PEGBRJE: Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar and Steam Marines

Alright, time to not lose all of my units because I threw them at the enemy. I’m such a good strategist.

Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar is a space simulated digital board game made by LargeVisibleMachine, an indie team with design work done by Lew Pulsipher. Players are a cunning strategist in space attempting to work their magic against the forces that have been put against them, be they rogue space commanders, alien races, space pirates or the mystical Daniel. Good luck commander.

If anyone has ever played the tabletop game Stratego, Doomstar plays extremely similar to this board game, albeit in a more orbital and digital setting. Everyone involved receives a set amount of units, usually similar in numbers and strength, along with a singular ‘King’ unit called the Command Ship. The goal is for players to either destroy this command ship — which is fundamentally the weakest ship on the board — or destroy every other ship leaving the commander marooned in space. The ‘catch’, if one wishes to call it, is that all ships are in stealth until they attack. Players know where enemy ships are, indicated by red markers on the screen, but they do not know the strength or type of the ship. Some ships will give themselves away without attacking thanks to special passives like fleet-based ships, but the only way to know the strength of a ship is by fighting it. Upon entering combat, the ship with the largest strength wins and the other is destroyed, with ties destroying both ships immediately. Traps also exist within the game, and must also be revealed in order to understand what they are like the minefield which requires a certain ship to destroy. It’s a game of balancing which units can be considered possibly expendable when gambling on an attack while probing the enemy for where their commander may be. Some games may drag on for a while as both sides get certain big ships destroyed early, while other games a random heavy fleet will just take out the command ship in 5 turns.

The improvements to this formula of game are what help Doomstar stand out amongst its tabletop originators, especially in the UI department. Fleet ships don’t get revealed when they move farther than the average ship should, but instead receive a small ‘F’ to remind the opponent of it’s nature. Black holes allow for players to increase their movement in a rotational direction, which is indicated by little arrows on the squares that players walk on to. Players can bring up lists of what each ship may do, what ships were destroyed and other useful information. It’s a nice touch that fully takes advantage of the digital medium, rather than feeling more like a board game on a computer.

Combined with a bopping soundtrack and a clean artstyle, Lew Pulsipher’s Doomstar is quite a fun digital board game reminiscent of Stratego with its own variations and added unit mechanics to make the formula its own. There are multiple modes as well, with the Campaign serving as a solid tutorial for the multiplayer and skirmish modes that players will spend most of their time playing within. If you were looking to customize a fleet and send it at the greatest space duck in existence, then this is the title you may want to try.

That’s a lot of dead friends.

As if to spite my blogpost from page 6, Steam Marines 1 makes it’s appearance on page 10 nullifying my comments on how I hadn’t played it. To jog some memories, Steam Marines is a 2D turn based strategy game made by WorthlessBums, an American Indie Studio. Players awaken from cryo in a confused state as they have no idea what is going on, only that they weren’t supposed to be awakened yet. It’s up to the four present to search the ship for clues, gear and whatever may have caused the problems that they are now within.

Those that may remember the previous Steam Marine’s blog will know that the general gameplay is reminiscent of X-COM, a tactical shooting experience in which players will control their units during their turn by moving and shooting. Each unit has a certain amount of ‘actions’ that it can take indicated by the bar and a number below their health, which includes their ability to move as well as shoot. Their guns don’t have infinite ammo, so watching the bullet count per soldier is crucial in ensuring that one does not move their grenadier into an open location without bullets. There are other items to be found as well including grenades, healing kits, and even other guns to swap around.

Seeing the originator to the franchise, it suddenly makes a lot more sense on where the design decisions came from on the push to 3D for Steam Marines 2. The first keeps with the procedural generation, but is more focused on playing as a single ‘run’ where players start immediately and go until they die. There is no excess in its execution, no hub station to check back into or distract, only survival. This does make the game feel a tad lacking in comparison, but that’s also thanks to me playing the second one first. On the flip side, however, is that Steam Marines has a few tactics that I don’t recall in SM2, namely the ability to destroy walls. This lead to many breaching moments where I just decided doors are for losers and broke down walls to defeat my enemies, although this did lead to me getting my squad killed as one wall didn’t break and I wasted much of my energy doing so. The enemy got to just walk up and shoot them all, not very heroic ending.

The 2D style of Steam Marines is one that is up for debate depending on how players may personally prefer their titles, so it’s hard to comment on whether or not their transition to 3D was an objectively positive or negative change. 2D can help with understanding direction much more cleanly, but can feel a little flat in comparison to its 3D counterpart, so I’ll leave that up to the player.

With a soundtrack that still rocks, Steam Marines is a fun addition to the tactical strategy grouping of titles. I said in the previous blog that I didn’t have first hand experience with the title, but after gaining said knowledge I can definitely see where the dev team wanted the direction to go with the sequel, and I think they both compliment each other quite well. If you are following this and realized you played a sequel before the original, go back and play Steam Marines to see how you may enjoy it.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.