Star Dynasties by Pawley Games
Star Dynasties couldn’t have been released at a better time. The game is perfectly poised to ride the wave of hype for the new film adaptation of Dune, as it captures everything people are so excited about in the movie.
Space Opera vs. Soap Opera
No, not the sandworms or the psychedelic spice rituals or the revolutionary desert warriors. I’m talking about intrigue between royal houses! Political marriages! Diplomatic alliances! Taxation policy!
(That is why people are flocking to theaters, right? It doesn’t have anything to do with Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in form-fitting black stillsuits?)
So yeah, much like the Crusader Kings games, this one is all about managing a royal house in a feudal system; it just so happens that instead of medieval Europe, this one is set in a near-future during which mankind has spread to the stars but lost a lot of its technological know-how, a scenario that should be intimately familiar to fans of the aforementioned Frank Herbert novels and film adaptations.
CRM: Courtly Relationship Management
If EVE Online is spreadsheets in space, Star Dynasties is the relational database equivalent. If you’ve ever used customer relationship management (CRM) software like Salesforce, you’re familiar with the concept, only instead of vendors, companies, office locations, departments, and staff, you’ve got planetary colonies and royal houses and alliances, plus intricate family trees.
Oh, and everyone hates each other. Except sometimes they’re secretly in love.
It’s all tracked statistically, too; everyone’s reputation gets scored, as does every duke, duchess, baron, heir, or minor royal cousin’s opinion of everyone else. It’s a lot to track, mentally speaking, and unlike historical games of its ilk, you don’t have basic historical themes to rely on for mental cues; everyone is just a sallow, randomly generated face in a box, surrounded by numbers and bars.
Lots of Ingredients, Too Little Spice
This is the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
Unbound by any need for historical accuracy, Star Dynasties is loaded with potential for emergent narrative. Make your own epic! Be a conniving spymaster, a brutal dictator, an elegant diplomat, or a conquering warlord! There are complex mechanisms for each, all working together in an intricate clockwork that seems impenetrable at first but gradually reveals itself, given time and patience.
On the other hand, it can feel very bloodless. Other explorations of feudal and/or royal complexities offer a bit more to hang a narrative hat on; Dune has the spice and the sandworms, Downton Abbey has its fancy meals and debilitating illnesses, and the Crusader Kings games have…well…the Crusades.
Admittedly, not every slow-paced space strategy game can live up to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, but a bit more flavor text and imagery would have been more than welcome.
That said, Star Dynasties does deliver upon its promise, and like the more economically-focused Stellaris, there is plenty of enjoyment here for fans of interstellar intrigue and grand strategy, sandworms or not, and its depth and complexity is especially impressive given its creation by a solo developer.
Star Dynasties is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Star Dynasties below: