An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death: The Next Millennium (Part II)

An Inaudible Blast from the Past: Silent Death: The Next Millennium (Part II)

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Silent Death: The Next Millennium Deluxe Edition (ICE, 1995). Cover art by Kevin Ward

In Part I of this two-part series on the iconic space combat miniatures game Silent Death – Metal Express, published by Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) in 1990, I discussed the game’s history and basic mechanics. Due to various factors, I.C.E. ceased production of their original Silent Death – Metal Express game after the Night Brood expansion was released in 1992. Part 2 discusses what happened after that decision.

ICE took the bold move to reboot Silent Death rather than try and fix it through further expansions. In 1995 a new version, Silent Death: The Next Millennium (TNM), hit the shelves. By all accounts it was an immediate hit that saw a number of reprints over the next few years. The Deluxe Edition box set was impressive, including a huge rulebook that revised and expanded the original rules while providing the balance that the punters craved. It came with 48 plastic miniatures with revised ship designs as well as much of the same setup paraphernalia as the original game box.

On a personal level I found the whole reboot somewhat vexing. Having invested a lot in the original game, I was super upset that it and all it stood for had been swept aside. TNM had also become expensive beyond my reach. So for the next few years, apart from the occasional nostalgic game using the original rules, Silent Death took a back seat for me, until my finances improved and I discovered eBay some years later.

While ICE pursued a vigorous publication schedule, things were far different. The expansions they’d planned for the original game were revised and released in quick succession, while numerous additional supplements followed. Silent Death: The Next Millennium went from strength to strength. The last official expansion for their flagship science fiction RPG SpaceMaster was released in 1994, and Silent Death appears to have taken up the slack and continued to expand on what had come before.

[Click the images for deep-space sized versions.]

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Silent Death: The Next Millennium Deluxe Edition (back cover)

A standalone rulebook was also released for TNM, which went some way to alleviate the financial burden on owners of the original set who wished to upgrade. ICE also release a slimmer and thus cheaper Rookie Rules book to entice new players.

The core rules came in a perfect bound 168-page book which provided revised space ship write ups and displays for all the ships in the original set. It also included:

  • a three-page introduction
  • some What is New notes for players of the original game
  • 42 pages on the Universe
  • the Silent Death canon, in far greater detail than had come before
  • 47 pages of rewritten and refined rules, which included a detailed and revised system to design one’s own space ship
  • plus details of fighter units, scenarios and campaigns

Box contents for Silent Death: The Next Millennium

One feature I particularly liked is a sidebar on each page that read like a short story, giving a personal account of a crew as they worked their way through various challenges, allowing one to visualize the rules. This endearing feature perpetuated through most of the supplements that followed.

What was nice about TNM is that ICE got the balance right. While the game play remained essentially unchanged in concept, ship costs were adjusted and players paid a premium for heavier fighters. In the unbalanced gameplay example I explored back in Part 1, for example, a Pit Viper now has a BPV of 12, while its arch nemesis, the Night Hawk, has a more respectable 47 BPV.

The Next Millennium (with mounted ships)

Another good example is the Betafortress gunboat. This main battle tank of any squadron was a mere 75 BPV in Black Guard, whereas its revised price in TNM is 216. TNM also went as far as to present two additional Betafortress variants, Alpha and Beta, which came in at 218 and 220 BPV respectively.

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Renegades, The Espan Rebellion. Cover art by Kevin Ward

Supplements and expansions came out swiftly thereafter. Here’s a look at the catalog, in order of stock number.

  • Renegades: The Espan Rebellion #7210 (1995). This was intended to be the fourth supplement for the original game but was reworked to fit with TNM. It’s an account of the Espan Civil war, which was one facet of the Imperial Civil War. The parallels to Argentinian and even Spanish 20th Century history are plain to see in the first 13 pages of this 80-page manual. The lion’s share of Renegades is given over to scenarios. Six new ships are detailed, and there’s a short section on various fighter units. A small section at the end details some new equipment with associated expansion rules. One of the ships detailed here – The Scorpion – went on to become a must have for any decent size campaign related battle, as a dedicated salvage ship. When playing a campaign, rescuing crew and salvaging knocked out ships becomes a critical task when pools of available points start drying up.
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  • Sunrunners #7211 (1996) — Forces. This book was the first with the new cover design that remained standard until near the end of the range. Going forward books were categorized as Forces, Races, House and Annex. The 80-page Sunrunners details a loose group of outlaws and mercenaries who wander the Forward Frontier. I always got a Firefly/Serenity feel from this book, notwithstanding the fact that it came out well before the TV series. As with previous expansions a certain format is evident, where portions are given over to The Universe, Scenarios, New Equipment and Rules and lastly 9 new ships plus 2 existing gunboat revisions. Future releases kept the same structure.

