Posted by: gschloesser | August 10, 2011

Princess Ryan’s Star Marines

Design by:  Mark McLaughlin
Published by: Avalon Hill
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Can you defeat the evil Black Guard and rescue the Princess in this Avalon Hill release?

When I first saw the advertisement for this game in The General, I thought, “Looks like a game for the early teen-age crowd.  It won’t get my hard-earned money”.  However, ever the sucker for multi-player games, I eventually coughed-up the steep price and ordered it.  I have been pleasantly surprised.

The first thing that strikes you when you look at the game is the beautiful artwork.  A great deal of effort has gone into designing the cards and board.  I know it’s an intangible, but I always enjoy playing a game more if the components are attractive and visually appealing. 

The object of the game is for the marine players to defeat the evil Black Guard player and rescue the princess, who has been imprisoned in one of 52 possible locations.  These locations are similar in effect to a deck of playing cards:  there are four suits, each with numbers ranging from 1 – 13.  The successful marine must defeat the guard and narrow these possibilities down to the one correct location.

One player assumes the role of the Black Guard while the other players represent the marines.  Don’t be alarmed — this is not completely a ‘team’ game where all of the marine players win as a team.  True, they must cooperate in order to overcome the Guard, but, in the end, only one marine player can claim the victory.  That is the marine who successfully deduces the location of the princess after the defeat of the Guard.

In the initial card deal, each marine player receives three marines and six weapons, each of varying strength.  It is the weapon cards that are divided into the four suits and thirteen numbers mentioned earlier.  The Black Guard player receives six guard cards or varying strength.  The marine player must choose the route he will take in order to reach the end of the board and potentially rescue the princess.  There is the direct route, which is usually more heavily guarded but is quicker and takes less time, or the flanking route, which is not as heavily guarded but takes lots of time.  Time is important since if the timer expires, the Black Guard wins.  There are only 15 chits in the timer and many moves and actions cause time chits to be removed.  Therefore, the marine players must balance their actions versus the potential cost in time.

When the marines move into a new location, they first must make a ‘check’ to see if the move was successful.  They then must check to see if any time has expired as a result of the move.  If the move was successful, a skirmish occurs with the Black Guard.  The Guard player plays one of his cards, usually face-up, and the marine players counter by each playing a marine with a weapon.  The location on the board may effect the placement of cards and/or modify their strengths and players may also play cards to modify the results.  Often, the Guard is able to play his card face-down, which makes its strength unknown to the marines.  In either case, cooperation amongst the marine players is necessary to insure the proper marines and weapons are played to counter the strength of the Guard.  This can be tricky, as each players’ weapon cards cannot be shown to their fellow marines.  If the marines have played cards with a total strength greater than the Guard, they win the skirmish.  If not, the Guard wins.

If the marines win the skirmish, the one marine player who played the highest total value (marine + weapon) draws a ‘Dispatch’ (event) card and gets ‘Promotion Points’ equal to the a value printed on the defeated Guard card.  These ‘PP’s’ can be used to purchase items during a marine re-grouping.  The marine player also gets to ask one question of the Guard player as to the whereabouts of the princess.  The question is limited to either the suit or value of the location, and is based upon a weapon card which the marine player hands to the Guard.  If the answer to the question is positive, the Guard player returns the player’s weapon card.  If the answer is negative, a different card is returned.  In either case, the marine player cannot reveal the answer to any of his fellow marines.  In is in this fashion that each marine player can attempt to deduce the location of the princess.

If the Black Guard player wins a skirmish, marines usually take casualties (they can take casualties even if they win, but it is not as common).  The Guard can also draw a ‘Dispatch’ card and force the marines to retreat, or he can change the effects of a location on the board.  No matter who wins the skirmish, all weapons and the Guard card is discarded.  They will eventually be re-shuffled and re-enter play.

