In the year 2115 the third Solar War is widespread throughout the entire solar system. Small skirmish battles result in very little progress and chaos rules the universe. Two major corporations wield almost unlimited power and star battles are broadcast earning huge ratings and advertising dollars. These tactical space engagements usually include a couple command ships squaring off with small, speedy fighters doing most of the grunt work. They are the gladiators of the modern age, duelling to the death for mass entertainment. The fighting won’t stop until one of the command ships is destroyed. This is Starfighter!
Starfighter is a two-player, tactical card game set in the black reaches of space. It is the first design by Stéphane Boudin. Each player takes control of a command ship, represented by one of three double sided boards. The command ships are made up of different columns and rows to place out cards and are directly facing each other on the table. Level zero cards can be placed anywhere, but level 1, 2, and 3 cards must be placed in their appropriate row. The goal is to destroy your opponent’s vessel. Each ship starts with 20 armour points that will be whittled away during the game. Knock your opponent’s down to zero and you win. Simple, right? It’s actually going to take a lot of planning to get by their defences and hurl some damage at their command ship.
Each round of the game is played out in a number of phases. During the Reinforcement phase players will draw cards equal to the amount of ‘Draw’ symbols they have visible on their board as well as any cards they received from a ‘Draw’ action in a previous round. In Starfighter, the cards are double-sided and have both a top and bottom section. The backs of the cards will always be the same, with two fighters on the top and empty space on the bottom. The other side will depict a level and a top and bottom that may have fighters or special abilities.
The Deployment phase is when the real tough decisions start to happen. When laying out cards on your board you’ll choose what row and column you want to put them it. Cards overlap, covering the top half of the previously played card with the bottom half of the new one. So, a card played in the zero level row will have its top covered by a card played in the level one spot of the same column. Cards must always be played out in ascending and consecutive order, meaning that you couldn’t play a level three card in a column that hadn’t already been built up to level two. Levels zero cards can be played anywhere, so if there’s a gap you want to fill you can use level zero cards. As cards get laid down you will get any bonuses shown on them. They range from things like movement around the board, drawing cards to be added to your hand for the next round and doing direct damage to your opponent’s command ship.
When deploying you want to pay close attention to the way your opponent is setting up their board. Their set up will be really important once the Combat phase starts.
Deployment goes back and forth until one player passes. They will take the initiative pawn and the other player can continue to play out cards until they pass as well. Now you’re ready for combat!
The player with the initiative pawn has the option of moving their board one column to the left or right and then deciding whether combat will be resolved left-right or right-left. In any lined up set of column that has fighters in it a battle will take place. Players will assess how many damage tokens to take based on the number of fighters in their enemy’s column. Starting with the player with initiative damage tokens will be doled out to their own fighters. Damage tokens are placed first on the highest cards and work their way down. When all the fighters have a damage token on a card, it is destroyed and the card is discarded. This may reveal a bonus on the card placed in the lower row. You can immediately cash in on that bonus before continuing. So, if you get a ‘Draw’ symbol you take a card and put it aside to be added to your hand during the next Reinforcement phase or a movement might allow you to move a card to a different row or even column (the level of a card only needs to be respected during Deployment).
If after all the cards have been destroyed in a column there are still damage tokens remaining, the command ship takes damage equal to the number of tokens. After all combat for that round has been resolved the initiative pawn is passed and the next round can begin. Whenever a player’s command ship reached zero armour, it has been destroyed! The game ends immediately and you can feel free to tease your opponent mercilessly (they’d do it to you).
Starfighter plays out in about 30 minutes and its compact size (deck of cards, some small boards and a few tokens) make it an ideal travel or lunch hour game. It reminds me quite a bit of Summoner Wars, but with asymmetrical boards. I would love to see unique factions developed in this game, so that you’d really be able to step into a role and a style of play. Laying out the cards can be a little bit fiddly and it will take a couple play throughs to really get comfortable with the symbology, but those are minor complaints. It’s definitely worth trying out Starfighter if you’ve got a worthy opponent willing to strap into a command ship on the other side of the table.