Monday, 12 March 2018

The Sword and the Stars boardgame mini-game.

The Sword and the Stars is a science fiction boardgame with similar concepts to Empire of the Middle Ages (my favourite multiplayer boardgame). Published in 1981 by SPI, I got my copy in the late 80's and played it a few times.  For this game, I am playing the two player scenario but solo and only using about a third of the map. 

It was November and the 2017 6x6 challenge was drawing to a close.  I still have a quite a few games to go in the challenge.  Two game systems have 6 plays. I have four planned plays shaping up well to finish off two more games systems,  I have a plan to complete the six games of the fifth game.  But the sixth? The sixth game system is Battlestations with one play and I am not sure I can fit in five more plays.

I started thinking space building games that may be quick that I would like to play.  Godsfire I have had for 30 years but never played.  I got it out, started thinking about how to play it solo with just a few planets each and then realised it would not really work - the combat is linked too tightly into the economic model and tinkering too much would almost certainly produce a very unbalanced game.

Then I remembered The Sword and the Stars   One of the problems with The Sword and the Stars is that you are fighting the system more than other players (much more than with Empire of the Middle Ages).  There are lots of random events and it just seems harder to get anywhere with your own empire, let alone build a bigger one,  A few bad turns at trying to improve your empire will make it worse leading to less money to improve that then leads to more chance of failure...and then a random event takes you down even further!  This is perfect for the solo player.  But it is designed for 3-5 players.  What to do?  The solo version is one huge empire and takes too long.  Why not play with just a section of the map?  I looked at the scenarios and there is a 2 player that pits two small (2 system) empires at each other in one quarter of the game board.  Perfect.  I will play that scenario, which I did in November 2017.  The plan was to play other scenarios just using parts of the map but never managed another game.  Maybe one day.

Each game turn consists of 5 rounds.  Each round consists of each player being dealt 5 cards and using them to perform up to 5 operations (conquest, govern, raid etc).  An operation success or failure is governed by the card flip that indicates what happens with an operation.  This scenario is 2 turns or 10 rounds or up to 50 operations.
Also, playing solo. For the two "player empires" I will alternate playing each their cards so as not to have to try and double-guess while playing both sides (normally a player does his go and keeps a card or two spare in case they want to intercept another players operation).  It may not matter too much as they fight the system rather than each other.

The game arranged ready to play
Note: I am using Australian old one and two cent pieces for money rather than the supplied counters.  I also had made up cards back in the 80's for the events rather than use the supplied counters.

VeRee starts with two systems - VeRee and Av'LEM and income of 3.

Nelldon starts with two systems - Nelldon and Barton and an income of 2.  Barton is at Tech Level -1 so it is a few operations to get it positive.  Nelldon starts in a poorer position.
The two empires
Round 1
VeRee takes advantage of 5 in Admin and boosts VeRee to Tech Level 3 and AV'LEM to TL 2 for total income of 5.  Conquers L'A'DAU. Admin falls from 5 to 3. Treasury at 2.

Nelldon uses 5 in Military to conquer Horton and Brandon.  Income is 2 from Nelldon. Treasury at 1.

Round 2
VeRee conquers Lund.  Treasury is at 0 but income is 5.  Treaty in L'A'DAU (Treaties help with Diplomacy and reduce unrest).

Nelldon conquers Uraic and raids Leandri for 5!  It is a different race and high resource value and so will make an ideal raid target, at least until its Tech Level reaches -3.  Income still 2, treasury at 3.

Round 3
VeRee gains Ambrel via a diplomatic success event. Treaty in L'A'DAU.

Nelldon raids Leandri for another 5 Resource Points.  Diplomacy now at 5 and uses that for a Treaty in Horton.  Income is still 2 and with Admin still at 2 that will not help with increasing Tech Levels.

Round 4
VeRee puts Guardian Webs (fortifications) into AV'LEM and L'A'DAU.

Nelldon raid on Leandri is unsuccessful; spent the rest of the turn governing Brandon to -1 TL but it is out of unrest.

Round 5
VeRee: AV'LEM and L'A'DAU to TL2, gain a Tactical Advantage card (+3 modifier to conquests).

Nelldon raises Brandon to TL0 and Barton to 1.  Finally getting the Empires Tech Levels into the positive.

Round 6
VeRee takes Barnz, Admin goes down to 1.  With their last card takes Uraic from Nelldon.

Nelldon spends all round keeping Brandon at the same level!

No pic for Round 6 - forgot.

Round 7
VeRee achieves nothing.

Nelldon takes back Uraic after a second attempt.

