StarCraft: the Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2007 - Corey Konieczka and Christian Petersen) probably had to deliver more than
any other board game created in the past several years. The main
reason for this was simply that the video game of StarCraft is one of
the most popular games of all time, and this obviously contributed to
the excitement. As a person who was obsessed with the video game at
one point, I also have seen the StarCraft craze just sweep throughout
South Korea like none other. When I first opened up the package
containing the game, I could almost feel the excitement of the group
of teenagers watching, even though many of them rarely, if ever play
But board gamers often have bad experiences with games based on
popular licenses, as some of them are simply a poor game cashing in on
a fad. But I had higher hopes for Fantasy Flight, as they have been
on fire for the past couple of years, producing many tremendous games.
StarCraft was certainly different than what I had expected, but I can
say with confidence that it's a very well designed game, rewarding
quick aggressive play, and bearing a good deal of resemblance to its
namesake. It's not a carbon copy of the computer game; and indeed, I
don't think that would even be a worthwhile goal; but it does manage
to simulate the back and forth of the wars between the Brood (alien
insectoid creatures), Protoss (hi-tech aliens) and Terrans (humans).
But lets take a closer look at some of the features of the game.
- Components: This is another entry in the Fantasy Flight big box
series, and I mean BIG. While this gigantic box is probably a little
larger than it needs to be, the components do certainly fill it out.
There are a ton of components, with a lot of cardboard counters, cards
and plastic pieces. I have to tell you these plastic pieces are some
of the best molds that I've ever seen. In six different colors, they
are large and simply amazing, easy to handle and place on the board.
The flying creatures are all premounted on clear plastic bases,
although a few of mine broke off in shipment (easily glued back
together). These ships are slightly fragile to store but stand up to
gameplay well. StarCraft is certainly a game that must be put into
plastic bags - and large ones are needed for the plastic pieces -
since there are so many. All the artwork - both on the box, cards,
and tokens - is identical to the game, so the theme certainly comes
through. The cards are of good quality, and setup is a lot faster
than one might think.
- Video Game: StarCraft was originally a video game, and I imagine
that quite a few of the fans are going to pick the board game version
up. The themes and feel of the games are similar, but I don't think
you'll find duplication here. Folks familiar with the video game will
certainly have an advantage, as many of the special abilities of the
units in the game are implemented into the board game system, but the
game itself has some differences. For one, the board game is based on
a galactic scale, in which players are attacking regions on different
planets, attempting to control as much of the galaxy as they can.
This may disappoint some who are looking for tactical battle, but I
feel that the board game manages to have a feel of that in a way,
while also showing the bigger picture. Frankly, I'm glad they didn't
just give us Warcraft: the Board Game, part 2, but instead took it in
a different direction. The game doesn't actually feel as epic as a
universe conquering game, but it manages to feel bigger than a simple
- Board: The game board is built by the players to show a group of
planets that are all attached to each other through various spaceways.
A two-dimensional board is built, and then extra extension pieces are
added to different planets to show that they are also adjacent - even
if they are on opposite sides of the table. This gives a simulation
of three-dimensional space and is really an amazing way of doing so in
a simple, elegant way. This ties the whole board together and keeps
players on their toes, knowing that they can be attacked from many
different directions. There is no "Australia" strategy here, and
building an impenetrable area isn't something that is going to help
players. Players can build transports to connect from planet to
planet; and the game has an "island hopping" strategy feel, as armies
move back and forth amongst the galaxy.
- Rules: The rulebook is a whopping forty-five page monster, with
tons of color illustrations and examples. The gigantic rulebook may
scare away some, but it's not nearly as complex as it first seems.
It's still a bit of a mammoth undertaking to read the rules initially,
and the rules certainly need to be learned thoroughly before playing;
but I didn't find myself referencing it as much as I thought during
the games we played. The rules are written in a clear way; and other
than one whopping error (for the purple Zerg player's victory
conditions), I haven't felt the need for a FAQ yet. Teaching the game
takes about twenty minutes for me, although it helps to have people
who are at least somewhat familiar with the computer game.
