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Subject: Review after five games (always three players) rss

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Sébastien Pelletier
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Overview
I was kind of septical when I first heard about this game, but being a big fan of fantasy flight games, I've decided to give it a try. I've also been a fan of the original video game.
So, after five games, always with three players, I can say I am really surprised about the game and I intend to play on a regular basis.
But, for the moment, let's see why ...

Product overview
- Game pieces : There are nice (not gorgeous) but some are physically broken. This is due to the way they are done and stocked into the box. In my opinion, this is unbelievable, given the price it is being sold and the quality it is aiming at. Also, the box is kind of dump !!! There is no way you can use it to stock back the pieces. Then again, unbelievable. It seems to be a general problem with some of FFG products (tide of iron, for instance), but what I don't understand is that games like a game of throne has a perfect box to put back the pieces.
- The rulebook : very badly done. Then again, it seems to be a general problem with FFG. This rulebook is built à la Arkham horror. So, good luck reading it !!!

In general, this product is of good quality, but franckly, some details really leave an unfinished touch to it. It doesn't prevent me from enjoying the game, but I tend to be discouraged each time I open the box to play (how can this be so badly done ???).

Game setup
I really, but really prefer games with short setup. Starcraft is kind of a different beast to me. Setup seems long, but once you get to know how to play a little, you soon realise you don't need all the elements of the setup. The way we came to play it, setup is very short : about fifteen minutes, with people getting pieces along the course of play, depending on their strategy.

Game mechanic
Game turns are basically divided into three steps, described here :
Planning
For those of you familiar with a game of throne, you'll find back some common mechanic : orders are putted facedown on the board. But, there are major, and very interesting differences :
- Players only put four orders, which restricts a lot what you plan to do (for instance, if you fight a lot, you won't build or research).
- Mobilise (or figth/march) orders are not placed on the starting location of the troops but at the destination. You want to attack an ennemy ? He'll know it for sure ...
- A single territory can have more than one order placed on it. Orders are played from the top to the bottom. And this is a mess !!! Very interesting mechanic here that really depends on whom is the first player (first guy to put an order on a location : the last order who will be played for that location). Many surprises (and mistakes at first) comes from this. For me, that's the core and more interesting part of the game.
Executing
Orders are executed. I won't go into details, but mention things I like or hate.
- Research tree : I was afraid of a tree that would look like civilisation ; a very big tree that every players will go thru. But this is quite simple in starcraft : you won't buy all the tech, that's for sure. You can even play without buying any tech. I think this is very nice and that allows more different kind of play.
- Buildings : then again, I was afraid !!! But like the tech tree, every player will need to focus on some strategy, some buildings he wants to build. Also, since players can play multiple build orders, it is very interesting (well, you won't do much other things that turn) because, then again, it allows more room for different strategies.
- Combat system : skirmish based combat. Individual figures oppose each other and for each "skirmish", players display a card (hidden). Most people like this, but I'm not a big fan ; too much luck involved. But, is it fun ? You bet it is fun !!!
- Resource gathering : very respectful of the video game. You'll need those "peasants" to gather the ressources ... but, if you build them, you might turn out to be slower on other things. Also, you can lose those units.
Regrouping
Essentially, the last part of the game. My comments :
- Special victory conditions : each faction has a unique special victory condition, which will greatly influences the way the game is played. Each and every game I played was won thru a special victory condition. Well, some people don't like this, but I do, and a lot.

Play overview
Here's what I think of the type of games starcraft generates :
- The spirit of the video game is very respected. But ... from a PvP point of view, not a campaign one. That means, games are fast, very fast ; and each player will use one or two elements of strategy. Forget about seeing all types of units. The game won't last that long.
- Each race is quite different to play and needs a different approach toward the strategy. Then again, quite respectful of the video game.
- Luck is an element, not a major one, but still ... From your starting planets to your combat cards, some elements of luck are involved. I normally don't like this, but the games are so quick that I can easily live with it !!
- Replay value : great, if not awesome. Different races, different planets and starting positions. Also, the games are so fast that many are needed to try many strategies.

Final words
Well, so far, I've only played three players games, but I'm really ready to play games with more players. I would especially like to this a six players game with three teams (one per race).