At several points in the game, the marines can decide to ‘Re-group’.  This allows them to re-fill their hands to capacity (provided there are enough marines to draw that haven’t been killed, captured or sent to the sick bay).  The Guard player can do the same.  The downside of this, however, is that it cost three time chits to re-group.  Kind of like a pit-stop in a race – when to do it is vital.

Eventually, the marines either make it to the end of the board and force a final showdown with the Guard or time runs out and the Guard triumphs.  The marines are allowed one last, desperate gamble, however, if it looks as though time will expire before they reach the end of the board.  They can declare a “Do or Die” maneuver and launch an airborne assault on the Guard.  It is risky, however, as they must successfully survive flak and citadel defenses first before engaging the Guard in a final battle.  If they are successful, survive the flak and defenses, and defeat the Guard in battle, they win.  If not, the Guard triumphs.

It is at this point that, if victorious, each marine player must write down the location he suspects the princess is being held in.  The marine player who correctly identifies the location is the individual victor.

The game is fast-moving and fun.  There is constant interaction amongst the marine players and conflict with the Black Guard.  Each turn is full of action.  Far from being a game for pre-teens (although they, too, would enjoy it), this is a game which will appeal to all ages.  Is it a brilliant tactical game which tests the full mental and strategic capabilities of the hard-core wargamer?  Most definitely, no.  It is, however, and fun and challenging game with lots of action and player interaction.  And if a game if fun, it ranks high in my book.

This said, there still are some problems with the game system (what game doesn’t have some glitches?).  According to the rules, potential casualties are taken first by the player who fielded the lowest value marine (plus their weapon) in a battle.  This could easily cause the player with a high value marine to continuously play that marine in skirmish after skirmish with little or no fear of him being subject to casualty checks.  Thus, each skirmish, that player would get to draw the Dispatch card and ask a question of the Guard.  This could easily weight the game in favor of that player who happens to draw a high value marine card from the outset.  There was a suggestion on the internet that would force the highest value skirmisher to be subjected to any casualty checks first.  We played with this suggestion and it proved successful.  I strongly urge others to incorporate it into their games.

Another point of concern is that at the end of the game, if the marines win, players must each guess the location of the princess.  If two or more players correctly guess the location, the victory goes to the marine player who played the highest value skirmisher in the final battle against the Guard.  I question this.  It doesn’t seem right that a player who may have not performed well throughout the entire game may win simply on the basis of playing the highest value skirmisher on the last battle.  A suggestion that may work is to grant the victory to the player who had accumulated the greatest total of Promotion Points throughout the game.  A simple tally could be kept during the game of these points.

Another final concern is that it is possible for a marine player to go through an entire game and never have played the highest value skirmisher in a battle.  Thus, he would never be able to draw a Dispatch card, earn Promotion Points or ask a question of the Guard player.  Sure, certain cards allow him to usurp a Promotion Point or draw a Dispatch card, but these are rare.  The main concern, however, if never being able to ask a question of the Guard.  Without being able to do this, that player does not have a chance at winning (unless he is psychic and can mentally see the princess’ location).  This, unfortunately, happened during our first game, wherein one player was instrumental in organizing the marines but, due to the luck of the draw, never was in a position to be able to play the highest value skirmisher.  Maybe this was a fluke, but it can obviously occur.  If anyone has any suggestions on how to help alleviate this occurrence, please e-mail me and let me know. 

Don’t be put off by the title or premise.  Like Mikey from the Life cereal commercial — Try it, You’ll Like It!  

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Responses

  1. A cooperative game from 1997. I always liked this one. One player plays the bad guys and everyone else play the Marines sent to rescue Princess Ryan. Each player controls 3 marines and has 6 weapons to start. There is a race against time as well as the fight against the bad guys. I don’t like playing 5 players against the bad guys because there are to many special skills that the players get to use. The game also has the problem of one piece of wrong information (given to the players by the bad guy or the player misunderstanding) can ruin the final guess for where the princess is. 7/10


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