Stars! is a turn-based strategy, space 4X game. Stars! was developed by a pair of programmers, Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride ("the Jeffs") and was released as shareware in 1995. Empire Interactive later produced and published a retail version. The game shipped with a handful of standard races as well as the ability to create ones own customized races with a variety of traits including preferred environment ranges and rate of population growth.
All players start with a single home planet that has an ideal environment for their race and must explore the universe around them, expand their race, and deal with the other players to achieve eventual victory under a wide variety of possible winning conditions set when building the game. The game sports a full Tech Tree which varies based on racial traits, customizable ship designs, and a wealth of documentation on the values of individual items and the math of how things are calculated, allowing players to calculate the results of their actions. The game has a simple method for distributing turn files for individual races, allowing a single computer to be used as a server for a Play By EMail online game. Today, an autohosting option is available to automate the process.
The game is largely devoid of plot, focusing only on mechanics and whatever internal narrative the players provide. Rumor has it that the proposed sequel, Stars: Supernova Genesis, was going to address aspects of the universe, including the motives of the Mystery Trader, but the game was never developed.
The game is technically Abandonware, with the rights held by indiePub Entertainment, Inc after Empire Interactive folded, but the Jeffs gave tacit permission to the Stars Auto Host forum to generate new software keys for a nominal donation.
This game involves the following tropes:
- 2-D Space: The game is played on a flat 2-D map.
- The Alleged Car: Buying the racial trait of "Cheap Engines" gets points back, and makes engines cheaper, but every ship has a 10% chance of not launching.
- All Planets Are Earth-Like: Heavily averted. Planets have a wide range of temperature, radiation, and gravity values which determine whether a given race can survive and thrive.
- All There in the Manual: A brief synopsis of the state of the universe is given in the manual: Two highly advanced races went to war and destroyed much of the universe in the process. What's left is the galaxy that the player's race inhabits.
- Anti-Air: Planets can be equipped with anti air missiles and laser cannons to defend against attacks by ships. Planetary shielding is also available.
- Asteroid Miners: Any planet can be mined remotely if it's not occupied. The Alternate Reality races can even mine planets they are occupying, because they live exclusively on space stations in orbit around the planet.
- Beam Spam: When a ship attacks, it can fire off all beam weapons that are within range. This can result in a very large number of hits happening in a small amount of time.
- Character Customization: Can be done for races. Creating a custom race from scratch allows you to choose a type of race, such as Jack Of All Traits or Interstellar Traveller and several traits such as Improved Fuel Efficiency or Bleeding Edge Technology as well as the reproduction rate and optimal survivability in terms of temperature, gravity and radiation levels.
- Colony Drop: If a Mass Driver sends minerals to a planet that does not have a Mass Driver to catch them, it acts as this.
- Command & Conquer Economy: Averted in that planets don't produce stuff from a global economy pool. You have to mine or ship minerals to where they are needed.
- Deflector Shields: The two major defensive technologies are shields and armor, both of which protect from different attacks and are repaired at different rates.
- Easy Logistics: Ships are limited only by their fuel consumption and that only applies to travel.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Warp 1-10. Engines have individual fuel consumption curves for the warp speeds with most engines being rated at a single speed which is the most efficient. Higher speeds can be specified at the cost of higher fuel consumption and possible engine failure.
- First Contact: Typically players will start by seeing the opponents scout ships but, especially when playing against Hyper Expansion races, it may start with their colonies.
- Fog of War: While players know the location of all planets from the start of the game, the characteristics of each planet can only be found via scanning them and information is only current as of the last scan.
- Hostile Terraforming: This is an option for the Claim Adjusters races.
- Lost Technology: It is fairly common for settlers on a new world to find an artifact that boosts their research in a given field.
- Macross Missile Massacre: A common tactic for attack strategies is to load up ships with missiles due to their greater range. Every fleet can fire off their full complement of missiles each turn.
- Orbital Bombardment: The standard method for removing the hostile population of a planet is to bomb them from orbit. A variety of bombs are available including ones that primarily target infrastructure and ones that target population exclusively.
- Portal Network: Stargates can function this way if a player builds enough starbases with the capability to transport ships across space in a single turn, bypassing fuel and travel time requirements. They have limitations in regards to the size of the vessel they can transport and the distance that can be travelled, but Interstellar Traveller races can develop stargates with unlimited capabilities. Wormholes occur naturally in space also, allowing instant travel between two points.
- Ram Scoop: The game has two types of engines: conventional and ramscoop. When traveling slowly, scoop-type engines produce surplus fuel, but have lesser optimal (and combat) warp speed than normal engines of the same Tech Levels and when exceeding it eat even more than normal ones. There's also the "No Ram Scoop Engines" trait — unless paired with Improved Fuel Efficiency, this means dependence on big starbases and fragile fuel plants. Radiating Hydro-Ram Scoop, the lowest commonly available on the Tech Tree, gradually kills transported colonists in the same fleet unless the race has a very high radiation optimum value. This means not only are ships with rad-scoop limited to hauling minerals, but armed escorts would have to dance around a transport or colonizer as a separate fleet without merging. Ships with scoops also suffer 1/4 more damage per engine from Space Mines.
- Resources Management Gameplay: The universe that you're playing in has largely static resources (although there are events that can increase them slightly). Near the end of longer games, there may no longer be minerals to mine and players will have to scrap ships for raw materials.
- Settling the Frontier: Population growth slows after 25% occupancy, so an important part of the game is colonizing new worlds and shipping excess population off to them.
- Space Mines: Available to all races but Warmongers with the Space Demolition race specializing in them.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: A standard set of hulls are available from scouts to freighters to fighters to miners to fuel transports. Some races also get specialized hulls that they can use.
- Stealth in Space: Ships are not detected until they are within range of a planet or ship scanner. Stealth cloaks are available and the Super Stealth races have additional bonuses.
- Terraform: All races have some ability to terraform with research and resources. The Claim Adjusters have additional options and automatically terraform their planets with additional research.