Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga – PC – Review

Collectible card games have
made a big impact on gaming over the last decade. Since the advent of Magic: the
Gathering, one of the first widely successful CCG’s, dozens of other card games
have been created. Everything from games based on the cartoon and video game
world of the Pokemon to the detailed world of the Lord of the Rings films. As
time progresses more and more collectible card games are moving into digital
format. It should come as no surprise that game developers are finding new ways
to adapt the popular game format. Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga, published by
Matrix Games, combines some of the most interesting aspects of a collectible
card game with the complexity of a classic strategy game. The game itself is
interesting and diverse, with many paths to victory. Gameplay can be a slippery
slope, as there are just as many paths to defeat. The graphics and sound are
adequate, but the obvious draw of this title is the intense gameplay for users
to enjoy.


Star Chamber: the Harbinger
Saga is built around a classic, turn-based strategy game model. Players receive
build points at regular intervals that can be spent to construct new units.
Anything from population needed to claim planets to mighty battle cruisers can
be purchased- at a cost. Like all strategy games resource management is a vital
element in achieving victory. Based on the planets that they control each turn
players watch as destiny swings to their favor. Planets with cultural
significance allow players to add to their destiny score- taking points away
from their opponent. Gaining a high destiny score is one of the easier ways to
win the game in concept, but can be challenging in practice. If the drawn-out
territorial struggle isn’t your style it is simple to construct a fleet and
smash your enemy’s defenses. In addition to these two styles of gameplay it is
also possible to achieve a political victory by winning political votes in the
Star Chamber.



With so many paths to
victory it should come as no surprise that Star Chamber is a difficult game to
pick up quickly. The strategy game elements are easy enough to understand and
the collectible card game aspects are fairly straightforward. Unfortunately the
combination can be tricky. For example it is possible to play a card and
eliminate an opponent’s starship before combat. Another card allows you to place
a battle cruiser at one of your planets. It is possible to upgrade the weapons
systems of your ships, increase their shields, or change the characteristics of
one of your planets, making them more valuable. The unpredictable nature of the
card-game side of Star Chamber can be confusing for new players who might not
have any idea that those cards exist until they are played against them for the
first time. Additionally there are several ways to turn a hopeless situation
into a guaranteed victory in short order.  Because turns are handed
simultaneously a player’s position can be irrevocably damaged before they are
able to respond.


Once a player gains a sense
of familiarity with the world of Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga they will have
a better idea of what to expect. That comfort will help make the game much more
enjoyable as their experience grows. The learning curve is steep, so new players
should be prepared to spend some time playing through the single-person tutorial
campaigns before attempting to battle another human across the internet. It can
take some time and investment to create a deck that functions extremely well
across the board. New players will need ingenuity and the ability to look beyond
the obvious to make their cards work for them. Fortunately many of the cards are
useful in several deck styles. For extremely advanced deck construction
specific, difficult to get cards may be required, but for casual play the
majority of cards will be useful.



The strategic elements of
the game, the graphics, the music, and the special effects are pretty standard
fare. Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga blends many elements into a single game,
requiring resource management that all strategy fans have come to expect. The
concept and originality brought to the table by the developers shines through,
but its light is dimmed by the interface. The graphics won’t have players
writing home and the special effects are also limited. Fortunately the gameplay
itself is very solid and the sounds are fairly well done. The user-interface is
well-developed, allowing players to see the entire galaxy with ease. Some
elements might seem confusing at first, such as the small squares highlighting
planets, until players are familiar enough to understand all the information the
game imparts so effortlessly. In the “squares” example light colored icons
denote ships capable of space-flight. The shaded blocks display ground troops or
civilian populations used to control planets and the Star Chamber.


Like any strategy game or
collectible card game, Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga is complicated. It takes
a little dedication to learn the basics of the game, and with so many options it
has a long road to total mastery. Star Chamber has the benefit of engaging
gameplay and the ability to play across the internet with other gaming
enthusiasts from around the world. The graphics, while limited, are well
rendered, crisp, and fast- there’s no hint of slow frame rates. The sounds are
also basic fare, but are unique and convey information to players in a variety
of ways. The interface has a learning curve because of the vast quantities of
information available to players. Once you get the hang of it, the interface is
your best weapon, allowing you to see the entire board in a single glance. Star
Chamber: the Harbinger Saga is a fun, engaging game for players of all ages.




The interface is quick and
responsive, designing a new deck is handled through a straightforward interface,
and players can always find a new aspect of the world to enjoy.

Graphics: 6.5

The world of the Star
Chamber is rendered mostly in flat, two dimensional images. The “special
effects” and weapons fire during battles are well rendered. Everything flows
smoothly. The graphics end up looking a little dated, but once you get into the
game its easy to overlook that small shortcoming.


Sound: 7.0

The background music and
sounds for Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga are interesting and unique. You can
tell what’s going on simply by listening in some cases. The sounds are a little
tinny and repetitive at times, but overall they are fairly decent.


Difficulty: H

Like any strategy game there
are many, many ways to succeed. Star Chamber: the Harbinger Saga has the added
complexity of the players’ cards and how they effect the game. Being able to
place a starship for free or changing the values of a planet can have profound
effects on the game. The interface takes a while to learn because it contains so
much information. Learning about how the cards can affect the game is a process
that takes quite a while. If you want to learn the game, that is not very
difficult. If you want to be a master it can take some effort.



Combining a strategy game
with a collectible card game is a fairly unique concept, and Star Chamber, the
Harbinger Saga, can boast about many interesting elements. The way that they tie
together can create some difficulties. Since there are so many ways to win the
game there are also so many ways to lose the game, so players will always have
to be on their toes.


Multiplayer: 8.0

Being able to play with
other people from around the world is always an interesting, challenging
experience. Because part of the game is based on the virtual “cards” you own,
which must be purchased, it can be easy to fall into a game with someone who can
crush you because they have a better deck. While the “he who spends the most
money wins” argument can be made, there are so many different things to try that
every player can present a challenge. After all, a single well-played card can
turn a perfect, winning combination of forces into a massive disadvantage..



Chamber: the Harbinger Saga has an excellent multiplayer system in place and a
lot of different ideas for players to try out. The complexity of the strategy
game, the cards, and how they interact is high, which can lead to a little
frustration. Fans of collectible card games will find it easy to pick up the
basics, and fans of the strategy genre can dive right into the combat system
without trouble. The graphics are a little below average. Combined with the high
difficulty to master this game I’d recommend reading up on the official page (
  ) before buying if
you have any doubts.