#Retroplay #Wargame – StarSoldier: Tactical Warfare in the 25th Century (SPI, 1977)

StarSoldier is one of the oldest and personally lowest rated wargames in my game collection. It is a science fiction wargame of man-to-man/alien/robot/xenophobe skirmish combat in the far future. My copy of StarSoldier is in an SPI flat folio that I traded a friend for when we were heavy into the playing the (Classic) Traveller RPG. Although BoardGameGeek shows it as a 6.2 rating, many years ago I rated it a 5 (Mediocre – Take it or leave it). This past weekend I pulled it off the shelf and played the Basic Game. I now need to revise my opinion.

The rules for StarSolider are covered in 20 pages of triple-column type. The Basic Game, rules 1.0 thru 13.0, cover a bit over eight (8) pages. The other 12 pages include eight (8) pages of Standard Game rules and scenarios with the balance being rules for linking StarSoldier to StarForce and Designer’s/Developer’s Notes and charts.

After playing StarSoldier for the first time in nearly 30 years I have a new appreciation for the design. In part this is because I have become a bit of a “wargame design engineer” and analyze the game mechanics. Tis is important because by modern publishing standards StarSoldier is very plain. The muted color palette for the unimaginative map and counters screams mediocrity.  However, the mediocre presentation distracts from a rather elegant set of game mechanics.

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Aside from the cover not visually stunning (Courtesy BGG)

Now, the game mechanics in StarSoldier are not perfect. I think what originally turned me off to StarSoldier was tracking and plotting the expenditure of Task Points. Each StarSoldier has a Task Point Allowance that can be spent each turn to accomplish various tasks. Task Points are tracked on the Task Point Track Marker while each turn the expenditure is plotted. This dual tracking/expenditure system is inelegant to say the least.

That said, the real elegance of the game system is its ability to distinguish between various species. Each species is rated by a Task Point Allowance (combat ability), Efficiency Rating (experience), and Recovery Rate (recovery from injury/shock, etc).

The second part of the design elegance is those Efficiency Ratings. In combat, the Fire Combat Attack Strength is the firing soldier’s Efficiency Rating multiplied by the number of Task Points expended. Combat is not a matter of odds differential but a comparison of attack strength versus a defense strength with loses expressed in Task Points. Hits reduce the number of Task Points available and, if the TPA ever reached zero, the combatant is killed. The Recovery Rating is literally the speed that lost Task Points are recovered.

Thus, it is easy to see the differences in various species. In a nod to many classic sci-fi tropes, in the Standard Game the Humans have a TPA of 9, Efficiency Rating of 2, and a Recovery Rate of 3 whereas the Xenophobe has a TPA of 9 with Efficiency and Recovery Ratings of 1. This matchup is the classic “smart” Human versus a more numerous, but less sophisticated alien threat.

I also really enjoy how StarSoldier can be used to play out many of those classic sci-fi tropes. I mean, what other game has a rule titled, “Protecting Settlers from the Local Fauna.”  There is no better setup than this:

It is rare for StarSoldiers to be seriously challenged by non-sentient organisms other than, perhaps, cold viruses-but on Delta Paconis II, Humans ran into the Dinkblog**, a carnivorous four-legged creature possessing the ability to teleport itself. Unfortunately, it quickly acquired a taste for Humans, and troops had to be called in to cope with the creatures.

The game mechanics in StarSoldier are actually mechanically streamlined while being appropriate and evocative of the theme of the game. Executing the mechanics is relatively fast in smaller battles but in larger games the need to track the number of Task Points and plot each individual soldiers actions does bog down play. This makes StarSoldier best suited to small actions.

With all these thoughts in mind, I am raising my BGG rating for this game to a 6 (OK- Will play if in the mood). I am also going to rate the Game Weight as a 2Medium Light. Although the game is rated at 120 minutes play on BGG, in a smaller scenario the play time can be much shorter.

** – Dinkblog is a nod to the Blinkdog found in Dungeons & Dragons.

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

2 comments

  1. I liked this one a lot, back when my friends and I had time to play.
    I always thought of it as a SF version of another SPI tactical game we enjoyed, Patrol!.
    We found the pre-plotted simultaneous movement very tedious, as with all games SPI used this mechanic.
    People have since found ways around it, one of the simpler and more clever ones lie in the TSR/SPI reboot of Sniper.
    I have Sniper 2 – Special Forces and its SF expansion, Sniper – Bug Hunter.

    • The Developer’s Notes make reference to Sniper and Patrol but goes to some length to describe why StarSoldier is different. Developer B.E. Hessel was quite proud of the changes Designer Tom Walczyk made from the earlier designs, particularly, “We do not believe that combat results have been expressed in movement costs before….” He also laments the “complex plethora of formulae and values that are utilized.”

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