Author Archives: Staff

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Star Traders: How the Game is Played

Category : Star Traders

Let’s start with a quick look at what comes with the game.

Most obvious is the big gameboard. It’s a map of the galaxy, with 36 worlds connected by jumplines. It also has a Prestige Meter (because your Prestige matters) and a place to keep the current Contracts (that place being the colored blocks along one edge of the board). In one corner is a key to the jumplines, but basically, the longer the jump, the higher you must roll to make the jump.

There is a big deck of cards. If you check a card you’ll see that it’s divided in half. The colored part is a Contract — when someone delivers a Contract and you need to replace it with a new Contract, you draw a card and use the Contract end. (We’ll cover how to do that in a few minutes.) The white half is a Trader’s Luck card. When you draw a card to play from your hand, it’s the Trader’s Luck end of it that’s important.

Trader’s Luck cards have all sorts of effects. Some are good and you tend to play those cards on yourself: bonus Prestige, extra actions, a card that lets you use other Traders’ stations. Some are not so good, and are marked as Calamities: lost Prestige, lost actions, just plain Lost in Space — those you play on other Traders. But a Trader can escape your Calamity by playing an Avoid a Calamity. There are over two dozen types of cards, and many of those have varying effects.

The cards are marked, and you use the cards that match the version of the game you’re playing. Oh yeah, the game has five versions. At the youngest level (age 7+) you actually only use the cards as Contracts — you don’t use any Trader’s Luck. At the second level (age 10+), you only use the 36 cards that are easiest to understand and are the least hostile. At the Family level (age 13+), you add the mid-level cards — a little more complicated, a little more aggressive. And at the two highest levels, you use all the cards, including those that destroy stations and switch your ship with another Trader’s ship.

There is a set of markers for each Trader. Most of these are station rings, but you also have a marker for the Prestige Meter and two markers to keep track of which cargos you’re carrying. You also get a neat little ship to show where you are on the game board galaxy.

There is a stack of Imperial $tarBucks (the bank), six pairs of Contract arrows (we’ll get to those in a couple of minutes), a set of shiny dice, and a few other miscellaneous markers for special circumstances that we don’t need to worry about right now. There are also several sets of player mats for the different levels, each with a quick ref on it for setup, play, and victory conditions.

Let’s talk about how you play.

Some of it’s obvious — you take turns, you go in a circle, someone eventually wins.

Some of it’s less obvious — you take 5 actions per turn, and an action can be jumping to another world / picking up a cargo / building a station / or conducting local business (earning a $tarBuck when you can’t do anything else). In the endgame, there’s one more possible action: petitioning the Emperor to be granted your final Imperial Mission.

The number you must roll on one die to make a jump ranges from 2 (or better) to 6. The color of each jumpline (along with a small marker) indicates what you must roll to use it. But if you have a station — which always has a navigation beacon — at the world you’re trying to reach, you get there without a roll (although it still costs an action). And you can negotiate permission to use other Traders’ station beacons the same way.

All this jumping around is so that you can pick up cargos and deliver them, for a cash payoff and to generate Prestige.

You get 5 dice at the beginning of your turn, and you use the dice to keep track of how many actions you’ve used — each time you take an action (whether you rolled a die or not), you move another die into the “Used Actions” box on your player mat. When all 5 are in the box, your actions are over for the turn.

To set up the game, you draw a card for every Trader in the game, and tuck each one under the board at one of the colored blocks so that only the Contract part is showing. The Contract card tells you where to pick it up, where to deliver it, and how many $tarBucks and how much Prestige you get for making the delivery. Then you mark on the board where you need to pick it up (using a “From” arrow) and where you need to deliver it (using a “To” arrow). The arrows are color-coded and numbered to match the color and number of the matching Contract block.

When you deliver the cargo for a Contract, you collect the Payoff and Prestige marked on the Contract. If someone owns a station at your delivery world, that Trader earns the Station Fee that is also marked on the Contract. (That comes from the bank, not from you.) Then someone draws a new Contract, the arrows are moved to mark the new “From” and “To” worlds, and you continue your turn.

So in your turn, you take 5 actions, jumping from world to world, picking up and dropping off cargos, building stations and (when nothing better is available) conducting local business. You play cards (each card tells you when you can play it) and draw one new card at the end of your turn. You can’t hoard cards — you must discard down to 2 cards after you draw.


