Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview; you can find out more information here.
As long as there is land left to conquer, humans will be there, armed and ready. Once we’re done with Earth, it’s on to the deep reaches of space. Who’s going to stop us? Spoiler alert: The Noveratu Starfleet is going to try its best. One thing is guaranteed in this two-player space combat game, destruction.
Time Wars: Stellar Assault is a strategic interstellar-combat board game designed by Bijhan Agha and will be published via crowdfunding. Players start with one cruiser each in one of their reinforcement spaces. Every turn, players can recruit new units based on how many systems their opponent controls. Then, they move a unit. If they choose, they may make an attack on an adjacent unit. Finally, they determine which systems they control uncontested and add a Conquest Token to those spaces.
Combat is resolved in three phases. Before resolving combat, players take turns playing command cards until both players pass. Then command stacks are revealed and totals for each symbol (Blast, Drone, Marine) are added and compared.
First, the blast phase is resolved. The attacker must win this phase or they will lose a unit and the combat will end immediately. Next, the Drone phase. If the attacker does not win this phase, the defender will draw a command card and the combat ends immediately. Finally, the Marine phase. If the attacker wins in this phase, the defender removes a unit from the board and the attacker adds a cruiser to their fleet.
The two unit types act differently in combat. Cruisers (after the first) add 1 symbol to each phase, while X-knights add three symbols to the Blast Phase. X-Knights can destroy an opposing unit if they win during the Blast Phase. Otherwise, they are destroyed.
The game ends when one player has conquered the center system and both systems on their goal card at the beginning of their turn.
This game starts out as a blank slate and the board fills up quite rapidly. There is a satisfying arc from building up your fleets to spreading across the map to fighting it out and trading systems back and forth. Within Stellar Assault, there is a game of chicken, trying to balance taking additional systems without giving up too many reinforcement points to your opponent. The first few systems often take a while to be conquered, after which there is a big rush to the center system. By then, fleets have been built tall and X-knights are on the board. I enjoyed the flow of the game quite a bit.
My favorite part of Stellar Assault is the combat. There’s a bit of a bluffing element at play. When engaging in combat, you can trick your opponent into playing their good command cards, while just wasting some of your bad ones. They won’t know which systems you actually need to conquer and which are just a distraction. That’s the beauty of your secret goal card. Furthermore, the capture mechanic adds a huge bonus for a successful attack. If the attacker wins a combat with a cruiser fleet, they destroy an enemy cruiser and add another cruiser to their fleet. This can snowball into multiple subsequent combat victories for the same fleet.
Three-stage combat keeps things interesting. Winning the blast phase with an X-Knight is huge, but if you lose with that X-Knight, it can be devastating. Trying to predict what command cards your opponent will play can get tense, and a miscalculation can cost you a game-winning sector.
A really nice bonus here is that the game plays faster than the advertised time on the box. You can knock out a few games in about 90 minutes if you’re playing at a reasonable pace. Furthermore, you get a lot of action out of a small box. This is one I can chuck in my luggage on a trip and still have room for less important things like underwear.
I do find this to be an abstract-adjacent game, but there’s enough space theme and fighting to keep it out of that category. It’s more of a stripped down space skirmish. Nothing over the top; it’s a knife fight in a phone booth … in the infinite expanses of space.
Time Wars: Stellar Assault set out to be a straightforward fighty space game and it did just that. The positioning and building up of fleets is strategic while a hint of luck is added with command cards. You know going into this game that you’ll get into a bunch of space battles and conquer some systems. It’s a good time, and it doesn’t take long at all. If your collection is lacking a tight, space board game, this one is definitely worth checking out when it hits crowdfunding.