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Just call me Erik
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NOTE: If you're looking for a negative review, it's not here. I honestly couldn't find much to dislike about this game.

NOTE: The game rules as typed by me are incomplete and possibly slightly misleading or erroneous. If you really want to know the full, correct rules, read them at the link provided.


If you've read my reviews before, you know I typically like to review the lesser-played games, or the games people tend to think of as turkeys. Old 3m and Parker Brothers games have appeared in my reviews before. So why, oh why, am I jumping on the bandwagon to review the very-new, very-hot, and much loved StarCraft: The Board Game?

The reasons are threefold. First, I feel as a fan of the PC game, I should vocalize my opinion on the cardboard version. Second, this is the first time I've gotten a game soon enough after it was released for my review to be current. And Third, I've played it so much recently I almost have to.

Introduction and Overview

In most of my reviews, I include a brief retelling of the core game rules. However, in this case, the rules are a bit heavy for that. I will, then, provide the URL for the PDF of the rules from FFG:

http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/PDF/StarCraft_rules.pdf

StarCraft is a board game based on the Award-winning StarCraft PC Game. StarCraft the PC game is in itself worthy of great distinction:

"StarCraft was the best-selling computer game in 1998[1] and won the Origins Award for Best Strategy Computer Game of that year.[2] StarCraft was listed on IGN's "Top 100 Games of All Time" featured as #7, and in 2006, received a Star on the Walk of Game at Metreon, San Francisco. Nine million copies of StarCraft and its expansion pack, StarCraft: Brood War, have been sold since its release,[3] making it one of the best-selling computer games in history. It is especially popular in South Korea, where professional players and teams participate in matches, earn sponsorships, and compete in televised matches.[4] Blizzard initially intended to continue the story with the tactical shooter StarCraft: Ghost, which was later put on hold indefinitely. The sequel, StarCraft II, was announced on May 19, 2007, in Seoul, South Korea." --Wikipedia

Obivously, the PC game is a timeless classic of the Video Game genre. Now can it's cardboard counterpart fill its shoes?

Reportin' for Duty

StarCraft the Board Game is produced by FFG, whose reputation preceeds them as makers of lavishly produced, beautiful games. StarCraft the board game does not disappoint. It includes 180 miniatures (60 for each terran, 66 for each Zerg, and 54 for each Protoss), plus at least 10 pounds of cardboard, including modular board with planets and nav routes, base tokens, worker tokens, order tokens, upgrade modules, buildings, and a set of combat and tech cards for each player. The amount of bits is simply staggering, even considering the size of the box.

The printing on the components themselves is absolutely tip-top. All the art is beautiful and functional (although it's been said the Faction Sheets aren't the easiest to distinguish from one another.)

Despite the high-quality of the artwork, the order tokens have shown a tendancy to wear prematurely. Additionally, you may find a couple minis broken; I had a broken Red Battlecruiser, Blue Battlecruiser, and Purple Guardian. All are air units, which have relatively brittle clear stands. An email to FFG got me replacement minis in a couple days. Customer service marks are therefore, very high.

Transmit Orders

The game is played from the very start of setup; players take turns settlers-style (1,2,3,4,4,3,2,1 is placing order for 4 players) placing planets, optionally placing a base on either planet (but not both). Planets are selected at random using planet tokens. Each player then plays a z-axis token that connects 2 planets not physically adjacent on the table.

Each player then gets their resources for the planet they have a base on. After they place their initial units and a transport to a neighboring planet, which will allow them to move troops there (you must have a transport on the nav route to move to the planet adjacent.) Players then do the planning phase, where they, in turn, each place 4 orders in stacks.

Order Stacks are a very novel way to do movement, combat, and building. Each player places new orders on a certain planet on top of previous ones. This adds a layer of strategy...you should place FIRST what you plan to execute LAST. also, other players can obstruct you by placing their orders on top of yours.

After orders are placed, players execute them starting with the first player, executing an order token of their color at the top of a stack. If there is more than 1 available, they choose. If all their orders are buried, they draw an event card. This continues until all orders are executed.

There are 3 types of Orders: Mobilize, Build, and Research.

Research orders let you buy tech, draw event cards, and draw combat cards. Researching is valuable for when you don't know what else to do, or when you are about to engage in combat.

