Saturday, February 2, 2008

Featured Game: Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers

Can one design a "historical" wargame based on something in the fictional future?
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers proves you can. On one level this is a classic, hex-and-counter wargame with the dense rules, intricate procedures and involved gameplay typical of such efforts, especially those form the mid-1970s. On the other hand the game is a very faithful reproduction of the battlefield action from the novel, including all the key skirmishes.
For the Terran forces most units are individual troopers in three varieties. Most are standard battlesuit-equipped "marines." Each had the firepower of a 21st-century battle tank, with additional firepower in the form of nuclear or high-explosive rocket launchers and chemical weapons. Seven of these comprise a squad, joined by a "scout" with weaker armor but more speed and a leader, with more speed but less firepower. The squad leaders do double duty as sectionleaders and their assistants or platoon leader/platoon sergeant. While adding flavor, the organzational structure doesn't have any real game effect. All the troopers are highly trained and enjoy data-linked communications so there are no command and control limitations.
The Terrans are supported by non-armored engineer platoons and psychic-enabled "special talents."
Opposing the Terrans at first, but later allied with them are the "Skinnies," a humanoid alien race with a roughly late 20th-century technology. Their army consists mostly of non-battlesuited infantry squads backed by some tank-like beam and missile-launching vehicles.
The most intractable foes for the Terrans are the Arachnids, an insectlike alien race that resemble spiders but have an antlike hive-based social structure. They also have a ranged heavy beam weapon but most of their troops are masses of warrior and worker "bugs." The Arachnids live underground in tunnel complexes and the main tension of the game is created by the Terrans, who are operating on the surface in full view of the Arachnids, trying to discern the extent of the underground Arachnid hives (which are tracked on a paper "alien control pad."
For the most part the scenarios involve Terran forces landing on the map, destroying Arachnid tunnels and then being retrieved by landing craft.
Mechanically the game is fairly standard mid-70s wargame stuff. Units have attack factors, defense factors and movement factors. Combat is resolved on an odd-sbased basis via a combat results table, although there is a twist in that the two sides use different CRTs. Likewise the turn sequence is the usual wargame "HUGO-IGO" except that the Terrans get an extra "jump" movement phase after the combat phase.
Despite being more than 30 years old, the game holds up remarkably well and still provides and interesting game experience while staying very faithful to its source material.

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