Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Star Trek & Gaming : A retrospective.

As with the Babylon 5 Universe, much interest surrounded the Star Trek franchise with regards to gaming. The TV series alone features large set piece battles in deep space between Federation ships and alien vessels, so it comes as no surprise that fans would eventually want to recreate these battles in game form.

For this look at gaming in the Star Trek universe, I will not be looking at video game adaptations, as there have been a lot made over the years and warrant a piece of their own, instead, I am going to have a look at some of the more notable entries in the tabletop gaming and CCG aspect.

Star Fleet Battles - 1979

First produced by Task Force games in the U.S.A, Star Fleet Battles is a follow on work to the unlicensed 1972 "Star Trek Battle Manual".
Using miniatures or counters, this was the first real attempt to produce a space combat game set in the Star Trek universe as it was prior to the release of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" in 1979 (essentially including everything featured in the Original series, plus the animated series)
The game follows the usual premise of having the players make a fleet for whichever race they choose (the game also contains rules for creating your own unique race and designing their spacecraft) , designing a scenario, and then fighting it out to see who is best.
The rules themselves are quite complex, leaning more towards fleet level actions and stressing the importance of looking after ships and using equipment and tactics as opposed to just charging in guns blazing, but game play can sometimes get bogged down with the more RPG aspects, requiring dice rolling to see which sub systems on ships are affected and applying modifiers to dice rolls etc.

Nonetheless, Star Fleet Battles continues to be one of the most, if not THE most popular Star Trek based tabletop miniatures game on the market, with various source books, rules updates and rejigged editions of the core rule book being released at semi regular intervals.
Although numerous "official" SFB miniatures have been released over the years, numerous miniatures companies make ships which are compatible with the system, and, with the advent of generally available 3d printers and 3d computer design, just about any ship can be made available for your fleet, all you need is some minis, a few hex bases, and you're off!.

Star Trek: The Customizable Card Game - 1994

Published by Decipher inc, this CCG is unusual as it is one of the few licenced Star Trek products to use imagery and plot lines from the TNG and movie era.
Using a play system which would later be adapted for their "Star Wars" card game, like all CCGs it requires players to purchase packs of cards to build gaming decks with.
In terms of actual game play, players would begin by placing cards from their "seed deck" which would take the form of locations and/or objectives to form a "spaceline", which they would then use cards from their "main deck" to travel along to complete missions, partake in ship and land battles or to fulfill some objective to secure victory points in order to become the winner.
Although the game enjoyed considerable popularity, with over 15 complete booster sets being released, as well as several different editions of the game and numerous variant methods of play being officially sanctioned, many players criticised the game play, citing that it was excessively complicated, especially so when a mechanic was introduced that meant that players would find themselves needing to construct additional side decks to accommodate "Q continuum" or "tribble" cards.
In many respects, ST:ccg played like a hybrid of a CCG and an RPG, many players found this a refreshing change, however those who were used to games such as Magic: The Gathering disliked the games various RPG like mechanics, which tended to make games somewhat long to play, especially in multiplayer games. That said, at its peak, ST:ccg was the third most popular ccg on the market, behind M:TG and Pokemon tcg.
The end came somewhat unexpectedly in 2007, when Decipher inc announced that they were discontinuing their ccg systems to concentrate more on their RPG and board game products, within a year they had disposed of their entire range of ccg products and had removed any mentions of "Star Trek" from their website.
The game still enjoys a cult following to this day though, with numerous "virtual" sets and rule updates being created by fans.

Federation Commander - 2005

Produced by the Amarillo Design Bureau, Federation Commander is essentially a simplified version of Star Fleet Battles, intended to make games quicker and simpler for those who do not have the time or patience to get to grips with SFBs somewhat complex rules and play style.
Using many of the same rules as SFB, FC is again set in the Star Trek universe as it was before 1979 and refers to itself as taking place during the non-canon "General War" period, thus providing a handy-dandy "get out" clause as to why everyone wants to kill each other.
FC uses the same miniatures and set up as SFB, and enjoys some popularity, with regular expansion books, boxed games, scenario packs and a thriving fan based home brew community providing feedback to the developers. The game is also somewhat unique in that it releases "booster packs" of cards containing ship tracking cards and equipment add ons, at the time of writing, there have been about 30 different booster sets for players to add variation to their fleets with.

