Examining the space opera/star empires subgenre (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Imperium, Empires in Conflict: Worlds in the Balance (1st ed.). Conflict Game Company (Game Designers Workshop - GDW), 201 Broadway, Normal, IL 61761, 1977.
This is among the most popular space-empire games ever. One of its highly inspired elements is to set the conflict (which is said to begin in 2113 A.D.) in terms of an upstart Terran Confederation, and an Imperial Province of a much larger Imperium. The Imperial Player takes the role of the Provincial Governor, not of the Emperor. The Imperium is committed to many other, farflung sectors, and the Governor has to contain the expanding Terrans with an economy of force, though he may appeal to the Emperor for various types of support and/or emergency reinforcements. The Glory index, based on control of systems, either allows the Governor to achieve a glorious victory (which means a reduced but not fully destroyed Terran Confederation), or suffer ignominious defeat (which means the loss of a few systems from a large Imperial province). The game can then end, or resume after a certain number of "peace" turns, used for rearmament and consolidation. The series of ensuing wars can continue until one side or the other wins a total victory.
The premise for interstellar travel in this game is along pre-established hyperspace "jump routes" (which is near-instantaneous), as well as sub-lightspeed movement at a painfully slow rate of one hex a turn. There are a wide variety of units: 15 types of spaceships; regular and jump troops; planetary defenses; as well as world and outpost markers. The wide variety of ship types, give combat resolution at contested systems a distinctly tactical flavor. (Ships have beam, missile, and screen factors.) Units are purchased and maintained through expenditures of Resource Units derived from control of systems.
This Imperium game was cleverly integrated into the extended GDW Traveller future-history. The Imperium is the First Imperium of the parahuman Vilani. The First Imperium, underestimating the aggressiveness of the Terrans, will eventually crumble before their onslaught, with the eventual establishment of the Second Imperium, the so-called Rule of Man.
There at least two major Traveller "alternative-histories". One of these is based on premise of a highly destructive "World War III" between the Western powers and the Eastern Bloc, in the late 1980s. GDW published a series of board wargames depicting that hypothetical war. The main role-playing game derived from that setting is Twilight: 2000 – depicting a shattered world. Realizing that that had quickly become an "alternative history", GDW published Merc: 2000 -- a more plausible depiction of brush-fire conflicts where the cataclysmic war between the major powers had never taken place.
2300 A.D. is a role-playing game based on an extension of this "alternative history". It is a more optimistic extension from the destructive post-World War III situation in Twilight: 2000. Most of the powers of Earth have rebuilt and are moving into space. The game includes an interesting star-map of Sol's stellar vicinity.
The Traveller/Imperium future-history was mostly based on a series of role-playing products centered on the original Traveller role-playing game (now called Classic Traveller) (originally published in 1977). The RPG went through several iterations. The second main divergence or "alternative history" in Traveller was Traveller: The New Era, where a massive, highly destructive nanotech plague was posited, that plunged most of the interstellar civilizations into chaos. This amounted to a "re-booting" of the setting, with new factions emerging. In some of the more recent iterations of Traveller, being brought out under the Steve Jackson Games umbrella, this nanotech plague idea has been cancelled, in favor of the more pacific development of the relatively benevolent Third Imperium. Steve Jackson Games has also published role-playing material set in the much earlier time period which had been depicted in the Imperium boardgame, called "Interstellar Wars".
After the fall of the Second Imperium, Earth-descended humans came to call themselves "Solomani" – and they established a rather particularistic civilization in that part of the galaxy which they had most heavily settled. Wars between the Third Imperium and the Solomani were quite frequent, and, finally, the Third Imperium carried out a massive invasion of Earth itself. This invasion is depicted in the GDW board wargame Invasion: Earth (published in 1981).
GDW certainly carried out rather clever "cross-marketing" efforts, trying to tie many of their role-playing and boardgame products into a unified "future-history". While the effort may not have completely succeeded at arriving at a fully coherent timeline, it was certainly highly imaginative, and could be seen as quite worthwhile.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.