Star Hammer Tactics: Hammers the Tactics, Where are the Stars?
Black Lab Games flagship series Star Hammer Tactics finally brings what the minis library sorely lacks: a sci-fi turn-based tactical game. Star Hammer Tactics implements a grid-based system with its tactical gameplay similar to the Nintendo’s Advance Wars series. The story of the game circles around a space war between the Humans and an alien force known as Nautilids. You can further read the background story in the Story menu of the game.
The controls are relatively unique for a tactics game. Instead of highlighting and selecting units by pressing buttons, you’ll find yourself locked to a unit and have to move it across the battlefield. You can only transfer control to your other units by pressing the shoulder buttons.
There are four types of ships with varied advantages and disadvantages. The Fighters are small with very low health points (the game refers to this as “hull integrity”). They are very mobile and have no problems traversing across the battlefield. Heavy Fighters are the older brothers of the Fighters. They are less mobile but armed with a missile. The Corvettes are larger ships. They are slow but possess high health points and two missiles. The Destroyers are the largest ships with robust health points and three missiles to launch. The large ships also repair themselves every turn. The Nautilids have the equivalent of the four ship types with one major advantage: for every turn they replenish their health points by 1.
The gameplay is indeed tactical. You have to think first before firing away missiles or launching an offense. Each unit is allocated with 10 action points per turn. Points are spent by moving the units, launching a missile and adjusting the defense and offense ratings of the unit. When opposing units are adjacent to each other, a combat phase will commence right after ending your turn or after your enemy ends its turn. The combat phase won’t end until it is resolved meaning there is no chance you can pull out your troops after the combat starts.
Because of that, you won’t send your fighters behind enemy lines without support because the larger ships require more turns for them to get near the enemy fleet. So you’ll have to lay out strategies depending on the situation. I don’t suggest that you approach the enemy forces slowly for missiles would impale your fleet and they’ll be heavily damaged before they reach the enemies. Tactical right? Indeed.
For those players who are thinking of launching missiles from afar and watching enemy forces crumble from a distance, think again. You can’t spam missiles because the ships must reload before they can launch another one. And, as I mentioned, enemy troops heal every turn so you’ll be wasting precious missiles. Plus, you’ll have to choose between launching a missile and moving the unit. You can’t have both. Your units will be destroyed if you placed them along the trail of the missiles (including yours), so be very careful. There are asteroids sprinkled all over the battlefield and they act as shields from missiles if the unit is placed behind them. Ganging up on a single enemy unit is a good strategy; however, missiles cause splash damage. You really have to think before doing anything.
In the Campaign mode, you are given 45 seconds per turn to move your fleet. You don’t have the luxury of laying out plans with limitless time and choosing what types of units you’ll be using. Sometimes you’ll find your fleet flooded with fighters and sometimes you’ll have no fighters at all, so you must adapt.
There is also an Skirmish mode. In this mode, you’ll have the power to choose the size of the battlefield, your troops and even the time restrictions. The Hotseat Skirmish is probably the best about this game. Enemy AI is only average and nothing can simulate a human opponent. You’ll have to try it yourself since I can’t even reduce the experience to mere words.
If you are a graphics whore I suggest on not buying this game. Only the larger ships have below average face value. The game fonts will remind you of Wordstar and for Pete’s sake, the grid is perpetually animated on the battlefield. You don’t have an option to turn off the eye sore a.k.a. the grid. Only by pausing you can experience the outer space brimming with stars and puffing with stardusts unobstructed. If not for the gameplay, this game is unplayable.