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Subject: Space Exploration and Alien Politics a la Star Control II? rss

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Christian Gindlesperger
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Hi All--

I've had an idea brewing in my head for a while about a kind of sci-fi board game I'd love to play--I'm just not sure it exists.

Much the the feeling I'm looking for comes from playing the classic PC game Star Control II (freely available today as The Ur-Quan Masters at http://sc2.sourceforge.net/--it's worth a play if you've never experienced it).

I wouldn't want to see an exact translation--I can always play SCII on the computer. But, I think a lot of the game elements could be ported into a cool, multi-player cardboard experience.

What I loved about SCII was that it combined interstellar exploration (different galaxies, star classes, planet types) and diverse alien races with whom you could interact. There was also a narrative storyline with subplots that could be affected by choices that you made while befriending and/or attacking certain aliens.

So, what would that look like in a board game? I'm not 100% sure, but I think I've honed in on a few critical elements:

1. Modular explorable board with hidden elements. Could be hexes flipped over, or some other mechanism, but ideally would be of an epic scale (i.e. had to traverse until you've gotten the appropriate technology)

2. Diverse alien races. On the order of 10-20 different species that might appear in any one game. Each would have different technological levels, different dispositions (i.e. friendly, hostile, neutral) towards players, and importantly--different NPC interactions with eachother (I'm thinking of the bloodthirsty Ilwrath being pranked by the tricker Umgah into destroying the pacifist hippie Pkunk...or something like that).

3. Overall storyline. This could be scenario based, or maybe just an overall threat all players are competing against (the Ur-Quan oppressors in SCII).

4. Upgradeable technology. The ability to power up your flagship with newly discovered/researched tech, or add to a fleet with alien allies.

There may be some more requirements I could think of, but those seem to be the essential ones for now.

Of course, there are already a number of epic space opera out there, but none seem to really capture that feeling of exploring and building an interstellar alliance of NPCs. Some games come close:

Twilight Imperium--this may be the closest, but the emphasis seems to be more on warfare and politicing than to exploring, discovering new planets and lifeforms, and building an alliance. Of course, I haven't actually played TI yet, so I might be missing something here...

Space Empires 4x, Eclipse, Hegemonic, Exodus: Proxima Centauri, Galatic Emperor--these are all excellent games in their own right, but again each seems focused on either warfare or economy building rather than exploration.

Starfall, Outreach, Federation Vs. Empire--these seem to be mostly counter wargames in space. (Again, I haven't played any of them, so I might be wrong)

Starfarers of Catan: There is an exploration element and some slight interaction with space pirates, a few known aliens--but it's still very much Catan, and very limited in narrative. It's getting warmer though.

Merchants of Venus: A little closer, with many alien worlds with some exploration and a market mechanic to simulate something of an individual world--but the characterization is fairly shallow, since this is an economic game first and foremost.

...so any other suggestions? Corrections? Questions?
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Oliver Kiley
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Interesting ideas - and there is certainly some room for a game of this kind.

I think a key question to iron out is what the player represents. Do they represent an empire in its totality, or just the exploration division? Or are they free-lance explores? Or merchants? Or a fleet captain out to explore the galaxy?

The second issue is, if the game is focused around exploration, what drives the player interaction if it isn't conflict/competition over discovered resources? There's obviously a lot of possibility - but I think you want to figure out what drives the interaction. Or it could be more of a solitary "race" type of experience, played out on a galactic board - and that's okay too.

Random thoughts - it could be cool to make the game hinge around the need to secure monopolies in various resources and influence among alien races. What if you had the hidden hexes, but they could only be flipped over and revealed by players that explored that region - so the discoveries remain hidden for everyone else. Part of the interaction could be brokering for information, and offering to share the knowledge of discoveries with other players in exchange for other knowledge or resources, or whatever. Just a thought.
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Jacob Ossar
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Strange New Worlds is much more exploration-focused than the other games you list, although it doesn't really have the diplomacy element you're wanting. It's also long out of print.
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Max POWER
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Christian, you get automatic thumbs up for any Star Control reference. I was a much bigger fan of the first game in the series but I also very much enjoyed numero dos. I'll be interested to hear if this thread turns up the perfect game to scratch your itch...
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Ben Thornton
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Check out Empires of the Void. I played this the other night and it is VERY Star Control 2. Loved it!

Different player races with different abilities.

Different NPC races/planets that can be become allies through conquest or diplomacy. Once alliles they provide players with unique abilities, resources and/or ships.

Modular board that is set up differently each time.

Tech tree & event deck

Found it has a lot of conflict between players but the NPC races/planets are key to victory. Having an ally that provides a particular resource that will allow you to research that key tech really adds another dimension to the game.

I really enjoyed this game and placed it as a must have on my wishlist. miniatures would have been the icing on the cake for this.
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Des Lee
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Wow... Star Control. I whiled away a heck of a lot of hours in the 90s playing that game. I can't remember if it was I or II, but a lot of the ships and aliens are very very familiar.

I'll keep an eye on this thread

I played my first game of Eclipse last week, but while it is an excellent game, it doesn't quite have the whole exploration thing down.
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Christian Gindlesperger
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Glad to see there's some other gamers who remember the good stuff! SC2 was really the first time I experienced what's now known as a sandbox game--you had a whole universe (well, technically multiple) to explore and interact with, complete with lifeforms to discover, mysteries to solve, secrets to find (never could track down that mythical cloaking device...).

I think it could be done in cardboard. I'll have to check out Empires of the Void--when I initially investigated, it seemed to be a lighter space empire wargame, but it does appear to have some individual alien races, some alien specific tech, and some basic NPC diplomacy (i.e. conquering or allying giving different rewards). Curious to see how it works...

Also been wondering about Space Empires 4x expansion--I noticed it does include alien racial and tech bonuses--but it seems to be mostly for players. Do the NPC Aliens utilize these features? (...almost pulled the trigger on getting it during the GMT sale, but the wallet was screaming mercy...)



 
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Christian Gindlesperger
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Mezmorki wrote:
Interesting ideas - and there is certainly some room for a game of this kind.

I think a key question to iron out is what the player represents. Do they represent an empire in its totality, or just the exploration division? Or are they free-lance explores? Or merchants? Or a fleet captain out to explore the galaxy?

The second issue is, if the game is focused around exploration, what drives the player interaction if it isn't conflict/competition over discovered resources? There's obviously a lot of possibility - but I think you want to figure out what drives the interaction. Or it could be more of a solitary "race" type of experience, played out on a galactic board - and that's okay too.

Random thoughts - it could be cool to make the game hinge around the need to secure monopolies in various resources and influence among alien races. What if you had the hidden hexes, but they could only be flipped over and revealed by players that explored that region - so the discoveries remain hidden for everyone else. Part of the interaction could be brokering for information, and offering to share the knowledge of discoveries with other players in exchange for other knowledge or resources, or whatever. Just a thought.


Oliver--thanks for weighing in on this! As it seems like the next step for me to be able to play this game is to have to design something myself, it's awesome to hear the insight of someone who's done exactly that (and published it to boot)!

To address some of your points: I think my initial concept was to have each player represent a starship captain and a single ship that would explore the universe, again a la SCII. That ship could be supplemented by other ships in a fleet, but essentially it would be one entity.

That starship captain would be tasked exploring and interacting with various alien races across the board. The goal would be to unite as many planets as possible--but it would be the player's choice to be either the chief diplomat, or the conquering warlord (I guess this is similar to Empires of the Void...or even Merchants and Marauders to some extent).

I've had a couple of mechanical ideas bouncing around about movement, exploration (I definitely would lean towards your fog-of-war hidden info approach), technology, economy, and diplomacy--but the key thing I think would be determining how to model the various alien planets interacted with the players in a meaningful way. Something that would reflect your actions towards them (e.g. if you helped their economy prosper by opening trade routes or something, they'd be more inclined to ally or share technology--likewise, if you've attacked them, they'd be more likely to fight you or ally with your enemies). I feel like there must be some elegant mechanical solution to modeling that without resorting to endless table lookups, computer-based AI, or a GM's interpretation--just not sure what that is yet.

As far as the overall goal, I guess I had envisioned some sort of general external threat--in SCII of course there's the Ur-Quan/Kohr-Ah civil war threatening to either enslave or exterminate the entire universe. That's a pretty common theme done in a slew of other boardgames (wildlings in AGoT, orcs in Wizard's Quest, diseases in Pandemic, etc.). In SCII there was also the intergalactic mystery of who the Precursors were and where they went--I think that might be a great way to add in some sort of ongoing narrative throughout the game. And of course, there's always the good old fashioned deathmatch/player elimination and/or VP collection--neither of which I'd be very psyched about...but perhaps some combination of all those conditions could be balanced out.

Anyway, this whole idea is mostly just a fun thing for me to mull over in my spare time--but it would be fun to build it into a physical thing one day.

So I may come back here to get more insight or float some more crazy ideas--any other contributions to my thought project would be very welcome! Thanks for your feedback!

 
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Chris Sessoms
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As long as you have an Ultron, and as long as it doesn't break.
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Jacob Ossar
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It doesn't seem to have the multiple alien races (although it does have a trio of NPC ships) or the story arc you're after, =but the Kickstarter page for Xia: Legends of a Drift System makes it seem like something you might want to take a look at sometime. It's a sandbox game where you control a single ship and have a lot of exploring to do. [Insert standard caveats about Kickstarter here: blah blah prototype yadda yadda delays in production etc.]
 
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