Science fiction themes were front and center at GenCon this year, in a way that surpasses what I have seen in previous years. Usually the science fiction games are almost entirely tied into existing property lines, like the various Star Wars miniature battle lines produced by Fantasy Flight Games. These were certainly present, but they were matched by new science fiction games that had an appeal independent of being tied to well-established and beloved properties.
I’ll dig into several of these games more deeply in future full reviews, but for now here are some high-level looks at some of the new science fiction-themed games and expansions from GenCon.
The release of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game was one of the central events of the convention, the science fiction/space fantasy game set in the distant future of Paizo’s Pathfinder universe. We’ve spoken about Starfinder previously (see here, here, and here). I’ve been enthusiastic about the prospect of this game since the day it was announced, so it’s a pleasure to see that its release was an astounding success. As Erik Mona of Paizo explained to me, the company had looked at their past records and brought more copies of the Starfinder Core Rulebook than the number of any previous book they’ve ever released at GenCon … and it sold out in less than 7 hours. (The PDF, however, is available through Paizo.com for only $9.99!)
Starfinder demos were running all weekend, focusing on both the individual roleplay mechanic and also on the starship combat, and the organized play through the Starfinder Society drew a lot of interest. Walking path the ballroom where they held their organized play events, there was almost always a line of people waiting to play in a Starfinder game, and the demo tables in the Exhibit Hall were also almost always full.
The starship combat mechanic is built around the idea that each member of the party is assigned to a station on their starship, allowing everyone to partake in activities during space combat. As Mona explained, this was in part to avoid the problems that arose in the classic D&D space setting, Spelljammer, where the starships were run solely by a single magic-user jacking into the ship … meaning that space combat was basically a one-on-one game between the Dungeon Master and the magic-user, while the rest of the party had nothing to do. Instead, everyone on the ship has something to contribute.
In addition to the game itself, Paizo had a variety of supporting materials, such as maps (including hexagonal space maps), a re-skinned version of their Combat Pad, and a GM screen. The company Ninja Division had unpainted resin miniatures available, with both character and starship miniatures, and within a couple of months will come releases of these figures as a line of prepainted plastic miniatures. Syrinscape is releasing sound effects specifically designed to align with Starfinder.
The first Starfinder Adventure Path has released (on PDF, at least, after selling out at GenCon), and there will be Alien Archive (the Starfinder variant of a Bestiary) coming soon. Next year will see the release of a hardcover supplement detailing the various Pact Worlds of the central solar system, the core setting location for Starfinder.
We will definitely hear more about Starfinder moving forward, and if the enthusiasm shown at its first GenCon appearance is any indication, we will probably be hearing more about it for a long time to come.
Star Trek Games
Star Trek made an appearance in GenCon in a variety of forms. Gale Force Nine had two new expansions for their Star Trek: Ascendancy board game, offering the Cardassian Alliance and the Ferengi Alliance for gameplay. One aspect of Ascendancy is that the game is distinctly asymmetrical, where the Federation must operate under the Prime Directive and is limited from aggression against new worlds, but the other factions (Klingons and Romulans in the base game) are able to invoke far more aggressive gameplay. The Cardassians and Ferengi both add new dynamics to the game, where Cardassians use their overseer powers to extract greater resources from planets they subjugate while the Ferengi’s proficiency at trade allows them an economic advantage over other players.
Even more significantly, they had a copy of their upcoming Borg Assimilation expansion available for demo, and this is a real changer for the game. The major issue I have with Ascendancy is that it’s designed to be a three-player game, and when I’m in the mood to play there aren’t always two other people who are enthusiastic about sitting down for a three-hour strategy game. But the Borg Assimilation expansion introduces an automated enemy into the game to control the Borg, so not only can they be thrown in as a non-player enemy in regular games, but the rulebook also includes rule variants that allow for 1- or 2-player Ascendancy games.
Modiphius Entertainment released their new Star Trek Adventures (Amazon, RPGNow) roleplaying game, which I reviewed over the last year as I participated in the living playtest (here and here). The game does an exceptional job of capturing the feel of Star Trek, and if you’re a real fan then you may well be interested not only in the core rulebook, but also in the miniatures line, the customized dice, and … heck, just look into the whole Borg Cube collector’s boxed set.
Star Wars Games
The license for Star Wars games is held by Fantasy Flight Games, and they certainly make abundance use of it, with space combat miniature games like X-Wing and Armada, the miniature combat game Imperial Assault, and their newest version of the Star Wars roleplaying games. Here are three new Star Wars products on the horizon that are well worth looking out for:
- Star Wars: Legion – A miniatures unit-scale infantry battle game, just announced at GenCon. Here’s some great coverage of it from Geek & Sundry, or check it out at Fantasy Flight.
- Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise of the Empire expansion – This expansion for the cinematic board game Star Wars: Rebellion introduces key figures from Rogue One as leaders in the game, as well as missions and other cards that tie into the film. It also. You can learn more about the game from the Fantasy Flight website or pre-order it from Amazon (or your local game store).
- Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition – Fantasy Flight has released a new version of the classic West End Games version of the Star Wars roleplaying game.
More Science Fiction Games
Those certainly weren’t all of the science fiction games. Here are some more glimpsed at GenCon that are worth a closer look:
- Rail Raiders Infinite – You are a space cowboy, a bandit moving to rob a space train. But watch out for the robot lawmen charged with protecting the train! This game isn’t available to the broader public yet, but here is their Kickstarter page. The game is produced by Ninja Division, so the miniatures are pretty cool.
- Planet Mercenary – Based on the Schlock Mercenary web comic, this space opera RPG could have been seen as a gimmick, but it’s a serious tome with a unique rule system and sleek production values. Plus, the alien races include sentient anthropomorphic elephants and koalas, so that alone makes it worth playing at least one session … and you can find out more and order your copy at the Planet Mercenary website.
- Clank! In Space – A new standalone deck-building adventure game, in which you play a group of thieves trying to steal prized possessions from evil Lord Eradikus’ flagship, Eradikus Prime. The game involves Find out more about the game, including watching some great gameplay videos. And, if you can’t wait for Clank! In Space to become more widely available and are looking for a game with a more fantasy feel, check out the original Clank!
- Dr. Who – This upcoming game builds upon the wealth of characters, both heroes and villains, from the Doctor Who universe to create a time travel adventure board game. It uses a build-as-you-go game board which looks like an intriguing approach to gameplay. Here’s more information at the Gale Force Nine website.
- Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats – Gale Force Nine is also returning to the Firefly universe to create a cooperative miniatures game where you play the crew of the starship Serenity tryin’ to get by on a day of dishonest labor. The Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats game is slated for release in the final quarter of 2017.
- Planet of the Apes – This board game is a long way from being fully realized, as it won’t even hit Kickstarter until next spring, but I was able to get an early demo and it’s worth saying that the game certainly has potential. The multi-level game board allows you to play apes that are able to move horizontally and vertically through the tree line while battling non-player controlled human agents that are attacking you. Here’s a picture of the early prototype of the game, but the company making it has one successful Kickstarter under their belt, so it’s worth seeing what they’ll put together for the final product. In their words, the wood of the tree trunks will probably be less realistic than actual wood while the leaves will probably be more realistic than cut posterboard. If you want to get updated on its advancement, sign up for notifications at their website.
Am I the only one that noticed three of those games had to do with space heists? And two of them were space cowboys performing the heists! Why so much lawlessness in the future?
Did you see any other science fiction games at GenCon that you’d like to let us know about? Add a comment down below to spread the word!