This is a loose comparison. That is ALL.
I’m not saying one is better than the other. It’s a little bit like comparing BECMI D&D to the most recent version of Traveller. They’ve both got a lot going for them. They’ve both got some flaws.
Obviously, I’ve been around Star Frontiers a great deal longer than Starfinder has been in print. Star Frontiers has been around as long as GI JOE. That’s saying something. Paizo is a relatively new company compared to (Original) T$R.
I’ve played/run a lot of space games. I’ve mentioned several here on my blog before. Star Wars, Star Trek, Starship Troopers, Shatterzone, and Star Frontiers round out my Top 5, but there are so many more. Starfinder would definitely be in my Top 10.
Pros and Cons for both.
Star Frontiers Pros (In no particular order.:)
- Compact. Other than modules and scattered magazine articles, it’s easily contained in three main books.
- Fully Developed Ship Combat. Knight Hawks pretty much covers it.
- OSR. It’s an Old School game in all its glory. They just don’t make it that way any more. Longevity speaks volumes. Developed by some of the biggest names in the RPG industry.
- Fan material. Egads, there are some seriously dedicated Star Frontiers fans out there. 40 years in and still going strong. Fanzines, modules and fan sites abound!
- Broad. Wide reaching expanse of systems and beyond to be explored and catalogued aside from what’s in the core books.
- Simple System. Makes for good beer-n-pretzels gaming. Not a lot of complicated skill lists to try to remember. Combat can be swift, bloody, and easily resolved in theatre of the mind.
Star Frontiers Cons.
- Zebulon’s Guide. Was actually supposed to be the first of three books. It, umm, well… It flopped. Most fans and critics alike have issues with this book. There were better articles in Polyhedron and Dragon magazines. It’s overall okay, but the rework of the dice system was totally unnecessary.
- Aesthetic. To me, the game will always look very 2001 Space Odyssey meets Lost in Space or Space 1999. Our ideas about technology and ergonomics have advanced. I always used to laugh at original Star Trek when they were still using giant crescent wrenches in engineering, but by the time Next Gen happened, they had all glass touch screens and beam splitters. Star Frontiers just looks very 1970’s-1980’s.
- Production Quality. Times have changed. Boxed sets are no longer practical financially. The reprints of Knight Hawks don’t really do it justice. While the nostalgia of playing games with hex maps and cardboard chits is great, (seriously!) It doesn’t hold up next to 3D printed minis and roll-out felt hex star maps. (*Okay, I was spoiled on Babylon 5, Battlefleet Gothic, and Silent Death. Sorry.)
- Lack of Official Expansion. You get Alpha Dawn, Knight Hawks, and Zeb’s Guide. That’s about it apart from those sweet, sweet, modules and a bunch of magazine articles that are no longer available. Tons of fan material scattered all over the Internet.
- Pre-OGL. This was released way before there was any real Open Game License in RPGs. Unfortunately, when T$R was bought out by Wizards of the Coast, some of the rights issues with various intellectual properties, art, etc became super tricky. Then there’s “NuTSR” who made an even bigger mess.
Basically, it’s okay to write all the fan material you’d like as long as you distribute it freely. But if you intend to make any money, this is not the game for you. It’s not like the old T$R crew is hiring for new Star Frontiers designers ever again. Then again, even they abandoned it. Sigh.
- To be continued, never. Unless something dramatic happens, we’re never going to see a new, official edition of Star Frontiers. There are so many things we would have liked to have seen happen with this game.
I think the skill system in Star Frontiers deserves some discussion. If one is just using Alpha Dawn Expanded Rules, skills are okay-ish. Knight Hawks adds starship skills at great expense. Zebulon’s Guide attempted to rewrite the whole thing and made it more complicated than I think most of us would have liked. -1CS for me, I suppose.
Starfinder Pros and Cons:
In this corner, weighing in at one huge rulebook and more sourcebooks than we know what to do with- Starrrrfiiiinderrr! People keep saying “Just play Pathfinder” when it comes to comments about fantasy games. For a long time D20 Star Wars fans got bombarded with much the same about Starfinder. I haven’t heard anyone say I should give up Star Frontiers for Starfinder yet. It could happen, though.
- Rich system mechanics and setting. Even the core rulebook is packed with character classes, alien species, magic, weapons, spaceships, and so much more. The setting is all in pretty much one system, so huge jumps through hyperspace won’t be absolutely necessary until later supplements. However, the worlds one can visit are very well defined.
- Open License. Anyone can contribute to Starfinder Infinite. It’s possible to get paid for writing more awesome fan material for this game! Plus you can go there and find stuff other fans have done.
Yeah. Not only Starfinder Infinite, but there are some really cool third party sourcebooks for this game. Personally, I love mecha. There are mecha rules galore. With some kitbashing, I can build the deep space mecha game I’ve always wanted.
- Fantasy compatible. Pathfinder is Starfinder’s big brother of sorts. What does that mean? Elves in spaaaaace! Yup. Gnomes with laser pistols. Magic. The whole nine yards. It’s cool. Kind of like an old game called Dragonstar.
- Everyone has a seat: The entire adventuring group can man the guns, computers, shields, and pilot’s chair in starship combat. Your characters are the bridge crew!
- Galaxy Exploration Manual. This book changed my whole outlook on the game. While the in-system campaign is fun and all, I really wanted to explore the rest of the Universe in this game system. It basically turns Starfinder into Star Trek only with all the magic and giant robot combat.
- Artwork and Layout. Art sells books. The artwork in Starfinder is outstanding! Plus the layout, borders and typesetting are near perfect. If nothing else, it’s a very attractive set of books.
- Stuffed! While I love the diverse, rich, involved game Starfinder is, I gotta say in terms of product (expansions, sourcebooks, etc) it’s a bit bloated. Much like 3rd Ed D&D, there are tons of books for Starfinder and another massive collection of books from third parties. Also like D&D, you just have to pick and choose what you wish to allow as a GM.
- Thick Core Book. Does anyone else think a 500+ page rulebook seems excessive? It’s no Pathfinder 2E, (700+ pages, same company.) but…
- Magic?!? You just got fantasy all over my sci fi. You just got sci fi all over my fantasy! Mmm nom nom nom… Two great tastes that sorta go together? Kinda? I would have preferred psionics, technomagic, and maybe have the actual “magic” like OGL D&D spells introduced later. They didn’t even try to fake it.
- Restricted to one star system. The original game was set entirely in one star system. As I mentioned in the Pros, the Galaxy Exploration Manual fixes this. I see why they did it, but I think a lot of players would prefer space games set in an open sandbox.
- Starship Combat. Seems to borrow a few pages out of a couple of other games. It’s okay, but then again it’s only okay. Designing a starship is fun. Combat isn’t super lethal, but it’s a good idea for characters to know where the emergency spacesuits and escape pods are just in case of a lucky crit.
- Price Tag. Unfortunately, the more books a game has, the more expensive it becomes for the completist. You can get by with the core rulebook and some dice. Maybe less if the GM prints a few pages of the pdf and lends you some dice. However, if you want all the freaky alien species, sleek cybernetics, cool starships, big mecha, and so forth, it’s gonna cost quite a bit.