Build orders let you build bases, workers, units, and transports on the active planet, OR upgrade one module and/or one building on your faction sheet. Modules let you build more units per turn (there's a 2-unit limit which is increased by building support modules or for the Zerg, building buildings.) Modules also give you air support or let you play Special Order tokens (Special Order tokens are like regular orders, but each has an advantage. You have one of each Special Order Token. You can still only play 4 orders per round.) Building is important, because it supplies you with units, and build actions allow you to build more and different types of units as well.

Mobilize orders let you either move units around on a planet, or bring units to the active planet from adjacent planets where Transports are placed. The only restrictions are the unit limits on the board for simply moving. However, Combat can only be initiated in one area per mobilize order (you can't move into multiple enemy areas at once, as this would start multiple battles.)

with ANY order, you can simply reveal it and draw an event card instead of executing it. This is handy if you've forgotten to build transports or something.

This system is frankly quite brilliant. It gives the players a great deal of freedom in what to do, as well as a high degree of interaction with each other. Simply placing an order on a certain planet can cap someone's orders and force them to sit and wait it out.

Gimme Somethin' to Shoot

The Combat system is interesting as well. Players have a hand of combat cards, which they supplement by buying new combat cards from a Technology deck. Each card has units on it, which the player ideally matches to the units he has in battle. When a battle starts, units are paired off in one-on-one "Skirmishes" by the attacking player. If there are more units on one side (usually the attacker side), that player assigns any leftover units as "support" units to the battle, where they either assist (see rulebook) or add a support value of 1 or 2 attack. The cards also have special text, and a set of numbers representing Minor and Major Attack Value and Minor and Major Health. once players have simultaneously selected cards for each skirmish, they are revealed. If the unit matches the card, the card gets its major values. If not, it gets its minor values. The values are compared, and if the health of a unit is less than or equal to the attack of the other unit, it dies. This way, it's possible for either unit, or neither, or both, to die in a battle. If any defenders survive, attacker retreats. If nobody survives, the space remains empty. If no defenders survive, but attackers do, attackers stay in the space (up to the unit limit.)

The attackers have all the advantages, such as picking the fights and having more units (they ignore the defenders units and move in the unit limit +2, so the attacker ALWAYS has potential to bring in more units than the defender) but it's balanced out by the defender keeping the space if any of his units survive. I love this combat system because of that balance, and the psychological nature of picking the combat cards.

Victory!

There are 2 ways to win StarCraft: TBG

Special Victory: Each faction has a set of special victory conditions, which for the most part, only come into play when the event cards are in Stage III.

Normal Victory: Players occupying conquest spaces get Conquest Points. THe first player to 15 points wins. If 2 "End is Near" cards are played, then the winner is whoever has the most points wins.

I do have a minor gripe about the victory conditions. By Stage III, with any number of players, you almost always have someone who ends the game using their special victory. It seems to end the game just as it's getting hot. My group has now started to play past that, to the normal victory conditions, no matter who wins on special victory. Agreeing to play to either Special or Normal victory (ignoring special victory conditions) fixes this nicely.

Your Thoughts Betray You

So, what do I think of StarCraft? Does it live up to the hype of the PC game? In short: Yes, it does.

StarCraft is remarkable. As a PC-game Tie-in, it manages to not just cash in on it's PC brethren's fame, but add a new chapter to it. StarCraft is a well designed combat game.

Some complain that the game is too complex and has too many bits. And yes, it is among the more fiddly games i've played. however, the fiddlyness is straightforward. It's complex too, but most of us have it down pat after the first game. Don't expect it to be a 60-minute game though. Even with fast players, a 3-player game takes 2 hours or so, barring analysis paralysis. So though it's quick for what it is, It's not Memoir or Naval Battles. It is long, but appropriate for its length. If you hate fiddly, long games, you probably won't like it. But if you're comfortable with Civilization's level of complexity and fiddliness, you should be right at home (though Civ takes much longer.)

Speaking of Analysis Paralysis, even though there are a lot of decisions to be made, it's all broken down into individual orders, which cuts down on the AP quite a bit. Some AP prone players may have longish turns, but nothing outrageous.

So, the inevitable comparison: Is it like the video game?

No, it isn't. The mechanics in StarCraft The Board Game are much different than in the PC game. Whereas the PC game is a click-build-click-move-fight-splat-build-more game, this is much less chaotic and more orderly. The actual mechanics are galactic scale, not a slice of a planet like on the PC.

