Let’s talk about Star Frontiers Knight Hawks.
Star Frontiers Day is August 19th. The game is 40 years old this year! To celebrate, I’m giving a review of the classic Knight Hawks Expansion to the Original Star Frontiers game. I have a lot of good things to say about this book and this part of the system.
If you missed out on the first printing, it’s okay. Wizards of the Coast has you covered. It’s still around as a reprint book on DriveThruRPG minus the maps, counters and cool box. You can still print the counters and the maps from the PDFs, though. If you want to go all out, I hear the lead miniatures for the ships are still floating around out there in the world, but may be decaying slightly.
It’s a classic head-to-head space battles game on top of being an RPG supplement.
I’ve played a lot of space games over the years. I think my favorite is still Starfire, but I also enjoyed Silent Death, Babylon 5, Battlefleet Gothic, Starfleet Battles, and Starfleet Tactical. Reading the Klingon Tactics in Starfleet Tactical prepared me for space battles later in life. Lol! I would say Knight Hawks ranks right up there with the best.
Overall, it’s a simple combat game. I kinda feel sorry for the RPG crew if their ship gets blown to smithereens during a tactical game. Knight Hawks can definitely be lethal to ships in terms of space battles.
Its rudimentary movement and damage systems are great for beginners.
For those unfamiliar with space battle games, Knight Hawks offers up a great starting point. Movement is straightforward. Ships have a maneuver rating and an ADF number to determine how much it can speed up or slow down on its turn. There are optional rules for planets, gravity wells, etc.
Shooting weapons and raising defenses requires a bit of reading. Not all guns shoot in all directions. Some have different ranges than others. Some work better against certain defenses. It pays to know the capabilities of one’s ship before the start of the battle. This system is simple enough that it can handle large fleet engagements once players get to know the rules a bit.
The advanced rules contain tidbits such as variable damage table, fires aboard ships, repairs, and new ship types. It gives a great basic spread of ships and how to fly them. The rules do not require a PhD in Rocket Science to know how to use them. Basically, make sure you read the ship’s stat block. The rest is fairly intuitive.
What about the roleplaying aspect?
This is what some of us old timers think was missing from Alpha Dawn. Until Knight Hawks, most campaigns were ground based. It was all away team missions and no real flying around, to use Star Trek as an analogy. The Campaign Book Expansion Rules fix a lot of what was previously missing.
With this expansion, ship design and construction become options. The freedom and independence every spacefaring adventurer dreams of are available at a hefty price. Acquiring a ship for the group could potentially involve mortgaging the family farming planet to the hilt. There are other suggested methods aside from buying a ship, but all of them come at some price to the characters eventually.
My biggest beef with the system so far are the skills.
Starship skills don’t require the standard Primary and Secondary classifications that the main Star Frontiers uses. That’s good because the space game came after Alpha Dawn and it would have been more confusing. However, starship skills cost more experience points. Yeesh. It’s almost as if they didn’t want player characters having a ship.
I’ll discuss this further when I talk about Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space in another article. I think the writers realized that the skill system didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately Zeb’s Guide didn’t quite fix the whole thing. Knight Hawks just introduces the starship skills. It’s an okay start I suppose.
I think there’s a bit of a divide between the tactical game and the RPG.
For one thing, ships are pricey in game. If the group’s ship gets into a battle with much of anything larger it might well not survive. That means there’s a pretty good chance the crew might get squished in the process. It makes most space combats an escape or chase situation similar to the Millenium Falcon vs Star Destroyer scenario.
The wargame portion is great for what it does. The RPG portion is great for interstellar travel and background information about the setting. I don’t know if it would run scenarios from other games well. For example, I don’t think Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 space battles would work well under the Star Frontiers Knight Hawks rules. The scale of battles ramps up very steeply and rapidly becomes more prone to Star Trek style battles with the capital ships/space stations.
I still give it 3.5-4 out of 5 stars. It’s a good start.
As a basic starship combat game, it’s a great place to learn. For beer-n-pretzels space game action, it’s okay. Your crew might die or go broke fast, but as long as you’re not worried about it, you’ll be fine. However, if the character you’ve been playing for years suddenly eats it on a lucky assault rocket hit? That’s grim.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep rolling on the Frontier. I appreciate you!