Classic Starship Miniatures
Overview
Space Gamer 21
Ares issue 5
 
Starfleet Wars
Terran Federation
Entomalian Empire
Avarian United Worlds
Aquarian Alliance
Carnivoran Republic
 
Stardate : 3000
United Planetary Federation
Alien Star Empire
 
Space fleet
Gothic Imperial Fleet
 
Space Squadrons Stellardate: 2998
Earth Federation
Auxiliary Belt
Andromeda Aliens
 
Galaktik Taktik
 
 
Sci-Fi Crossover Menu 
Full Thrust Fleet Resource
 
Spaceship Miniatures & Rules
by Tony Watson
From Space Gamer Magazine issue 21 - Jan-Feb 1979


Wargaming has traditionally been split into two broad categories: the familiar board game with (usually) a map and cardboard counters, and miniatures, gaming which utilizes miniature castings of metal or plastic and is played without benefit of hexgrid, on any large, flat area.

It has only been recently that Science- Fiction gaming has become popular enough to warrant its own, specialized lines of miniatures. The general rise in popularity of the SF gaming genre has led, in just the last few years, to a proliferation of miniatures lines dealing with the subject. While both tactical surface combat (ala STARSHIP TROOPERS) and ship to ship fighting now have representative pieces available, the scope of this article allows me to deal only with the latter.

Spaceship miniatures offer considerable interest because unlike tactical infantry figures which are restricted for a number of reasons, (the foremost most being anatomical considerations), more artistic license is allowed. Some of the designs presently offered are quite impressive, both in general design and individual detail.

Coupled with the increase in ship models available are the rules to go with them. In some cases, the rules are designed to be used with a certain line of models, while others are more general and can be adopted for any models.

Some rules deal with science fiction sources familiar to us such as TV's Star Trek. Gamescience's STARFLEET BATTLE MANUAL is the culmination of a number of years' work in the minia- tures field by its designer, Lou Zocchi. It is a third generation game, using and building on the system first pioneered in THE STAR TREK BATTLE MANUAL and later, refined in ALIEN SPACE. The first game was sold without any license from Paramount, a situation the production company quickly remedied by threatening to sue if any more copies were sold. (This, incidently, made the game something of a collector's item.) Not long after, Zocchi came out with ALIEN SPACE, an expanded game using the same basic system as the ill- fated STAR TREK game. Then, in 1976, the final rules offering appeared, with a return to the Star Trek theme, but this time with Paramount's blessing.

As far as the rules system goes, the STARFLEET BATTLE MANUAL carries on the traditions of the first games. Each ship has a record sheet covered in plastic and to be written on with a grease pencil. Per-turn power allocations from the engines are distributed between shields, phasers (or other weapons in the case of ALIEN SPACE), torpedoes, sensing, life support and movement. The STAR TREK game allows for shields in dif- ferent quadrants to be set at different power levels. Combat is handled uniquely, in that each ship has a square, 3"x3" cardstock template with a to 360 compass described around it, and a five foot length of string fixed to the center. The firing player calls out a degree heading and stretches the string out along it; if it crosses an opposing ship there is a hit and phaser power is compared to shields to determine damage.

The game rules are good, and give an accurate feel for the Star Trek setting. There is enough detail in the rules that each player can have an enjoyable game captaining one or two ships. More players can easily be fitted in by using multi-commanders per side.
Miniatures are available only for the STARFLEET game. They are of plastic and about two inches long. Detail is minor, but then the ships in the series were rather smooth hulled. Each comes with pylon for mounting. Pieces in the set are four types of Federation craft: scout, destroyer, dreadnought and cru- sier, a Klingon battle-crusier, Romulan Bird of Prey and a Tholian. Models range in price from $2 to $3. It should be noted however, that the templates mentioned above are the only thing essential to the play of the game; one could easily forgo the ship models if he wished, though they do add considerable visual appeal.

Also based on Star Trek (but not coming right out and saying it) is Wee Warriors' THE EMBATTLED TREK. Like the Gamescience rules, cardstock ships are included, being incredibly baroque in design. The rules are fairly simple, only three pages long, and once
again depend on energy allocation among various ship systems.

Two companies offer complete miniatures systems (ship models and coordinated rules sets.) The oldest is McEwan Miniatures with their STARWAR 2250 ships and rules.

The rules are one of the more extensive, being 44 pages long and containing both tactical and strategic rules as well as an outline on merging the game with McEwan's successful line of ground troops, STARGUARD. The strategic rules allow for exploration, variable planet types, indigenous populations, and the creation of outposts and colonies.

