Tuesday 10 January 2017

Why Sci Fi Rulesets Make Me Grumpy

Space Demons - 'not aliens' from Khurasan Miniatures

Apart from a few Epic EA games my Sci Fi figures have been sitting in boxes for years, I haven't even bothered finishing most of my armies.

I've spent mountains of dosh on 6mm, 15mm, and even retro 25mm science fiction figures and vehicles, but to my mind no one has come up with a genuinely good, independent and comprehensive Sci Fi rule set.

More space demons, swarming out of a processing plant because someone said 'lame' and they thought they said 'game'. 

There's always something, always, which does my head in: basing the rules on modern warfare - or even previous periods, using fistfuls of different types of dice or needing 'special' dice, having general phases, wiring up army lists so tight even the most casual brush causes the entire system to implode, over-engineering the rules so that muchkins turn it into Chess and meta-game the experience, or just making things so unfeasibly unrealistic that its just nonsense.

Just stop it all of you!

"We're in the pipe, five-by-five..." - Retro Denizen 25mm Miniatures

Not only that but a recent stint in defense has now completely ruined the current Sci Fi rule sets, mainly because warfare today has already conceptually outpaced the majority of rule sets on the market.

Mandatory preliminary bombardments as doctrine - no, not since the fifties. Phasing at army level (move, shoot, combat) - no, not since WWI. Having to stop to shoot from a stabilised weapon platform- what? Come on! Having units take individual actions - yes, but having a rigid initiative and 'victory condition' tournament system with fixed objectives - yawn.


"Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out. We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse rifles, RPGs. We got sonic, electronic ball-breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks..."

And to add to this we've had two heartbreaking teases with Gates of Antare from Warlord and Warpath from Mantic recently, but which turned out were just similar things to stuff already on the market, done slightly differently.

Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? Vasquez: No. Have you? 

Alls I want, alls I want, right, is to turn up with whatever scale and world takes our fancy, with miniatures from whatever miniatures producer captured my attention that month, sit down with a mate and enjoy a game with a richness of feel and simple mechanisms that don't take a lot of brainpower. My job is unfeasibly complex, it requires a lot of brainpower and in a Sci Fi game I just want to eat chips and drink Coke or beer, talk bollocks and have a laugh with mates, and forget about thinking too hard.

It's simple, I want a Sci Fi movie on a tabletop.

A veritable legion of 6mm EA Terminators - currently on gardening leave. 

It's not hard either. Even in today's military, we have capabilities, nodal forces connected by networks, and stuff that goes bang from miles away. There is nothing else. No heavy doctrine, no 'WWII' limits. Just the ability to deploy specific and tailored capabilities into specific theaters, to achieve specific objectives.

6mm EA Space Marine Tactical Platoon -  permanently on stand-by.

Once in-theater it comes down to command, toughness, training, and - of course - blind luck; no matter how bad-arse your technology. Where initiative changes sides during a battle due to environmental influences, micro-victories and cock-ups; not because it's the other player's turn.

EA 6mm Thunderhawk squadron - at present re-tasked to undertake sight-seeing trips for tourists. 

To support this this particular moan, I have played: Warhammer 40K, Epic 40K, Epic Armageddon, Future War Commander, Stargrunt II, X-Wing, Star Wars RPG, Battlefleet Gothic, Inquisitor and read Gates of Antare, Warpath Firefight, and Warpath, but was so disappointed with the basic mechanics and mini-bias that I'm not going to game them.

And just to be fair I have really enjoyed myself at points during the games I've played. But because my opponent and I were having a laugh, or randomly made an experience that was like a movie, and I have even spent a decent amount of time writing up a set of rules with a mate - so close, whatever happened to that? (Oh that's right, we got 90% of the way there and then had a fundamental difference of opinion of what we wanted from a Sci Fi game 😏😝)

Khurasan 15mm Space Demon king and retinue - never seen a game, some say they are waiting on a planet near you! 

Please, someone write a set of rules that's fun, easy, and one day can do army level and the next support a semi-RPG firefight.

Where on Tuesday night we reproduced the awesome sequence from Riddick where the Mercenaries planetfall down to the abandoned way station using 15mm and on Saturday we went nuts and got all our 6mm out to battle for a space port.

Where the balance of the armies was based on capabilities not fluff or the fact that the rule set is a thoroughbred, so highly strung that a small change upsets the munchkins. How hard can it be?

Beautiful 6mm Warhound Titans from GW - last seen chasing Squat trains to pass the time - here boy!

If I sound bitter its because in 2003 Games Workshop released Epic Armageddon which had everything you could feasibly want to make your miniatures behave. It had: a unit action sequence with decent actions, rules for aircraft, spacecraft, things that hovered, things that fired indirectly, things with tracks, wheels, and grav-shoes, and things that crawled, slithered or ambled, a blistering and simple combat system, suppression and attrition, and awesome minis.

I was even involved with the development and play-test communities - those were heady days - I like to think I had a hand in the Sniper special ability... mainly because I don't get out much.

But in the almost fifteen years since its release: it was abandoned by GW, had its minis go OOP, and never reached the heights of its potential - for scenario based wargaming. Although its supported by a band of ardent fans and hard-out supporters at Net Epic Armageddon, the tournament rules however, make it much akin to chess - achieving standardised objectives within a strict turn sequence. I want to say it sucks but it doesn't, it's still an excellent set of rules but the tournament set up is not what I want to be doing of a weekend - whether I'm playing a difficult army or not.

AT Razorbacks - 6mm EA IFVs presently moth-balled... I didn't even know moths had balls!

EA is simply not a narrative based wargame and playing a tournament game means rigidly sticking to a fixed game sequence time after time, after time - which is fine if you're OCD, lack imagination, or a munchkin; and you won't find rules for your 15mm stuff in EA, or non-GW 25-28mm stuff either.

A small portion of my EA Space Marine army.

And I guess that's the last point of my rant, companies producing Sci Fi games are hampered by the fact that they are also pushing a line of figures to go with their rules. So their rules are always biased towards a certain universe, set of army character doctrines, and ultimately miniature sales. I don't mind this, companies need to make profits, and I didn't mind it for EA and Epic 40K (which kicked it all off for me) but once is enough - actually three times is enough, I bought Space Marines, Orks, and Imperials...

In short I have an awesome 15mm mechanised hover company from Ground Zero Games but it won't see the light of day, let alone get painted, until there's some actual rules to game with.

But that's my whine over - I hope you enjoyed the pictures 😀

18/01/2018 PS: have subsequently put my money where my mouth is and produced a full set of independent Sci-fi wargames... 07/06/23 they're done but what do I do with them next....


  1. Fair enough. I even wrote a set myself (with the help of Mark) back in the day...http://www.canterburyminiatures.inet.net.nz/downloads/rules.html

  2. Wowser, that take's me back I remember playing something like that with you! Even pics of some of the first figures I finished when I got back into wargaming! I feel the need... the need for beads... I don't know, I ran out of ideas with that one - I just want a new rule set that covers absolutely everything ever possible, ever :)