As you play, you accumulate money and Prestige. When you have at least 50 $tarBucks to pay your filing fee, 15 Prestige, and 4 to 8 stations (the more Traders in the game, the fewer stations are required) you may use an action to petition the Emperor for a final Imperial Mission. Your base required roll is a 5+ (on one die). But if you accumulate more Prestige, you can gain a +1, or even a +2, on the roll. And a Zap (a Trader’s Luck card) can add to or subtract from your roll. Succeed and you get your Imperial Mission. Fail, and you lose 5 Prestige. You can petition again anytime you want, as long as you have at least 15 Prestige. For any petition after the first, your filing fee is $20.

When you’re granted your Imperial Mission, you draw Contracts until you find one with a star on it. A star on it means it’s long enough to satisfy the Emperor. (He won’t give you a run that’s too short — it wouldn’t prove that you’re really the best.) Now all you have to do is pick up your designated cargo and deliver it before anyone else finishes their own Imperial Mission. It’s not uncommon for everyone to be on their Imperial Mission by the time someone wins the game!

Other Rules.

There are a few other rules — for example, you may make a random jump by taking an action to roll two dice, in order. If you roll a 2 and then a 3, you jump immediately to world 23. One time in 36, you will end up exactly where you want to be. One time in 36, you will end up precisely where you started. That’s also what you do when you are Lost In Space, courtesy of another Trader. Other rules include:
• Building a station costs 5 $tarBucks and earns you 1 Prestige.
• Delivering a cargo does not cost an action, and must be done as soon as you arrive at the delivery world. That means that you can’t build a station there first, to collect the Station Fee.
• With 3 Traders, each Trader gets an additional station to start the game. With 2 Traders, each Trader gets an additional 2 stations, and you play with three Contracts, not just two.
• Contract #1 is always the VIP Contract, and pays an additional 2 Prestige.
• You can trade $tarBucks, stations and cards, but not Prestige. You can trade cargos, but only when you’re at the same world.


If you play using Personalities, there are at least 6 Personalities that a Trader can have in the game, including:
• the Engineer (who gets an extra action each turn)
• the Hero (who gets extra Prestige for making a delivery)
• the Insider (who gets special privileges near the galactic core, and gets +1 on Petitions)
• the Navigator (who only needs to roll a 4 to make what is normally a 5 or 6 jump)
• the Negotiator (who gets extra cash when delivering a cargo or earning a Station Fee)
• the Rogue (who can use one other Trader’s station, once per turn without permission)


We’ve playtested this many times, including this last year at Gencon’s Playtest Hall (thanks, guys!) and PAX South’s Tabletop exhibition area (likewise, Andi!). Many experienced gamers sat down for the first time and figured that they know exactly what they needed to do to win. By the end of the game, they realized that the path to victory isn’t nearly as obvious as they had assumed. Many reviewed the Personalities and knew immediately which ones were overpowered, and which ones were underpowered … and then reversed their opinions after playing a game. Star Traders isn’t won consistently by playing a specific strategy. Sometimes the dice and the cards will align with that strategy, and you win. But the more consistent path to victory lies in flexibility and in adjusting to the circumstances, and that takes awareness of everything that’s going on around you.

In general, I designed for fun. (I think Star Traders succeeds at that. We collected feedback forms from the players at both shows, and 96% [PAXS] and 97% [GC] wanted to play again.) There are some obvious steps to take — for example, building stations at important intersections, or where a rich cargo is about to be delivered — but there’s an opportunity cost to everything you do, and forgoing one task in favor of another will often rise up to bite you. You can’t calculate exactly what will happen — there are too many factors out of your control.

Colorblind Play.

Star Traders is a very colorful game. We have tried to make it accessible for colorblind players of every sort. We have been at least partly successful, and we intend to do more. For example, the jumplines are color-coded, but they also have a small marker that indicates the roll necessary to use each one. The station rings have a different icon for each color, but we’re also going to do more to distinguish the actual colors of the rings. The Contract blocks (1st, 2nd, etc.) are color-coded, but are also clearly numbered. The ships are the only thing that we’re not being able to mark (they’re stock items), and we include two extra ships (one black, one white) that can be used to help colorblind players keep track of everyone.

We don’t have any colorblind regular playtesters, so we’re dependent on other occasional playtesters and people who love games. We would appreciate any input you have in this regard once you have The Voice.


