Three years ago, I started drafting some ideas for a strategy board game set in space.
Like in many strategy games, you start the game with an unexplored map. I love the feeling of discovering the map, figuring out what's around me to adapt my strategy accordingly.
I wanted to mimic that feeling in a board game and I started to think about how to incorporate that into the design.
I had never played any board game with a map that is built by the players during the game.
(Actually, a few months ago I found that Betrayal at House on the Hill had a similar mechanic. Sadly, I haven't had the chance to play it).
I came up with the basic concept, stole some pieces from other games and tested a few games on my own and with my wife (then girlfriend).
In the game you had to explore the map by drawing new tiles and adding them to the central tile. You can settle new planets, mine resources and use them to produce your ships to wage war on your enemies.
Players could build 3 kinds of combat ships, a colonisation ship, a mine and a few others... You also had buildings you could put in a planet's orbit: cannons and residential stations to name the ones I remember.
There were so many things going on it was hard to keep track of was happening. It kind of worked but it wasn't fun.
I wrote down a bunch of notes from those tests but I didn't really have any ideas on how to improve.
So I put it away.
In the tech world (and elsewhere) we have the mantra "less is more". Specially when designing the architecture of a feature or a new program.
I needed to make use of the same philosophies when designing a board game: I could make it better by making it simpler for each player.
So, I started again: kept the space theme, the exploration mechanics, planets and the tile types.
I got rid of most ship types but kept the fighters, colonisation ships, planetary cannons and mines.
I kept the two resources too: Metal and Stardust (after which the game is named), but simplified how to obtain them.
Now it felt too simple, but I had a good base.
To add more depth, I designed 5 different factions. Each faction has a different play-style and ship types.
This way I maintain the simplicity of what a player needs to keep in their head while playing but also achieve greater variety by having different strategies and ways of playing.
Now I created a new problem for myself: balancing the factions. This might as well be a post of its own.
Perhaps there's more to simplify, but it's good enough to start an improved version of the second prototype (which you can see on the top image)... also now it's fun to play!