Monday 1 August 2016

A Look Back: Starship Troopers & Battlefield Evolution (Restrospective Series)

This, like my 2300AD article, is a look back at some older rules that have kinda faded from sight.

For some, like AE:WW2, the fade out was merciful  (why the heck are they trying to revive it with a Kickstarter?). Others, like Battlefeet Gothic, Epic and Starship Troopers, died when other less worthy systems flourished.  Some, like Crossfire, were too "ahead of their time."  Others, like Vor and Warzone are interesting but are rather dated and 90s. Urban War and Rezolution had good qualities, but were killed off by Infinity.  Remember Mercs and their cards-based movement? 

Starship Troopers (and it's spin-offs, Battlefield Evolution and World at War) are interesting. An Andy Chambers ruleset, they were allegedly his take on a more dynamic 40K, but when the powers that be opted for what became the 4th ed, he took his ideas to Mongoose instead. (Where they won an Origins award, I note).

Back in the day, I remember proxying with Space Marines and Tyrannids and being impressed with the rules, but the fugly miniatures discouraged me from "buying in" to a system that I (correctly) gauged had a limited life expectancy.

So, let's have a look at them...

The Shiny
Well, this IS an OOP rules book, so probably not important. It is a glossy hardback with photos and art and all that but I never really was super impressed. What interested me was other stuff...

Fire Zone
A unit fires at a single "target model" - and any within an AoE radius of that target model could be attacked.  Any natural '1's discarded; and if as reaction fire, put a unit as low ammo.
 Casualties are always removed closest to the firing unit first.

Target/Kill Target Numbers
Units have a "Target" and "Kill" stat which serves as their "Defence"
A normal mobile infantry has a 4+ target, and a 7+ kill.

Any dice rolling above the "Kill" number means the target may make a dodge save (if it has the "dodge" ability possessed by a few units) or be removed. Multi-wound models lose 2 wounds.

Compare remaining dice to the "Target" score. Each result that makes the target results forces a save.  A failed save means it is removed (or loses a single wound if a multi-wound model).

Basically, if it rolled above the kill stat you die outright unless you are very nimble.  If it rolls above the target stat you could roll to make an armour save.

Also, there is no traditional roll to hit, then roll to kill. There is a single damage roll.  Some heavy weapons have bonuses to their die i.e. d6+1, or use a larger dice like a d10.  Rapid fire weapons get extra dice. - an assault rifle might roll two d6s.  Again, this "one roll to hit AND damage" is common now, but back then it was pretty unusual.  

Free Unlimited Overwatch (Reaction Fire)
Although IGOUGO, any unit could react (usually by shooting) against any unit acting within 10" of them.   Units had unlimited reactions, but the reaction took place AFTER the action that triggered it.   Soldiers could react individually - i.e. the bazooka guy might hold his ground and fire as the rest of his squad took cover.  In addition, for each '1' rolled in reaction, one solider is out of ammo until the start of their next turn.

Units which took a "ready" action in their own turn can carry that "readied" status over into the opponents phase, potentially using special weapons or actions in reaction.

Units are centred on a commander, within his 6"command range; troops separated from their commander (perhaps because of recoiling due to damage) tend to stay put; though they may react by firing on enemies within range.   They remain stationary until "collected" by a commander moving within command range.

 Starship Troopers somewhat tongue-in-cheek universe probably never had the depth on which to base a deep and long running gaming franchise....

Your Actions - Your Choice
At a time when many games had a regimented move-shoot-melee sequence, active units in SST could spent their two actions any order or combination they wanted - move+move, shoot+shoot, move+shoot, shoot+move, etc.

Duck from Cover
Any intervening cover within 1" of your model can be ignored if you wish - this would be the model finding windows/gaps to fire through, ducking over a wall, firing and ducking back etc.

Any unit taking a non-lethal hit (i.e. he passes a save) "flinches" back 2" directly away from the firer; this can cause units to lose cohesion as soldiers are forced out of the commanders' radius.

This is kinda a "stored" action; sometimes it boosts a action - a ready action that precedes shooting allows missed shots to be re-rolled, for example.  Some effects require a ready action to activate, such as the jump jets on a a mech suit. Units can retain their ready status until they use it (even in their opponents turn as a reaction.)

Elegant ammo rules, simple reactions which are unlimited but balanced, AoE-style automatic weapons based on a single "target model", commanders/unit cohesion that matters, and a single dice roll to hit AND damage.  It would have been interesting if 40K had veered in these directions back in 2004 instead of conservatively maintaining the status quo with 4th edition.

