I recently had the good fortune to trade for this game, which is often confused with the 1970s version also put out by Avalon Hill. This game is based on the movie version of Starship Troopers whereas the 1970s version was based on the original novel. The result is a different style of game with a unique environment and level of reproducing man's fight against the bugs.
The concept, for those who haven't seen the movie, is that mankind and a race of giant arachnids are at odds. The bugs attacked earth and now humanity in the form of the mobile infantry (MI) has launched a face to face invasion on the bug worlds. Supported by the space fleet, the MI face incredible odds as waves of bugs sweep across the battlefield to destroy humanity. Unlike the novel or 1970s version, this game focuses solely on the bugs and humans. There is no mention of the humanoid aliens called 'skinnies'. Also, the MI are just guys with rifles and helmets instead of the advanced spacesuit, powered armor described in the novel.
Here's what you get: 2 fold-out game boards with hex maps depicting high and low ground on them. These boards can be joined a couple different ways to match the scenario description. Numerous counters to show weapons malfunctions, grenade expenditure, bug holes and other game effects.
You also get pieces to depict the bug and human armies. These pieces are photograph scans of characters and bugs seen in the movies mounted on clear plastic. The pieces are then put in stand-up holders (black and green) which identify which squad or bug colony the piece belongs to by color.
The humans are actually named after characters in the story except for the addition of a fella armed with an atomic grenade launching thingie (he's called Nuke). The bugs are of various breeds including the most common: warriors; flying hoppers; plasma bugs; tanker bugs; and the leader of the gang, the brain bug.
The rulebook is a short affair with a working index. It includes 12 different scenarios, each of which explains a new aspect of the rules. The rules are given in a 'learn as you go' method that teaches the basics then builds on them.
The first battle pits a couple of squads of humans against a couple of small bug forces. The last battle has nuke weapons, air strikes, tanker bugs tunnelling, terrain effects, etc. In other words, the complexity of the game increases as players are introduced to new aspects of the rules.
The game uses d6s to determine combat results. A set of army reference cards (humans on one side/bugs on the other) is provided that tells you how human weapons work (range, required number of dice to roll, required number to roll to hit) and to tell you how nasty the bugs are and whether they're close ranged only or have a ranged attack.
Here's the rough turn sequence:
MI moves: Movement makes MI troops lose dice for shooting (they get to roll an additional die for staying still), which increases their chances of hitting. While sitting still might seem to make more sense, it's not always a mission option. Many times you have to traverse terrain to reach an objective, exit the board, what-have-you. Humans are typically slower than their bug opponents but typically also have longer ranges.
In the early missions, terrain has no effect on movement. Later missions explain terrain limitations including boulders, lava pools, ammonia patches and similar stuff. Movement limitations in certain hex spaces tend to be more of a problem for the MI than for the bugs since it is their home turf, after all.
Bug moves: Bugs are fast! Hoppers can even fly over terrain that would slow down their ground-based partners. Many bugs are also limited to close combat attacks (attacking the next hex space) so it's usually in their best interest to get to the humans and start munching. Again, there are some limitations for terrain but not as many as for the human forces.
Bug reinforcements: In certain scenarios, bugs can arrive via bug holes. Dead bugs (ones killed earlier in the game) can return via bug holes during this phase to simulate the seemingly endless supply of bodies that the brain bugs have at their disposal. Bugs brought onto the board in this phase must wait until the next turn to move.
Trooper attacks: The MI get to fight using their weapons. Weapons vary by trooper with most having an assault rifle. Players simply consult the reference card for the MI and find the weapon that's being used (each weapon type has a little symbol on the card and on the trooper's stand-up to make it easier to find). That soldier's counter can then use the specified number of dice (less if it moved) to 'fire' his weapon. Rolling triples (the same number on all 3 dice) means that the weapon has jammed. This can be avoided by rolling fewer dice
MI weapons have a limited range and some can shoot farther than others. The number needed to produce a hit gets lower the farther away the target is from the shooter (you roll that number or lower to get a hit). A jammed weapon can be fixed but this takes the trooper's attack action to perform.
Special weapons like the Nuke (limited ammo), Tactical Fighter Support (one sortie per battle) and Grenades have specific rules that cover their usage. Nukes can jam, too. All in all the MI have an impressive arsenal and the game mechanics let you simulate these cool weapons prety nicely.
Bugs attack: Bugs are combat monsters. They are particularly nasty up close and personal. Hoppers and Warriors only have close combat attacks. Brains also have only a close combat attack (but if your brain bug is mixing it up, the bug player is extremely close to losing) meaning they can only hit something in a hex next to them. Plasma bugs and tanker bugs can fire at range (in fact, plasma bugs can only fire at range). At the end of the Bugs Attack phase, it's time for a new turn.
One final note on combat that applies equally to bugs and MI. Once hits are scored on an enemy target, that target gets a chance to 'save' from being killed. Each hit must be saved separately. So if a bug had been hit 3 times, it would have to roll 3 times to avoid being destroyed. Each counter has a defense value to show you what number or below on a d6 roll will allow the bug/MI to survive the attack (save). For example, a bug with a defense value of 4 would require a roll of 4 or lower on a d6 to avoid being taken out by a hit.
Humans are downright fragile with MIs being a '2' and certain named humans are only a '1'. Bugs tend to be heartier with plasma bugs saving at a 5, warriors at a 2 and the delicate brain bug having only a '1'. If a counter 'saves' against all the hits it has received, then it survives unscathed. If even one save fails, the counter is removed from play.
Owning both the 1970s version and the 1990s movie version of the Starship Troopers game, I think this game feels like the tactical equivalent of combat whereas the older version is a more strategic level. In this version, you are a platoon commander not a general. Many people dismiss this game because of its simplicity or because they dislike the film compared to the novel. I personally think that's a mistake.
While the 1990s version is no Puerto Rico, it's not checkers either. If you're looking for a game with simple, easy-to-understand mechanics and good bug-bashing fun, I would recommend trying this version of ST. Fans of miniatures wargames like Warhammer 40k will also likely be pleased with the simple, intuitive approach to this battle in boardgame format.