Overall, I'd say this is a very nice game and I'm very glad about that purchase. Most concepts of this game are not new ones, but they are used in a very efficient way that generates very quick games. So far, we've been playing two games by evening, which is quite nice and less involving then games like agot.
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I find the game to be quite long (3-4 hours) with 3-4 players. Also the combat is deterministic, the only luck is if you have the right kind of card in hand or not, and where you choose to use them.

For example you might not have enough "Vulture" cards to go around, so you'll have to pick where you aren't going to play one.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Nice review.
Totally agree about the box.

I want to play a game with your group. Our group is soooo slow, even though they claim to know what they're doing.
 
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Sébastien Pelletier
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Quote:
Also the combat is deterministic, the only luck is if you have the right kind of card in hand or not, and where you choose to use them.

For example you might not have enough "Vulture" cards to go around, so you'll have to pick where you aren't going to play one.


I would say that most of the time, for combat cards, luck is not that much involved. After all, it is true, players draw a lot of those cards. But, from what I've seen, for some battles, a player might just loose for not having the right cards in his hand. That happened to me once as the defender and once as the attacker. This is not for me a major problem, especially given the time length of our game, but still, it might happen ...

Quote:
I find the game to be quite long (3-4 hours) with 3-4 players.
I want to play a game with your group. Our group is soooo slow, even though they claim to know what they're doing.


Maybe some details about the way we play :
1. Each and every wednesday I meet with two friends of mine and this is our "gaming night". We might also invite other people. That said, we play pretty fast and we're used to play together. I admit that maybe a single fourth player might slow us down pretty easily ...
2. We admit that when we play (given any game) we might do mistakes. Every player can do some. So, we better like to have a good pace of play, and have players do some mistakes, than have a slow pace of play with players making no mistakes because they spend so much time planning their strategy. Hep ... This isn't world war III, right ?
3. Most of the games of starcraft we played finished up in less than four turns. Some even ended up in two turns win. Because of the special victory condition. I believe, if I'm not wrong, that three factions can even go for a first turn win. That's what I mean by very fast games.
4. Given the "time investment" in a game of starcraft, I think it encourages a good pace of play. When playing games such as rennaissance, civilisation or game of throne, I know I'll be playing a single game for many hours. And, if I make a mistake, I won't loose ; I'd be just at a disavantage for the rest of the game. So, it encourages, I think, the players to really take the time to think over their strategy. But, in starcraft, if I make a mistake, I'll loose ; and not in four turns later. This turn ; or the next one.

This is why I approach this game differently and why I enjoy it.
 
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EMELT
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pells wrote:
3. Most of the games of starcraft we played finished up in less than four turns. Some even ended up in two turns win. Because of the special victory condition. I believe, if I'm not wrong, that three factions can even go for a first turn win. That's what I mean by very fast games.


Wow, I have never heard or seen a game being won by special victory that fast. You guys must draw through the event deck to stage 3 like mad!
How many research actions and obstructing of orders tend to happen in your games?

Are you guys actually waiting for the stage 3 cards to be showing before you start checking to see who qualifies for special victory? Or are you guys counting anytime (even before stage 3) when someone has their special victory conditions satisfied that they qualify for a win?
 
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Charles Hasegawa
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Mark T wrote:
pells wrote:
3. Most of the games of starcraft we played finished up in less than four turns. Some even ended up in two turns win. Because of the special victory condition. I believe, if I'm not wrong, that three factions can even go for a first turn win. That's what I mean by very fast games.


Wow, I have never heard or seen a game being won by special victory that fast. You guys must draw through the event deck to stage 3 like mad!
How many research actions and obstructing of orders tend to happen in your games?

Are you guys actually waiting for the stage 3 cards to be showing before you start checking to see who qualifies for special victory? Or are you guys counting anytime (even before stage 3) when someone has their special victory conditions satisfied that they qualify for a win?


Sébastien, you are indeed playing it incorrectly. You must wait until the third stage of event cards to start checking for the special victory conditions. Don't feel bad, we did that our first game too. We started the second game and another guy and I figured out that we weren't going to be able to win on the second turn after all. I think with people that are familiar with the rules and aren't overly prone to AP, this is probably a 45-60 min game per person...
 
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Andre Metelo
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I got a few friends that play really slow... And we played a couple of times (with a new player yesterday)...

The total time including teaching 2H and we had one of the slow players in the game. The only time that it took us about 3H was on a long 1st game for 6 players where 2 of the players have serious focus problems (maybe ADD)?

