Sword of the Stars is a 4X game developed by Kerberos Productions. The player takes command of a race on the verge of space exploration and is tasked with establishing dominance over the galaxy through diplomacy, warfare and technological superiority. Unlike other 4X games, Sword of the Stars streamlines the turn-based empire building aspect to the point of automating many tasks you would expect from the genre. Planets terraform and improve infrastructure without requiring any input. This allows the player to focus more on strategic decisions, as well as designing warships and effectively using them in real-time combat.
Sword of the Stars features several scenarios with special rules as well as a custom game option. Multiplayer over LAN or internet is available with support for time-limits on turns as well as changeable AI policies in case a player drops out.
Sword of the Stars has three expansions: Born of Blood, A Murder of Crows and Argos Naval Yard which add new playable races, technologies and random encounters.
The six races in Sword of the Stars are not separated by mere stat differences and bonuses. Each is meant to be a fairly unique gameplay experience and all require different strategies to use effectively. Because of this you cannot customize your chosen race outside of color and icon.
Human - Rapid expansionists in the early game, Humans that quickly build up a strong base of colonies can keep that momentum for the rest of the game. They are not especially strong or weak in any area of research so they can adapt to most threats. Human ships are heavily focused on broadside firing arcs and have moderately fragile engine sections. To travel the stars Humans follow pre-determined node lines. This allows them to move quickly and makes them impossible to intercept, however unlucky placement of the lines can severely hamper a Human player.
Hiver - The slowest expanding race in Sword of the Stars, their gameplay is much more methodical than the other races. Once the Hivers establish control of a planet it is very hard to dislodge them. They specialize in ballistics and armor technology and produce the most heavily armored ships in the game. Although Hivers lack any method of faster than light travel, they possess gate technology that can instantly move ships between worlds. The gate ship around a Hiver world is the most important target in any battle, as destroying it prevents them from gathering reinforcements.
Liir - Excellent researchers, the Liir use superior technology to turn the tide of battle. Liir ships are extremely fragile but they excel in shielding technology to compensate. On offense, they prefer energy weapons and biological warfare. Liir ships move without inertia, making them extremely maneuverable on the battlefield. Liir drive technology suffers from being near a planet, so the Liir are at their best when intercepting enemies in deep space.
Tarka - Generalists with very straightforward gameplay. Tarka ships feature heavily armored forward sections and powerful forward firing arcs, favoring those who charge straight into battle. They also have a unique technology that allows ships to slowly regenerate health outside of combat. Tarka space travel is very basic, it moves them between the stars at a fixed speed, without any special considerations.
Zuul - Added with Bord of Blood - The Zuul offer a much more frantic kind of gameplay for players. Their planets are in a constant state of decay so they must expand rapidly to acquire new resources and slaves as old worlds die out. Because of their relationship with the galaxy, Zuul are incapable of diplomacy and cannot form alliances or non-aggression pacts. They perform poorly in all areas of research but compensate by constantly scavenging new technologies from victorious battles. They don't understand biological warfare, but at the same time they are immune to all biological attacks. Zuul ships are fragile but cheap, so overwhelming numbers are recommended. They travel through node lines like the Humans, however they use specialized ships to create their own paths.
Morrigi - Added with A Murder of Crows - Morrigi perform best when they avoid direct combat. They are able to deploy traps on planets and asteroid belts to attack enemy colonists and miners. They also excel in stealth and attack drone technology. These abilities all help to keep Morrigi ships out of direct harm, as they are both very fragile and very expensive. Morrigi economies benefit greatly from trade networks so players should attempt to establish trade early in any game. Morrigi travel between the stars more quickly when more ships are grouped together.
Expansion through the stars takes place in two distinct game modes. In the turn based mode, you tackle strategic decisions. Construction orders are given for your colonies, research goals are set and fleets are given their orders. Empire micromanagement in Sword of the Stars is limited. Planets will automatically develop infrastructure and terraform and the budget is simply a slider bar with savings on one end and research on the other.
If two enemy fleets occupy the same space at the end of a turn, the game enters real-time combat.
Designing effective warships is an important component of Sword of the Stars. A successful design depends on available technologies as well as consideration for the opponent being faced. Liir counter energy weapons effectively so a focus on ballistics may be key to engaging them effectively. Hiver ships are not especially maneuverable so a fixed mount laser may have a hard time finding its target. If your opponent is using heavy ballistics or missile firepower, a deflector shield will cripple their offense.
The weapons chosen for a ship also affect armor and maneuverability values. Ships loaded with missile systems are not expected to engage in close range fighting and will have less armor as a result.
There are three size classes for combat vessels; Destroyer, Cruiser and Dreadnought. The larger the vessel, the more armor and firepower but also the greater the command cost to bring the ship into combat. Combat vessels may also carry small attack drones, bio missiles or attack shuttles designed to bomb planets or board enemy vessels.
This is where those well-designed ships come into play. Opponents face off on a two dimensional plane in deep space or around a planet in contention. Players can issue movement and attack commands directly to ships or give them general orders such as stand-off or pursue. High precision weapons can destroy turrets on enemy vessels while ballistic weapons can knock ships off course.
The number of ships in a battle is limited by the command points available. Advanced technologies and specific command vessels increase the limit and allow for more destruction in a single round. As ships are destroyed or called back to reserves, reinforcements are summoned around these command ships to continue the fight.
Combat ends either when one side is destroyed or the time limit runs out, in which case ships withdraw to repair and reorganize for the next turn.
Each scenario of Sword of the Stars is meant to be completely different. Some situations may require adapting new strategies to overcome.
Technology Tree - At the start of a new game, each player gains access to a randomized set of possible technologies. The race chosen gives you some broad predictions about what technologies you may see but nothing is certain. Since only the immediate avenues of research are visible, players may find out well into a new game that they do not have a key technology they were hoping for. While some techs such as point-defense are incredibly valuable, missing out on them will not make a game unplayable. During the game players can still acquire missing technologies by salvaging enemy ships after combat.
Random Encounters - These can be encountered in unexplored star systems or approach a colony owned by the player. Usually they involve conflict and can easily destroy scout fleets or recently settled planets in the early game, they become less of an issue later on as technology levels increase. Successfully disabling or destroying menaces can provide income or research bonuses, and some can even be taken control of through special research projects. The Morrigi are immune to several encounters and can even create their own to hassle opponents.
Grand Menace - Each game of Sword of the Stars with more than 50 stars will experience a grand menace sometime after the hundredth turn. These from wandering planet destroying constructs to intergalactic peacekeepers demanding an end to all violent conflict. Only one will appear in each game and they will continue to plague all players until they are destroyed.
PC System Requirements
- Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® 2000/XP/Vista
- Processor: 1.5 Ghz Intel® Pentium® or equivalent
- Memory: 1 GB RAM (2 GB for Vista)
- Hard Disk Space: 3 GB Available
- Video Card: DirectX® 9 compliant video card with 128MB RAM
- Sound Card: DirectX® 8.1 or better compatible
- DirectX® Version: DirectX® 9c
- Internet Connection: at least 56k modem
- Multiplayer Requirement: Gamespy key (provided by publisher)