Ten years ago, I wrote an article called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Part One: A History and Ten Top Games”, which discussed some top science-fiction games. Looking back, it’s shocking how inadequate the science-fiction market was at the time. Two of the “top” games I mentioned, Diceland (2003) and Light Speed (2003) were quite small press. Two others, Blue Moon (2004) and Blue Moon City (2006), trended more toward science fantasy — or even pure fantasy. Mission Red Planet (2005) was the only mainstream game from my list with strong science fiction themes. There were some others of course, with Starfarers of Catan (1999) being the most obvious, but as a whole science-fiction games were pretty scant ten years ago, especially among pure Euros.
Fast forward a decade. I recently spent an evening where I played Star Realms (2014) followed by The Captain is Dead (2014, 2016). A few months ago it was a couple of games of Jump Drive (2017) followed by Galaxy Trucker (2007). There have also been games of Colony(2016),Master of Orion (2016), Roll for the Galaxy (2014), and others. In other words, science fiction games have gotten really big in the eurogame space — in large part due to non-German designers.
Obviously, science-fiction theming gives these games different façades. But a game’s genre should be deeper than that: it should determine the mechanics of the game, and ideally those should be mechanics that wouldn’t be possible in any other genre. So today I ask: what makes a real science-fiction game?
I’m going to take a look at several popular games that I’m familiar with to answer that question. I’ve purposefully avoided licensed offerings, as they obviously have very different reasons for their theming.
Over at Skotos I’m continuing my work on Xenagia, our new science-fiction, fantasy, and horror community. Thus these three genres remain foremost in my mind, and I’m continuing my series here discussing them. If you missed it, you should read my first article on this topic, which covered history and ten top games in the genres.
The interesting thing about the fantasy, science-fiction, and horror genres is how completely they describe hobbyist game production in the United States from the mid ’70s to the late ’90s. Aside from historical military conflicts, if a hobbyist game came out in the United States, the odds were at least 50/50 that it was a genre game. I still have about half a bookshelf full of Dragon Pass, The Riddle of the Ring, Dune, Kings & Things, Hacker, and other similar games from this period.
However there were always three games that really stood out to me as the definitive American hobbyist games, and which got much love and play over the years until I discovered Eurogames: Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati, and Wiz-war. I played all three for the first time in college and they largely defined my board game playing for a decade. They’ve now all fallen out of favor, especially by crowds won over by Eurogames, but they’re still worth a look, so here’s my thoughts on them: Continue reading →
In my real life I work for Skotos Tech, an online gaming company that’s increasingly becoming an online entertainment company. Our newest site, which I launched last week, is Xenagia, a community site all about fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Thus far we’ve got a forum and a book index, with plans to add reviews in a couple of weeks.
(And, if you’re interested in the topics, please stop on by, as we’re working hard to create a community, particularly on the forums.)
Because of my work on Xenagia, I’ve been largely immersed in these three genres over the last couple of weeks, and that’s what led to this article, talking about science-fiction and fantasy (and to a lesser extent, horror) in gaming.