Star Trek: A Call To Arms - 2011

Coming out at roughly the same time as their "Babylon 5: A Call To Arms" gaming system, and riding the wave of interest following the release of the "reimagined" 2009 Star Trek movie, Mongoose publishing had a stab at using their established "ActA" system with Star Trek.
Almost identical in gameplay to the B5 game, again players would build a fleet and using measuring tapes, dice and miniatures, fight a battle in the Star Trek universe.
Like its B5 counterpart though, Star Trek: ActA vapourised when Mongoose decided to cease production of miniatures wargames in order to concentrate on their much more successful (and cheaper to produce) paper and pencil RPG systems.
That said, ST:ActA was never as popular as B5:ActA, but still enjoys a lot of online fan interest, with "official" minitures changing hands on ebay for good prices now that they have been long discontinued.

Star Trek: Tactics - 2012

The Star Trek licence was next picked up by miniatures game manufacturers Wizkids.
Star Trek: Tactics was essentially a version of their highly successful "Heroclix" game, using ships from the Star Trek universe coupled with their "clixbase" game mechanic to produce a quick to play starship combat game.
Over the course of its run, Tactics had three distinct versions, numbered one to three (Tactics I, Tactics II and Tactics III) all of which added additional rules, races and ships. As standard, the game was available in "boxed" format, containing all the game play essentials, with additional ships being purchased in "blind bag" format, in the same way as Heroclix is sold.
Although the game enjoyed a small level of popularity, it never really took off, as most players saw the game system as being too simple and too similar to Heroclix to accurately represent a space combat game.
Officially, ST:Tactics has not been discontinued, however no new releases for it have been made since 2013.

Star Trek: Attack Wing - 2013

Wizkids were not done withe the Star Trek licence just yet, and, following on from their successful "Star Wars: X-wing" game, they adapted the rule set to produce this game.
ST:AW allows players to use a points system to build fleets and give the individual ships crews and equipment. Generally a fleet will consist of about 3 or 4 ships, and uses Wizkids' proprietary "FlightPath" manoeuvre system (a series of bespoke movement templates to represent sharp turns, shallow turns and straight manoeuvres, used in conjunction with "manoeuver dials" to plot ship courses for the turn) as well as red and green D8s to represent ships firepower and defensive abilities.
Numerous cardboard tokens are included with the games starter sets and expansion packs which are used in game to represent shields, targeting markers, sensor pings and alert conditions, all of which are used in relation to actions performed by ships.
What makes this game unique is the use of semi-collectable playing cards containing ship, crew and equipment data. Each card is allocated a faction and a point value, which players must choose when building their fleets, in this sense, it eliminates the need for record sheets etc as used by other similar space combat games. Many cards used in this war will have different versions, either using different artwork, or representing different versions of the same characters/ships from different points in the universe history.
The game comes as a "Boxed" starter kit, and players can purchase "Expansion" packs containing a single ship, plus cards, tokens and scenarios for use with that ship. Wizkids have also made special "Prize" ships and items available through Organized play events, which are usually based on episodes or storylines from the various TV series.
This game still enjoys some popularity, with new ships being released on a rough 3-monthly basis, however some players (myself included) have criticised the games system for not following the "feel" of the Star Trek universe. Many of the problems with the game system include numerous "grey areas" created by new items and characters being released which cause problems or conflicts with existing basic game play mechanics, leading to unbalanced game play and unbeatable combinations of ships and equipment. most notable in the games failures is the fact that the rules, although perfectly ok for X-wing type "dogfights", do not lend themselves terribly well to being a fleet/squadron level capital ship combat simulation. For example, there is little to nothing by way of combined actions or fleet bonuses, aside from the aforementioned "unbeatable card combos" that crop up and spoil it for everyone.

Nevertheless, when played "as intended" ST:AW can be an enjoyable game, albeit one in desperate need of an overhauled "2nd edition" rule set.

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