Science fiction games at GenCon 2011

To boldly go...

From the recent Trek MMO

Rounding out my look at some of the news around this year's GenCon in Indianapolis, here are some observations on science fiction role-playing games. As previously noted, one recent trend is the shift of well-known licenses among game publishers, such as The One Ring for fantasy and Marvel Heroes among comic book games. The Dresden Files RPG (for which a third book may be coming) is another example of a successful tie-in across entertainment media.

Fantasy Flight Games' announcement that it had won the Star Wars license is in keeping with this trend. There had been some speculation about which company would make the next Star Wars tabletop game, joining West End Games' popular D6 adaptation and Wizards of the Coast's polished D20/Saga Edition versions. FFG may look first to the youth market with miniatures, board games, and wargames, since Star Wars: Saga Edition was pretty complete and will be difficult to immediately surpass in quality or sales.

Margaret Weis Productions, whose Cortex system underlies Dragon Brigade, Leverage, and Marvel Heroes, apparently lost the Firefly/Serenity license. Mongoose, which made middling D20 splatbooks and been successful with the latest edition of Traveller, has dropped the Conan and Babylon 5 licenses, even as fans hope to revive those franchises. I've enjoyed the sourcebooks for all these fictional universes and look forward to seeing who gets them next.

On the other hand, Mongoose did get Star Fleet Battles and Prime Directive, which are based on the original Star Trek television series (and not its many sequels or J.J. Abrams' parallel-universe reboot). I already have the GURPS and D20 versions of Prime Directive. I've been reading up on Traveller, the granddaddy of space opera RPGs, as part of preparing for my homebrew/sandbox scenarios, so a Traveller/Trek combo could be interesting. Trekkers can also look forward to a board game from WizKids, which used to make Star Wars minis for WotC.

Speaking of my FATE 3e "Vortex" campaign, I recently got Bulldogs. The pulpy SF game (previously in D20) is a good fit for my game — so much so, that I'll probably refer to it ahead of the hard science fiction Diaspora and the thin Limitless Adventures, if not Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer, which we used to create characters. The stunts may need tweaking, but Bulldogs' rules for alien creation, equipment, combat, and starships are all clearly presented.

In other speculative fiction role-playing, the excellent Stars Without Number will be published in an expanded edition by Mongoose, but the PDF of this retro-clone, sandbox game is still free. I'd compare SwoN favorably with StarCluster 3. I've got my hardcopy of the comprehensive Stellar Horizons, and I'm looking forward to the science fiction/horror Ashen Stars and Cthonian Stars/Void (the latter will use its own system).

One reason I've enjoyed running "Vortex" is that there's little danger of either of my face-to-face adventuring parties overlapping in storylines with the many fantasy, horror, or other games that the current Boston-area players are participating in. I'll blog more about their sessions soon!

2 Responses to Science fiction games at GenCon 2011

  1. Ever the contrarian, I have to disagree that Star Wars Saga will be "difficult to surpass in quality."

    Also, after having finished playing Deathwatch, am now in a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game, and soon to be in a Rogue Trader game, you could say I'm eager to see what Fantasy Flight does with the Star Wars RPG.

  2. There are now indeed many good science fiction games, and I've been meaning to take a closer look at the Warhammer 40k RPGs. The Chronicles of Riddick struck me as a decent cinematic approximation of that universe.

    I don't doubt FFG's ability to develop and support Star Wars games, but that license does require a different tone, relatively simple rules for newer role-players, and an approach that convinces veteran gamers that it's worth setting aside D6 and D20/Saga versions to try. As my friend Dexter V.H. has observed, there are many Star Wars videogames and a few MMOs out there, but few that really stand out.

    BTW, I went to StufferShack.com — nice gaming site!