It often seems like the fast paced action games get all the screen time, but there will always be a place for turn-based games that allow you the time to think and plan strategically and not rely on your reactions. Stars in Shadows developed by Ashdar Games is a turn-based 4X strategy game where you must compete against other alien races, to colonise planets, build fleets and either unify the galaxy or destroy everything that stands in your way.
You’re not thrust straight away into a huge and devastatingly awesome storyline, but from what I understand…
The elder races ruled the galaxy with large empires and powerful technology. Everything was awesome, and the people were generally happy until the Great War. No-one knows if anyone actually won this war, but all the elder races were pretty-much devastated. With their empires crushed, and technology destroyed, the galaxy fell into a dark age. Now awakened, it’s up to you build up the your race to its former power.
When Stars in Shadows starts you have all the usual options you’d expect, number of planets, difficulty, and the number of other races vying for control of the same space. I’m skipping past this bit though, as let’s be honest it’s rather dull, so we’ll talk about the different races.
There are a number of different races to choose from in Stars of Shadows. The Ashdar are a dinosaur-looking race, split into two sub-species, Teros and Haduir (Colonials and Imperials). There are the Orthin which look like giant cockroaches. The Yoral are four-armed yeti-like creatures. The Phidi look like sea-horses. The Gremak are bipedal reptiles and of course the humans that are well, human.
Each of these races has pros and cons. For example, the Phidi have boots to diplomacy, but do not have the same military might as other races, the Ashdar colonials have a bonus to production but are hated by the Gremak etc.You’ll only really know which race suit you most by playing them and understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
Once you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to start playing. The space exploration screen shows you all the planets, the colonies on them, as well as icons for the various fleets dotted around. Clicking on the various elements of the map opens screens that provide more information and allow you to interact with that map element.
For example, clicking on a colony takes you to the Colony Management screen where you can build, or find out info on the planet. Clicking on a fleet icon however, will show you just how many and of which type of ship are currently in that system.
Moving ships is as easy as clicking on the ships you want to move and then right-clicking on the map. You’ll be shown just how many turns it will take for that ship to reach its destination. Once the order has been issued to the ship it cannot be cancelled, so you’ll either have to wait until it reaches its destination or re-direct it to another destination.
When a ship first approaches a star system, you might be shown information that pertains to that star system. This could be planets containing valuable minerals or resources, or it could be valuable research, or simply the native race getting in touch with you. It could also be a giant bag full of Destroyers who don’t take too kindly to your visit, so don’t send a colony ship exploring on its own.
You’re not going to get very far at all, until you start colonising more planets. The more star systems you colonize, the more resources you can generate which means the more research that can be performed and the larger fleet that can be built. At the start of the game you don’t have much. You have a home planet with a colony on it and space station around it. You have a scout ship and you have colony ship, so you’ll definitely need to expand your empire.
Colonisation is done by way of a Colony ship, and it’s as simple as moving the Colony Ship to the star system you want to colonise, and then selecting colonise. The ship will be used up and there will be a new colony on that planet to start filling with your own people..
Each planet has a different amount of resources to tap and different requirements for sustainable life. Some planets have a minimal food supply that can keep your colony going until you build farms, while others are in deficit straight away and you might need to think about buying a farm, or setting up a colony ship as trade ship before your entire planet starves to
For you to get the best out of your colony you’ll need to develop it. Each planet has a number of spaces for resource buildings, such as farms, mines, factories and research labs that produce, food, metal, or research accordingly. You can also build and design your own ships on a colony depending on the size of the ship yard. You’ll need to keep a good size fleet for defence even if you’re trying to unite the galaxy.
Researching is another key area of Stars in Shadows. You’ll need to put points into the various fields of research. Some research rewards ship upgrades and components; others provide colony bonuses while some just enable you to get on with other races just that bit better. The Research Tree flows from left to right, with the more basic technologies being at the start and the more advanced technologies being on the right. Whatever you research it has a tremendous impact on the direction and success of your game.
If all other diplomatic methods have failed, and there is no choice but to blast your fellow Elders out of the stars then you’ll get very familiar with space combat. Saying that, combat can be initiated from pirates, or just random encounters so even the kindest player will have to get to grips with the combat sooner or later.
For combat you’ll switch to the Combat Screen that shows every ship involved in the combat. Both you and your opponent will take turns moving your ships and firing. Moving is done by selecting the ship, which shows you its movement radius and then clicking where you want to ship to go. Firing is done in a similar way, select the ship, click attack and you’ll be shown the range of the shot Click on the ship you wish to fire at, simple. You can also self-destruct your ship which damages nearby ships, or get the hell out of dodge which takes a turn or so, and you can be fired at while you’re running away. It’s a little basic, but like civilization combat is only one part of its strategic repertoire.
So, wow, quite a lot of stuff going on in there and I’ve not even mentioned everything that’s in there. I was surprised at how deep the gameplay went.
Graphically, Stars in Shadows is bright and lively but apart from the space combat there is no animation. Everything is done by a series of stationary images, icons and static screens. It doesn’t really suffer from it, and maybe if the graphics were given an overhaul it would lose some of its charm but I can’t help wondering.
The music was pretty annoying. It appeared to be the same Buck Rogers-esque tune throughout the entire game. The space combat tune wasn’t much better but at least it broke it up a bit. I found myself turning down the volume and listening to other music within about 15 minutes, but music isn’t everything.
Being a turn-based game, there are plenty of reasons to keep playing Stars in Shadows. With a number of different races, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, several difficulty settings, and an infinitely random space map you’ll never be short of new things to try. Every game is guaranteed to be different.
After all of this, there is also the Legacies DLC that adds a new minor faction and a major faction called the Tinkers who excel in production. Plus, it delves into the story of the Great War and the Elder Races downfall.
If you want to give Stars in Shadows a Try, you can get it from Steam for around £20, with the Legacies DLC costing around £5