STAW is a tabletop wargame revolving around fleets of space ships from the Star Trek franchise battling each other in turn based combat.
The game uses the Flightpath game system first developed by Fantasy Flight for their 'Wings of War' tabletop game, but really saw it's rise to fame when they adapted it for their bestselling, critically acclaimed 'Star Wars X-Wing' tabletop game.
Players construct a fleet of vessels, choosing from pre-painted miniatures available in single ship packs, and then use various cards to upgrade them. The system uses a points system as per most tabletop wargames to balance out the choices available to would be Admirals.
There is an element of deck building to the game thanks to these cards. Each ship needs to be allocated a Captain card. The Captains range from level 1 officers, who seem to have barely graduated from Starfleet Academy, to the highest level captains so far - the level 9 legendary Captains like Jean-luc Picard and the first and best, James T. Kirk.
The Captains level plays a big part in the ruleset. Lower level captains get to move first, but attack last. This means they risk being out maneavered by their higher level opponents, and risk not living to make their own attacks. But they do however have the redeeming feature of being much cheaper in points.
This in turn allows for more resources to spend of the other cards in the game - upgrades. There are four types of upgrade available: The common Crew, Weapon and System upgrades and the Elite Skill upgrades that can be used with certain captains.
Crew allow for certain actions to be made, or to afflict the enemy in someway. Weapons give new options for attacking, ranging from Photon torpedoes to Cloaked minefields. And system upgrades improve your ships performance in some way.
Elite upgrades represent your captain pulling something special out of the bag. The Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C or D) expansion for example comes with the card 'Cheat Death', which allows a ship to return with one hull point after being destroyed. This was critical in a game i played a few days ago, as my Enterprise was shot down inches away from safety, only to have Kirk save the day and keep them alive long enough to win.
Gameplay follows an activation system based on the skill rank of each ships Captain. Lowest skilled Captains move first, and shoot last.
Movement is done using a dial to select the distance and direction you are going to move. Each player secretly chooses their maneuver at the start of each round, and reveals them in turn.
After it moves, each ship can perform one action. Crucially this is done before the next ship down in skill activates.
Attacking is done by rolling a number of red dice equal to your ships attack stat, vs green dice equal to your opponents defense stat.
Most ships are equipped with shields, which get removed as the vessel suffers damage. Once the shields are gone, the hull starts taking damage.
Attacks can also cause critical hits, ranging from your helmsman being knocked out and leaving your ship barely able to move, to the infamous Warp Core Breach that can blow up an otherwise fine ship.
The ruleset is one of those classic systems. At first glace it appears deceptively simple, but it hides a huge depth of tactical options. Movement becomes a tense affair, the secrecy forcing you to try to out think and out plan your opponents likely moves.
Actions are equally important. Do you do an action that grants you an extra opportunity to cause damage? All while knowing your opponents move could bring them out of your firing arc or expose you to heavy fire with a reduced defense.
I would be remiss however if i don't mention the few issues with STAW. They mainly revolve around the ship models themselves.
To be frank, the quality of the miniatures is pretty low. Some feature parts in the wrong place - like the bridge of the K'Tinga. Some use the wrong molds - the D7 is identical to the K'Tinga. Some have damage or warping - if you look at my Constitution class ship you may notice the saucer section is chipped. And all of them have pretty abysmal paintjobs.
Personally i think the rules system is strong enough to overlook these flaws. If you're a board game player, you'll be used to abstract tokens representing things so a dodgy looking ship shouldn't impact your fun too much. And to be fair once you are in the middle of a game, you tend to be thinking more about whether or not a Breen is going to shut down your entire ship for a turn, than the squiggly line on your Galaxy class' nacelle.
If you're a miniatures gamer like myself, the best option is to repaint them.
As i said in my previous post, i really do urge any fan of tabletop games to check out Star Trek Attack Wing. Or if you don't like Star Trek, try the equally good Star Wars X-Wing.
Or if you hate science fiction all together (which makes me wonder why you are reading this) then rejoice as Wizkids have announced Dungeon and Dragons Attack Wing. Yes that's right, you will soon be able to have dragons shooting fireballs at each other while facing off against other fantasy beasties.
So until next time i remain,
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-pope.