The tactical rules are well thought out, though parts come across somewhat murkier than one would like. There are status charts for each ship class (you need to make copies before playing). These form the basis for play. Ships move by vector, in three dimensions. Combat is by a varied array of weapons: lasers, torpedoes, Anti-Matter Projectors, and splinter head missiles (something of a tactical MIRV). Defensive system include screens and anti-torpedo rockets. All of the weapons differ from one another in significant ways, but their individual rules are not so complex as to make play tedious. Damage is figured in structure points which accumulate towards the final destruction of the craft. A large amount of special damage results knock out turrets, launchers and other individual systems.

The McEwan line of ships is intended specifically for these rules. It includes, at present, sixteen types of ships (not all of which are covered in the rules, implying an expansion kit. The models are in lead, and the designs are fairly traditional. The Federation (Earth) craft are all needle-nosed and delta winged. The hulls are streamlined and details, such as laser blisters and vision ports, are all that are present. This makes painting and prepa- ration time fairly short. Another advan- tage of this line is their relative inexpensiveness: ships are priced from 50 cents to $1, most being 75 cents.

Superior Models also offers a coordinated set of rules/pieces, under the heading STARFLEET WARS. The rules come boxed, along with a destroyer model from each of the five races in the game. This reviewer is not particularly fond of this packaging tactic since it ups the price of the rules package considerably, and essentially forces the buyer to purchase models he may not want. The rules are simple, fast and clean. Ships have offensive and defensive factors which they may power from their power quota. Firing is conducted by rolling percentage dice (provided) on a chart, matrixing speed and distance. Damage is taken only in terms of power units. The advanced rules add a little more variety. Special rules are included for fighters, both in intercept and attack roles, a close-in defense system against fighters, (actually just a percentage roll to destroy attacking fighters), boarding!?), an energy damping field, invisibility shields, and particle weapons. The latter pierces opposing shields and have the ability to inflict some rather inconsequential special damage.

The Superior line of starships includes ships of five races (Human, Avarian, Entomalian, Aquarian, Carnivoran) and each race has a representative Dreadnought, attack carrier, battlecruiser, cruiser, and destroyer as well as a fighter. The models have a lot of detail (bordering on the garish) and are bristling with turrets, sensor modules and a variety of other odds and ends whose purposes we can only guess at. My major criticism of the ship designs is, for some reason, the designer felt it neccessary that the ships in some way resemble the race that built them. Hence, Carnivoran ships have a cat-like appearance, and the Aquarians look like turtles. Only the Terran ships don't look this way, and they, well I'm surprised the Star Wars Corporation hasn't sued over the resemblence to their "Imperial Stardestroyer"! The ship pieces are fairly large and expensive, the large ships running upwards of $4.

Taken as a whole, the Superior line is something of a dissappointment. The ships are not, at least in my opinion very appealing. They are high priced, and the rules have a sort of thrown together feeling.

Valiant Miniatures offers one of the oldest (if not the oldest) lines of lead spaceships available. The ships are very detailed with fuel lines, weapons, and other equipment visible. In direct contrast to the McEwan ships, these are obviously not intended to land on surfaces, with their protruding guns and round command modules. Only the smaller craft appear capable of planet fall.

This line is divided into humans (the ubiquitous Federation again) and aliens. The alien ships are truly bizarre looking, though similar enough in general design to mesh with the Earth vessels. Various heavy ships are available (1 or 2 per package at $3.50): Heavy cruisers, battlecruisers, escorts and destroyers. Smaller craft (4-15 per package) include scouts, interceptors, assault ships, and three kinds of fighters. Valiant also has available fleet supply ships and hyperspace submarines (?). More ships are planned. One nice touch, these ships are made to fit on stands Valiant provides (in separate packages), and thus look much better on the gaming table.

No rules are specified for these ships. The designers offer a few suggestions in the instruction/brochure included in each package, and the gamer interested can check out any of the rules reviewed later in this article that are not intended for any particular miniatures line.

A similar case exists with the "Space Squadrons 2998" from Grenadier, the most recent of the space fleet lines to appear. The Grenadier castings come in blister packs for $3.50. Each pack contains one battleship or two cruisers (one heavy, one light) or eight fighters, for either the (you guessed it) Earth Federation or Alien Invasion Fleet. In addition there are three packs representing the Auxiliary Belt Fleet, two being cruiser types and the latter being fighters. A fourth group is the Tech-World fleet consisting entirely of support ships (minelayers, refuelers, etc). The Grenadier line is unique in that it is only one to feature a spacestation, "Battlestation Armageddon" is built by buying various kits (such as platforms or installations and accessories) and fitting them together as the gamer sees fit. Unfortunately, the result (if the photograph in the catalog is any indication), is a daddylonglegs with laser mounts.

