Space Games

This is just a quick start to my blog. I want to talk about my favorite, or maybe second favorite genre of RPG gaming- Space Opera. One of my first loves was superheroes. But, I used to spend hours building starship crews with Marvel Super Hero characters. Then came the Star Wars RPG from West End Games.

I picked this book up as soon as I learned of it. And yes, I still have it. I was making characters and customizing ships on day one. The system was so simple, yet exciting. Of course, back in those days, we only had the Rebellion Era.

Since then, Star Wars has undergone some serious changes as both a movie and an RPG franchise. While I like the Clone Wars era with its Jedi, the new stuff is well… So, how bout that Rebellion Era? Good times, right?

So, lets talk about another WEG space game that many have forgotten about. Did anybody ever really get into Shatterzone? It was gritty, kinda Cyberpunk-esque. You could do literally anything, but there were Mega-Corps spanning the stars and more interestingly, there were new worlds to explore. I’d love to see this game make a comeback someday. As a side note, I’m happy Torg made a comeback not too terribly long ago.

Before I get into a newer space game, I should probably mention a really well-designed, well-loved classic- Star Frontiers by T$R. I have this in three different incarnations, PDF, an old beat-up box set, and probably my favorite, the newly re-tooled Frontierspace. Turns out the good folks at DWD Games love Star Frontiers more than I do. This is another almost generic space game, simple rules set, and you can do almost anything. But the thing I think I love the most is that it’s not actually tied to a specific world. You can do literally anything with it.

I should probably pay homage to Traveler. It’s had more editions than I’d care to think about. I like this game, but I always found it a bit dry. It’s very sciencey. Like, if you took all the dramatic elements out of Star Trek and just focused on complicated engineering equations. Not to mention that most incarnations had this unbearably complex character generation system reminiscent of Space Master. (Eesh!) I don’t hate it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a campaign. It has a very small but fanatical niche in the RPG community.

Speaking of fanatical, I have owned and/or played/or have run pretty much every incarnation of the Star Trek RPG. Obviously, this game is not as combat oriented and tends to focus more on drama. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of great science fiction stories coming out of this RPG, but it definitely encourages you to stick to canon. Although hats off to Mophidius Games for doing the Klingon book. (Like, the much awaited play-as-a-Klingon-Book.) Woot! But, the drawback to Star Trek can be that you must have a dedicated, fairly serious group, preferably one who watches every episode, has regular convention attendance and maybe even shows up to Ren Faires in their Trek costumes in order to get the authentic Roddenberry experience.

I would recommend taking a look at two old space RPG’s if you can still get a hold of them. The first is Amazing Engine, also from T$R back in the day before they went bankrupt. Bug Hunters and The Galactos Barrier are both classic RPG’s. There is also a briefly popular game from the WotC days called Alternity. Aside from giving my spell checker a coronary, it’s a pretty interesting and flexible system. I think both are worth a look. Alternity is out in a new edition under Sasquatch Games.

Another setting that came to mind that stands out as a winner is WOIN N.E.W. from EN Publishing. I highly recommend everyone who is serious about their space gaming experience go check this out. Much like Star Frontiers, mentioned earlier, you can do almost anything with this system. Exploration, military, space fantasy, (compatible with the other two WOIN books,) and even gritty, semi realistic neo political cyberpunk roleplay. It’s definitely worth a look. There are also a couple of really excellent sourcebooks out for this that are worth a look if you find yourself getting interested.

Last, before I go, I don’t think an examination of space games in the last 15 years would be complete without StarFinder from Paizo Publishing. As one might expect from knowing about the company’s flagship product, Pathfinder, it’s’pretty much D&D in space.

I’ll give it a little more credit than that, though. They have done an excellent job adapting the D20 Open License to a space game. I love the characters, love the sourcebooks. It really only falls kind of flat for me in terms of the setting. Like Pathfinder, it is very specifically tied to its campaign setting. I suspect this was intentional so people didn’t suddenly run amok with their rules and characters. After all, the Universe is vast and infinite, but if you want to market and sell an rpg, it’s probably better to limit it to one or two specific star systems, right?

I know I have probably missed a few classics, and we haven’t even started on all of the generic games and adaptations. Next time I want to talk about a spin-off genre to space games, Mecha. Til then, stay safe in the real world, and happy gaming!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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