Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Chris Taylor
Artwork: Chris Taylor, Michelle Ball
Ages: 13 & up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Imperial Stars II is a fun two-player sci-fi wargame with a lite 4X flavor recently released by Victory Point Games that plays in around 60 minutes. The game centers around empire expansion and big fleet space battles with minimal bookkeeping that is both easy to learn and play while still offering good strategic depth and high re-playability, minus the big time commitment. It’s a simple, straight forward wargame that fits into the space combat niche nicely.
You are probably wondering how this compares to Imperial Stars I, since this is obviously the second game in the series, or so you’d believe by the title. Well, it’s not exactly the second title in the Imperial Stars line but at the same time, it is. So how does a game get a roman numeral II after it without a first edition? Let me explain.
In a nutshell, Chris Taylor had designed a print and play game years ago that is freely available on his website, called Imperial Stars. It is a starship combat game that never made it past the prototype stage but the seed was planted and continued to grow in Chris’s head. He designed two other titles published by Victory Point Games that are from the same game universe, Forlorn: Hope and Astra Titanus and in honor of continuing the universe that first game brought to life he gave Imperial Stars the II suffix.
Imperial Stars II is a tale of two empires; the Northern Union and the Marasian Empire, both descendants of Earth who were at one time united against the Titans and Xeno (Astra Titanus and Forlorn: Hope) but now find themselves entrenched in a battle for the dwindling resources and last planets in their sector. There are no alien invaders here, it is human vs human and the victor of the game is the one who takes control of his opponent’s homeworld or whoever has the most victory points at the conclusion of the final galactic cycle.
The game comes with counters for all of the ships, operational chits, tracking markers for the operational points on your player mat and planet counters needed. As always from Victory Point Games, the components are beefy and top notch, they’re easy to punch, look and feel great and are just plain fun to push around on a map.
The two, double-sided 11”x17” maps are well done and have a varied mix of terrain features like dust clouds, asteroids, nebula and singularities. Each feature has different effects on combat and movement, allowing for unique tactical options and problems to deal with in the game.
The player aid mats are where you track your operations points each turn and also have tables for fighter and beam combat as well as the terrain effects chart.
The rules are thorough and easy to understand with a logical flow that wargamers will feel right at home with. There are also a couple of variants listed in the back of the rules along with some designer notes, which make for a good read.
Game setup has each player filling their reinforcement areas with ships designated for A and B sections placed facedown, when you later pay to bring in reinforcements, they will come from these groups and the randomization creates an interesting uncertainty as to what you’ll get. Starting ships deploy around each homeworld with a two counter per hex restriction that lifts after setup and goes to the maximum stack size of six counters per side.
Randomly placed planet counters go onto designated hexes and are big keys in the game. Each planet marker has a different bonus that will benefit you in various ways; offering extra ops points, combat boons or a free extra unit to deploy from your reinforcement pool, as examples. You’ll want to branch out quickly, snapping up as many of these as you can through colonization.
The game plays over a series of galactic cycles, where player’s blind draw operations chits to see how many operations points they have that turn. These operations chits dwindle as the game goes on, with the lowest numbered chit removed in the housekeeping phase at the end of every cycle. These cycles are your game timer, when the last chit is pulled, the game is over if the victory conditions haven’t already been met previously. More operations can be added to each turn by colonizing planets and using planet marker benefits, potentially adding an extra 6-10 or more points per turn.
Operations points drive the game; these are the basic economy of Imperial Stars II and allow you to buy reinforcements, move ships, colonize planets and repair damaged ships in a base or homeworld hex. This is why gaining those planetary markers is so important, not only for the colonization bonus you earn but you may grab up one of the markers that offer extra ops points. Those extra points will give you a stronger economy to purchase more ships faster and have more fleets moving at the same time across the map, taking away colonies and cutting your opponent’s economic strength while building your own. Bear in mind, once you have those markers you’ll need to decide the appropriate time to use them for their maximum benefit. Once they are used, they are discarded into a cup but can be re-drawn by recycling combat strength points during your ops phase.
Each cycle you can build one base, up to a maximum of four bases using the special 8/3 chit. With this chit you can opt to take either eight ops points or only three but building a base that turn. You still keep any additional ops point benefits you may have already earned. Bases are placed in one of your controlled planetary systems and allow you deploy reinforcements, repair battle damaged ships and are pretty tough to destroy while giving you a big battle boost when defending with a fleet in combat.
