I love following the career of a talented game designer when you can clearly see the mechanisms of their design process and their creativity on fire. Such is the case for me with Joseph McCullough, creator of the widely-acclaimed and beloved tabletop skirmish games Frostgrave, Stargrave, Rangers of Shadow Deep, and Silver Bayonet.
I have followed McCullough's work from the original Frostgrave, released in 2015, and have been impressed with everything he's done. Thanks to him, I have spent countless hours painting Frostgrave miniatures, building terrain, crafting my spell lists, planning my warbands, and playing in the frozen city. I haven't gotten a chance to play Stargrave (aka "Frostgrave in space"), but I've read the rulebook and its two supplements to date, Quarantine 37 and the just-released The Last Prospector.
Divining Joe McCullough's creative process is no great feat of magic because he always writes a thoughtful introduction to his game books describing his thematic motivations, new game ideas, and the fresh mechanics behind each new release. The Stargrave supplement Quarantine 37 takes place on a derelict research station and was an opportunity for McCullough to introduce zombies and Gigeresque aliens into the ravaged galaxy of Stargrave. The Last Prospector was inspired by westerns and westerns in space, like Firefly, Star Wars, and movies like Outland.
In The Last Prospector, your crew finds itself in an asteroid mining belt hot on the heels of a prospector who alerted you to a big score… and then promptly vanished. Over ten scenarios, the crews of the two players attempt to follow the trail of the titular prospector, gathering information (and experience and loot) as you go.
One unique design feature of the campaign is that the scenarios are not done in a narrative sequence (except for the initial and final ones). After the opening scenario (a saloon scene, as required by any self-respecting Western-inspired game), the winner of that scenario gets to choose the next one, and the winner of the 2nd adventure gets to choose the next, etc. The campaign finale is designed to be longer and more dramatic than the others; to play like the final showdown in a film.
Another clever feature of The Last Prospector is Faction Standing. Within the asteroid system there are six different factions. As you play through the scenarios, depending on your actions, your standings with these factions will change. Positive standings give your crew various bonuses (e.g. curry favor with Pa–the mysterious unseen entity that rules over Penthalia Station–and you're given access to the station's medical bay to heal up, or treat Molly right–the derelict space hauler that's home to a grav-bike-riding gang called The Gliders–and they'll give you access to the system's black market tech). Balancing these faction standings as you work your way through the campaign adds another layer of strategy, intrigue, and fun to gameplay.
If that's not enough cool new mechanics for a supplement, The Last Prospector also introduces the Investigation Score. The campaign theme is a mystery after all–to figure out what happened to the prospector and to find and nab his haul. For each loot token a crew acquires, they also get one Investigation point. These Investigation points serve as the victory condition for each scenario, allowing that player to choose the next scenario. "Secret" and "Information" loot that's discovered conveys additional Investigation Points.
With a solid core rulebook (based on an already-successful hit game), two compelling supplements, an coveted line of multi-part miniatures, commercial success and a fanatical fan base, it looks like Stargrave is going to be around for awhile. I can't wait to see Joseph McCullough giving those designer chops of his even more of a workout.
OnTableTop just did a Stargrave: The Last Prospector Week. Watching this is a great way to explore the game to see if it might interest you. Here is Joe McCullough talking to the OTT team about Stargrave and the new Lost Prospector supplement (and announcing news of a forthcoming solo/coop expansion).