Billabong Boardgamers

Princess Ryan's Star Marines

Publisher: Avalon Hill
Reproduced here with kind permission from Funagain Games.

Princess Ryan's Star Marines is an all-out battle-fest for one or more players. The idea is that Earth's leader, Princess Ryan, has been captured by a dark evil warlord, and her only hope for salvation is a bunch of half-equipped raggedy marines. Classic pulp science fiction stuff.

Each player is in command of a team of marines, who will need to take on various defence systems placed by the villain, the Black Guard. With three or more players, one player takes the part of the Black Guard and tries to halt the marine players (with one or two players, the villain is played as a non-human player according to automated rules). If the marines are sufficiently slowed, they run out of time and the princess dies (and the Black Guard wins). To achieve their goal, the marines must usually work together - but as in any group of gung-ho military fanatics, there is a little bit of rivalry and a little bit of backstabbing.

The marines start at one end of the board and must advance past fifteen locations, each of which will have a defender placed by the Black Guard. There are more than fifty different locations, so it is unlikely that you will play the same sequence twice. Each location has its own special rules that forbid certain kinds of weapons from being used, or adds or subtracts from the Guard's strength, or allows or disallows reinforcements to be played, and so on.

Battles are fought by sending marines in to fight the foe, each marine carrying a weapon. Weapons come in four types - energy, vehicular, edged, and firepower - with strengths from 1 to 13 in each. These weapons add to the marine's own innate strength. The weapon cards are also used for another function - a random number generator for whenever such a number is needed, such as determining how much time the marines have spent in their current location, or for determining the result of a lost battle, be it concussion, capture or death. Death comes rarely to a marine - after all, these are tough people! After a battle, all used weapon cards are discarded - so players had better save the big guns for the right moment.

Once a battle is won, the victor (for the marines, this is determined by who contributed most to the battle) earns a promotion point (which can be spent later) and a dispatch card (which may give an advantage in a later battle or a special power). In addition, that player is allowed to ask one question of the Black Guard, to help find out which of the 52 prison cells the princess is detained in. These cells are conveniently numbered the same as the weapon cards (four colours, numbered 1 to 13), so a question is asked by handing the Black Guard a weapon card and asking if the colour is the same, or if the number is higher or lower, as the card that the Black Guard secretly wrote down at the start of the game. Only the player who asked the question gets to keep this information. If the marines successfully fight their way to the end of the location track, each marine player must guess the cell. The player that picked the right cell is the winner.

There are many, many other little rules in Princess Ryan's Star Marines (such as the rule allowing the marines to regroup - which lets them re-arm and replace casualties, but also wastes time), so many that it makes the game a little difficult to learn. One game will usually iron out most problems, although I found that the rule booklet did not always answer my questions. This is not a short game by any means, with three or so hours a probable typical game span.

This is one of Avalon Hill's prettier games, with a beautiful full-colour two-panel board and mostly good-quality cards. (But why, I have to ask, if almost all of the cards are of the playing-card kind, are the dispatch cards of the tear-up-the-perforated-sheet variety? It's inexplicable and shoddy in an otherwise beautifully produced game.) It has a steep learning curve - unless you are an experienced wargamer - but is otherwise a fun way to spend an afternoon.

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