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.

If I didn't have those changes, I'd probably just use the map for a warpwar game, or create my own 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 that...


This was written by by Brian Bankler.

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