However, as mechanically dissimilar it is from the PC game, it FEELS like the PC game. 4 orders and limited resources, combined with the real-time nature of the order tokens and how their placement affects things, gives it the same frantic, "Do 20 things in 2 minutes" kind of tension the PC game gives you. The feel is remarkably like the PC game.

The last thing about this game is what I must mention in my experience: Since our first session, my group has gotten back to play JUST THIS several times. We have never played a single game so much. Not even PR or Power Grid see the table in such quick succession. We played it twice on our normal game day, and almost every impromptu meeting has been to play it. It's an absolute grand-slam with my game group, which is hitherto unprecedented. They all love it.

Just yesterday 2 of my buddies called me up to see if I was doing anything. They both wanted to play StarCraft. One has never even seen the PC game. That, by itself, is noteworthy.

Conclusion

This game has exceeded my expectations. I honestly didn't know if it'd be any good, if perhaps it was meant to cash in on the PC game's fame. But it is a good game. An excellent game. I haven't found much fault with it, and my game group LOVES it. I think it's more than worthy of the title StarCraft. It captures the PC game's spirit, without ruining it by trying to be a cardboard transliteration of the PC title.

PROS:

thumbsupGreat Combat System
thumbsupOrder Token System is Brilliant
thumbsupWell Balanced
thumbsupBeautiful Bits (As Expected from Fantasy Flight)

CONS:

thumbsdownSpecial Victory conditions end game too fast
thumbsdownPossibly a bit too fiddly
thumbsdownPremature Wear on Order Tokens/Broken Units Upon Arrival (Which were very quickly replaced by FFG. Thanks, Thaad!)
thumbsdownLOTS to memorize at first. Possibly a tad overwhelming to newbies.

So though there are a couple what I'd consider minor issues, this game is exemplary. Therefore, I will do something I've only done twice before:

My Personal Rating: 10/10. I do not give 10s lightly.
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the greatest flaw in the game is not in how it works, but the documentation thereof. The rulebook is 50 pages long, has several errors in it that contradict other game components, and is heavily byzantine, and requires solid memorization. If you can actually comprehend the game and play it properly, its a pretty darn awesome, I must admit. I just wish they simplified the rulebook, and for that matter, provided spots to place cards. Draw pile, Discard pile, Technology pile, your actual hand, and events cards both drawn and active, gets rather difficult.
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Just call me Erik
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wodan46 wrote:
the greatest flaw in the game is not in how it works, but the documentation thereof. The rulebook is 50 pages long, has several errors in it that contradict other game components, and is heavily byzantine, and requires solid memorization. If you can actually comprehend the game and play it properly, its a pretty darn awesome, I must admit. I just wish they simplified the rulebook, and for that matter, provided spots to place cards. Draw pile, Discard pile, Technology pile, your actual hand, and events cards both drawn and active, gets rather difficult.


It is quite fiddly, I'll admit. And it couldn't have killed them to make the player mats a little larger to have a proper place for all that stuff. However, I didn't have much problem with the rulebook; in fact I thought it was quite good. It made certain things absolutely clear, though it did have a little ambiguity here and there. The only things I had to look up repeatedly were certain combat effects, and the SPECIFIC order for certain actions (such as the regrouping phase), but that's all.
 
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Petras Ražanskas
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unixrevolution wrote:
wodan46 wrote:
the greatest flaw in the game is not in how it works, but the documentation thereof. The rulebook is 50 pages long, has several errors in it that contradict other game components, and is heavily byzantine, and requires solid memorization. If you can actually comprehend the game and play it properly, its a pretty darn awesome, I must admit. I just wish they simplified the rulebook, and for that matter, provided spots to place cards. Draw pile, Discard pile, Technology pile, your actual hand, and events cards both drawn and active, gets rather difficult.


It is quite fiddly, I'll admit. And it couldn't have killed them to make the player mats a little larger to have a proper place for all that stuff. However, I didn't have much problem with the rulebook; in fact I thought it was quite good. It made certain things absolutely clear, though it did have a little ambiguity here and there. The only things I had to look up repeatedly were certain combat effects, and the SPECIFIC order for certain actions (such as the regrouping phase), but that's all.