We do play fast though when we don't have one oof the mentined slow players and lately full blown TI3 games are taking around 3:15h to 3:30h....

Anyway, it is a fun game, and interesting enough, most games ended at the last few cards of stage 2 with points victory.. To the point where I'm considering sugesting 20 points and Special victory on turn 3 adds 2 points variant to see if we can make to a little longer...

Overall, very fun game...

About combat... except for 1 time where we had 4 fights between Zerg and Protoss in a single turn, we seem to always have the right cards (on the 4 fights turn, the zerg player was running lowing on specific cards for the units involved)...
 
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Sébastien Pelletier
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Quote:
Sébastien, you are indeed playing it incorrectly. You must wait until the third stage of event cards to start checking for the special victory conditions. Don't feel bad, we did that our first game too. We started the second game and another guy and I figured out that we weren't going to be able to win on the second turn after all. I think with people that are familiar with the rules and aren't overly prone to AP, this is probably a 45-60 min game per person...


Incredible !!! You're right !!! Special victory condition can't happen before stage III ... Thanks a lot for that !!!

I guess my games will be longer ... But, our last game ended with the Aldaris player winning with 15 conquest points. And the game didn't last that long.
But, a very important note about that end game : the Aldaris player had 14 conquest points and the two other players had around 12 or 13 points. Before playing the last turn, we analyse the board and came to two conclusions :
1. There was no way the Aldaris player could be prevented from gaining at least one conquest point.
2. There was no way the other players could manage to obtain six or seven conquest points.
So, we didn't play that last turn. Which, I guess, would have taken around an hour maybe to play ...

And thanks a lot for the comment about special victory point !!
And then again, the rule book is not that clear about that ... Special victory conditions are mentionned a couple of times and the restriction only once !!!
 
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Mac McKinlay
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This review makes some very good criticisms - breakable pieces, less-than functional (though attractive) box... However, I think your desire for speed is distorting your appreciation for game rules booklets. The challenge of clearly presenting a very complex game like this or Arkham or World of Warcraft is huge. My opinion is that FF has done quite well in all three of these cases, especially in Starcarft.

I suggest taking a little more time reading and studying the rules. The way they are organized is just right for getting across the game concepts. It's not the number of times the rules tell you something that communicates. It's how well it is said, and how well that saying is positioned at just the needed place in the rules. Overlooking the Stage III rule, for example, is not caused by the rule not being clearly presented in just the right places (which it is), it is caused by the sheer complexity of the game.

For comparison, you might consider other complex rule books by others such as Battlelore or Shadows over Camelot. The games are quite a bit less complex. but they need extensive rule books that are very well organized as well. Or consider some borrowed games that FF allowed themselves to publish with very poor rule books i.e. - Marvel Heros and, especially, the possible all-time champ of bad rules, Tannhäuser. These are simpler games in which you could wander lost in the mire of confused rules for days or weeks.
 
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Sébastien Pelletier
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Okay, I've played again last night, this time correctly. Here's my comments :

1. Setup took exactly 20 minutes. With some boxes (that we will buy, since FFG can't afford to provide them) to put back the pieces, we really think setup could be done in 5 to 10 minutes.
2. The game was played in 2 hours, ended at the end of turn 7, with a special victory condition (this was the first turn a stage III card was on top of the event deck).
3. The game was less violent. Since no one could win on turn three or four, we played less agressive.
4. At turn four, we came to ask ourself "so, now what ?". Well, we wait for stage III cards ... So, during four turns, we mostly "watch" each other, made some adjustment, bought more troops ...

Overall, the game was very fun and, quikte franckly, less "stressing" (watching on turn 2 for an opponent special victory condition is kind of stressful).
But, we thought that our variant was still nice and playable ...

Quote:
Overlooking the Stage III rule, for example, is not caused by the rule not being clearly presented in just the right places (which it is), it is caused by the sheer complexity of the game.

We should have seen this ... Especially since it is on each and every faction card (stage III is clearly mentionned).

Quote:
I suggest taking a little more time reading and studying the rules. The way they are organized is just right for getting across the game concepts. It's not the number of times the rules tell you something that communicates.

Quite honestly I disagree. For games of about the same complexity (a game of throne, warrior knight, revolution, tide of iron) they have rules that are clearly better organised than starcraft (and arkham for that matter). I do find that for those two games, the information is redundant : concepts, rules, are stated as "overall" in some pages, then as "detailled" on others.
Personnaly, I do find them to be a mess the way they are organised.
 
