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Starforce: Alpha Centauri

Entry updated 8 May 2015. Tagged: Game.

Board and counter Wargame (1974). Simulations Publications Inc (SPI). Designed by Redmond Simonsen.

Probably the first widely popular science fiction Wargame, Starforce is a game of non-lethal interstellar combat, played on a hexagonal grid map with cardboard counters. The game is set in a detailed Future History which features frequent conflicts between various human organizations and alien species, all of whom use a method of Faster Than Light travel which depends on rare psionically talented "Telesthetic" individuals. Empathic bonding (see ESP) between Telesthetics makes them extremely reluctant to kill, a preference which their rarity and importance allows them to enforce. Thus the battles depicted in Starforce are generally carried out using Psionic attacks which can stun enemy crews or displace their ships across vast distances in space, making it an interesting example of a largely non-violent war game. The actual gameplay is somewhat abstract, revolving around the manoeuvre of fleets of Telesthetically operated ships (StarForces) in the forty-lightyear-wide three-dimensional volume surrounding the Solar System. The players must work hard to visualize this volume, which exists both above and below the two-dimensional map. Typically, the two sides will feint continuously until one sees an opening and commits their forces to an attack against one of their opponent's Telesthetically crewed Space Stations (or StarGates).

The majority of the Starforce history takes place in the twenty-fifth century CE, with a few scenarios set in the twenty-eighth century, after contact has occurred with a new Alien race whose unique psychology allows its members to be both Telesthetic and genocidal, leading to a war of annihilation. The game's immediate sequel, Outreach (1976 SPI) designed by Irad Hardy, is set in 3000 CE, when many different civilizations are expanding through the Galaxy. Outreach is a precursor to later 4X Games in which the players must colonize new worlds and use their resources to construct and crew ever larger StarForces. Interestingly, it is possible to win by becoming the most advanced civilization as well as by simply exterminating any competitors, a feature which makes the game more compatible with the state of universal peace which ends the Future History described in Starforce. The third game in the sequence, Starsoldier (1977 SPI) designed by Tom Walczyk, focuses on the eponymous professionals who assault planets in the twenty-fifth century after control of local space has been achieved and the civilian population rendered unconscious from orbit. Within this milieu, possession of a world is ultimately determined by combat between highly trained soldiers in Powered Armour; the game focuses on squad level tactical engagements. While the gameplay may suffer slightly from the complexity of the formulae that have to be solved each turn, Starsoldier remains interesting for the credibility of its depiction of conflict between individuals who fly at more than three times the speed of sound and fight with tactical nuclear weapons. [NT]

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