Examining the space opera/star empires subgenre (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
WorldKiller: The Game of Planetary Assault. Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, 1980.
WorldKiller first appeared in Ares no. 1, which was the beginning of SPI's brave attempt to have a science-fiction/fantasy magazine "with a game in it."
The game is a relatively simple articulation of a common sci-fi scenario of intruders vs. planetary defenders, played in three dimensions (with a total height of six "cubes", a width of eight cubes, and a length of 12 cubes). Because of the comparatively small number of "cubes", three-dimensionality is easily handled by the True Distance Table. Movement in space is in short, point-to-point jumps. Combat is at the ship to ship level, with incremental damage (which can be repaired). Players are encouraged to experiment with different starting forces.
The game is said to be set in the year 3021 (though not necessarily A.D.) It could be suggested that the invading E'kenn are supercilious parahumans with an extreme sense of hierarchy, or perhaps even human-descended themselves, and that the game should be seen as a "schematic" of a far larger conflict. If it is accepted that this is 3021 A.D., the forces involved should of course be far larger, where the conflict represented in WorldKiller would be only one skirmish. The space propulsion technology for the battle is of "mini-jumps" within a gravity field.
StarGate: The Final Space Battle for Galactic Freedom (Space Capsule # 2). Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, 1979.
With the popularity of the "Microgame" concept pioneered by the Metagaming company, SPI began to come out with its own line of "minigames" or "capsule games". The four small games it released were very popular in terms of sales, but apparently failed to be profitable for SPI.
StarGate represents a common sci-fi scenario of a galactic coalition (here including humanity) fighting against tyrannical forces bent on galactic domination (here called the Virunians). For such a small game, a large number of innovative game-mechanics were introduced, based on the relative freedom afforded by the science-fictional concept. For example, there were distinctly different types of movement, different types of combat, and so forth.
The premise setting up the battle is a pell-mell retreat of the Virunians back to their stargates, from some distant corner of the galaxy, where they have met defeat. Their Tri-Ships, consisting of command, battle, and transport sections, pour out in a randomized jumble from the stargates, and the Coalition player has to pick off the disparate sections before they are able to reassemble. The Virunians have six distinct Tri-Ships, A to F, whose respective sections can only enhance sections of the same designation (letter-code). They also have three regular separate ships, the Monads. However, if the Virunians reassemble even one full Tri-Ship, the Coalition Player has effectively lost the game.
The date for this battle was said to be 2519 A.D. This date does not fit in with the main "future-history" of SPI, centered on the StarForce, StarSoldier, and Outreach games. In order to keep the coherence of the general SPI "future-history", it could be suggested that the "canonical" date of this conflict could be shifted by a thousand years, to 3519 A.D.
As far as the Virunians, these can perhaps be conceived of as a coalition of three races -- supercilious parahumans (or even breakaway descendants of Earth humans of ultrahierarchical outlooks) (command section); saurian warriors (combat section); and short, stocky "techies/workers" (transport section).
As far as the race that initially defeated the Virunians, these could be hypothesized as the relatively benevolent Hidden Guardians of the Galactic Core (hinted at in SPI's Outreach game) -- extremely psionically and technologically advanced parahumans.
As in the case of WorldKiller, the game should be interpreted as only a "schematic" of a battle that could have involved hundreds or even thousands of ships.
Cerberus: The Proxima Centauri Campaign, Task Force Game # 3. Task Force Games, 405 South Crockett, Amarillo, TX 79106, 1979.
With the obvious inspiration of Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Cerberus portrays a gung-ho human civilization reaching for the stars in an attempt to conquer the main planet of the closest system, unfortunately occupied by the Cetians -- a semi-reptilian-looking but not monstrous race. Cerberus is the main planet of the Proxima Centauri system. The technology of interstellar travel is "warp point to warp point".
In the interesting designer's notes, Stephen Cole pointed out that the game was conceptualized within some realistic limits – i.e., that no more than 50,000 personnel could be transported to participate directly in the assault, and that most of these would not have so-called power-armor. The date of the conflict is set at 2096 A.D.
The mechanics of the game are rather similar to that of a World War II paratroop assault. The Human player has to overwhelm one of the continents with his initial surge of forces, build up his reinforcements, and then fend off possible Cetian counterattacks (as the Cetians try to rush their own reinforcements to the planet.)
This is a very fine small-game, with many clever aspects.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.