Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the game to preview, and will receive a copy of the game should it fund. This is not a paid preview. If you want to watch a video of this review you can check it out below, and learn more about the game here.
I love dungeon crawls. Love them. Many dungeon crawls do a lot of things similarly, or the same as others, though most of them always find something slightly different to offer. The greatest example of this in recent years was…say it with me…Gloomhaven. Gloomhaven removed dice, and offered a massively branching storyline. It did so much right, and so much that was innovative.
However, for my money, I missed the dice. So, when I saw a FB ad about Starlight which compared it to Gloomhaven, then I saw an image that included dice…well I had to know more. Now I may reference some of the mechanics of Gloomhaven, but this will not be an article where I compare the two, as that would not be fair to either game, and also a lame attempt to pull readers…I suspect just by writing Gloomhaven this article has popped 20 spots up on a google search. So Gloomhaven, there is another 20!
In Starlight you are a young pilot suddenly tasked with escorting the remnants of your world in the aftermath of a catastrophic attack that destroyed your entire planet. As you play you will work through three different modes of game play. There is the mode you will spend most of your time in, Space Combat, Space Exploration (which seems to be the second most common), and World Exploration.
The space combat mode, is a hex map where you ship flies about trying to take out enemy crafts. The enemy are controlled by relatively simple AI cards, and combat is resolved with a card modifier system (similar to the one popularized by Gloomhaven-boom that’s another 20 spots). However, the use on an AI deck, modifier cards, and hexes that is where the
comparison ends for me. Starlight uses action dice. These dice will let you shoot, move, or gain stress (stress also allows you to either move or shoot). Then you assign these dice to your player boards allowing you to move, or shoot, or both.
You start the game with a basic ship, and a single attack, and piloting move that makes you unique. However, as the game progresses you unlock new abilities that are unique to your ship, and deck modifications that are unique to your character. I will also add that the heroes all act simultaneously, allowing you to break up turns pretty much however you wish, allowing you to combo off each other.
When you are outside of combat you will be spending time on your main ship. You use this to travel through space as you seek a safehaven for your people, and you get to choose to explore locations, which may result in combat in space, or a world exploration on the ground. It might allow you to dock somewhere and resupply your ship to allow you to explore further, or repair fighters damaged in combat, or upgrade your ships with new gear. Overall, this is set up as a sandbox that you build as you play.
The World Exploration phase sees your character leave the ship and explore on foot. This plays out, in a way that is similiar to the space exploration. Each planet has its own deck that you slowly play out as you explore it. Each card has its own connected artwork and places where you are given story events tied to the specific card, or things that you can search out, or tests that you may have to make based on your characters stats and gear that you may have found and equipped.
All of this is tied together with character and squad sheets where you track everything that has happened, many of which, I can only assume will adjust how you interact with the story down the road.
So what do I think?
I really enjoy the space combat. It is fast, rarely taking more than 30 minutes or so, and has enough going on tactically (some status effects to track but not an overwhelming amount). I absolutely adore the action dice system, there are so many options available to you, even if you roll something the seems poor. In addition to that, they have even managed to make the “bad” roll-stress, valuable in some instances.
That brings me to the stress system. I think it is great. As you have to use maneuvers that are stressful, you have to add negatives to your modifier deck, and eventually you may become “triggered” drawing a trauma card, which might be useful in some ways, and helpful later on in other ways.
I also really appreciate the potential of the branching story lines, and where it could go in the final version. Along the same lines, I think the exploration modes offer incredible story potential. It is had to say based on the limited example in the demo, but it could be amazing!
I like the artwork, wonderfully colorful, and characters that I want to learn more about, and the artwork in the scenario and rulebook is really cool. I also really like the look of the world exploration cards. Those look great. I am less hot on the ship art, perhaps it is it is solid, but doesn’t really pop for me. Again I suspect that it may still be in demo form, but worth noting.
While, I am in love with the premise of the world exploration, in my play it left me wanting a bit more. It is possible that I just did really well (I have only gotten to play through the whole demo once due to time constraints), but I never felt like I was in any real danger. I also wish that the tests that come up in the world exploration were slightly more involved than just rolling a d6. At the same time I love that the focus IS on exploration, rather than combat.
I am on record as being a fan of games that have minis for the heroes and standees for enemies. I stand by this. I really like it, however, I find the prototype standees to be awkward. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine, but it is is a little challenging to get facing perfect, and the larger ones are so large they block your line of sight, and fall over a bit. For me, I wish that they were made to lay flat on the board, then they could be outlined to clearly show the rear and forward arcs, and, I think it would be much simpler.
Bringing it all together
Starlight promises to be an incredible experience. I am enamored of the space combat mode, especially the dice system, and think the other two modes have incredible potential to be amazing storytelling devices, and quite fun in their own rights. I have not gotten to experience them enough to say more than that, but I am excited about what this game could be. I would like to see a little more thought into the enemy ship standees, as the prototype version felt a little awkward to me. Starlight also appears to have solved the issue of how to track health and statuses and abilities and ammo clearly and simply with their brilliant player and enemy boards.
No time to read, I have to fly my ship
* Awesome combat mechanics, simply yet tactical
* Best player boards, enemy boards I have seen
* Solid art
* Story has great potential, it will either soar or sink based on they develop the branching story lines
* World exploration has great potential, but the demo left me wanting more challenge
*Space exploration system is a very cool way to manage the sandbox
* I wish the standees for the enemies laid flat on the map
* I am really excited for this game