Stars! was built in a standard Windows interface; the majority of the game features text fields and dropdown lists. The most graphical part of the game, its map, features a black background with dots to represent planets, shaded circles for territory boundaries and triangles to show ships/fleets.
The game encourages players to micromanage every aspect of their empire. Players start a game by first designing their own race; setting stats, such as primary and lesser racial traits; which planetary conditions they could survive with; and starting technologies. The player is then given a planet, a scout ship and cast off to build an empire. Like most 4X games; a balance has to be made between population, research, economy and infrastructure.
Each planet in Stars! has a set of statistics for gravity, temperature and radiation as well as resources that were available. In order to effectively colonize a planet the player's race had to be suited to it's environment. That is, unless the race has the ability "Alternate Reality" where the player can use orbital habitats that don't require the colonization of the actual surface of a planet.
Mining is one of the more important aspect of the game, providing the resources for everything from ships to technology. When mining it's common for players to use freighters to ship mined materials from a given planet back to a more advanced colony within the player's empire.
Ships and starbases can be customized, with a set of slots for engines, shields, weapons, storage, etc. Players simply drag and drop components that have been researched into the appropriate slots and save the design.
Primary Racial Traits (PRT)
HE races grow twice as fast as other PRTs, yet are limited to half the maximum population per planet. Their high growth rate allows many extra benefits not available to other race types.
Virtually invisible ships can strike easily into heavily defended areas, and armed Rogue class vessels can steal cargo from unsuspecting freighters.
The most humanoid PRT. JoaT races do not excel in any one particular area, but do have a generally higher production ability and possess advanced scanning technology not available to anyone else.
Inner guidance allows this PRT to defend with supernatural ability and to develop other defensive technologies far beyond those of other races. They have exclusive armor and shielding, as well as the revered Super-Freighter design.
No other race can match the War Monger PRTs ability to fight. Advanced warship technology gives major advantages in ship design, although this race suffers in the defense department.
This race's ability to self-destruct their own mine-fields, and to produce exclusive Heavy Mine Dispensers makes them a difficult foe to conquer.
Able to destroy an entire planet's population in a single blow, this PRT should be the most feared, although it is usually overlooked by players looking for a battle rather than doomsday weapon.
This race types strongest asset is the ability to terraform planets in a fraction of the time that its neighbors can, giving it a decisive advantage in the political arena.
Jump gate technology reaches its high point in the development of this PRTs evolution, eventually allowing infinite distances to be traversed with any sort of vessel.
These two-deminsional beings prefer to live in starbases rather than on planets, and their populations can reach incredible proportions. Once they can build the Death Star, the other races may have a problem on their hands.
Multiplayer for Stars! is mostly confined to a Play-By-Email system built into the game. One player would be set up as the game's "host", generating game files to be emailed to the game's other players. Those players would then take their turn and send the results back to the host for integration into the master game.
This system was also supplemented by third party servers, such as "Stars! Autohost", which would provide a centralized server that would act as a Play-By-Email host, as well as provide facilities for automatically sending files to and from that host.