Stargate is #2 of SPI's Space Capsule series. Like their magazine games, Stargate has only 40 playing pieces and a few auxiliaries. Gameplay is fast and the rules are quite easy to learn though a little quirky. A single game could probably be managed in an hour or two making it a nice time-filler.
SPI games in the late 70s always came with attractive, multi-colored pieces. The enemy is a menacing orange, the allies a pleasing blend of terrestrial blues, greens and grays each with evocative ship silhouettes. The map is unremarkable, a tiny black hexmap with two stargates and a “nullstar” depicted in red.
What makes this game exciting is the asymetric and interesting balance. The evil Virunian fleet is made up of three-part spacecraft which arrive at the battlefield disassembled and relatively weak. The Coalition forces (of which Terrans are a fundamental but not dominating member) each have their own racial specialties of movement and combat. The goal is for the Coalition forces to destroy the various Transports, Command Modules, and Weapons Platforms which make up the Virunian forces before they assemble into the formidable Tri-Ships. The Virunians must destroy eight ships of the nineteen ship Coalition fleet to win.
Play sequence is a standard Move and Shoot business. Each ship has a movement factor and a method of moving through space. Most ships can use the two giant stargates as gravity whips. Ships which want to change course mid-turn run the risk of succumbing to enemy opportunity fire. Combat is initiated by vessels in the same square but can be supported from afar.
Different areas of the map are more or less beneficial to the Virunians. The stargates start out in the most inimical areas making things difficult for newly emerging Virunian ships.
There is a lot of luck to Stargate. Each attack requires the approach of one ship to an enemy held square which is often a fatal proposition. Luck determines which side of a given stargate the Virunian vessels will tumble out of, often into the waiting arms of the Coalition.
But what makes this game so cool is all the funny restrictions. It's a bit like chess, where all of your pieces have different moves. Except in this game, one side plays chess while the other side plays Shogi. Some of the Coalition ships move in real space, others “wiggle” through subspace without suffering opportunity fire. Some even teleport. All have different attack strategies which affect their ability to approach enemies. The Virunians have weak forces until assembled, and if a Control Ship is destroyed, its components go beserk in entertaining ways.
Ultimately, the Virunians want to assemble in the neutral or positive areas of the map and destroy the Coalition at their leisure. The Coalition wants to slaughter as many ships, particularly the juicy transports, as quickly as possible. Since approach favors the defender, parking Coalition ships around the stargates is a valid strategy. On the other hand, the last time I played, my opponent lost seven of her eight Coalition ships to approaches. It's a random game.
I've owned this game since 1979 but only started playing recently. It was worth the wait.
Stargate is very colorful, literally and figuratively. While luck is a huge component, it's a smart game requiring an understanding of all of your pieces. If you like science fiction and you don't want a long session, I recommend this game.
8 out of 10