I'm starting to feel that if I make a proper reference book out of the rulebook, I'll be filthy rich of GG devil
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Dave J McWeasely
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wodan46 wrote:
the greatest flaw in the game is not in how it works, but the documentation thereof. The rulebook is 50 pages long, has several errors in it that contradict other game components, and is heavily byzantine, and requires solid memorization.


I'll buy "has several errors in it that contradict other game components".

I didn't find it at all byzantine. War of the Ring, now THAT'S a byzantine rulebook! (but hey, you get 33% more plastic bits in WotR).

How is the memorization of the rulebook different from any other rulebook? Aren't you reading it to learn the rules, and isn't learning memory?

Or are you talking about the unit abilities? I'll grant you that you just have to memorise zillions of facts like "tanks can't shoot at air". That's not technically in the rulebook, though.
 
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Just call me Erik
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MrWeasely wrote:
wodan46 wrote:
the greatest flaw in the game is not in how it works, but the documentation thereof. The rulebook is 50 pages long, has several errors in it that contradict other game components, and is heavily byzantine, and requires solid memorization.


I'll buy "has several errors in it that contradict other game components".

I didn't find it at all byzantine. War of the Ring, now THAT'S a byzantine rulebook! (but hey, you get 33% more plastic bits in WotR).

How is the memorization of the rulebook different from any other rulebook? Aren't you reading it to learn the rules, and isn't learning memory?

Or are you talking about the unit abilities? I'll grant you that you just have to memorise zillions of facts like "tanks can't shoot at air". That's not technically in the rulebook, though.


Actually, wether or not tanks can shoot at air units is right on the Terran faction sheet, as it is for all units. But there are many things where memorization of details are necessary.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Right, but if I'm a zerg, trying to figure out how to counter tanks, I have to look across the table to find out how to counter the tanks. Its not on the unit reference sheet, for example.
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Chris Tuxford
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Thanks for the review. I'm getting this for Christmas as well as Shattered Empires. After some of the 'flame' reviews, and seeing your long-time love of Avalon Hill games (which I cut my teeth on 25 years ago) I can now see this game IS for me!

I like the calculatory nature of the Eurogames. I used to play competition chess and had a rating. At this time in my life I want a deep metagame and lots of fun!

Talk about analysis paralysis, the longest I ruminated over a winning combination in a chess match was 13 minutes! No talking allowed otherwise the opponent would forfeit the game!!! zombie
 
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Having just introduced this to a bunch of newbies this weekend, I think the games biggest problem is just how many freaking options there are. While me and my friend (who both played the video game) were ok, our 2 other friends who hadn't were completely lost amid a sea of technology to research and units to build. They'd be sitting there for ages sorting through their technology deck trying to figure out what the hell to buy. While a familiarity with the video game isn't required, I find it really does help you understand the interaction between units and techs.

The game is actually pretty simple and straight forward at it's base. It's all the different types of units and tech that complicate it.
 
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I find that the games that inundate noobs with an "overwhelming number of options" the first game are the ones I tend to love. C.f. War of the Ring. To me, hearing complaints like that, causes me to take a closer look at the game.
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Yeah, I don't see it as a negative overall, it's more a problem with teaching the game. If they've neve played Starcraft, it's ALOT of options to contend with, none of which you'll understand.

Meanwhile, those who HAVE played SC feel right at home. "I'm teching to Battlecruisers, so I'll want Yamato Cannons at some point." and such.
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Shryke wrote:
Yeah, I don't see it as a negative overall, it's more a problem with teaching the game. If they've neve played Starcraft, it's ALOT of options to contend with, none of which you'll understand.

Meanwhile, those who HAVE played SC feel right at home. "I'm teching to Battlecruisers, so I'll want Yamato Cannons at some point." and such.
\

This game is *extremely* accessible to players of the StarCraft video game. And seeing as StarCraft is the third best-selling PC game in history, that's a big potential audience.
 
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"I find that the games that inundate noobs with an "overwhelming number of options" the first game are the ones I tend to love. C.f. War of the Ring. To me, hearing complaints like that, causes me to take a closer look at the game."

You've tapped into my brain. War of the Ring and Starcraft are among my all-time favorite games. They are an absolute pain to teach, especially WotR, but I love them largely for the reasons that they are a pain to teach. That is, they give you an "overwhelming number of options".

FFG = Great games, great customer service, BAAAAAD rulebooks.
 
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