So I'm not at GenCon this year, but I'm still using it to schedule my Game of the Year.
And for the year ending with this year's GenCon, my Game of the Year will probably not surprise anyone (especially you, Pete).
This game is - hands-down, with no question - the single best new-to-me game I've played in the last year.
I first saw the game as rules. It's one of the games which I worked on.
Remember how a few years ago, I claimed that I could tell if I was going to like a game based on the rules? That's not 100%. There are games that I need to play to figure out.
This is not one of them. I read the rules, and immediately wanted to play the game. If I'd had a card list, I'd have proxied up a deck right then - and I don't proxy cards, because it's too time-consuming and annoying to get it just right.
Starfighter is a two-player card game in which each player has a hand of starfighter cards that they will use to attempt to destroy their opponent's capital ship. Each card is double-sided, and each side of the card is divided in two.
On your turn, you will either play a card or pass. If you play a card and it has certain symbols on it, those abilities will trigger. When you play a card, it'll also cover half of the card beneath it. When you pass, you are done for the moment. Once both players have passed, a battle is resolved.
There are restrictions on where you can play your cards - each capital ship design has different column formations, and most cards can only be played at certain levels. If you don't have a card in hand that can be played where you want to play a card, you can play them face-down as wild cards.
Once both players have passed, the player who has initiative can shift the capital ships relative to one another, hoping for a more advantageous column vs column matchup. Then they decide to go left-to-right or right-to-left in resolution.
With each column, you start by counting visible starfighters. Each fighter is a potential point of damage dealt to the opposing capital ship. Then - in turn - damage is dealt. As soon as a card is destroyed (via damage dealt to all of the visible fighters on that card), it is removed. If this removal reveals a special ability symbol, that symbol triggers immediately.
Read that last sentence again, because it's the key to the entire game.
It means that mid-battle, cards will still be moving from column to column or flipping or rotating or otherwise triggering. Now, the amount of damage you're dealing is set at the start of a battle, but other cards in the column can soak up damage. So you might move ships out of a column you've already resolved into this one (to soak more). You might move ships in a column yet to be resolved.
It means that your initial card placement continues to matter, because you're setting up combos that will trigger later. And sometimes those combos will trigger multiple times.
After the battle, players draw cards based on draw symbols visible on their capital ship's board, and play continues.
It's a surprisingly tactical game. As in, "Do I want to cover this card up and risk triggering its special at a not-great time, or do I want to make sure I have coverage in the next column?"
If you pass too early, your opponent will overwhelm you - but if you pass too late, you won't have very many cards in hand for the next round.
There isn't a lot of art on the cards - there is one image for the fighters themselves, and a bunch of symbols. The art is the planets that appear in the background of some of the cards.
I couldn't stop playing this game last year. Remember how I don't play two-player games that often? I played this one a lot. And, even though I knew I wasn't going to get to play it very often, I still brought it into the store almost every week for Game Night.
This is the best two-player game I've played since Dungeon Twister, and you all know how much I love that one.