App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Barnard's Star is a multiplayer focused arena tactics game where two players take turns positioning and attacking with a squad of four soldiers in an attempt to destroy their opponent's base and come out victorious. This game format is nothing new to the App Store, but developer Pollywog Games places its own unique mechanics and systems on top of this tired formula that are enjoyable when you aren't running up against some rough spots in the game's design.
There are a lot of games like Barnard's Star that have come and gone over the years. The first one that came to mind for me was Super Senso, but this game's brand of multiplayer turn-based strategy is also reminiscent of the more recent Phobies, or--if you prefer some more well-known comparison points--it can also be situated somewhere in between the likes of games like Advance Wars and XCOM.
This is all to say that Barnard's Star has two players pick a faction to play as and four units unique to that faction to control in a match. From there, the units spawn into a designated zone and players take turns giving instructions to their teams that can include anything from moving into cover, using teleporters, activating overwatch abilities, grappling around the map, placing/destroying cover, and more. The ultimate goal behind all of these actions is an effort to control the map, which includes establishing a balance of offense and defense that your opponent has a hard time countering.
Due to its turn-based nature, Barnard's Star allows players to juggle multiple matches at the same time and pushes notifications whenever a new turn is available. In executing a turn, players can also make use of a handy undo button, allowing for true tacticians to experiment with the most optimal sets of moves before locking them in.
The more you play, Barnard's Star, the more the undo button will feel necessary as the game hangs its hat on boasting a unique set of units that all operate pretty differently, and their interactions can lead to some surprising and unanticipated results. There's robots that can spawn copies of themselves, bounty hunters that can grapple and pull other units around, monsters that spew poison all over the map, and more. On top of this Barnard's Star has some distinct mechanics that apply to all units that don't exist in other games, as well. Things like bonus turns for units that score kills, respawn timers that change depending on how many times a unit gets killed; heck, even familiar concepts like cover and firing operate in ways that they don't quite do in other games, making Barnard's Star something that takes quite a bit of time to get used to.
Rough and ready
While you can play Barnard's Star single player against AI, it is clear this is a game that is meant for multiplayer. Even playing single-player matches against the game's highest difficulty, your opponents make some questionable decisions, like firing their weapons at walls and ignoring cover. If that weren't enough, Barnard's Star has an unlock system for new units that challenges you to perform certain feats to get new ways to diversify your squads, but you can't get these unlocks through playing against AI.
It's also really clear that Barnard's Star wants you to take steps back from the game's action between turns and truly play it asynchronously, as evidenced by a relatively common bug that doesn't pass control of a round to you if you when it's your turn if you stay in a match to wait for it. This doesn't happen all the time, but there were numerous times, (even when playing against AI), where the game essentially would not proceed forward unless I backed out of a game and went back into it.
The bottom line
In comparison to other turn-based multiplayer strategy games, Barnard's Star feels pretty small. That said, of the variety it has there is a lot of depth to explore in terms of team composition and turn combos that can make it a really satisfying competitive experience. I just wish that whole package felt little more polished.