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Subject: Stellar Conflict - Taking Light Speed to Warp Speed (Game Review) rss

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Mark Jackson
United States
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Am I a man or am I a muppet? If I'm a muppet then I'm a very manly muppet!

• Designers: James Ernest & Tom Jolly (Light Speed) Anastasios Grigoriadis & Konstantinos Kokkinis (developed Stellar Conflict)
• Publishers: Artipia Games & Stronghold Games
• Players: 2-4
• Time: 10 minutes
• Ages: 10+
• Times Played: 9 (with review copy of provided by Stronghold Games) 19 (with personal copy of Light Speed)

Once upon a time, there was a little tiny game company that published a whole lot of little tiny games in envelopes that tended to have odd but enjoyable themes with gameplay that usually lasted long past the actual point of enjoyment. (I’m talking about you, Kill Doctor Lucky and Renfield) There were flashes of design brilliance (Button Men, Brawl, Fightball) and genuinely inspired lunacy (Deadwood, Give Me the Brain). And then there were the abject failures (U.S. Patent No. 1)... and then there has to be a category lower than “abject failure” for garbage like Devil Bunny Needs A Ham.

That little tiny company (better known as Cheapa** Games) also put out a line of Hip Pocket Games. Along with the aptly named Very Clever Pipe Game (which would have been more clever and better served by being printed in color rather than greyscale), they published Tom Jolly’s Light Speed, a real-time game that literally took longer to score than it did to play.

I’ve been a huge fan of Light Speed for a long time - so much so that my homemade game kit no longer fits in my hip pocket. I added
colored stones to record hits & asteroid mining… and a stretchy string to check line of sight. (From now on, we’ll abbreviate “line of sight” as LOS… which will make all of the old wargamers and miniature players happy.)

So you can only imagine my joy when Stronghold Games announced that it would be releasing the Artipia Game re-imagining of Light Speed as Stellar Conflict.

The base engine for both games is the same - players place spaceships (cards) on the playing surface in real-time, attempting to position their ships to maximize the destruction of others and minimize the damage to their own ships. Ships cannot overlap any other card… which doesn’t make sense in the three-dimensional space (aka “the final frontier”) but makes for some very interesting game decisions. Ships are drawn from a shuffled deck of your own fleet - meaning you can know what ships you have but not what order they will appear.

Each ship has one (or more) laser shots of varying value emanating from their ship. As well, some ships have shields along the edge of cards that block laser fire. Ships also have an initiative value which determines the order in which the ships fire - the smaller the ship, the earlier they blast their opponents into submission… and the less damage they can take when hit before exploding into little tiny bits.

When ship placement ends, the ships open fire. (I like to think that all of the ships hyper-jumped into the same stretch of space in the matter of a few minutes.) Beginning with the lowest initiative-numbered ships, players resolve laser fire (different colored lasers cause 1, 2 or 3 points of damage) by tracing LOS to the first ship hit using the thoughtfully-provided rubber bands. Ships that are fully damaged after all ships of a particular initiative value have fired are removed from the playing surface and awarded to the player who did the most damage to the now-inoperable collection of flaming space debris. Hitting a cargo ship “steals” a cargo cube which is placed on the attacking ship.

The carnage continues until all ships have fired. Players add together the victory points from the ships they destroyed, the cargo they have stolen, and the cargo still remaining on their own cargo ship… and the player with the most points wins.

This is the game that I’ve described over the years as “it takes longer to score than it does to play” - and that’s still true. Since you can play with a timer (new rules) or “first to run out of cards stops the game” (Light Speed rules), it is unusual for the placement portion of the game to last more than 2 minutes. (In fact, the only way I can imagine it going longer is if you had a full table of AP-prone guys playing with the old rules…) Scoring length is a function of the number of ships in the game… but in our experience, we can play and score a four player battle royale in about 15 minutes.

What’s Different?

Square cards - I know this sounds like a silly thing to be excited about, but the small coaster-sized square cards make a lot more sense than the smaller rectangular cards from Light Speed.

