Designer: Stephen Cole
Publisher: Task Force Games
Playing time: 1-2 hours
Era: science fiction future
Scale: 1 ship/counter; 10 seconds/turn; half a light-second/map hex
Starfire was published in 1979 as Task Force Pocket Game #1001, for $3.95. The Designer’s Notes refer to an earlier space-battle game by the same designer with the same title published in 1975, but point out this is an entirely new design. Well, why waste a good title, especially since Stephen Cole had already published Star Fleet Battles?
1 - 16x21” featureless blue hex map
1 – 26 page rules folder
1 – sheet of 108 die-cut, single-sided counters
Terran ships (36 units) (black on blue)
4 each of: Battleship (BB); Superdreadnought (SD); Battlecruiser (BC); Cruiser (CA); Light Cruiser (CL); Destroyer (DD); Frigate (FG); Corvette (CT); Escort (ES)
Khanate ships (36 units) (black on red)
- as for Terran ships
Ophiuchi ships (12 units) (white on black)
1 each of: Battleship (BB); Superdreadnought (SD); Cruiser (CA); Light Cruiser (CL)
2 each of: Destroyer (DD); Frigate (FG); Corvette (CT); Escort (ES)
Neutral markers (24 units)
3 warp points
3 Battle Stations (BS)
15 Freighters: 6 of type 1; 4 of type 2; 3 of type 3; 2 of type 4
What the designer says
“Starfire is a tactical game of combat in outer space. It is basically a two player game but in certain situation can be played by more than two persons…. The game system of Starfire is designed to emphasize the inter-relationships of various weapon systems and different families of weapons systems. Built into the game is a campaign system with the option of designing your own ships, mass production, refitting older ships with newer weapons, interchangeable weapons modules, and other refinements.”
What the reviewers say
Rick Heli, writing in his website “Spotlight on Games”:
“Multi-player tactical science fiction wargame set in an original universe. Very innovative and simple system features ships as simply a string of characters, each of which represents a ship subsystem, making ship design and allocating damage a very strategic process. Recommended, especially if one can devise a good campaign system to give context and meaning to the tactical battles. Unfortunately, as is the case with Star Fleet Battles, keeps appearing in new rules versions for which the publishers expect to be paid again and again.”
This was one of the more popular pocket games from TFG. Copies of the original Task Force Games edition are still found easily.
There are so many space-navy-battle games in print, but in its basic form, Starfire is a good introductory game that does not immediately overload players with detail.
Ships are represented on scrap paper by a string of characters that determine the order in which damage is done. Unlike many space combat games, movement system is inertialess and works on a system of six impulses per turn. In combat, each player fires one ship in turn, and different weapons have different effects - e.g. Guns are nothing special, while Lasers skip Shields, Force beams do more damage the closer you get, and Energy beams skip Armour and cargo Holds. With these modifications, damage is noted by crossing off letters from left to right, and the ship is destroyed when you run out of letters. This simple system made engagements of large numbers of ships on each side playable to a conclusion within a few hours.
Starfire II was released in 1980. It added more chrome and ship types, including fighters, which started to complicate and lengthen play. Starfire III: Empires was published by TFG in 1982, designed by David Weber to give the system a set of strategic and “campaign” rules, but this expansion involved a lot of manual bookkeeping (and who has time for that anymore?). David Weber has since published at least four novels in the “Starfire universe”, as well as a dozen other assorted space operas.
In 1984, Task Force Games republished Starfire and Starfire II combined, as the second edition of Starfire. Dave Crump and David Weber collaborated on this revision, and also on its campaign supplement, Starfire New Empires. Task Force Games sold its rights to the Starfire gaming system to Starfire Design Studio in 1997, and the latter has released a large number of additions, expansions and revisions via electronic publishing. The third edition appeared in 1998. The system is now in its fourth edition, named ULTRA Starfire – the main component is a rulebook in the form of a 350 page PDF file.
Practically every issue of Nexus magazine, TFG’s house organ, contained variants, options, commentary and fiction related to the Starfire system. A comprehensive FAQ and history (up to 1996) is at http://www.grognard.com/faqs/starfire.txt.