The fleets in the game will be easily recognizable to any experienced wargamer as they use familiar naval designations and all are either capital ships or escorts. Escort ships go down fairly easy with one hit while cap ships take two but bases are beasts, needing four hits to destroy.
Combat in Imperial Stars II is simple and fun and you will find plenty of it! What I found interesting was that it’s not just a simple math battle of superior numbers but that support units, in this case fighters, can have a direct influence on the overall battle because two fighter waves bookend the major beam combat phase.
The fighters are designated on capital ship counters as triangles; you roll a die for each individual triangle and the player who scores the hit chooses which ships take damage or are destroyed. Odd numbered hits are applied to escorts if there are any; otherwise any ship is fair game. So the first, third, fifth and so on, fighter hits will target escorts and even hits target any ship or base. All of the hits are simultaneous, with ship damage applied at the end of each step before beginning the next one.
This is again where some of those planet boons come into play because two of them allow for an extra two fighters to be added for one battle while two more allow for canceling damage. These bonuses can prove to be pivotal, which is why it’s imperative to grab up those planets early in the game.
The beam attacks are a simple numbers game but you still need good rolls to impart damage, although of course you have a greater chance of inflicting damage with a much larger force. In this step, the player chooses which of their own ships take the damage. If neither side is eliminated after this step, there is a final fighter step that is carried out exactly like the first. This is why those opening fighters are so important; they can whittle down the other fleet before the beam combat phase and possibly turn the tide of battle.
The defending player may retreat during combat by rolling against their movement allowance points, rolls lower than the target number allow for a successful retreat to an adjacent hex.
As I mentioned before, you will find plenty of combat in Imperial Stars II. The maps are sized perfectly for the scope of the game with just the right amount of distance between the homeworlds to allow for strategic movement and fleet placement without dragging the game on needlessly or turning it into an immediate furball. I’ve had games with homeworld wins and victory points wins, the victory point wins tend to favor the patient player who is willing to let his opponent smash his fleets onto his bases or who aggressively expand their colonies.
The different terrain/space features on the maps add a lot of fun and replayability too, giving different benefits to the attacker and defender and lending themselves to smart maneuvering and experimenting with different strategies each play. Singularities for example, are a pretty neat feature. Undamaged units can ride the event horizon of them at zero movement cost using a slingshot maneuver; this can get you across a good portion of the map in just one move without any dice rolls as this move is automatic. Dust clouds make it harder for both fighters and ships beam weapons to hit, not a bad tactical option to ‘hide’ your units in there when trying to evade or slip by enemy fleets.
To win the game, you’ll need to control your opponent’s homeworld hex at the end of their turn. This gives players one last chance to reinforce their homeworld and halt the attack because as long as you have ships in your homeworld hex, you’ve denied control of the hex and held defeat at bay. If you cannot win by a homeworld victory, victory points are tallied based on colonies and planetary systems owned to determine the victor.
There are a lot of actions and decisions packed into an hour of play of Imperial Stars II. Gamers who’ve played Space Empires 4X will find themselves right at home and pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily this game plays, not to mention it is much shorter. Each decision you make is critical, even more so as you get deeper into the game and this adds a fun level of stress when you commit forces to battle and risk everything to take your opponents homeworld.
The only quibble I have with the game is more out of personal taste and it does hurt the component score some. I would have preferred the maps be the mounted puzzle boards but I know the paper maps were done to keep costs down and they do the job admirably. That’s not a knock on the game or of the maps, I just love mounted game boards but I do appreciate Victory Point Games decision to save their customers money and agree with their decision to do so.
That little quibble aside, I really enjoy this game a lot!
Imperial Stars II is a really fun and enjoyable little wargame that scratches my 4X and big space battle itch without bogging me down with heavy details or bookkeeping, and doesn’t require an entire afternoon to play. While streamlined, the game still has good strategic depth that keeps me trying new things each time I play and for the price point, it’s a steal. The economics model is very simple, yet effective and the combat is fun, brutal and fast! If you’re looking for a straightforward space wargame that is all about big fleet battles to expand your empire and only takes about an hour to play, don’t hesitate to pick this one up. Yet another solid title from Victory Point Games.
Company Website: Victory Point Games
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.