Publisher: Victory Point Games
Designer: Lance McMillan
Artist: Tim Allen
Players: Two players (Suitable for solitaire)
Playing time: 30 minutes
Genre: Light science fiction wargame
Many times gamers are faced with the quandary of finding a game that can appeal to veterans of the hobby, newbies and even non-gamers who wonder what in the world all these boards and bits are all about. This can be a tough choice since you don’t want to scare someone off, overwhelm someone who has only played a few games, or (maybe most importantly) bore a seasoned player to death. Luckily, Star Borders: Humanity – one of the latest releases from VPG – fits the bill of a title that can appeal to many kinds of players with its science fiction theme. Here is a release where the gamplay is fast and furious for all, even though it can be considered by most as an introductory level title.
Dream of building a vast star empire from the ground up and have your enemies tremble at your might? Do you have visions of developing new technologies to further your schemes of interstellar domination? Well, you have to get started somewhere and that somewhere is always the bottom.
In Star Borders: Humanity, the two players are opposing viceroys (representing the Grand Imperium and the Free People’s Alliance) who have been sent to the armpit of space, far from the local power and glory of their home worlds — their political connections with their respective governments are tenuous, but the chance to better their lot is real. Your challenge is having few friends or allies back in “civilized space,” and plenty of enemies close at hand.
Overall there’s a lot of crunchy gaming goodness packed into every ziplocked bag of SBH. The rules run only four pages with plenty of examples of play and illustrations. The rules are clear and concise so a single read through or two will prepare you for your first game. The maps, counters, and scenario cards are crisp, clean, and serve their functions well.
The name of the game in SBH is Function Points and they determine how much a player can achieve in a game turn. FPs are generated by a player’s Home Base, along with Frontier Planets, Asteroid Belts, and Neutral Sector Planets that are under their control. These LPs are used in a multitude of ways from powering starship movement, purchasing Development Cards, as well as repairing damaged or replacing destroyed ships. Each side plays a bit differently. The Imperium has fewer but more powerful ships as well as a maximum of six LPs that can be generated per turn while the Alliance has a greater number of weaker ships and a threshold of nine LPs that they may earn.
Purchasing a Development Card provides a special ongoing effect such as improved technology, a LP bonus, or additional Victory Points. These cards cost 1/2 of your available LPs (rounded down) and you have to weigh the benefit of buying a randomly drawn card or investing your LPs elsewhere.
As mentioned previously starships are powered by spending LPs and are able to move one or two locations depending on how many engines it has. A player can also move a single ship multiple times during a turn as long as they have the LPs to spend. Movement is affected by various factors such as Asteroids belts or opponent controlled spaces thus causing the moving ship (or ships) to stop for the turn. Movement is also augmented by Wormholes located on the maps which allow ships to enter one and emerge at any other on the table.
Combat is very quick and easy. Battles are resolved by the defender rolling dice to obtain hits on the attacking ships. Players are able to band multiple ships into Engagement Groups allowing for a single die roll to represent attacks coming in from different vectors. Of course a player can decide to resolve combat rolls individually but the Engagement Group allows smaller, weaker ships to team up to practically guarantee damage (or at least insure a hit) on their target. If a hit is scored the opposing player rolls against the ship’s defense factor. If the roll is made the hit is ignored – absorbed by shields. If the roll is exactly the defense number then the player has the option of taking the hit and staying in the fight or retreating from the battle. If the roll is over targeted ship’s defense rating, it takes one step of damage (most ships only have one step) or, if it is a larger ship, the counter is flipped to its damaged state. There are situations that allow for retreat for the entire attacking or defending force but certain situations can cause defenders to have to stand and fight. One circumstance preventing a retreat is not having a friendly area to retreat to.
As simple as combat is there are some interesting options available for both the attacker and defender which lead to more going on than simply rolling a die and applying damage.
Ships are replaced by requesting them from superiors – remember you are just a backwater bureaucrat – and that request alone requires on LP regardless of the number of replacement ships. The replacement will cost an additional LP no matter what type of ship it is. This is interesting since LPs are not always easy to come by, so if one of your mightiest ships is lost you have to weigh replacing it right away or waiting until another ship needs to be requisitioned to save that one LP for another action.
SBH comes with various scenarios depicting the fictional Great War of Humanity with varying set up and victory conditions. One mechanic that stays the same through every scenario is that players will never know when the game will abruptly come to an end. Game Turns are counted down (the longest scenario is eleven turns) and beginning with four turns remaining a die is rolled. If the number on the turn track or lower is rolled that is the last turn of the game. This keeps the pressure on late as your opponent can snatch your victory from right under your nose and the game ends. Most scenarios are decided by the number of Victory Points earned by control of planets and vortexes.
In the end Star Borders: Humanity is a fun romp that can easily be digested in 30-60 minutes. There’s enough to the game to draw new players in while having enough strategic teeth to keep most veteran gamers satisfied. Add in the fact that the design is clean and creates a nice narrative and that means SBH is certainly worthy of being called a must have; especially for newer members of the hobby looking for more than just the usual “gateway” game. My only complaint is, for a small segment of gamers, SBH might be just a touch too light. I certainly enjoyed it a lot but there’s just a little something missing in my opinion. If I try to put my finger on it I would have to say that it’s the fact that there aren’t a great number of ship varieties. I’m not saying I’m expecting the next Star Fleet Battles or Silent Death by any means but even a couple more starship types would have been appreciated. I’m sure (if I know Lance McMillan, Alan Emrich, and the rest of the gang at VPG) there should be some expansions or a full blown follow up on the horizon which will expand the game universe!