- Factions: There are three factions in the game, the Zerg,
Protoss, and Terran. Each is represented by two different colors, so
that up to six players can play at one time. The factions have quite
a few distinctions between them that give the game a nice asymmetrical
feel to it; although each of the two pairings of race are very
similar, having only minor differences: starting setup and victory
conditions. The Zerg are the weakest initially, but can build faster
than the other units, and manage to stay alive due to easy cloaking
abilities. The Terrans have the coolest technology (at least in my
opinion) and are sort of a middle ground between the Zerg and Protoss.
The Protoss are powerhouses, and have the strongest units but must
pay dearly for them. The models are different looking, and I can't
tell at this stage if any race seems to have an advantage over the
other; they seem fairly balanced.
- Technology: I'm a sucker for technology in games, as it's neat to
see how it improves the different players, allowing them to go in
different tangents strategy-wise. In StarCraft technology is
critical, as it allows players to buy cards that go in their attack
decks, making their decks more diverse and more powerful. Games
aren't long enough to get more than half the technologies in play, so
players have to choose carefully. I do have to point out that this
may be the biggest weakness of the game. There are so many
technologies with different effects and units that have different
abilities, that a new player will likely be overwhelmed at the massive
options. StarCraft is certainly a learning game, and it will take
several plays before a player really understands each of the races.
The game itself is fairly simple - the technology and units are what
adds the complexity. New players can play competently but will likely
feel like they've made many mistakes after their first playing, simply
because they didn't comprehend just how the technologies and units
complemented each other. Some of the units seem fairly weak but with
upgraded technologies can help a player manage to survive and even win
- Orders: StarCraft takes place over several rounds, each comprised
of players placing and executing orders. The game is actually simple
in this regard, with only three different types of orders (build,
mobilize, and research). What StarCraft has done is add a unique
system that requires players to do a good bit of forward planning.
Players are placing four orders each turn and may place them on any
planet on the board. If a player places an order on a planet where
another order is already placed, the new order is put on top of the
older order(s), forming a stack. During the execution phase, on a
player's turn, they may play one of the orders on top of any of the
order stacks. This has a couple of interesting effects. First,
players need to place their orders in such a way that the ones they
want to do first are placed last. Also, a player can hold another
player's orders hostage (at least for a couple of turns) if they
refuse to play the order on top of them. Now, this can't be abused
too much, as players who have all their orders covered at least get to
draw an event card, and players eventually have to play all four
orders; but it makes one think before blindly throwing out orders.
And multiple times I've seen players gnash their teeth because they
played the mobilize order BEFORE moving, or vice versa. Sometimes the
order phase can take a while because people are computing in their
heads what orders will be played when, and wondering if an opponent is
planning on striking them, and how to deal with it. It's probably the
most innovative part of the game. A player can upgrade their bases to
use "special" orders, which are simply upgraded versions of the
standard orders. This allows for more diversification, while keeping
- Attack!: Most games, from Axis and Allies and Risk to Twilight Imperium, often have a viable strategy in "turtling", the practice of
building a defense and sitting there. When multiple players do this,
the player who attacks is often at a severe disadvantage. StarCraft,
on the other hand, encourages attacking, allowing players to
constantly be jumping down each other's throats. A territory may have
at max four units (many even less than that), while the attackers may
bring in two more units than this maximum. The attacker also decides
which units fight each other - and this is enough to encourage
constant assaults on opponent's positions. One player described the
game as having the feel of a knife fight, with players constantly
lunging at each other, building up, and lunging again. Defensive
measures can still be taken, but no player will ever feel completely
safe from assault; and a player who is almost defeated can still build
up a little and make some successful attacks. There is no such thing
as a weak enemy in this game.
