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Review by: Jim Brumbaugh
Published: May 4, 1997
The Universal Remnant. That is all that is left of the Universe, which once consisted of a multitude of interconnected bubbles of space/time. In days long ago, a crustacean race called the Sznip and a race of nuclear plasmatoids known as the Fermis decided that nearly infinite space was not big enough for both of them. In the explosions that followed the declaration of war between these two races, not only were both annihilated, but all the bubbles were demolished as well — that is, all except one. Now, a multitude of sentient species are vying for control of the one, remaining Remnant.
There are six races which remain in the universe. Each has unique advantages over the others, and each has their own disadvantages, too. The goal: to conquer any races that are present, and gain exclusive control the Remnant.
As a player of Stars!, this is your mission. You can assume one of the pre-defined races, or you can create one which is more specific to your liking. The Custom Race wizard screen provides a certain number of Advantage Points which can be distributed among various traits to provide your race with advantages in technology, weapons, ships, defenses, and dozens of other categories.
After determining the traits of your race, it is time to select the size of the galaxy and the difficulty level of play. Different races fare differently under various sets of conditions, so the player must choose wisely. The player also has the opportunity to set the conditions which must be satisfied in order to win the game.
The game begins, and the player gets his first opportunity to view the game interface. This experience can be summed up in one word: windows — and lots of them. In Stars!, these windows are called “panes,” and the main game screen is divided into four different panes. The Scanner pane provides the player with a two-dimensional view of the universe. It is on this pane that the player decides which star systems to explore, and sets up his ships to travel between systems. The Selection Summary pane provides the player information about a selected object in the Scanner pane. If a planet has been selected, either its environment or its mineral content will be detailed. If a fleet is selected, each ship type’s summary can be viewed, showing the ship’s remaining fuel, cargo weight, speed and assigned task. The Command pane allows the player to issue detailed orders to his fleets and planets. This pane is composed of a number of smaller windows called “tiles”, and the tiles that are displayed depend upon whether issues are being ordered to a planet or to a fleet. It is in this pane that the player can view detailed information about owned planets, starbases or fleets in orbit around a planet, or the location and composition of a fleet. This is also the place where items to be constructed are placed in the production queue of a planet and commands are issued to the player’s fleets. The Messages pane provides information to the player about all the events that occurred during the last game year. For example, as fleets are built and items are produced, the player is informed so he can adjust the production of his planets.
As new habitable planets are discovered, the player must transport colonists to these planets to control them. At that time, mines and factories can be built on the planet to increase the resources that are produced, and ships and starbases can be built from this new location.
In order to progress technologically, the player must also invest in research. There are six different categories which can be researched, including Energy, Weapons, Propulsion, Construction, Electronics and Biotechnology. The level of aptitude in any category can range from zero to twenty-six, and as additional levels are attained, new ships, equipment and terraforming capabilities are discovered. These newly discovered elements can then be built to advance the destructive power of the player’s fleets or improve the environmental conditions of the player’s planets.
Eventually, the player will encounter another race and ship-to-ship battle will ensue. Battle is resolved automatically, but the specifics of any battle can be played back using the Battle VCR. If the player is not achieving success in battle, then it is time for him to visit the Ship and Starbase wizard. In this series of windows, the player can build any ship design that has been discovered through his Research, and assemble researched ship parts into this design. Different armor, shields, weapons, computers and scanners can be placed upon the hull template, and the finished design can then be placed in a planet’s Production Queue.
In addition to playing against the computer, the game also comes with multi-player capabilities. Up to 16 players can be accommodated in a variety of ways. A hot seat game can be set up on one computer, a multi-player game can be played on a network or via modem, and since Stars! is turn-based, it can also be played via e-mail.
The game manual spans a full 200+ pages, which provides the player with all the necessary detail to play the game. There is also an interactive demo that is included, which will prompt the player through 36 years of a sample game.
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