31st Mar2020

‘Starcadia Quest’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


Whilst I often think that I play an awful lot of miniatures games, one that has always eluded me is Arcadia Quest, the long-running and much expanded series from CMON Games and legendary designer, Eric Laing. Whilst I still haven’t played this seminal title, I have spent the last couple of weeks enjoying the campaign in its spiritual successor, Starcadia Quest. This spacebound sequel is mechanically similar, but swaps the fantasy trope for familiar interstellar themes – but does the model stand up after so many years?

The short answer is yes, if what you’re looking for is a fun, accessible miniatures game that has a light campaign setting and a focus on cutthroat, competitive multiplayer, then Starcadia Quest might be just the ticket. Honing in on some of those caveats then, I should mention that this really is a game for four players if you can get them – it does work at two and three, but killing each others crew members (of which there are always two) and pinching their loot is absolutely critical to both success and pleasure during this game.

The setup is as streamlined as possible, with a real focus on getting players into the action quickly. Each mission in the branching campaign is set out across two to four tarot sized cards, with the first showing the basic map setup and a few special rules, and the additional cards outlining between one and four quests that each provide a bonus in victory points. Several monsters, determined either by the cards or randomly, will then be placed onto a monster dashboard that dictates the basic stats for those monsters during the remainder of the game.

The board is then placed by drawing random tiles and laying them out on the table in the orientation shown on the setup card. The clever bit here is that it rarely matters which cards you draw, and the game works with all of them thanks to how the doorways and impassible features are placed. I’ve only been through the campaign once, but this arguably makes Starcadia Quest quite replayable since you won’t see the same combination of boards and monsters in the same mission twice, not to mention that the campaign branches depending on how the prior mission goes.

Prior to setting up the board, the players will each have assembled their crew and their own dashboard. Each crew is made up of exactly two heroes from the roster of eight included in the game, and the choice of hero can be made randomly, by drafting or through any other means you choose. What’s important is that you’ll keep the same two crew members throughout the entire campaign, so it’s good to pick a pair of characters that have complimentary skills. During the first mission, you’ll also take seven basic item cards and split them between the two character inventories in any way you like.

With setup complete, the players will usually be looking down on a somewhat symmetrical board layout, with each crew entering the map via their shuttle, which will be docked equidistantly from each other shuttle, and with a similar chance of reaching the key objective(s.) For example, in the map that I’ve pictured, each crew enters a room with one objective token and one enemy, but due to the random board layout, some of the minor bonus tiles (few shown in these pictures) might be closer to one crew or another.

The players will then begin their turn by activating either crew member, or resting their crew. When activating, their character will always be able to move up to four spaces and then attack, or attack and then move up to four spaces. You can never split movement either side of an attack. When attacking, the player will choose either a melee or ranged weapon from their equipped inventory, and any boost items they wish to use that share a matching symbol. For example, an attack might have a basic value of two dice, but by adding an ammunition boost or laser sight, you may gain an extra die. Either way, any items used to attack are then flipped over and exhausted.

Just in case you haven’t guessed already, when a player elects to rest their crew, this is when they will flip all exhausted items back to face up again, whilst also being able to rearrange their items between the two crew members as desired. Whilst there may be some temptation to believe that camping is a viable strategy in Starcadia Quest, in practice it’s impossible, and making the decision to rest rather than run or attack is often life and death. The board features numerous portals that connect the different boards in a single move and frankly, you’re never more than a move or two away from the other players.

Most turns are made up of the players working their way towards the nearest objective or mission, or if one player has an objective that can be recaptured, the focus switches to hunting them down mercilessly. This gives Starcadia Quest a madcap feel, with temporary alliances forming and disbanding, crew members dying and respawning and near constant fluctuation in the on-board balance of power. Enemy models will be constant throughout due to frequent respawns, and whilst some are dangerous in their own right, I find their main purpose is to be used as tools to chip away at opposing crews.

The way in which enemies are activated is quite ingenious because at the end of their crew turn, the active player will always draw an event card that will often have them take control of a particular kind of monster. When this happens, that player can direct those monsters towards an enemy crew, attack with them or use their special abilities, and in general, will want to advance their own objectives as far as they can. When a crew member dies, they will automatically respawn on the next turn having dropped their gear, so there’s no real sense of loss – more a constant churn of items and an inability to feel truly comfortable.

All combat is dice based, with defence, ranged and melee icons shown on the dice, as well as a critical hit explosion that not only causes a hit, but also allows one die to be rolled again to add its effect. All models have a set number of defense dice, whilst all attack values are calculated either based on the items used (as mentioned before) or in the case of monsters, what their stat card shows. This keeps the combat fast and simple in Starcadia Quest, but in terms of die roll luck mitigation, well that’s down to what items you’re carrying and what abilities your character has.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Starcadia Quest given that it appeared simple and chaotic at first, but the more I played it, the more I liked it. I’ve played most of it with four players and just a couple of games at two, and I can say for sure that the higher player count feels like the right way to play, although it does get congested on the board at times. Three players might be optimal in terms of space, but I can imagine how one player might end up feeling ganged up on, which would be a shame for them.

Overall, this is another very good production with some excellent miniatures, beautiful boards and cards and a ton of lasting content that can be replayed in several different ways if you wish. I’d have appreciated a solo and/or cooperative mode if I’m honest, but I imagine such things have been created by fans for Arcadia Quest and would likely be compatible if you wanted to seek them out. Starcadia Quest is a lot of fun, and I think it will appeal especially to players around the twelve to sixteen mark, thanks to its simple gameplay and combative nature.

*** 3/5

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