 8 Cargo on each of the Cargo Ship cards on the table. Opponents may be able to steal cargo from these ships, thus earning themselves additional Victory Points at the end of the battle. Any remaining Cargo on the Cargo Ships at the end of the battle will award bonus points to the owner of the ships.
During the following Battle Phase, ships will resolve based on their initiative number, with lower initiative ships firing first. A ship can fire 3 possible laser types, each represented by a particular color. Purple lasers result in 1 damage, red lasers are 2 damage, and green lasers are 3 damage. Ships that are tied for initiative will fire simultaneously. When determining the direction that a ship fires, players will use the included rubber bands to extend the line of laser on the card across the table, until it either comes into contact with another ship, or leaves the table.
When a laser hits a ship, that ship receives a number of damage tokens on it equal to the color of the laser. Note that friendly fire can occur. Any ship the laser hits receives damage (unless protected by a shield), even if it is one of the player's own ships. If the accumulated damage equals or exceeds the Hull amount on the card, the ship is considered destroyed. When a player has destroyed an opposing player's ship, he will remove the ship from the table and place it in his "Kill Pile". If a player accidently destroys one of his own ships, it will be placed in his opponent's "Kill Pile". It's important to remember that any ships firing at the same time (because they contain the same initiative number) will have a chance to fire before it is destroyed. So even if a ship A were to be destroyed by the opposing player's ship B, because they contain the same initiative number, ship A would be allowed to resolve firing its lasers before it was destroyed.
As mentioned before, if a ship's laser hits an opposing Cargo ship, a number of Cargo tokens are removed from the Cargo ship equal to the amount of damage it receives, and are then placed on the ship that fired upon it. If a Cargo ship is hit from friendly fire, the Cargo tokens that would have been received are destroyed and removed from the game. If a ship that contains stolen Cargo is destroyed later in the battle, these Cargo tokens are also removed from the game.
After all initiative numbers have been resolved, players will total their Victory Points in the Scoring Phase. Players receive Victory Points from the ships in their "Kill Pile". The amount of Victory Points is listed on the top-right corner of each Ship card. Any surviving ships that they have on the table that contain Cargo tokens receives 1 bonus Victory Point per token. If a player has any surviving Cargo ships on the table, he'll receive 1 bonus Victory Point per token on that ship. Totaling all of these Victory Points together, the player with the most points wins the Battle, and thus the game.
Simplicity. It’s what any great filler-style game should embrace. With a predetermined time-limit and quick gameplay, there’s no need to worry about analysis paralysis or the game extending longer than you’ve planned for, although you may find that tallying the total scores takes longer than the gameplay itself.
Pre-drafting your fleet of ships is interesting, as you’ll need to decide on more powerful, expensive ships versus multiple smaller (higher initiative priority) ships. But what I find most interesting about Stellar Conflict is the light strategy during the Deployment Phase. Players will find early on it’s a major mistake to get out your ships as fast as you can, therefore allowing your opponent to plan out the placement of his ships around you. There’s a sense of ebb and flow with acting and reacting to your own ships placement versus paying attention to your opponent’s. Initiative itself becomes as important as the direction in which the lasers are firing. Friendly fire, when it occurs (and it will) can invoke quite a bit of laughter and enjoyment.
As an enjoyable filler with a light price tag and quick gameplay, it’d be hard to argue against why Stellar Conflict shouldn’t find a place upon your shelf. As a side note, it works especially well for larger game night groups, where there always tends to be a couple people waiting for a larger game to end.
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Well done... as always!
Stephen M. Buonocore