On the whole, the Grenadier line is a nice compromise between the simplicity and economical price of the McEwan line and the detail and expense of the Valiant. The castings are of high quality and nice detail. Some of the ships, such as the Aurora class Attack Cruiser are real beauties.

A final line to be reviewed is that offered by Minifigs. This is a rather scattered collection of ten ships spread over four races. The line has been out for a number of years and no additions have been made, so one can conjecture that Minifigs is not pushing the SF aspect much.

The nice thing about this group is the price. The catalog I have (about a year old) lists prices ranging from 25-60cents per ship, comparing very favorably to any of the lines listed above. The castings though, are small, and at least to my sense of esthetics, kind of weird looking. Minifigs also offers a fair range of infantry coordinating with the spaceship races, but the same brand of "originality" of design seems to extend to these as well.

If you are looking for a set of rules to go with those miniatures that don't have a coordinating rules volume, or are unhappy with those that do, the following three are some of the best.

GALACTIC WAR by Tabletop games features some nice, introductory level rules that are easily adaptable to any model series. Ships have beginning levels of energy to be expended on movement, weapons and shield. The fuel level is finite though, and falls rapidly. A unique four-phase system (requiring written orders) allows for some second guessing. Because ships may not have screens up in the same phase as they fire, firing ships are not very vulnerable. Once torpedoes and lasers get through the screen there is a table to roll on to determine what is hit. Three classes of ships, with varying energy levels, and rear and forward firing laser guns and torpedo tubes are included. Some nice cardstock ships, printed in color are included.

A more sophisticated effort can be found in STAR COMMAND. These rules provide an outline for a strategic game and some interesting historical background and psuedo-scientific material, along with some good solid tactical rules. Four classes of ships are listed for both the Terrans and aliens, though they vary slightly for each side. Weapons include beams, lasers, and seeker missiles; defense is by screens. As in most rules, per turn energy to the various systems is the core of the system. One fairly clever idea is that the ships are allowed to carry a given number of weapons; type is left up to the player. The variety of weapons, each using a different CRT and a little adaptation would make these rules suitable for any model series the gamer might use.

A final rules booklet, STELLAR WARS, makes a massive attempt to be the rules for all model lines. Forsaking any particular "historical" or technical framework, these rules list a myriad of offensive, defensive, and propulsion systems all given values in the game and assigned a certain point cost for building. The broadbase of systems available would allow castings from any and all of the above model lines to fight side by side. Towards the end of the book is a compilation of ship pieces available by various manufacturers and a guide to intergrating them into a campaign. A good effort, but a little cluttered.

To a much greater degree than boardgaming, miniatures require time. A boardgame can be broken out, the rules read, and play started in a single afternoon. Miniatures are a totally different case. There is considerable preparation involved before play can even begin. Painting requires some skill, but more important is patience. Casting can be given a hurry-up-and-let's play paint job taking twenty minutes or so, or the gamer can opt for a showcase effort, with every line perfect and every detail taken care of. The gamer working with spaceships is more fortunate than those working with figures, since he can get away with less detail on the ships. Still each model must be cleaned, flash removed, primer applied, and finally, painted. Stands and other play aids might also need to be constructed.

Another major consideration is money. Unlike boardgames, which, for the most part, only require a one time outlay of $10-$15, building a decent size fleet for two opposing sides can be fairly expensive. With the vast majority of the model lines mentioned here, this could run upwards of $35-$50 for just moderate forces. Most miniatures players make a very large initial purchase and add on as funds allow. Another way to get around this is to play in groups, with certain players providing the ships for one side. Tools must also be taken into account, as the models can't be prepared without items such as X-acto blades, a good set of brushes, and of course, paint.

A final element is space. Miniatures require at least a 4' x 4' areaŚ many rules will require more room unless you alter the distances used. You need to have plenty of room to maneuver, for a good game. Usually a good size table or tile floor will do.

These last few points are not meant to scare anyone away from miniatures, only to inform them of the large investment in time and money required. Indeed, acquiring and painting your models is often more fun than playing with them!

Miniatures can be an interesting asset to any SF gamer's array of boardgames. Playing times tend to be shorter than most boardgames and miniatures battles are much more colorful than those pushing cardboard counter around on a hexgrid. It is hoped that this brief survey has served to help those gamers interested in this facet of the hobby