Review – Ashen Stars

by | Jan 25, 2016 | Game Reviews

This is another amazing success from Pelgrane Press. The GUMSHOE engine provides the basis for the game, but it’s so different from the previous games like Fear Itself or Trail of Cthulhu. The game is set in a universe where a powerful alien race was set to destroy the known races of the galaxy, who banded together to defeat their near omnipotent foe. Unfortunately, no one remembers anything about the Mohilar War as it seems there is a permanent gap in everyone’s memory concerning the war, how it ended, or what happened to the Mohilar. This core mystery is at the heart of the game and serves as ample fodder for GMs to come up with universe spanning campaigns of epic proportion.

Your characters assume the role of “lasers”, galactic police for hire. Many worlds have been devastated by the years of war preceding the timeline of the game and the majority of the star systems are simply trying to rebuild. Lasers essentially patrol the known universe looking for work settling disputes, solving crime, and generally trying to keep the peace. Your players have a lot of freedom in how they deal with the precarious situations you put them in. They are judge, jury, and executioner. Of course, you will have to do some serious PR work if you nuke a town to get rid of a small bodysnatching plot by some recently discovered race of brain-eating slugs.

The system is fast and furious like all GUMSHOE games. Anyone can learn and most of the skills are self-explanatory. Unlike other Pelgrane games, there is a bit of a learning curve on equipment, which is borderline absurd and quite funny at the core. The game features a number of alien races you can play as well each with their own pros and cons. There is a rich backstory for how the races have gotten along throughout the centuries. Needless to say, I had just as good a time reading the lore as I did playing the game and I LOVE playing the game.

As for the tone of the game, it teeters between almost silly and disturbingly graphic. It lures your players into a false sense of wholesomeness before smashing their heads in with a space pipe. Nothing is what it seems and the truth is always stranger than fiction. I think this is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time and my players agree. We are definitely going to integrate this into our gaming routine. Let the world be warned!