So why did SST fail?  Well, as a generic sci fi ruleset it could have worked, but it was firmly married to the Starship Troopers universe.  And let's be honest - with only humans vs bugs and a non-canon "skinnies" faction there wasn't a lot to collect, and the models weren't that great.   It never looked like a long-term project, and after all, drew from a deliberately shallow B-movie universe that was unlikely to have wide or lasting appeal.   Sure enough, after a 2005 release the SST models were dying off by 2007ish.

The rules themselves had some legs left - reappearing in various incarnations for Mongoose as the Battlefield:Evolution rules for modern combat, and the World at War WW2 variant and I suspect strongly inspired the current indie Victory Decision series which have morphed into weird-war (Gear Krieg) and sci fi (thus coming in a full circle back to its sci fi roots).

Anyway, Starship Troopers is a fascinating look at "what might have been" for 40K, and was an interesting evolution of the systems of the time, with several concepts which are only now becoming mainstream. 


  1. The game was pretty decent, a lot of the figures were kind of bad.

    I always thought it was really interesting though. The RPG was decent too, even if it was a D20 game.

  2. Hit the button too quick.

    I always thought the "out of ammo" rule combined with how they handled overwatch was really keen and elegant.

  3. A fantastic set of rules. Still my favourite for sci-fi games, even if dead. Side note - I would say the skinnies were semi-cannonical. They appeared in the Starship Troopers 'Rough Necks' animated series - which the game claimed to also be based upon. I think, just think, they may have been mentioned in passing in the original novel.

    1. Hmmph. Skinnies as a core faction is tenuous at best. I think they got halfway through and went "cripes, we can only sell minis for two factions - what can we add?!"

      SST formed the basis of quite a few of my "make 40K better" attempts (you know, the stage that all budding teen game designers go through)... looking back I realised it's ironic as it already WAS an attempt to evolve 40K....

    2. Just checked my hard drive: Victory Decision: Future Combat IS the SST mechanics adapted to generic hard sci fi, with points systems etc for creating your own forces.... if you liked the SST engine, now you can use it for any sci fi minis....

  4. The figures were plain bad. I guess they hoped to appeal to the cheap crowd on TMP that was forever crying out for "hard scifi" military stuff based on either Starship Troopers or Aliens while also making clear they would not pay for quality toys. And apparently not for low grade miniatures either ;-)

    1. The "The figures are too expensive, the rules are too expensive, I don't like learning new things and I never buy anything made after 1972" crowd? :)

    2. I never visit TMP any more.

      It's too toxic. I once thought it was strictly run but quickly realised the moderation was arbitrary and certain individuals could do as they wished. It has a kind of weird disfunctionality that makes sites like DakkaDakka and Frothers look reasonable in contrast.

      I don't enjoy sifting through 18,800 sub-boards and forums for obscure stuff to find anything. I detest the replies of which 90% are always "I didn't read the original post and I'm ignorant but here's my snarky opinion anyway" and I find the personal life and employment practices of the owner.... ...disquieting.

    3. What's the 411 on the personal life of the owner?

    4. I'm not sure the ins and outs, also the exact accuracy, but there is enough I find to be disquieting. Take with a pinch of salt, but here's a summary of key concerns:
      Again, I'm not endorsing it, but combined with my own observations about editorial comments, it combines to make me feel a bit uncomfortable about even indirectly supporting TMP.

    5. Huh. The things that go on...

    6. That and the tendency to allow political garbage to overflow everywhere else.

    7. It makes me a bit nostalgic - along with (thanks Pete Jones - he sometimes drops past) - TMP was a staple of my early exploration of life outside the "GW hobby".

      However the general trajectory of TMP made it easy to move away...

  5. Starship Troopers also had some great features regarding force organization, deployment, terrain and terrain-like features (ammo caches, etc) that showed someone put some thought into how a 40k-like game works.

    1. True. The campaigns and scenarios bits are also rather good. Many disliked Andy Chambers for his perceived codex "cheesiness" but I enjoyed BFG and I'm interested to see how his involvement in Dropfleet Commander will pan out.

    2. I'd love to see Chambers unleashed on a game with no points values at all.

    3. True. The codex thing isn't necessarily a criticism. I mean, if he was merely told to "make Tyranids scary" as a parameter...

  6. "skinnies" are cannon as they come from the book itself :)