Star Traders Sample Rules

Star Traders Board

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Star Traders: The Development

Category : Star Traders

Begin at the Beginning

I began attending playtest sessions for Steve Jackson Games from the birth of that company around 1980. By the mid ’80s, I was working for SJG as a developer and editor. One day, Steve made an announcement — actually, two announcements. First, SJG had license the title “Isaac Asimov Presents” from a series of short story SF anthologies that Asimov and Martin Greenberg edited. And second, the first game in the series would be designed by whomever created the best game.

This was an incredibly gracious offer by the lead designer and head of a major game company. About four to six of us (including Steve) submitted proposals, and after several rounds of development and review, Star Traders was chosen. I don’t remember all of the discussion and development that took place, but I do know that all of us — especially Steve — significantly improved my original design.


Meanwhile: as I mention in the video, I like train games — pick-up-and-deliver games — a lot. Two of my favorite games are Rail Baron and Empire Builder, and I still pull out the well-worn boxes to play them from time to time. But they don’t have much interaction, and they don’t have much of a climax. In designing Star Traders, I decided to create a game like those, but different. Common contracts (rather than each player having his own contracts) definitely upped the competition between players, when only the first player to deliver gets paid. So did cards that you can play on each other, slowing your opponents down, getting them lost, costing them Prestige.

For a climax, we added the Imperial Mission. First you have to petition the Emperor (which succeeds only on a 5 or 6, but there are ways to boost your die roll), and them you have to successfully complete an Imperial Mission that he gives only to you. Generally, by the time someone wins, nearly all the other players are attempting to complete their own Imperial Mission. Games usually come right down to the wire.

A third difference is that rather than traveling along rail lines each turn, you are jumping from world to world. Either you make it or you don’t — there’s no halfway there in space.

Initial Release

So the game was released, and it did sorta well. Some people loved it, but not enough. (You haven’t fully experience life until a young woman, upon learning your name, immediately kneels on the floor in awe at meeting the designer of Star Traders. Seriously.) It actually did as well or better in Germany. It went out of print within a few years, and reverted to me a few years after that.

In Between

From the mid ’90s to a couple of years ago, I made sporadic attempts to get someone to publish it, and made occasional passes at improving it. Some of its features were realistic, but they weren’t fun. For example, when you were ready to jump, you had to declare where you were jumping, and if your roll failed, you went nowhere. Now you roll, and then decide where you’re going, based on what you roll. Similarly, you used to have to deliver your cargo to its original destination, even when someone else had beaten you there. If you didn’t, you suffered a penalty. Now, if someone beats you to a destination, you simply drop the now-useless cargo and continue on your way.

Some of the features (especially the Personalities) were not as well balanced as they could have been. I dropped a couple, and changed all the rest to better balance them. Today, people tell me that this Personality is over-powered, or that one is under-powered, and it really depends a great deal on how well someone is playing the Personality’s ability and how each specific game develops.


Star Traders today looks a lot like the Star Traders of thirty years ago, but it’s changed — a lot. The board still has 36 worlds, neatly corresponding to the 36 possible rolls of two dice in a row. But most of the names have changed — it used to have seven worlds named after SF authors; now nearly all of them are. I combined the Contracts and Trader’s Luck cards. It used to be that the game had 72 Contract cards and 65 Trader’s Luck cards. Now it has 108 combined Contracts and Trader’s Luck cards. Combining the cards meant that we could effectively add many more cards to the game, but it also meant that you couldn’t depend on certain Contracts or Trader’s Luck cards to appear — they might have been played the other way.

Nearly every Trader’s Luck card refers to an SF movie or TV series (but we kept Arcturian Mites on one of them!) Just about every rule in the game, from initial setup to final victory, has been tweaked, if not completely changed. Someday when you have a couple hours of time and I have a large glass of tea, we can go into all the other changes in detail.

Until then, I think you’re really going to enjoy the new, improved Star Traders!

