Star General Preview

SSI prepares to give diehard gamers another shot at their popular strategy engine

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SSI struck a rich vein of gold with their Panzer General wargaming system. Easy to play, hard to win, and glossy to a fault, Panzer General became the best-selling wargame of all time, even transferring successfully to platforms such as Playstation, where wargames generally go to die. Two sequels followed: Allied General stayed pretty close to the formula, and Fantasy General expanded it to include magicians and fantasy creatures.

Now Producer Scott Evans and the SSI Special Projects team is taking the system to the next stage with a two-level space strategy-combat game that's unlike any of the competition. And the competition is thick. Space-empire builders like Deadlock, Star Control III, Master of Orion II, and Blizzard's Warcraft follow-up Starcraft, along with a passel of other titles, crowd the shelves. None will quite be what Star General is, though: a pure wargame that zooms from space combat to ground combat.

Star General is based on a series of novels called The Fleet, created by Bill Fawcett and David Drake, in which famous science-fiction writers like Piers Anthony and Janet Morris write individual chapters. The idea for the game came from Fawcett's company, Catware, and centers around a primary race of earthlings and its fleet of ships that protects the earth from other aliens. Arrayed against The Fleet, and each other, is a familiar array of aliens, such the organic Xrita, the cat-like Hressans, the technology-based Cephians, the massive Drakonians, and weasel-like scavengers called Chalians. Another human race, known as the Schleinels, is also out there, having split off as renegades from The Fleet.

In Space General, you control both a space fleet and ground forces. There are almost a hundred ships in the game, since each race has its own version of transports, destroyer escorts, destroyers, light cruisers, cruisers, battleships, sub-ether ships with stealth capabilities, battle cruisers, torpedo boats, and manned torpedo boats (which function as suicide ships). Each race has its own distinct style and from 12 to 15 different-looking ships, some with unique capabilities like cloaking, planetary strikes, multiple attacks per phase, two types of ray weapons, and other surprises to give each race an edge. An encyclopedia of ships, with 3D animations for each, helps you track the specs on each of these bad boys.

On the ground, various type of light and heavy infantry, armor, artillery, “skimmers” (fighter planes), tactical bombers, and other combat units compete in the battle for land. The game unfolds with your fleet of ships, including transports carrying ground units, fighting for dominance around a planet's orbit. Once space combat is won, you can drop troops on the planet surface, choosing where to put them when the land map pops up. You can also pick up ground troops and take them off to another battle.

The game ships with 24 scenarios that can be played from either side. Each starts in a random galaxy, where players have to conquer planets and fulfill the specific goals of that scenario. At the outset, every planet has neutral resources, like cities, which you must conquer by driving off any resistance and occupying them. There's a hex that functions as a city center, and you may expand around it with facilities like biodomes, which lead to other facilities. Once you reach a certain level, you can build a space dock in orbit and expand your fleet. By investing in technology, you can upgrade ships up to seven tech levels, improving their rating for movement, firepower, defensive values, and range. What you do depends on the scenario: in some, you may just need to secure key planets, while others require complete conquest.

Star General will be the wargamer's space game, the only one to offer a combination land/planetary experience. With all this and six-player network and modem play, it should be a hit on-line as well as solo.

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