Round 8
VeRee takes Nelldon  - the seat.  It did this with its last operation after Nelldon foolishly let their Treasury get to 0 and so could not mount a credible defense. Nelldon moves seat to Barton.

Barton (was Nelldon) get raised to Tech Level 2 and taxes for 2.  It is the only system Barton has that is a positive Tech Level.

Round 9
VeRee Gets Nelldon put of unrest and puts in Trade (to reduce unrest). Ambrel goes into unrest.

Barton gets Brandon to Tech Level 0.

Round 10
VeRee gets Ambrel down to TL -1 and in unrest. Oh the joys of continually failing Operations!

Barton Admin goes to 9 on the second card and manages to get Brandon to Tech Level 1.

It is the end of the game and VeRee is the winner!

I wondered why all the hold event cards came out and no adverse events.  I checked at the end of the game - I have not shuffled the event deck and 25 year ago I must have put them away with all the hold cards at the top and the others after them :-(  The game would have been a lot different with event cards that disrupt your empire. Also, no Outworlders appeared - mainly as with two empires in the small space, most of the systems were not in unrest or not independent (required for an Outworlder to appear on a random system). The game also took two hours - not too bad.  I did create a one page QRS that was very helpful to learn to rules, and I also created an excel spreadsheet to roll on a few of the tables - random worlds, rebellion, raid/exploitation Resource Points, Outworlders and raiders. Even then 2 hours is too slow.

Following on from this game, I streamlined the rules and them played a small game purely in a spreadsheet using eight near stars taken from a scenario from the SPI game StarForce.  It worked mostly but needs further testing and playing.  I was playing two empires and found it was difficult to play two space empires independently.  I find it fine to play both sides with Ancients and WW2 so must be a space empires thing :-).  I need to get the rules working better for one empire Vs everything else.  While I would like to progress this (and/or the Sword in the Star solo) it further, I have other space empire-ish games I own for a very long time but have never played and would prefer to get onto the table and play.  The ones that come to mind are Stellar Conquest, Godsfire, Star Viking, Web and Starship, Freedom in the GalaxyDark Stars, Battlefleet Mars. If I had the time I would get Battlefleet Mars out tomorrow - It seems my sort of game!)! I am likely to put all this on hold for a while while house renovations occur...or not as who know if I may get a sudden urge for space empires.


  1. As soon as I saw 'Godsfire' I was immediately transported back ... to a time long ago, when I had a dabble with virtually anything and rule length or density was not a hurdle or consideration. even so, I seem to remember being both fascinated and frustrated by Godsfire .... was it not solitairable? I can't remember.

    The only space game I have now is Talon, and your post is reminding me that that needs to come off the shelf soon!

  2. "I seem to remember being both fascinated and frustrated by Godsfire." That about sums up Godsfire! It is not solo friendly but that does not stop me thinking how to do it solitaire. In fact, only yesterday I was looking over the rules and tables again to see if I could work up interest to make it playable solitaire, or at least convert the mechanisms into a solitaire friendly game. I got better and put it all away for another time. I am quite likely to get it out again and again and one day may actually play the thing! It is a very fascinating and frustrating game that binds very well planet politics and space combat. I have Talon on my list to acquire but I do have a lot of spaceship miniature rules and a few space combat boardgames to get to first, so I may never actually get to buying it.

  3. Did you do anything special to play the game solo? With each player having card hands I assume there is normally a lot of hidden information?

    1. I did change the way I used the cards. In the game, each player is given 5 cards (face down). You can do up to 5 actions a turn - for each action, you turn the card up to see if the action succeeded. If a system you own is attacked you can "burn" a card" and then that mean you can contribute your military modifier and also money into the defense. If you have no cards only the system defense values are used. In a multi-player game if you go first you tend to keep a card or two in reserve just to prevent attacks. If you go last, you can use all your cards for actions. If you are not going last and you use all the cards, there are opportunities to attack another player. If tends to happen less than you think due to the possibility of retaliation (player sequence varies from turn to turn) and being busy trying to keep your empire from going under due to random events.

      So, in this solo game I started by alternating one card (action) for one empire, then one card from another. About halfway through this was too hard to keep track of (as generally there are sequences to actions e.g. try and conquer, if you do then try to remove unrest from it, may not succeed so do it again). So I reverted to doing 4 actions for the first empire and 5 actions for the second empire.

      This also was not great either and so if I play again I will just use one empire against the system. There are NPCs called Outworlders that randowmly appear and burn 5 cards each turn on conquest until they are conquered themselves. These will help with only playing one empire. They did not appear in the game above due to lucky rolls.