By Deane Barker on January 1, 2009

I’m somewhat ashamed to say I’m having a complete blast playing a Flash game called StarBaron I found a couple weeks ago. It’s all over the Net, but here’s a link to it on Kongregate.

It’s like intergalactic Risk, but with even more depth. The galaxy has planets of different sizes (bigger means more powerful), and you have spaceships. You take over planets, and try to kill the AI. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast.

Planets have orbits which they defend. If you send 20 ships through the orbit of a planet, maybe only 15 get through. This means that proximity is important — you can’t just attack a planet all the way on the other side of the galaxy as your armada would get chewed to shreds on the way. You have to leapfrog from planet to planet.

Additionally, attacking a planet from multiple sides give you a bonus (presumably because the planet would have to split its defenses). This means that to conquer Planet A, you may need to take B and C on the other sides of it.

Planets are also specified types.

  • Normal planets do everything with average skill.
  • Defensive planets have killer satellites in their orbits.
  • Economy planets enable you to have more ships.
  • Rocket planets shoot other planets and weaken them.
  • Minefields attack anything in their ever-expanding orbit.
  • Naval planets make ships faster than other planets.
  • Fighter bases defend other planets. Etc.

Specific planet combinations become important. Two planets of good size right next to each other are handy — make one a rocket planet, and the other defensive. A bigger planet in the midst of many others is a great spot for a fighter base. You learn to scan a new map in a hurry to pick out the really strategic positions, then race to get there first.

Towards the end of the game, when the AI is boned and it’s just a matter of time, it gets really interesting. Based on the planet configuration it’s defending, it can be really tricky to root him out. It’s like a puzzle — you find yourself setting up a line of dominoes.

If I get a rocket shot at Planet A, that will reduce his orbit so I can rush Planet B. Then from Planet B, I can attack along with C, which, given their surrounding positions, should be enough to take out A.

Only one time has the AI locked itself in so tight that I couldn’t get it out. I tried for a solid hour. The AI couldn’t move out of the corner, but there was just no way to beat it.

The combination of all this an absolutely engrossing experience. Re-playability is ver high. There’s a Campaign version with a storyline that was a little weak. But the Challenge and Skirmish modes are excellent. Take the Tutorial before you try anything else.

StarBaron has the makings of one of the classic strategy games, it really does. It has the perfect balance of simplicity and depth, which is really hard to achieve.

I just killed your productivity. You’ll thank me later.



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