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Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga PC CD-ROM

Published by Matrix Games
Developed by Worlds Apart Productions
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $29.99

Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga, an introduction.

Around six years ago I purchased Star Trek ConQuest Online, a trading card, PC based strategy game. Having read up on the game I expected great things only to find, on purchasing the game, it was a massive let down. In truth whilst the basic idea behind the game was sound, it just didn't play very well and felt too basic. I persevered with it for around a month (with only occasional play) before never bothering with it again. Why have I mentioned this ancient game at the beginning of a review for Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga? Well to be perfectly honest Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is everything Star Trek ConQuest Online should have been, and more.

What's the game about?

Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is a trading card strategy game that offers both offline and extensive online play. The game offers casual online game play (for up to four players), online tournaments, a practice mode (which gives you an AI opponent to test your newly built deck against) and a campaign mode. The three campaigns on offer are the Tutorial Campaign, the Rebel Campaign and the Coalition Campaign. You can also look at your card collection, use the deck builder, join guilds, trade cards and visit the store to purchase booster packs and starter decks.

What's good about the game?

One of the main objections most gamers have to online games is that there is usually some kind of fee involved and after the 'free' period has passed, you're left with a game you can't play unless you whip out the credit card to subscribe. If this kind of thing annoys you, you'll be pleased to learn that Star Chamber offers unlimited online play. Not only does this mean you'll be more inclined to revisit the online side of the game but it also means many more gamers will too, so when you decide to play online there will be gamers waiting to play against you. In fact one of the good things about the game is that there always seems to be players to play against, which is certainly important.

The game plays out on a space map that contains an assortment of planets and asteroid fields and such like that are connected by jump lanes. There are three routes to victory in the game. There's the usual conquer all Military route, the Cultural Victory route (which requires you to amass 30 destiny points more than your opponents and a Political Victory route. The game manual also claims that a few special cards can create unique circumstances where there are other victory conditions, although I haven't come across this myself. Of course three routes to victory also equal three routes to defeat. During a game you can build spacecraft and civilians and you'll need both in order to conquer planets.

Like a lot of trading card games you'll have six cards in your hand at any one time.  To play the cards you'll have to have the required number of tech points. The game has five different types of tech, Order Tech, Mind Tech, Life Tech, Cyber Tech and Entropy Tech. At the beginning of each turn your race may make a research breakthrough, which will allow you to choose a tech point, usually from a choice of two (your race has two favoured techs and their cards rely heavily on these two techs). There are conditions where you'll have a greater choice of techs though. The real beauty of the cards is that they add some extraordinary twists to the game and as you become more adept at building better decks (and having purchased further cards), the opportunities for creating more effective strategies become even greater.

What's not so good about the game?

As with all games of this nature you can run into difficulties if you simply keep using the initial cards you obtain on purchasing the game. Booster packs are available for purchase (for around $2.45 or £1.70) and when playing online you'll come up against players who have built themselves more advanced decks using these booster packs. Whilst this may put you at a slight disadvantage it's not a major problem though. I wish the game supported hotseat multiplayer gaming (or multiplayer gamers over a network) but sadly it doesn't. Sometimes you just want to play a family member or friend who's in the same house and it would have been great if it had been possible.

How does it look?

Trading card based strategy games are not known for impressive graphics and Star Chamber is no exception to this. That said though, the game certainly looks OK. The card artwork is actually very good and pretty much what you'd expect to see on real sci-fi trading cards. The graphics on the main map are quite basic but they get the job done which is all that's needed in a game like this. The interface, whilst not exactly state of the art, is very user friendly (which is more important of course) and easy on the eyes. In fact the game has a very clean and organised look to it which more than makes up for any lack of visual impressiveness.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Deaf gamers will have no problems with Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga. All the information within the game is in text. The tutorials and the campaigns etc. don't have any speech and are all delivered exclusively via text that you can read at your own pace. You can even access a turn history in the single player campaigns that allows you to see what you have done previously in the game, which is invaluable if you've been away from the game for a long time and have just loaded up a saved game. The game supports text chat so deaf gamers shouldn't have any problems online, which is very important given that the game is essentially designed for online play.

Final thoughts.

Whilst Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga is a trading card strategy game it's not just a game that will appeal to fans of trading card games. In fact it's a very good sci-fi turn-based strategy game that most fans of the turn-based strategy games would enjoy. The cards you play add levels of depth to the game and actually make for a very satisfying experience. It's definitely a game that needs to be played quite a bit in order to appreciate what the game has to offer though. Like any strategy game worth its salt, the more you play the game the more you appreciate its complexities. As an online game, which it primarily is, the game has a lot to offer but even as a single player game there's a decent amount of content to sink your teeth into, which is always pleasing.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga just goes to show how good trading card strategy games can be. If you haven't played a game of this nature before this is definitely the place to start.