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  • Warhounds #7212 (1996). A 105-page perfect bound book and one of the few that does not have the same cover design as the other supplements. It is pretty much a game in itself, detailing all there is to know about combat using escort and frigate class ships between its colorful covers. Warhounds are big! They take up two hex spaces and move differently from fighters and gun boats. With large crews, thick armor and devastating weaponry, they are deadly. 13 Warhounds are detailed, from the relatively miniscule (by comparison) Ushas at 343 BPV and Megafortress at 482 BPV through to the devastating Longboat at 921 BPV. Consider that the biggest ship available until Warhounds was released was the Betafortress Beta gunboat at a respectable 220 BPV, this book provides a jump into the big league. Warhounds is divided evenly into rules specific to this class of ship — including guidelines for designing one’s own Warhound — and house specific features of certain ships, along with a few scenarios and campaign ideas.

  • Night Brood First Contact #7213 (1996) – Races. A 60 page rehash of the original Night Brood box set, this time in a saddle stitched volume. Very similar in design to the original, even sharing the same cover art, but it does update, refine and align rules while providing additional ships, and a handy board of punch out alien ship counters as well as their equivalent of torps and missiles – spores.
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  • Universal Night Watch #7214 (1997) – Forces. The solution to The Grubs’ invasion. Something I had not mentioned before: The Grubs are lethal! Traditional weapons and tactics are only partially successful against them. A small squadron of grubs can easily breeze through a far bigger and more heavily armed human squadron. The Universal Night watch is a coalition of 12 major houses that has developed specific ships and weaponry to fight the onslaught of the Night Brood. Includes 6 new fighters, 1 new escort and 2 new grub ships.
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  • Operation Dry Dock #7215 (1997) – Annex. A 92-page sourcebook collecting all the human ships previously published, as well as numerous variants of most of the fighters and gun boats.
  • Sigurd Archdiocese #7216 (1997) – House. This 64 page sourcebook details the realm of the Church of Odin. Details 11 ships and variants, some of which have appeared in previous supplements, such as the Longboat Warhound.
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  • Kashmere Commonwealth #7217 (1997) – House. A sourcebook detailing this inter-system corporate conglomeration. 68 pages including 9 ships and variants along with special rules about freight.
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  • Rules of Warfare #7218 (1997) – Annex. This is ICE’s official guide to tournament style engagements. It comes with a set of thin pull out card pages with various ships, torpedoes etc. to cut out as well as a set of fold out glossy paper hex boards. It includes advice on how to set up and run tournaments, and provides 5 unique-to-tournament prize ships. The idea was that only official tournament competitors would have access to the miniatures as prizes, which would not be for general sale. 30 Pages.
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  • Space Junk #7219 (1997) – Annex. A 66-page sourcebook with rules for satellites, outposts, mines, wormholes and various different space terrains. Stats for 7 satellites / outposts of varying size and complexity, a minesweeper and The Solar Worm, an unexplained phenomena space creature that can be played using Warhound rules.

  • Fighter Tactics Manual #7720 (1997) – Annex. This 60-page manual delves into various tactics, hit and damage likelihoods, and many other aspects of the game that will help a player hone their skills. For a guy like me whose brother beat him 90% of the time, this really helped level the playing field. In terms of new ships, this book is a milestone, as it is the first one to explore redeploying the original game models as new ships. For example, the undersized Pharsii II model from the original game became the Bat heavy fighter. A total of 6 ships have been accommodated here, all redeployed models, all cleverly done and highly usable.

  • Hostile Takeover #7221 (1997) – Annex. A scenario pack detailing the aggressive financial negotiations of the Kashmere Commonwealth. This book follows on from the Espan Rebellion and Kashmere Commonwealth books to detail an interesting What Thereafter set of scenarios. Includes 16 ships, a mix of new, refits and existing vessels that support the module and prevent you from having to buy another supplement. At least 4 more are redeployed original game miniatures.
  • ASP Technocracy #7222 (1998) – House. This house has a culture of embracing science, including cybernetic bio links which have their own detailed rules. The game canon in this book is generally more in depth than any of its predecessors. It presents an intriguing read in its own right. 6 unique new ASP-specific ships, which border on Night Brood in terms of look and feel, are detailed within the book’s 60 pages, plus two refits or ships from TNM core rules.

