They are attacking ! A motley collection of ships ! What are they hoping for ? We have fighters and cruisers, and our starbase defense alone is enough to destroy any of their ships ! And let’s not forget that our reinforcements are on their way !
OH NO ! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND ? We are the antagonist in the final dramatic battle of someone else’s story.
As I was browsing through MobyGames for forgotten 1981 wargames, I found maybe 10 games that I needed checking. Most of them did not qualify, either because they were not wargames, or so basic and brainless that I would not have more than a few lines to write about them. And then there was Starbase Hyperion.
To be fair, it’s no surprise Starbase Hyperion mostly passed under the radar :
- The author, Don Ursem, only has two games to his credit (Starbase Hyperion and another game called Tank Trap which despite the name is not a wargame). He seems to have dwelved more into writing utility programs.
He also was the “Librarian” of the Jersey Atari Computer Group, reviewing games (and not the worst ones : Cytron Masters, Ultima) but also, well, utilities. He disappeared from the hobbyist scene in the mid-80s.
- The publisher, Quality Software, is mostly forgotten today. It released all sorts of programs, games or not ; a lot of its games were adaptations of board games or derivatives of more popular ones, including the compulsory Star Trek clone : Tari Trek. A few of them were innovative , among others Beneath Apple Manor.
- Finally, the game was initially released in 1980 on Exidy Sorcerer. The whole Digital Antiquarian archive has only one sentence on the Exidy : “[The Exidy Sorcerer] found little traction, becoming mere historical footnotes and modern collector’s items.”
Given this, it is not astonishing that this game is forgotten today, though it escaped total oblivion thanks to its 1981 Atari port, which is the one I played.
We command Starbase Hyperion, a strategic Starbase belonging to “Colonial Star Command” (STARCOM). STARCOM met resistance in its expansion by the EMPIRE (capitalization is in the manual). Of course, the “colonial” Star Command is not at all an Empire, no siree.
The game recounts an engagement between Starbase Hyperion and the EMPIRE.
We must hold 15 days, on our strength alone and with the help of some reinforcements in 3 days.
This is the starting tactical situation :
I use this opportunity to cover a bit of the game’s UI. All ships are positioned by their angle (top is 0°) and distance to the base, for instance in the screen above, the enemy ships are respectively angle 340 distance 4, and angle 40 distance 4.
For the first turn I have 2 000 energy to allocate between :
- Deploying warships ; ships cost between 200 and 1500 energy to deploy,
- Probes, which give information on enemy ships,
- Power Banks, which generate energy for the future,
- Reserve, which also powers the short-range guns that will be my last layer of defense if the enemy ships reach my base.
I have no idea which types the enemy ships are. They could be fighters. They could be dreadnoughts. For 600 energy, I deploy a Starranger Light Cruiser. I also improve my shields, lest one of the hostiles is a fighter (they can reach the starbase in one turn), and I invest the rest in
dogecoin power banks :
I deploy my Starranger against one of the imperial ships. It turns out to be a fighter. Against my cruiser, it does not have a chance, and I destroy it.
The enemy lost one ship, but they receive two more ships the second day :
With my 800 energy (200 base production and 600 from my energy banks), I sortie a small but fast Goblin corvette and release some probes to identify anything at range 4 or less of Starbase Hyperion. I then deploy both my ships against the closest enemy ship – still unidentified.
Well, it is a second fighter and of course, it is overkilled !
Day 3, still not feeling threatened and already receiving reinforcements: two heavy cruisers, Starshield-class. They are at half strength due to their journey, but I can repair ships for free at my starbase. Of course, they are at distance 8 from Starbase Hyperion, and move by 4 every day, so it will take some time.
Sadly, the EMPIRE also receives massive reinforcements :
The closest enemy to my base is an Imperial Lance Destroyer. Here is what the manual has to say about them :
Well, my Goblin-class corvette is damaged, but with my Starranger-class Light Cruiser, I should prevail against this imperial destroyer so I order my ships to converge on the enemy…
… and I make a typo, sending them to angle 330 distance 1 instead of angle 330, distance 3. Snap !