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Funny, I don't have any problems with the box. In fact I find it to be just the right size, even using the cardboard insert exactly the way it came. I actually consider it to be a very roomy fit compared to Descent, which requires some precise puzzle solving strategy in order to fit everything in the box, even with the insert flipped upside down.

And while we're sort of on the topic, when exactly does phase III begin?... when the first III card is drawn, or as soon as it reaches the top of the deck?
 
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CUTHALI0N wrote:
And while we're sort of on the topic, when exactly does phase III begin?... when the first III card is drawn, or as soon as it reaches the top of the deck?


As I understand it, it is as soon as there's a Stage III card at the top of the deck.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Collin,
Curious, where do you put the plastic pieces? Do you sort by color? What do you do with the card decks? What do you do with the cardboard bits?
 
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Collin
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MrWeasely wrote:
Collin,
Curious, where do you put the plastic pieces? Do you sort by color? What do you do with the card decks? What do you do with the cardboard bits?

I thought you might ask that.

The key: zip-loc bags... 13 of 'em.

I sort all the minis by color and throw each team into a bag. Then I sort all of the team-oriented cardboard by color and throw those each into their own bag (so we're up to 12). Color is the only criteria by wich I sort the cardboard as there are so many different things and not that many of each that I just leave it up to the player to sort it out during setup. Then the last baggie gets depletion tokens and planet tokens.

So the next step: into the box. I throw five of the army bags in one of the big areas on the side, and then all six of the cardboard bags and the remaining army bag (probably a zerg) goes on the other side. Other random things can go wherever i.e. the 13th bag, the point track, 1st player token, as they are all quite small.
The cards simply go right in the slot that they came in. Even with no shrink wrap that slot is custom made for that number of cards and they fit quite snugly. I do sort all the cards of the same type into their own deck for ease of set up, but then I just stack them all on top of each other and throw them into the slot. Works like a charm.
Lastly planets, faction sheets and reference sheets just sit over the top of everything, kind of on the center divider part of the insert.

Not only does this approach allow everything to fit nicely, but it also allows for a pretty speedy set up time, as each player need only grab the two bags associated with his/her color and their deck of cards, and off you go!

Wow this turned out to be quite an essay snore, hope it helps.
 
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Sébastien Pelletier
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Collin, this is also how we plan to do things ... And I agree that this way setup must be very, very fast.

But, my main question is : would it had been so difficult (and costly) for FFG to provide those bags ???
 
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I don't recall ever buying a game where all bags needed are included. Zip-loc bags are pretty cheap and I really don't mind supplying my own, especially since we always keep them on hand anyway.

Edit: Oh wait, I take it back: I only recall buying one game that came with all the bags I needed, and that was Taluva. Kudos to them.

Other than that, if a game comes with any bags it seems like it is usually just one or two of those mini-bags, and it is usually intended for the dice, or something like that. Now that I think about it though, it seems like it is pretty much only AT games that ever really even need a large number of bags.
 
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I have all of my pieces/parts/whatever in various ziplocks, and I took the cardboard thing out of the box and threw it away. Everything fits fine now.
 
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pells wrote:

For games of about the same complexity (a game of throne, warrior knight, revolution, tide of iron) they have rules that are clearly better organised than starcraft (and arkham for that matter).


What the hell? I read the rules to AK all the way through, once. Then I referenced it a lot during the first 2 games. The index helped, and I didn't find it that diffifuclt to reference, and the rules organization seemed just fine to me. What's up with the hate on the rules in that game? Either I'm really patient and good at settling for less, or you guys are very picky rule readers. shake
 
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I found the Starcraft rulebook to be very well done. Perhaps a touch on the wordy side (some of the examples did little more than restate the rule itself), but for the complexity level of the game I think the book does a great job of explaining the rules.

The only thing I found myself wanting was a section at the end that described at least one round in full, to give a sense of the flow of the game.
 
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GI Joe wrote:
I found the Starcraft rulebook to be very well done. Perhaps a touch on the wordy side (some of the examples did little more than restate the rule itself), but for the complexity level of the game I think the book does a great job of explaining the rules.

The only thing I found myself wanting was a section at the end that described at least one round in full, to give a sense of the flow of the game.


Personally, I think every rulebook should have that.
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