- Victory: When I first read the special victory conditions for one
of the races, I was amazed at how easy it seemed to complete. But
then I realized that all of the races' special victories seemed just
as simple to complete. And this is really a good thing, in my
opinion. Gridlock is not going to occur in this game, as players will
constantly be worrying about their opponents while trying to hold onto
their own holdings. Rarely will a game be won by points (fifteen in
most cases), I think - rather the player who manages to complete their
goal while foiling the opponents will come away with the victory. Yet
the point victory is there to encourage players to control territories
with point values, adding another edge and threat to the game. There
is also the possibility of player elimination, although that takes a
bit of effort, and I'm not even sure a player can eliminate all
competitors in a game with three or more players.
- Players and Time: The game actually is an enjoyable affair with
only two players and can likely be done in an hour and a half. But
the two-player game was not nearly as enjoyable as the larger games,
if only because of the larger universe and multiplayer dynamic. A
large game can take around three hours, perhaps less when players get
experienced. However, it is a game that can have a longer length,
although it's not an epic experience. The game includes an inbuilt
mechanic amongst the event cards that will end the game at some point,
and players know this. A player can attempt to draw a game out a bit
by drawing fewer event cards; but opponents can draw more, speeding it
up. Either way, the game does NOT drag, and sometimes even feels like
it ends a bit early. Players should be advised that the game comes to
an end with a bang - perhaps before a player feels that he's ready.
So be quick!
- Battles: There are no dice involved in the game. Instead,
battles are handled by combat cards. Players can improve the cards
that they may draw by buying technologies, and cards are more
beneficial to more powerful units. Combat is on a unit-against-unit
basis and is very quick and easy. There are multiple pages in the
rulebook about fighting; but once I explained it to new players,
people picked it up quite easily. There is the possibility that a
small unit can take out a behemoth; but it's rare, and with good play
it won't happen too often. While this type of combat surely isn't
like any combat I've seen in other games, it's simple; and I enjoyed
it quite a bit. You get a big rush when you finally get a Carrier or
Ultralisk onto the table, and the fact that some units can only attack
air/land help cause players to get a good spread of units on the table.
- Building: One of my favorite parts of games like this one is the
building factor. You get to start from scratch and slowly use
buildings and technologies to get the units you want. Building here
is fairly quick; you can get almost any unit you desire within a few
turns, although you probably won't get them all. But one nice thing
that StarCraft has incorporated and will likely be implemented in
future games is the resource gathering style. Instead of collecting
tokens, players place their workers on planets to show that resources
have been taken. This is a nice evolution of this mechanic; and it
keeps everything organized, feeling oddly similar to the video game.
- Relationships: This game has often been compared with Nexus Ops,
because they both are science fiction battles with multiple units.
They do indeed have a similar feel, although Nexus Ops is much simpler
and faster. StarCraft also has a similar feel to Fantasy Flight's
other space game Twilight Imperium, which is much larger and has the
feel of a grand space opera. StarCraft seems to fall exactly in the
middle. It's playable without centering a whole day around it (unlike
Twilight Imperium) but has more meat and strategies than Nexus Ops.
Don't get me wrong - I love all three games, and they all have a place
in my collection. But StarCraft allows me to play a "big" game
without taking up a huge chunk of my life.
I enjoy StarCraft; it's a good, massive game without becoming too
huge. There is certainly a learning curve for new players, and it
promises a lot of replayability with various paths and strategies. I
enjoy the fact that the game pushes towards aggressive behavior and
keeps everything moving quickly. Downtime can become a factor when
one player decides to take their time building or researching
technology; but after a few plays, I think things will flow smoothly.
I'm not sure how diehard computer game fans will react to the game,
but it does carry the theme of StarCraft well. As a strategy war
game, it's a neat one and will have high appeal; thanks to tremendous
components, tight rules, and clear victory conditions.
"Real men play board games"