Stargrave, Joseph A. McCullough

Stargrave, Joseph A. McCullough

Stargrave is a squad based wargame, designed for teams of up to ten characters on each side, and for persistent campaigns, with the results of one battle having a direct (but generally fairly balanced) impact on your forces in the next battle.

Each crew is made up of two hero characters: a powerful Captain and less powerful First Mate, each with special powers and equipment; and up to eight normal crew members, including up to four specialists who gain any special abilities they have from their equipment.

The game feels like a mix between a role playing game and a wargame. The two hero characters can go up levels, improve their stats, gain new skills and make it easier to use their existing skills and carry quite a lot of gear, making them potentially very powerful (and quite complex to play).

In contrast the normal crew members feel more like conventional war game units, with fixed stats and only able to improve by gaining more advanced versions of their normal kit. They do have much higher health scores than a normal trooper might in a standard war game (either 12 or 14), but the combat system allows for higher damage numbers as well – damage is calculated as the difference between the successful attack roll and the defenders armour, so even with no other modifiers an attacker who rolls 18 on D20 would do 8 damage to someone with the standard armour of 10.

The game is designed around the idea of a persistent army list. Not only are the two main characters designed to be improved, the loot tokens that most sceneries are built around give rewards that only make sense within a long term campaign. After each battle you roll to discover what you looted, and can gain new weapons, extra currency and all sorts of other bonuses. You can also improve your space ship, again giving bonuses that only make sense in a campaign.

The campaign world is left deliberately vague. The game is set in the aftermath of a devastating ‘last war’ in which various unnamed empires were destroyed, leaving the galaxy in a state of anarchy, dominated by powerful pirate fleets. Beyond that it really is up to the players to add as much or as little detail as they want. The ten scenarios included here are fairly generic, designed to be reused as often as required, rather than forming a coherent campaign. They include plenty of nice special rules to give more variety to the games, and produce some atmospheric variations on the basic game.

Although the game is written for at least two players, it also includes what are effectively NPCs, either randomly generated or related to a scenario, which follow fairly simple rules (and generally attack the nearest player figure).  The pre-generated scenarios tend to include their own rules for how many of these there are, but there are also rules for randomly generating them, with modifiers for how long the fight has been going on. Two different systems are provided. For urban missions you roll every turn and add the turn, with 15 or above meaning someone comes to investigate what’s going on. For other missions you roll whenever you capture one of the game’s loot tokens, and on a roll of 10+ a random encounter appears, with a mix of humanoid types and beasts. I particularly like the urban system which gives missions a feel of urgency as both players are faced with an ever increasing horde of pirates.

This is a fun game, with a nice balance between the complexity that comes from your two lead characters with all of their powers and a simple squad, and some nice RPG elements that work well to link individual scenarios together.

1 – Assembling a Crew
2 – The Rules
3 – Campaigns
4 – Powers
5 – Scenarios
6 - Bestiary

Author: Joseph A. McCullough
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 176
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2021

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