Flying along among the stars. Gritty Survival. Keeping one step ahead of your debtors. Open-ended space game. All of these describe one of the most promising paper games I have tried to date. Unfortunately, there is one more that describes Star Smuggler – heavily disorganized.
Star Smuggler is a space-themed rpg/board game that is available as a print and play online at http://dwarfstar.brainiac.com/ds_starsmuggler.html. I was able to print the 4 documents (rules, events, roster and components) easily, and paper worked just fine as a medium (to start). It was about 70 total pages to print and took about ten minutes to get everything ready to play.
The first thing I notice as I read the rules is that I will not be Captain Malcom Reynolds like I wanted—rather Captain “Duke” Springer. Ah well, I guess I can live with that. The rules begin by explaining the game as a solitaire, pre-programmed adventure. It seems like there are a lot of rules. But hey—what would “Duke” Springer do? Probably jump right into the action. So that’s what I did.
The opening paragraph sets the stage—Malc… I mean “Duke”, has had a run of bad luck. He is deeply in debt, and creditors are closing in. He needs to make cash fast, to keep his weekly payments up. Out of supplies, he decides he needs to turn to the wrong side of the law. He is going to become a smuggler. The second paragraph refers me to his stats—Marksmanship (shooting skill), Hand to Hand Fighting (duh), and Endurance (health) are all preset. I roll a 1d6 to determine his Cunning (cleverness), and roll a 4. Nice!
Rules…Lots of Rules
I continue to the next paragraph. Immediately I am hit by rules. Right now, “Duke” is in the Pavonis Sector, specifically the Regari region. It tells me to go to r234 (a rules reference), so I jump there. I am then told the Regari region is connected to the Palatek region. Yikes! I hop over to r207a and r207b to read up on those systems. But wait, I’m also at the Spaceport in Regari. I need to go to r205o to find out what to do!
Now things are getting real. I find utility suits are on sale at the Spaceport! I flip through the rules to e043, which tells me to open up to r229a to determine the price of the utility suits, which tells me I actually need the wealth code of the planet (at r207) before I can determine the price, which leads me to a multiplier table at r241, where I can roll dice and finally determine how much these suits actually cost. Guess what—there is no price fluctuation, and they cost exactly what was listed originally, at e043.
Back to r203 to see what else I can do.
I continue this back, forth, back, back further, and forth again for another half-hour. I am getting tired (smuggling is tough business, I guess)! It reminds me of a Choose Your Own Adventure book that I used to read as a kid, but without the suspense. I am just flipping through pages, clarifying rules, or slogging through tables. I want the excitement, but right now it’s just rules, flipping, and then more rules.
I think that is the biggest let-down of this game, is the rules system. It is unorganized, and many references are not even necessary. Way too often I found myself referencing a rule, flipping to the next rule it asked me too, and then re-referencing the previous rule, all for very little gain! The storyline I am trying to build with Captain “Duke” Springer is extremely slow going.
After two hours of reading and re-reading the rules, I can slowly start playing. My actions, and the reactions of the adventure aren’t too difficult to understand, though the dis-organization of the rules is wearing me thin. Recently, “Duke” Springer has gotten paid as an intimate companion to some miners (yes, that type of intimate companion), though he is only 6 days away from defaulting on his loan. Things look grim when finally—a stroke of luck!
I made a contact in a Spaceport with a recent religious convert. I have the opportunity to deliver 9 different religious fanatics to 9 different planets. Upon delivery, I will receive payment of 2500 Sees (Sees are the in-game currency). That is HUGE! Especially considering I owe my creditors 300 Sees a week!
I get to New Karma and pick up my passengers no problem. I find out they truly are fanatics though, as they insist on bringing goats. One goat must be sacrificed per day, in the name of their religion. In my cargo bay! Ah well, blood washes out, and I can’t say no to 25 large. I carefully plan my route, taking into account my fuel, and any other stops I might have to make. Not only should I have enough goats for the trip, but I think I can finish all my deliveries this week, netting me over 20,000! For the sake of time, I have listed how my deliveries ended below.
Delivery 1: I am attacked out of hyperjump. Well outgunned and beat up, I decide to book it to delivery 2.
Delivery 2: I am attacked again out of hyperjump. My ship is utterly destroyed. Game Over.
Now technically I could have survived the destruction of my ship (though my passengers and their goats wouldn’t be so lucky) in my stasis pod, but I was out of money and time on my loan. I would have no ship, and would be floating in space waiting for someone to unlock my stasis pod. I would be so far behind in the game, I decided just to call it. There is no recovery for what happened to poor Captain “Duke” Springer.
As frustrating as that ending was, I can see this game being a lot of fun. It is a theme I love, with an open world to explore as a board game/rpg hybrid. However, the rules are disorganized, not intuitive, and they take forever to learn. I spent more time flipping back and forth between the rule book than actually making game-altering decisions. There is fun to be found here, but you really have to work for it.
If you have time to get invested and either memorize some of the rules or make cheat sheets and post them around your play area/on the computer, this is a game you could enjoy! You do need to sink a significant amount of time in it on the front end. If you don’t have that kind of time, or you don’t want to spend a few hours learning a system before playing (or even endlessly flipping through pages), then this one is certainly not for you.
For me, I will probably try one more run with Captain “Duke” Springer. Even though I thought I had found it, the solo game of my dreams, the theme, mechanics, and style I love, this is not it. I will keep searching, but unfortunately, “Duke”, this is not it.
This review was originally posted to BoardGameGeek in 2016. It was edited for reposting on PaperDiceGames.com