The Lance Destroyer is unengaged, and it attacks Starbase Hyperion !
My shield resists its attack, and my close-in weapon system (CIWS) uses 20% of my stored energy to shoot back at it, dealing 3 damage. The destroyer disengages to angle 330 distance 6 !
The rest of the enemies close in all around Starbase Hyperion ! Day 4 is not looking good !
We’ve seen specimens of pretty much all the classes fielded by the Empire, except base ships :
Worryingly, one of the Imperial Star Cruisers has a shield warp. The shield warp [indicated by SW] allows its attack to ignore any ship defense – in other words any ship sent against it is a goner, whether the Star Cruiser itself survives the engagement or not. Shield warps are also devastating against Starbase Hyperion, as they instantly remove the shield. I need to stop that Star Cruiser !
I allocate two corvettes to the Star Cruiser. The heavy-cruisers go to the Starbase for repair, while the light-cruiser engages the puny fighter.
In theory, the enemy assault boat[AB] and another Star Cruiser[SC] are in range to attack Starbase Hyperon next turn, but I believe my shields are enough to stop them. Moreover, I have some hope that they scatter as I attack their buddies – they sometimes do.
Sadly, the day does not go as expected :
- First, the “puny” fighter is destroyed, but it takes my light cruiser with it !
- Then the Star Cruiser with Warp Shield survives the attack by the corvettes (both are destroyed), and it jumps to my Starbase. The Star Cruiser is destroyed, but not before destroying all my shields and costing me half my stored energy.
- This opens the way for the assault boat and the last cruiser : they destroy my energy banks and bring my energy storage to almost 0. The Star Cruiser even manages to disengage safely from the battle !
Day 5 now ! The situation is critical. With no energy bank, I only gain 200 energy by day. If I reach 0, Starbase Hyperion is gone ! And there are at least 3 enemy ships in range of my base, including one dreadnought !
I cannot deploy new ships, but I have two last aces up my sleeves : two fully-repaired heavy cruisers, that I immediately allocate one against the dreadnought, the other against the group of two smaller ships !
I win one battle, lose the other against the dreadnought, but the latter is slowed down. My surviving cruiser engages it the following day (day 6).
The damaged dreadnought is destroyed ! Better, my cruiser manages to steal the enemy plans !
This gives me a view of all enemy surviving forces and a bonus move that I use to repair my cruiser !
The tide has turned. With my energy bank repaired, I launch a new ship day 7 – I have two heavy cruisers now. I am safe …
… or not. I lose both of them.
My starbase is attacked again, this time by a damaged imperial dreadnought. My energy banks are not damaged, but my turret drains almost all my reserve energy to finish off the enemy ship. Day 8, I can only sortie a tiny fighter for 200 energy, that I send in despair against the enemy Star Cruiser…
… and miraculously :
That was unexpected. I was praying for my Starbase to survive one more attack, but well – not needed.
That leaves only a badly damaged destroyer to take care of, which I do a couple of days later – day 11.
The final days pass automatically as there are no more enemies.
Rating and Reviews
Starbase Hyperion by Don Ursem, USA
First release : 1980 on Exidy Sorcerer
Tested on : Atari emulator
Total Hours Tested : 4 hours
Average duration of a battle : 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy (1/5)
Would recommend to a modern player : No
Would recommend to a designer : Yes
Final Rating: Still fun
Graphics are extremely simple, there is no sound, and while the game text is in-character… it scrolls down too fast to be legible. Still, the game conveys something : there is this low-level tension on what will happen the turn, on whether your starbase will fend off the next attack, on whether you will get lucky and destroy a threatening ship. This is good, but not enough.
Rating : Bad
B. UI , Clarity of rules and outcomes
The game UI is a mix of the well-designed and the poorly implemented.
