Review: Astra Titanus

It doesn’t get happy, it doesn’t get sad, it doesn’t laugh at your jokes. It Just. Runs. Programs.

Astra Titanus is a solo, sci-fi wargame from Chris Taylor and Victory Point Games. It comes in a small Ziploc bag containing 88 thin counters, an unmounted cardstock map and Titan status boards, rules stuff, and a deck of cards. The art is clean and functional. These are typical no-frills VPG components.
As commander of the Terran Defense Forces, you’ve been tasked with defending mankind against Star Titans – massive, self-aware spaceships bent on wiping out all life. Your fleet will need to coordinate firepower to pick off the the Titans’ individual weapon and star drive systems, reducing their firepower and speed bit-by-bit. It’s Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker meets Steve Jackson’s Ogre, set in the same universe as Taylor’s Forlorn Hope and Imperial Stars II.

As a war game, AT is quite light. Combat involves trying to beat defensive numbers with die rolls, modified by weapon strengths, a tiny handful of modifiers, and bonuses for massed fire. No unit facings, CRTs, or excessive number crunching. The combat mechanisms aren’t the focus, though. The important thing is what you do with them.

Each of the three different Titan models feels distinct. The Hyperion is faster than the others, but is underpowered and under armored compared to the Rhea or Atlas classes. Each has a different “Omega weapon” to wreak havoc upon your forces.

The eight included scenarios are varied, and have special rules that add flavor and freshness to the missions. Sometimes you’re waiting on reinforcements, other times you’re scrambling forces from the ground. Does the legendary (aka badass) battleship New Jersey make a triumphant last stand, or are you on the offensive, chasing a Titan across the galaxy?

Because of the different Titans and scenarios, tactics that work in one situation will not be valid in others. I had little problem picking apart the Hyperion in the first scenario with small waves of ships, but the Rhea in scenario two destroyed my base repeatedly before I was able to defeat it.

I started writing down my strategies, tweaking them after defeats, and trying again. I’ve never spent a lot of time pre-planning battle strategies in other games, but I had motivation here: I had grown to loathe those stupid Titans. I wanted to beat that damn Rhea worse than virtually any human opponent in my life.

The Titans are controlled by a deck of cards, one of which is revealed at random, after you’ve committed your forces for the turn. The cards show how the Titan will move, what its firing priority is, and may give a special effect such as repairing systems or firing its Omega weapon. While you may think the Titan counter itself is the threat, the real enemy is that fiendish card deck.

I don’t know what it is, but the little stack of cards seems to outthink me again and again. It’s as if it knows what I’m planning even before I do. Much of it hinges on the weapon ranges of your ships versus the Titans’ weapon ranges, but the way Chris Taylor designed the movement patterns is phenomenal. It doesn’t feel random – it seems as if the Titan has a bigger plan in mind.

Sometimes it seems to stagger blindly into your massed forces, begging you to close for the kill, but then cuts up and around, splitting your formation in half. Other times it stops suddenly and hops back a single space, just ducking out of weapons range, burning your entire turn.

It’s maddening, but turning that thing into a ball of molten metal is one of the more satisfying feelings in gaming. If you pull out a victory, it’s almost always at the last second, when your tattered fleet is about to be overrun.

There are a few rules that I stumbled over, mostly on how the Titans’ firing priorities are resolved. I highly recommend Erik Racer’s reference sheet, as it should clear up most of the questions you may have. The rest can be answered by the FAQ and threads here on the Geek.

As you guessed, I’m a big fan of Astra Titanus. This is my favorite AI in any board game, by a mile. I’ve gotten a lot of fun out of this small package, and well more than my money’s worth.

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