Showing posts with label Board Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Board Games. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2019

"You're the scum of the Sector!" Star Smuggler Review

Title: Star Smuggler
Credits:
   Designer: Dennis Sustare
   Graphics Design: David Helber
   Map Art: Tom Maxwell
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
   Edited by Arnold Hendrick
   File prep for online publication: Eric Hanuise
   Digital Character Record Sheets: Ron Shirtz
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1982
Pages: 24 Page Rules Booklet, 20 Page Events Booklet
Number of characters: Solo adventure, many characters.
Rating: ★★★★

This game has a story to start the story. I came by my physical set back in the late 80s and loved it ever since.

But for the publishers, designer and author, the story was a bit more rocky. I don't know all of the details, but the Publishers, Heritage and the imprint Dwarfstar had a run of popular and cool games such as Barbarian Prince, Demonlord, Outpost Gamma, and Star Viking starting in 1981. These were all in house games created by Heritage/Dwarfstar. Two games were designed and created by outside designers, Dragon Rage and Star Smuggler. Hard times hit and the company and their imprint were down but not entirely out.

In 2003, Reaper Miniatures obtained the rights to many of these games allowed them to be reproduced online. (Click the link for all the games) In 2006, Dennis Sustare granted permission for limited online distribution by Dwarfstar.brainiac.com of Star Smuggler.

I snagged a photo of the game for this review. You can check out all of the art and the full game on Dwarfstar's website. I only mention this due to the Distribution Agreement at the end of this post, while the photo is probably fair use, I agree with the agreement below. Although I have a physical copy, I would like to thank Eric Hanuise for all the work in digitizing this game for online distribution.

So how does this game play? Very well for something probably designed, typeset and edited entirely by hand. You are playing "Duke" Springer, a business man turned criminal... maybe. Depends on how you roll, literally sometimes. After a quick read through the rules, you are ready to go. The rules spell out what you can do, but often not what you cannot do. That is to be expected in such a light weight game. Your character has 4 stats, hand to hand, ranged combat rating, endurance and cunning. All characters have the first 3, while only Duke has cunning. Cunning allows Duke to outsmart other characters and enemies.

To play, you write out your character stats, money and inventory on a sheet of paper. Recently, I don't know when, Ron Shirtz published a character record sheet and time tracker to make this task easier. You flip to e001 in the events book and you are off to adventure.
The future of the 80s was pink and green.
In the course of play, you can hire a crew, get in combat, buy and sell or run down many of the special events, some of which are relatively simply side quests. The goal is to pay off your debt on your starship, a total of 120,000 secs. or Sector Exchange Units. Every week you have 300 secs. interest payment and paying on principle doesn't reduce this amount. Back in the 80s, front-ending loans was thing, I guess.

The game has many locations where events occur and these locations are divided up in the System by planet and then planetary regions, like cities, starports, space stations, ruins, etc. It is a rather ingenious system which precludes oddities such a car dealer on a spacestation or military presence in a ruins, except for when those things would make sense in context. Travel from one area or planet to another eats a lot of game time, which is important for making those interest payments. You are totally on the clock, all the time, in this game.

Have you heard the phrase, "You need to spend money to make money"? That is totally true in this game. While it is a solo game, you need to hire a crew to be effective. And the crew gets paid, so you need to be sharp with your money.

How do you win? Pay off the ship. How do you lose? Die or lose the ship. Simple.

However, within the events booklet, there are seemingly dozens of different endings. I've never troubled to count the actual number but there are more than a few. The first time through, these auto-win, auto-lose events add flavor and spice, but on replay, they are an annoyance. Depending on your mood, you probably don't want to win or lose by a single die roll in a game that requires so many die rolls.

One of things that stands out in this game is the ever-changable scenery, the planets, tend to not so much scale as warp so you can have a very different experience on each one with the exact same mechanics. There are very few things in the game that change the mechanics, which is nice. The rules are dense, but once you have them down, they're easy to remember.

Some of the downsides to this game are many, but none of them are a deal breaker. The system has a simple but effective combat system, which is obviously lethal to participants. You can die in a shootout that leaves your crew alive, but purposeless. Game over. There are a number of cheap shot endings, which are annoying if you play frequently enough.

This game is actually complex enough to have a number of things in the middle ground as far as gameplay goes. First and foremost, there are some rather obvious things left out. You can pilot a ship, fight well and use a variety of weapons from ship guns to hand weapons. But you can't drive a skimmer, the 1980s' future version of a car. Skills can't increase, except Cunning. Combat is deadly in a vacuum, but can you depressurize your ship? Not covered, at least not as a purposeful action. Can you have two ships?

One of the stranger bits is the concept of "losing". There are a few events which specifically cause a lose condition, like death or imprisonment, but there are a number of ways to lose everything except your character. Is that a loss? Don't know. Without a ship, you can't do much, but you also have less of a chance of dying. So you can have series of lingering "not winning" scenarios.

There is a difference between the physical books and the digital files. Eric Hanuise remastered many of the confusing typos right out of the books, and incorporated all of the errata into the text. Thank you, Mr. Hanuise. The physical boxed set also had counters printed on the box cover edge. That did nothing for the box, which was sturdy before I cut it. Again, the counters have been reproduced and even improved. The ability to print as many counters as you like is wonderful, but I find myself using random counters.

The main upside of a programmed solo adventure is that it is always there for you. The big downside is, if you are a creature of habit, you can get yourself stuck in the game, repeating the same routes and sequences again and again. This isn't a limitation inherent to only Star Smuggler, it is inherent to all solo adventures.

All and all, I'd give this 4 of 5 stars even though it is one of my most prized games. It has a lot of bugs and flaws, but still worth a play or 100. Download it today.

DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT -- PLEASE NOTE Dennis Sustare has granted permission for digitized copies of this copyrighted game to be posted for public download. The game and files are NOT released into the public domain. You MAY NOT not sell these files or charge a fee for access to them. You MAY NOT distribute these files except as authorized by Dennis Sustare. PLEASE RESPECT THE TERMS OF THIS DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT so that these files can remain available for free download.
By downloading any files from this page you are certifying that you will abide by the terms of this distribution agreement. All of these conditions must be posted prominently and openly on any page or site providing access to these files.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Forgotten Classic - The Dark Tower By Milton Bradley Company

As a child, I spent many hours attacking the Dark Tower. Back in 1981, this game was an incredible technological feat. Now, it seems rather simple, but I would kill to get my hands on one.

Game play was simple, up to four players adventured from their home citadel to find 3 keys to unlock the final battle at for the Dark Tower. Keys and three other treasures, The Sword, The Wizard and The Pegasus could be found in the 8 tombs and ruins around the map. At the Bazaar, players could purchase warriors, food, a Scout, a Healer and a Beast.

Warriors fight but could also carry gold for you, up to 6 bags each. If you ended a battle with more gold than you had warriors can carry it, you lose the surplus. Warriors also ate food. Up to 15 warriors ate 1 food per move, 16-30 ate 2 food, 31-45 ate three and so on. Moving without food caused the loss of one Warrior per turn.

On your adventures, you could make a safe move with no event occurring, get lost, encounter a plague, a dragon or engage in battle with Brigands. Battles were the most common event. In combat, if you won a round the Brigands would lose half of their force. If you lose a round, you lost one warrior. Winning or losing a battle could increase your gold, but if you didn't have enough warriors to carry the gold, you lost it. A Beast could carry 50 bags of gold, on top of what your warriors could carry. Getting lost caused you to lose a turn but if you had a scout, you could move again. When struck by a plague, you lost 2 warriors and possibly some gold due to carrying capacity being reduced. If a healer was purchased, you received two warriors instead of losing them. The dragon could wipe out 25% of your warriors and gold in one swoop. Having The Sword drove the dragon off and awarded gold and warriors.

The Wizard curse was a special event controlled by other players. When The Wizard was awarded to player, they could curse one other player. The curse transferred 25% of the other player's Warriors and gold to the cursing player. There was no defense and the effect was immediate. 

The Pegasus allowed a player to advance anywhere within the kingdom they were in. They could not use The Pegasus to leap over the Frontier. Any attempt to do so would result in a lost of the turn AND The Pegasus.

Once the player had all 3 keys, found in the other three kingdoms, they could advance on the Dark Tower but only from their home kingdom. Going to your home citadel with 16 or less Warriors would double your troops. You could repeat this, but only if you went to one of the other special places such a tombs or ruins before returning.

The assault on the Tower required the player to guess the correct order for the keys. The riddle showed a random key and the player would guess if it was correct. If it was, they had to guess the next key until the correct order was input. The game would display a random key, but the order was fixed in the system so that it would not change, making the process less painful than it sounds.

In the final battle, the number of Brigands was based on which of the three levels they players selected at the outset. Level 1 had up to 32 Brigands while 2 and 3 had 64. You could approach with up to 99 Warriors, but there was little point in doing so.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Supporting the Story

Last month, TheseOldGames.com provided two raffle baskets to Boy Scout Troop 601. Each basket had a board game, a set of dice, decks of cards and two sets of Story Cubes. Funds raised allow the Troop to absorb some of the cost of outing and activities such as summer camp.
Rory’s Story Cubes are a great, family friendly way to break the ice.
Having given away 4 sets, I am dying to purchase one (or more) for myself. You can check out the story behind Rory’s Story Cubes over on Youtube or click the video below.





Friday, March 13, 2015

Prioritizing Fun

I have so many great games to play, I keep putting off my D&D campaign. I need to prioritize my choices. Here are the games that have me hooked right now:
NHL 2015 by EA Sports
EA Sports has been doing the NHL series for years and it is still very addictive. I love the season system, building teams and players against the league. 





Destiny by Bungie
This one reminds me of Marathon and I love the game play. I haven’t really gotten into it too deeply, but it is a great way to blow off steam. It is expansive yet simple. 

Starfleet Battles and the family of great games by Amarillo Design Bureau
Star Fleet Battles. Or more correctly some mini’s a purchased a while back. I want to get these done so I can play with models.
Additionally, I picked up Federation Space from Warehouse 23. This is the game that really sparked my imagination as a child and directly lead to me playing Star Fleet Battles. I want to try this one with the kiddos.
I also want to sit down and design a custom ship with a great scenario hook and submit both to ADB. SFB is so expansive, that Amarillo Design Bureau needs to strike a balance between fun and reasonability. I really can’t decide if the hooks are good enough for submission or not. No way to tell if I don’t give it a shot.
D&D
Dungeons and Dragons. I have a campaign setting I’ve been working and want to see it in action.
For the past 7 months, I have been teaching a class on religion and this has noticeably affected my D&D campaign plans. I have created a Stave Church Map, a temple dedicated to the planets and a homely inn for the characters to relax at between adventures.
Gemstone IV
Gemstone IV just went F2P and I am hooked once again.

I really want to hammer out a more up to date review of Gemstone IV, but the game has so much depth, it is hard to wrap my mind round.

Rifts
On the way back burner is Rifts. I just picked up Triax and the NGR.
I’d really like to create a campaign for this game with a lighter, more humorous background. Nothing says lack of humor like a post-apocalyptic world. As always with Palladium, the main hook is the artwork.




Around Christmas time, we implemented Family Game Night. I can’t really complain about a lack of playing options. Nothing is more fun and rewarding that setting up Risk, Monopoly or Uno with the family and having a great time.