- The energy allocation is easy to understand, but you’d better not make mistakes. Launching ships costs increments of 200 energy – if you invest for instance 300 energy then you will lose the 100 extra energy,
- Moving ships from Starbase is easy. Moving ships from any point outside the starbase to another point outside the starbase is not : you indicate a destination, and then your ship tries to get there by doing some complicated segment of a circle rather than just going in a straight line. I can be very confusing for reinforcements, which start far away from you base ; at least for ships launched from the starbase it is rarely a problem,
- The worst issue : Textual information scrolls extremely fast, even when I slowed down the emulator to 25%. It feels like it was never checked after porting from Exidy to Atari. It makes in particular impossible to understand what happens when the starbase is under attack. I had to check a video a image by image to understand how starbase attacks were resolved !
Rating : Very bad
C . Systems
That’s where the good surprise is. I explained the rules along with the AAR as they are pretty simple. But I was pleasantly surprised at how the game always gives you some hope that you can maybe salvage the situation, but also almost always puts you under pressure,
- Combats most of the time go as expected, but rarely there are extreme results like a small ship destroying a stronger one,
- When you attack enemy ships, even if you lose, you have a random chance for the enemies to move in a random direction the following turn (instead of converging toward your starbase). It gives you a chance to survive one more turn when you have only enough energy for a terrible fighter,
- Receiving an extra turn upon “Stealing the enemy maps” is not realistic, but it also sometimes miraculously saves you,
- On the other hand, the enemy can receive reinforcements, even when you were convinced you had seen everything they had.
There are also several “special procedures” when under attack if you tap a key at exactly the right time. Sadly I only managed to trigger them once and the text passed too fast for me to read the effects :
Rating : Quite good
D. Scenario design & Balancing
The game comes with 6 levels of difficulty (which only changes the maximum strength of enemy ships). I played at level 5 so I did not meet any base ship :
Ironically, I found level 1 harder than later levels : all your enemies are fighters and they are extremely hard to intercept as they are so fast and attack from all directions.
Once you have chosen a level of difficulty, the game generates a scenario for you : basically how many enemies you will face (in strength points) and when your reinforcements will arrive (if they arrive day 15, they are useless of course). I wish the scenarios had more parameters : ships already sortied, starting energy, …
Scenarios are not always balanced, especially level 6 (once I got 2 enemy bases almost in range day 1…) but the game is so fast to play it is not that much of a problem.
There is no AI to speak of: the enemy beelines for you, except if it panics on a counter-attack.
Rating : Acceptable.
E. Did I make interesting decisions ?
Yes, every turn, you will ponder how much you should invest in your energy banks, whether you want 2 smaller ships or one large one, whether you should risk one more battle with your damaged ship or bring it home for repair,…
F. Final rating
Still fun. The game may not be glamorous now, but I spent several great hours and I can’t think of a modern game with similar gameplay. Eventually, the lack of diversity will make you want to do something else, but for a game written 40 years ago, a few hours of gameplay is quite the performance already.
The game attracted few reviews. Creative Computing reviewed the Exidy Sorcerer version in February 1981. The Sorcerer version had many bugs : Bob Stuckmeyer found the game “rich in details”, and “challenging“, but he complained about his ships being destroyed by a bug immediately as he launched them. Indeed, that would make the game extra challenging. The Exidy version was also reviewed by the Space Gamer in December 1981. Tom Buchanan also complained about the bugs (though they were less critical in his case), but praised the game highly. Mirroring my point of view that the game delivers a lot of tactical depth with simple rules, he stated that the game is for those “looking for a game with challenging play instead of complex rules “
Sadly, I found only one review for Atari – in the Book of Atari Software. It gave the game mostly B and C ratings in a short review, concluding : “The game is one of the few wargames which works well”.
As a final note, it looks like the Exidy Sorcerer received only around 50 games, among which two can be construed as strategy games : Starbase Hyperion and, of course, Star Trek. Due to this, I can confidently say that Starbase Hyperion earns the coveted title of best wargame for Exidy Sorcerer – to this day.