  • Yoka-Shan Warworld #7223 (1998) – House. This 68-page source book details a powerful warrior culture based house. I always smile when I review the ships in this book as many have Zulu language names, which are often the name of certain household products where I come from. Details 7 new ships and variants, as well as a refit of a TNM core rules fighter.
  • Q’raj Void Protectorate #7224 (1999) – House. A perfect bound 114-page book detailing the federation of colony planets peopled predominantly by peoples of Middle Eastern ancestry. It is one of the few books that deviates from the common cover design, sharing a look closer to that of Warhounds. It also shares a modified version of the cover art from the original game rulebook and box. Why let a super cool picture go to waste! Q’raj was heavily involved in the Grub War and as such many of their ships are configured with a purpose akin to Universal Night Watch. The book details 8 QVP specific refits, 10 new satellite / outpost variants, 5 redeployed original game ships plus 2 brand new ships.
  • Rules of Warfare II #7225 (1999) – Annex. Very much the same format as its predecessor, just new scenarios and variants of the 5 ships defined in Rules of Warfare.
  • More Than Valor #7226 (2000) – Forces. Another perfect bound book deviating from the standard look. I’m seeing a pattern forming. Perfect bound = alternate cover look. This 110-page book is about playing fighter aces. Having pilots progress through experience, skills in excess of the standard 10 points, customizing ships, and many other aspects of a game a skilled player would like to meddle with. It is about style. It is in my opinion, this is where Silent Death crosses over from scenarios to proto RPG-type characters who fly ships. Includes existing ship refits and two new ships, one of which is a original game re-purpose.

  • House Colos #7227 (2000) – House. They were there in the beginning (Overkill) and now in the end. This 36-page sourcebook was the last hard copy Silent Death item ICE produced. The cover layout is similar to More Than Valor although it is saddle stitched. It follows the standard house sourcebook format, detailing the arsenal of this formidable house. Includes 6 new ships and variants as well as refits of existing ships, plus one redeployed original game ship. This book had a major omission: the ship display for one of the new ships, the Dracula class, was omitted. It was freely downloadable at the ICE site back in the day.

Sadly, House Colos was the last official Silent Death expansion released before ICE filed for bankruptcy in October 2000. Over and above these expansions, ICE did release a number of other supporting items such as plastic miniatures boxes (Wings of Death, Near Space Objects, Plastic Assortment Set), a bespoke huge battle map, ship builder software on 3.5” disk (later downloadable) and of course all the miniatures for ships described here, in blister packs.

Assorted miniature packs for The Next Millennium

Several TNM items were marked as Combat Express, which is somewhat confusing. Was it a simple brand engineering exercise to differentiate TNM from the original Metal Express moniker, or was there some other meaning? Working from vague memory of teasers in mid-1990’s catalogs and release lists in the back pages of some manuals, ICE may have planned to expand into terrestrial miniatures gaming conversions (Steel Warriors, Space Rangers), although this remains mere speculation on my part.

ICE did a fantastic job with all their supplements. Well written and laid out with good cover and interior art, the items are as attractive today as when they were published. They were of a superior print quality that I can attest can stand up to multiple use, but from an editing standpoint were not all perfect, as a few had errors on space ship displays that should have been avoided.

It was sad when ICE ceased to be, but thankfully Silent Death has lived on, experiencing various changes in ownership. The game has not only continued to exist but has indeed expanded:

  • Operation Dry Dock II #7228 – Annex (2004) Mythic Entertainment. Available for online purchase as a PDF, this manual has the same look and feel as most of the previous ICE publications. Indeed it is still branded ICE on the cover, which also features the artwork from the original game box (again). Detailing ships of small houses as well as older imperial era vessels, Dry Dock II delivers 23 new ships, many of which are redeployed original game items, including the original game Talon, now known as a Shrike.
  • Hangar 51 #7300 – Annex. ICE (new) A massive 266 page downloadable PDF detailing 233 different Silent Death ships, with all space ship display errors fixed. For anyone serious about the game and less concerned with the official canon, this is a must have. It does not however detail Dry Dock II ships.
  • House Falstaff #7201 – House (2006) Mythic Entertainment. Detailing another house previously not covered. Relatively slim 26-page PDF that details 3 new ships and 2 refits.

Silent Death remains alive and now lives at where many extra miniatures are for sale, plus free downloadable campaign rules and additional refits. Download a copy of the rulebook and start your own battles.

You don’t even have to use the specific ships available, as it is possible come up with your own designs to suit your game needs. You want a crossover where a squadron of Original BSG Cylon Raiders take on a Federation ship, this is the system that will allow it to happen!

Tony Den is an occasional contributor at Black Gate. His coverage until now has concentrated on forgotten or overlooked book series, interspersed with the occasional classic Sci-Fi – often in Ace Double format – retro review. His website RuneQuest.orc has finally had all data moved to Word Press and awaits publication into a production version.

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