Drafting - Each ship has a drafting cost… and the rules offer options for shorter/smaller deck games with a specific number of drafting points. So… do you want an armada of small fast ships (who can’t take a lot of damage) or a few capital ships to wreak havoc? Or do you decide to build your own specific mix of fighters & cruisers?

How the Game Ends - As mentioned earlier, the new rules use a timer for a 30 second, 1 minute or 2 minute playing time. (Each time limit has a suggested amount of drafting points.) The original “blitz” rules are included as a variant.

Cargo Ships & Flagships - Each deck has a cargo ship and a flagship that are used in every game. After you shuffle your deck, you place the cargo ship on top and the flagship on the bottom. The early placement of your cargo ship and the knowledge that you have a big capital ship at the end of your deck changes placement strategy in some intriguing ways.

Asymmetric fleet decks - Each deck has a unique mix of ships as well as a special ability specific to their race in the Among the Stars universe.

• Some of the Wiss ships have ion lasers that hit enemy ships with a pulse that increases their initiative value.
• Some of the Vak ships have shield penetrating lasers.
• Some of the Hexai ships fire twice (in two different initiative phases).
• The Tetrakori have extra scout ships that don’t have a drafting cost.

Among the Stars Theme - The original game was pretty generic… but Artipia Games slid this neatly into their Among the Stars ‘verse. Stellar Conflict is not the first stand-alone game in the series - New Dawn is another stand-alone game sharing the history, races and art style of the AtS ‘verse. (Tasty Minstrel Games has made a similar choice with Microcosm & Battlecruisers, both of which reside in the Eminent Domain universe but are separate games. (And, in my opinion, both are excellent additions to the sci-fi game genre.)

Is It Better?

Short answer: Oh, yeah.

Longer answer:
1. For starters, a great game is back in print.
2. The artwork is much more distinctive and evocative… and the various iconography needed for game play is easy to read.
3. The square cards just make more sense.
4. The drafting element adds a nice twist to the original design without overloading the base game engine.
5. The asymmetric decks seem (so far) to be pretty well-balanced and offer some interesting choices.
6. The new time limit rule works well - and the old Light Speed “play as fast as you can” rule is included as a variant in the rules.
7. Using cargo ships instead of asteroids adds some defensive possibilities (since you score any cargo left on your ship) - and, once again, there are asteroid cards included so you can play with the original Light Speed set-up.

The Experts Chime In

Both of my sons are (a) gamers and (b) fans of the original Light Speed game… so they were as excited as their old man to get to play and review Stellar Conflict. I asked them some questions to garner their wisdom and share it with you.

Q: Do you like Stellar Conflict better than Light Speed?
A: (11 year old) Yes.
A: (15 year old) Yes.

Q: What’s your favorite change between the two versions - and why?
A: (11 year old) The different factions.
A: (15 year old) Yeah - the decks are balanced and I like the variety.

Q: Do you like the longer or shorter variants of the game?
A: (11 year old) Longer - I like getting to use all of the cards in my deck.
A: (15 year old) Longer - I like the way the table fills up.

Q: Does the Among the Stars theme help or hurt the game?
A: (11 year old) Neither, really - but maybe more people will buy it if they like Among the Stars. (Note: both boys also enjoy Among the Stars, with the 11 year old being an especially big fan. He and I are working on a review of Among the Stars: Revival.)

The Coaster

Stronghold Games had a promo at Origins - a coaster printed on both sides with variants:

• The Chimera is a neutral ship that fires when it is hit… and which you can use to target your opponents, if they don’t target you first.
• The Secret Base is a difficult to hit asteroid that awards points for the number of times it was hit to the most aggressive player… minus the hits of all the other players who hit it! (You can go negative in a multiplayer game.)

I don’t think it’s essential to enjoying this wonderful game… but I do appreciate Stronghold Games for putting out a promo that doesn’t mess up Stellar Conflict in the quest to make something cool.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.
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