Stellar Armada preview: space combat for $1

  |   John Kemp   |   

Disclosure: I backed the game on Kickstarter and was also provided with an early copy of the print-and-play files for review purposes. No requirements were placed on the content of my review.

Stellar Armada is a board game by where you act out an often swift and brutal exchange of fire between spaceships. Production is being funded via Kickstarter and you can obtain your very own copy for the measly sum of $1 (plus shipping). That’s not a typo, physical copies of this game are being offered for a single American dollar. In this article I’m going to give some general information about the game and the Kickstarter campaign and then go into how the game feels to play.

About Stellar Armada

Now to head the obvious question off early, you’re clearly not going to be getting a big box containing expansive maps and numerous counters and playing pieces plus a hundred-page bound A4 rulebook for the $1 asking price. What you will get is two player boards (around poker card size) with rules printed on the reverse and a set of 14 cardboard markers. However, if you bump your backer level to $5 then you will get the significantly nicer Deluxe set: the two player boards, 14 gem markers (in five colours) in place of the cardboard markers, 3 red dice, 3 blue dice, a tuckbox to contain all the parts, and a printed set of rules for solo play. To me, that seems worth the extra $4.

Preview copies of the Stellar Armada rules are currently available on the Kickstarter page if you want to check out the game mechanics for yourself before taking the plunge. There certainly seem to be a large number of people that were willing to do so, as at time of writing the game has reached more the 20x the original target amount with 10 days still remaining. This means that in addition to several new items packed into the Deluxe set that I included in my list above, the card quality has also been upgraded and a Tabletop Simulator port of the game is in progress.

Playing the game

I built my own game boards using the print-and-play files. I’ll make a followup post describing my method, but for now suffice it to say that I had a scaled up version of the boards and used 5p coins as markers. These coins happened to be the perfect size on my scaled up boards, which was a happy coincidence.

Scaled-up board in use with 5p coins as markers.
Scaled-up board in use with 5p coins as markers.

Each of the blocks you see on the board are different systems on the ship: engines, missiles, masers, reactors, repair systems, and shields. The row along the top are remaining missiles. The shields take damage first and once they are taken down the attacker can pick any system to target except the reactor. The reactor can only take damage once another system is destroyed and then only in limited amounts. The goal is to destroy your opponent’s reactor. Everything you do in your turn requires energy from the reactor and you only have as much energy as the remaining hit points. This means that once you start taking damage you can do less in your turn and things can quickly snowball.

Assigning power to the engines makes your ship harder to hit and initially it’s very tempting to play defensively, assigning the bulk of your power into engines and shields. However, this significantly slows the game down as you have very limited power for weapons and if your opponent is doing the same then you simply can’t get enough hits to cause meaningful damage. Instead, the game proceeds much faster and, arguably, much more enjoyably if you play offensively. Take steps to prevent easy destruction of your ship, but keep enough energy available to really let your weapons go to work. Once you get the first few big hits in you effectively have your opponent on the ropes, so you want to be the first one to do so.

Games of Stellar Armada can be very fast and this is both a blessing and a curse. It has the advantage that you don’t need to dedicate a block of time to playing it and instead can just pull it out whenever and have a couple of quick rounds. It does mean it can sometimes feel unfair or too heavily RNG-based though, especially if your opponent rolls well in the first round. This will very much come down to personal preference and if you’re unsure then it’s relatively easy to sketch out a board and play with the preview rules (2 player or solo) to get a taste of the game.

Overall, Stellar Armada is a fast and fun game and for $1 it would be hard for it not to deliver its money’s worth. I look forward to seeing what developer Jerason Banes will come up with next.

John Kemp
I am a software developer by day and dip into a range of related activities in my spare time, including working on my own software projects, writing, proof-reading, and, of course, gaming of both the digital and boardgame varieties. I am slowly starting to sink my teeth into game development.