Review of Gateway to the Stars
Since I've been selling my magic cards, I've been able to take a chance
and purchase an odd Game or two. Gateway to the Stars is one of them.
The idea is to explore/colonize part of a galaxy (60 odd systems connected
by 'hyperspace' jumplines or somesuch.) The game can play solitaire, two
player or 4-7.
Let me start off by saying that the components are a real pain. The
counters are too thin and will not punch out properly. The "How to
Assemble" Sheet suggests scissors. An Exacto-knife might work.
Suffice it to say I spent two hours punching out 3 sheets of counters.
The counters are fairly nice, once you get them punched out.
The rulebook is written so that you can set up a solitaire
game and start playing. The left side of each page are rules in detail,
the right side are summaries, examples, etc. This was a nice idea;
there was also the Rules-are-in-gameplay-order idea. That's nice.
Of course, this leads to rules being scattered around. For example,
in filling out your economics form, the economics rules only really
mention one way to get income. The other rules are scattered throughout
the rulebook. But the rules aren't that hard to learn. Just hard to
look up if you forgot that detail. Annoying, but not life-threatening.
The map has to be taped together (well, not really, but it makes
things nice). The map tries to bring of a 3-D look rather well. However,
the 'jump-lines' are either not labelled, or are labelled 16-20. AHA, you
think! That is the length of the jump. Nope. That represents hazard.
But the number has no correlation to the die roll. 16-17 aren't hazardous
at all, and you have to look at a chart for 18-20. (To be fair, 18-20
are highlighted, it's hard to see the 16-17). But why not simply
mark them Hazard A, B and C. The systems are numbered (allowing PBEM!)
so that can't be the reason for this odd system.
The game has 9 turns (which seems rather arbitrary). Each player does
their economics (get income and build ships) and then luck
determines player order. Then each player moves their ships, fights
it out, and discovers systems. (Discovers means, finds out how habitable,
if there are nasties there already, etc). Then each player surveys systems
(if they want to), which means drawing a card to see if there are any
unexpected things. If there aren't (or if you defeat the things) then
you get to keep the card, which has one of 17 different advances (ala Civ).
If you get a group of advances (like all "Thought" advances) you get a bonus.
(You can also trade advances during economics phase).
The last thing you do is convert colony ships to colonies. Colonies
are the chief way to get VPs.
Combat isn't a good way to get VPs, but never mind. This game
is nothing like warpwar. Combat is all dice throwing, and there is
very little room for decision making.
I was hoping for a multi-player WarpWar
(or Imperium) type
game. I guess, on the outside, I got it. But this game has so little
to do. There aren't any decisions to be made. For example -- Probes.
When you jump into an unknown system, you pick a chit and look at it.
Some chits are basically black holes. But the probe can dodge them.
And the movement rules let you move one ship into a system, then others.
So you should NEVER lead anything but a probe into a new system. *The
Probe can't be hurt*. If it is safe, you move the others in. Why
would you ever move them in at once? Answer: You wouldn't.
This sort of non-decision is rampant through the game. Ships
can move through 6 systems (except for colonies and starbases). This
is an incredible amount of movement. You can move ships one at a time.
(like the probe example). In combat, you must take hit on combat ships
first, instead of probes. That would have actually been an intersting
choice. Do I take the hit on the probe (slowing down my exploration
but hopefully winning the fight) or the cruiser (worsening my combat chances
but coming out better if I win...).
I think the following rules changes should be made:
With the above changes (and maybe a few more), the game should become
somewhat interesting. It might be argued that the above changes
make the game much more luck based. I suppose that is true. But
the game, as it stands, is based on luck + stupidity. (Oh, I shouldn't
have moved all those ships at once, DUH). I'd rather have a lot of luck
+ some strategy (choices) as compared to less luck but no choices.
I'd argue that since my way has 1 part strategy to 1000 parts luck
(as compared to 0 part strategy to 100 parts luck) I still have a
higher percentage of strategy.
- All ships with a MA of 6 have it reduced to 3 (or maybe 4).
- You can take combat hits wherever you like.
- You may only move through a gate once in each direction. As many
ships may go as you like, but you may not piecemeal it.
- The probe automatically finds the system (a trivial die roll I didn't
mention) as do any ships with it. HOwever, if a vanish or vortex discovery
comes up, then all non-probes are sucked in. (This, coupled with the previous
rule, forces tough decisions to be made when exploring new systems).
- The game goes 15 or 20turns. Not just 9. (Decided at the beginning
of the game).
If I didn't have those changes, I'd probably just
use the map for a warpwar game, or create my own game...in any case,
I don't really recommend spending money for this game.
I might play it a few times, but it's no classic.
I'd like to see someone add in a better combat system. For example,
if you add "Probe Ability" and "Survey Ability" to WarpWar, and fiddled
with the economics of Gateway to the Stars (for example you double the
credits you get from Colonies, bonuses, and trade. Or triple) then the
hybrid game could be really interesting. Maybe after I graduate I'll do
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