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Star Traders: Introduction

Category : Star Traders

Now On Kickstarter

The Star Tsar is no more. Rumors have spread to every corner of the galaxy; retirement, assassination, and treason have proven the most popular speculations, but only one actual truth has emerged: the head of the largest civil organization in the galaxy, the omnipresent Trade Commissariat, must be replaced. The galaxy’s most powerful trade organization can only be leaderless for so long before the economy grinds to a halt. Steps must be taken to fill that void. Hints, vague at first, had been circulating about who the new Star Tsar would be. Some said the Emperor would make the obvious choice — a long-term senator, favored by the mega-corporations. Others, analyzing the Emperor’s more recent tendencies, pronounced it would be a crony of his, currently on the board of the Galactic Bank. No one was prepared for what the Emperor actually announced: to determine the new Star Tsar, there would be a trade competition. Anyone, any citizen of the Empire, would be eligible to compete.

The Emperor declared a convocation to be held at the imperial capitol on Laumer to reveal the rules for this unprecedented measure. Thousands flocked to the great amphitheater to hear the Emperor’s declaration. Millions more watched a live presentation on the trideo stations. Everyone wanted to know the criteria for the Emperor’s choice of a new Star Tsar. Unofficially, some of the rules had already filtered out: lone captains; single ships; it was to be about trade, not war, so no weapons were to be allowed. Little more had leaked, but it was enough to attract a cross-section of the galactic citizenry.

At the amphitheater, the crowds mingled together, awaiting the appearance of the Emperor. Small-time traders rubbed shoulders with corporate-backed pilots. Independently wealthy captains shared drinks with owners one payment ahead of repossession. Every economic class, all social strata were represented on the floor of the coliseum, each hoping for a chance for fortune, glory and the Emperor’s favor.

The competition would be open to any citizen, but looking across the floor — at the anxious faces, the calm demeanor, the nervous glances — a handful of people stood out from the crowd. Scattered across the amphitheater, they each had a certain something that set them apart from the others. Like that one, standing in the corner …

The Personalities:

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Star Traders Worlds: Shelley, Verne & Wells

Category : Star Traders , Worlds


Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851; first SF publication, 1818) is the earliest, and perhaps youngest, author in this list. At the time she wrote (in the early 1800s, when she was less than twenty years old) there was no such thing as “science fiction”; her Frankenstein was (and often still is) classified as horror and gothic. However, her story of Dr. Frankenstein’s experimental attempts to create life from non-living matter is definitely also science fiction. Her later books tend toward the historical and romantic, although she does write at least one other SF title, the apocalyptic The Last Man. For me, Shelley tends more to Respect rather than Enjoy. I confess that I find older novels (particularly those prior to 1900) harder to work my way through.

Essence of Life

As Dr. Frankenstein conducts his experiments, he discovers the Essence of Life, which along with a jolt of electricity, brings his Creature to life.


Jules Verne
Jules Verne (1828 – 1905; first SF publication, 1863) wrote many stories, usually attempting scientific education — he wanted to teach science while providing an entertaining read. His guesses and extrapolations based on the knowledge of his day are sometimes wrong, but sometimes breathtakingly accurate.

I believe Verne is the only non-English author on this list. His most well-known stories are part of his “Extraordinary Journeys” series, and include Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon (in which a debate is held on whether to launch the rocket from Texas or — the eventual choice — Florida!), Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

A Nautilus Submarine

As with a few other authors on this list, Verne’s works offer little in the nature of commercial manufacturing. The number of ties I saw him referred to as “farseeing,” I was tempted to simply have the world of Verne export farseeing jewels … however, the Nautilus is the ahead-of-its-time submarine which Captain Nemo pilots in Twenty Thousand Leagues, and the choice for Verne’s export here.


H G Wells
H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells (1866 – 1946; first SF publication, 1894), despite what Warehouse 13 tells us, was a man, about twenty years behind Verne. He wrote lots of stories, including science fiction titles The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds — all written within four years! The War of the Worlds is the Martian invasion story with which Orson Welles terrified the U.S. through a radio dramatization, in 1938. In The World Set Free Wells predicted the devastation of nuclear weapons. He also created the first published rules for miniatures gaming (and arguably for wargaming of any sort) in Floor Games and Little Wars.

Time Machines

In The Time Machine, a gentleman inventor devises an apparatus that will carry its rider forward and backwards in time, and he eventually explores millions of years into the future, witnessing the final destruction of the Earth. A precise description of the machine is never given, although we know it has ivory and nickel bars, and brass rails.


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Kickstarter Pre-Launch Party

Category : News

Join us at Titan Moon Comics February 20th at 4pm for our Kickstarter Pre-Launch Party.

Play Star Traders, win FREE stuff & help us spread the word for our Kickstarter campaign.