Science Fiction Gaming

Every science fiction fan I know, at some point, wants to live and feel the stories we love. One of the best ways I know to feel science fiction is to play games based on those stories, and more specifically, board games.

I know there are many video games based on science fiction as well, but for the most part they tend to fall short when capturing the ultimate feel of the universe. Board games can often capture that spirit in spades. While there are many examples of such games I’ll just focus on my few favourites.

The best game to capture the spirit of a book is Dune from Avalon Hill. First published in 1979 this game is based on Avalon Hill’s earlier game Cosmic Encounter. I remember seeing this game on the shelves of my local book shop and having read Dune I lusted for this game more than anything I could remember. However, being of few means I was never able to purchase it while it was in publication.

Box cover of Avalon Hill’s game Dune.

It was not until I was working and after Avalon Hill was purchased by Hasbro and the game out of print that I finally managed to get my hands on a complete copy through Ebay along with the two expansions The Duel and Spice Harvest.

Dune is a game where 3-6 players take on the role of factions from the book and then through the use of bluffing, strategy, alliances, and treachery try to control the planet Arrakis, its Spice, and thereby the Universe.

I love every aspect of this game, but where it really shines is in the forming and breaking of alliances in order to further your goals. This mechanic really helps to give you the feel of plans within plans and hidden subterfuge contained within the pages of Dune itself.

I don’t get to play this game nearly often enough as it is at it’s best when there are a full compliment of six players. This, for me, is the single best game ever made and I will never part with it.

Another game that gives you the feel of science fiction coming to life is yet another game from Avalon Hill, Starship Troopers. Published in 1976 Starship Troopers was out at the same time as the film Star Wars and was able to take advantage of the sudden interest in all things science fiction.

Cover of Starship Troopers from Avalon Hill.

Based on Robert A. Heinlein’s book of the same name Starship Troopers is a two player game where one player takes on the role of the Mobile Infantry and the other takes on the side of either the Arachnids or the Skinnies depending on the scenario. No expansions were ever made for Starship Troopers, but Avalon Hill’s in house game magazine, The General, offered many interesting changes, options, and new scenarios.

As a game Starship Troopers can be waved off by many as a mere war game with science fiction trappings, but if you are a fan of Heinlein’s book this game offers an exciting chance to square off against the very dangerous Arachnids. And while the Mobile Infantry in the game is a tough lot victory is never certain and in fact is mostly in doubt for the player using that side. Starship Troopers is a tense, exciting and very tangible way to experience events from the book.

“Red Alert! ” How many times did Captain James T. Kirk call for a red alert before the U. S. S. Enterprise would engage an enemy in deep space. Watching those battles as a child I wanted to be on the bridge along with Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Checkov, and inexplicably often McCoy and Scotty. Then in 1979 I could with the release of Star Fleet Battles.

Box cover of Star Fleet Games from Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc.

Star Fleet Battles is set in the Star Fleet Universe but it does not correspond directly to the Star Trek universe as we know it today. In Star Fleet Battles you take control of a single ship, squadron or fleet as the case may be. However, be warned, Star Fleet Battles is a very rules intense game that has developed over the years to cover almost any situation that might occur.

Since Star Fleet Battles has been in almost constant development since its initial release there is a vast amount of information to supplement even the most die hard fan of this game. It’s often considered more of a lifestyle than a game.

While the learning curve is steep the rewards are even greater for those that have spent even a small amount of time learning to work with the structure of the game. Once you have the basics down it doesn’t take long to advance in knowledge to the point where you are controlling squadrons of ships in engagements against Klingons (or the Federation), Romulans, Kzinti, and many other races that have developed over the years.

Star Fleet Battles is one of those games I yearn to play on a regular basis, but don’t. However it is the one I go to when I am looking to take part in epic combat set within the Star Trek universe. Once the rules fade away you really do feel the part of a ship’s commander in the midst of a very tense and deadly battle.

These three games make up my triumvirate of science fiction games based on previously established settings, but there are many, many games with science fiction settings. Enough for every type of science fiction enthusiast or gamer type. If you want to research these and other board games I suggest heading over to the excellent gaming community over at Board Game Geek. Here you will find thousands of games and thousands of gamers.

Science fiction gaming is a wonderful way for fans like myself to participate in some small way within the worlds set down by my favourite authors and creators. I thank all the people that have developed the games where we can share these worlds with our friends.

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