It takes a little while to learn what’s happening in Starlanes, but once the general idea is clear, it’s a lot of fun.
Starlanes is an economic strategy game, broken into two phases: In the first phase, there’s a territorial selection. In the second phase, there’s a market acquisition phase, with stock sales between five companies.
Now if you hear that, and you’re first thought is of M.U.L.E., you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Naturally there are some differences, but there’s definitely a theme at work here.
The game starts with a selection of up to five different territories. Positions orthogonally close to stars (asterisks) boost your company’s value, but locations near black holes (atpersands) drain its value. They do occasionally also swallow up entire corporations. Black holes are like that. 🙄
Once everyone has selected a new territory, a stock trade session follows, and you can buy stock in companies that appear to have potential (are near stars) or sell out of companies that don’t (are near black holes).
Mergers are where the game twists though. Two adjoining companies, or a company near an unaffiliated company (plus signs) will merge, with the larger taking possession of the smaller’s operations. In that way, entire swaths of the board will suddenly shift possession, and stock prices go nutty.
The game ends when a majority of the board is under the control of companies. Worth is calculated out against the stock held and the company’s value, and — again, much like M.U.L.E. — the leader board can list unexpected results.
Starlanes is a simple but great game for me, mostly because it’s very unlike anything that I’ve seen in the past, but also because it’s well thought out. Controls are primarily through number keys or arrows, and there’s no need for decoding cryptic symbols. Color is obvious and adds to readability, and nothing is lost in a crammed-together display.
I’d like to see the territory selection process mimic something like M.U.L.E., just because a lot of the “random” options make no business sense (the initial rounds should just be a frenzy to cluster around stars). And it would be fun to have an occasional territory “auction,” just to spend some of that leftover cash.
Other than that, my only suggestion would be to allow for larger starfields on larger terminal displays, but that might be stretching the limits of politeness. 😉
I’m more than willing to hand out a K.Mandla gold star to Starlanes, for being original, obvious, easy to control, visually concise, colorful, intelligent, challenging, strategic, surprising and most of all, proof that it’s possible to make a really great game without relying on gobs of 3D graphics. ⭐ 😉 Enjoy!