Board and counter Wargame (1976). Flying Buffalo. Designed by Rick Loomis.
Starweb is a Play by Mail (and, more recently, Play by Email) strategy game which, like Stellar Conquest (1974), includes many of the features later seen in 4X Games. Every player begins the game as absolute ruler of a species which has just discovered a gateway to the eponymous web, a Hyperspace network created by a vanished Forerunner race which links the player's solar system to the rest of the galaxy. The game then proceeds by exploration, warfare, trade and private diplomacy for a specified number of turns, at which point a winner is declared. All of a player's orders must be submitted in writing, using a somewhat cryptic machine-readable language, before being processed by software running on a central computer. Starweb differs fundamentally from Play-by-Mail Role Playing Games such as Beyond the Stellar Empire (1981) both in its limited duration and by having no option for special instructions which are interpreted by human moderators. Players can, however, communicate freely with each other for diplomatic purposes; the making and breaking of alliances is a major part of the game. Starweb is in essence a board- and counter-based Wargame for which opponents are easy to find and the design of which ensures that players' moves will remain hidden from each other. The gameplay is driven by the different goals assigned to the various types of players. Available types include the genocidal AI Berserkers (licenced from Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series; see Berserkers), which increase their score by eliminating planetary populations; Merchants, who gain points by providing other players with the resources they need to build Spaceships; Apostles, who must attempt to convert populations to some Religion or ideology, and Artifact Collectors, who need to gather the Forerunner devices which can be found on many worlds. While the details of Starweb's rules can seem counter-intuitive, the conflicts and compromises which emerge between the players' various goals make it a richly varied game of strategy.
Related works: Octagon (1981), by Fred Saberhagen, uses the game as its central device. An adolescent player hacks into a supercomputer to obtain its assistance in plotting his moves, only to discover that the Computer has, not very credibly, decided that the best strategy is to murder the other players, and has begun to implement this plan. [NT]
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