Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga
|Release date(s)||Initial Release 2003, expansions released 2004-2007|
|Genre(s)||Online collectible card game, turn-based strategy|
|Mode(s)||Single player, Multiplayer|
Star Chamber was an online collectible card game (CCG) first released as just "Star Chamber" in 2003 by Nayantara Studios, later owned by Matrix Games and Worlds Apart Productions, and now owned by Sony Online Entertainment. The game ran on both the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X platforms. It was free to download and play, with additional cards available for purchase. There was one base set and five expansion sets released for Star Chamber.
On March 30, 2012, Sony Online Entertainment removed server support for the game, and it is no longer playable.
The game could be played as single-player (in practice matches, in “skirmish” matches, or with any of four campaigns, each of which comprises seven separate scenarios) or with between two and four players live over the internet. Two-player games usually required half an hour to complete, while three- and four-player games average closer to an hour.
One of the game’s primary distinctions was that it combined traditional CCG elements (card collecting and trading, deck building, the use of cards in-game, etc.) with a board wargame-style map and unit production based on locations on that map, in some ways similar to the classic Master of Orion series. There were 43 unique maps, with random elements incorporated into some of those maps. The titular Star Chamber is a location at which voting session between players’ citizens took place every sixth turn. Players voted for the Power Play, Alien Support, and Peacekeepers (see Voting below).
There were five different technologies, or “techs,” in Star Chamber. Each tech represented a different facet of sentient society:
- Order - Order represented the ability to create thriving societies. Abilities included production bonuses, ship defenses, and removal of enemy modifications.
- Mind - Mind represented greater psychic capabilities or enhanced thinking. Abilities included card drawing, political bonuses and avoiding combat.
- Life - Life represented a love of biology and nature. Abilities included bonuses to leaders, planetary influence, and destiny point gains.
- Cyber - Cyber represented the ability to construct advanced technology. Abilities included bonuses to ship speed and the most powerful ship defense.
- Entropy - Entropy represented a love of destruction. Abilities included bonuses to ship offense, destruction, and the deployment of neutral “pirate” ships.
There were ten different races in Star Chamber, each of which combined two techs:
- Android – A race of destructive human shaped robots, Androids have the strongest, most expensive ships. They combined the techs of Cyber and Entropy
- Clave – A race of anthropomorphic cats that has a caste system where the warrior caste is dominant. The Clave received bonuses to the “leadership” of their heroes, and combined the techs of Life and Entropy
- Ferrier – A political race that resembles the creators of the Kej, the Ferrier began the game with a citizen at the Star Chamber location. They combined the techs of Order and Mind
- Human - Humans are bold and daring in the star chamber universe, with a faster population growth than other races, the Humans combined the techs of Order and Life
- Ixa – An race of enigmatic octopuses, that used fast hitting torpedo's and often employed pirate ships, the Ixa combined the techs of Order and Entropy
- Kej – A race of insect-like robots that have lost their creators, the Kej received speed bonuses at the cost of firepower for all of their cruisers. They combined the techs of Order and Cyber
- Omior – A race of sentient plants, the Omior generally focused on “culture” and “destiny” more than any other race. They combined the techs of Mind and Life
- Silica – A race of mineral-based life forms, the Silica’s ships did not have shields, but received a bonus to their hulls and were the only ships to regenerate their hulls. The Silica combined the techs of Life and Cyber
- Thrass – A race of parasitic insects that inhabitted and controlled the minds of the other races. The Thrass had weaker ships that cost less to produce, and their cruisers reduced the opponent’s “influence” at minor planets. They combined the techs of Mind and Entropy
- Zhikanii – A race of economically minded slugs. They tended to be nefarious and had a lot of cards that lost them destiny, like their iconic sinister implant. The Zhikanii combined the techs of Mind and Cyber.
After every sixth turn, a voting session took place at the Star Chamber location. Players’ citizens had to be present at the Star Chamber location in order to vote, and each citizen usually had one vote. Cards could be played in order to increase or decrease the number of votes each citizen received.
Players distributed their votes between three categories:
- Power Play – Winning three Power Play votes won a player the game, and each Power Play further allowed a player an option between various bonuses. These included “declaring war,” “assassination” of an opponent’s hero, and a bonus to the player’s tech production.
- Alien Support – The Alien Support vote granted a player a bonus to his “destiny” total. Winning subsequent Alien Support votes granted an increasingly large “destiny” bonus.
- Peacekeepers – The Peacekeepers vote gave the player control of a Peacekeeper cruiser. Like the Alien Support vote, winning subsequent Peacekeepers votes gave the player control of an increasing number of Peacekeeper cruisers.
There were three ways to win a game of Star Chamber: Military Victory (conquering the opponent’s homeworld), Cultural Victory (having a “destiny point” advantage of 30 or more points; destiny points are generally gained by controlling “artifact planets”), and Political Victory (winning three Power Play votes).
Since there was a vote being held every 6 turns and a powerplay won each of those voting sessions, a 2 player game could never last more than 30 turns. This was an elegant game design choice that prevented long drawn out stalemates.
Star Chamber had a fluent flow between the three different win conditions and one of the best players once said aptly: "You don't choose how you win in star chamber, your opponent chooses how to lose." This was frequently true, because any one was usually easy to defend, but would leave one or two other paths vulnerable.
Star Chamber was originally developed by Nayantara Studios, set up by Paul Dennen, known in the game as 'merakon' and 'ender'. This company was named after his cat, a name which means something akin to 'eyes of stars'. Most of this development was done while he worked at it alone, getting help only very late in the development process. Paul Dennen was frequently found online and sometimes playing games and helped create an open, positive and constructive atmosphere that is very uncommon in online games.
Before Star Chamber was controlled by Worlds Apart, it featured phantom sealed deck Tournaments. This required a single ticket at the price of a dollar and was a complete sealed deck experience, with the one difference that you didn't get the keep the cards you drafted; only the prizes. These were very popular.
Expansion sets were divided into "blocks", which fit into the Star Chamber storyline
- Origins (November 2003)
- Incursions (July 2004)
- Rebellions (January 2005)
- The Atok Incident (November 2005)
- Descent (May 2006)
- Maelstrom (February 2007)
Shutdown and Game Closure
Star Chamber:The Harbinger Saga was shut down on March 29, 2012. As compensation, Sony Online Entertainment offered players 3 months of Gold Membership in the online fantasy role-playing games EverQuest and EverQuest II. These memberships became available on March 16, 2012.
- Official Star Chamber site: starchamber.station.sony.com
- The Star Chamber Card Trade Database: Kit's Database
- Mac Client: 
- GameSpot review of Star Chamber: 
- "SC:THS closing down". Sony.