Monday, September 19, 2011

Vintage Starfleet Wars reviews

The Starfleet Wars rules and miniatures came out in 1977, produced by Superior Models.  I've learned some of the background that led to their creation, but now I'm curious about what kind of splash the SfW rules and associated models made when they were first released. 

Although Superior evidently had a viable product line, it didn't leave much of a record ouside the magazine ads remembered by geeks like me.  But now, thanks to the power of Google and the assistance of the kind folks over at The Miniatures Page, I was able to track down a few mentions of the rules and/or minis in a couple of gaming periodicals from around the time Starfleet Wars was released.  Here they are in chronological order:

Space Gamer #21 (January/February 1979)
In the overview "Spaceship Miniatures & Rules," author Tony Watson looks at "the proliferation of miniatures lines" dealing with science fiction gaming.  One of those minis ranges is Starfleet Wars, and the writer isn't that impressed with the models:

The models have a lot of detail (bordering on the garish) and are bristling with turrets, sensor modules and a variety of other odds and ends whose purposes we can only guess at.  My major criticism of the ship designs is, for some reason, the designer felt it necessary that the ships in some way resemble the race that built them. Hence, Carnivoran ships have a cat-like appearance, and the Aquarians look like turtles. ... I'm surprised the Star Wars Corporation hasn't sued over the resemblance to their "Imperial Stardestroyer"!
The reviewer sums up the miniatures as "a disappointment" and "not ... very appealing."  He also initially describes the game as "simplle, fast and clean"--but concludes "the rules have a sort of thrown together feeling."

The Dragon #29 (September 1979)
In "MICRO-REVIEWS: Short Takes and First Impressions," TD editor Tim Kask examines the miniatures and rules for MAATAC, the sci-fi ground combat game set in the same universe as SfW, and he mentions the spaceships as well:
If you haven’t seen the figures (castings would be a more correct term) you have really missed something. They are an extrapolation on their outstanding STARFLEET series of spacecraft, being the ground units of the five races. They also mesh with the STARFLEET WARS set of rules for using the spacecraft.
Kask however, has not played the game, telling readers, "If we had had some of the castings, we would have tried them by now."

Space Gamer #30 (August 1980)
In the "Capsule Reviews" article, under the Miniatures subsection, SG publisher Steve Jackson himself reviews the starship minis, with high praise for these models:
The STARSHIPS are the best miniature spaceships I've seen.  They come in five "races" – that is, there are five different sets of ships.  Each race has, at present, seven classes of ship, ranging from tiny starfighters to enormous "Super Galactic Dreadnoughts."  Each race's ships have a distinctive "look," setting them apart from those built by the other races.
He says he even dropped a couple to see how they responded to mistreatment and notes they're hard to break.  He goes on to recommend these minis for spaceship fans, "especially those who can paint well enough to do justice to the details."

Space Gamer #31 (September 1980)
In the "Capsule Reviews" article, under the Games subsection, contributing editor Nick Schuessler describes the SfW power allocation process and notes the rules are unclear about the advantages of firing at half range or less.  He does does like the differentiation between maximum power units for each ship:
A major pitfall in this type of game is to spend your time thinking up fancy names and then give all the ships nearly identical characteristics.  Here the PUs and the maximum for offense, defense, and movement pretty well reflect the national characteristics given in the policical discussion.
The reviewer also suggests adapting the game to use hexes instead of inches for movement and range, something I have done in my own Starfleet Wars games.

Space Gamer #34 (December 1980)
In the "Capsule Reviews" article, under the Games subsection, author Alex R. Sabo reviews the rules for MAATAC.  He describes the game as simple, lacking the details of more complex wargames such as Tractics or Panzer.

The basic rules of MAATAC are straightforward, easy to explain and understand, and quick.  Probably anyone familiar with miniatures could just pick up the data tables and start playing.  This is very good for an introductory game or for scenarios with large numbers of units.  ... The rules can also becom boring after very few plays.  The reason?  While there are five empires, each with five classes of MAATAC they all have the same weapons systems.  The vehicles in each class, while different in detail, all seem very much the same.
The reviewer recommends the rules for players wanting a game with infantry, armor, and air aspects, but warns them to keep its simplicity in mind.

Dragon #101 (September 1985)
In the Ares science fiction section of Dragon magazine, in the article "Starships and Star Soldiers: Miniatures in Science-Fiction Gaming" editor Roger E. Moore compiles a list of sci-fi minis and rules, including: 
MAATAC; Superior Models, Inc. These are tank-battle rules.
Starfleet Wars; Superior Models, Inc.
There's no further details in this article, just these bare-bones listings under “Land warfare” and “Space war” respectively (but that's all any other sci-fi minis games got, anyway).  I'm surprised I didn't find more mentions of SfW or MAATAC in other issues of Dragon magazine.

That's all the mentions of Starfleet Wars and MAATAC I could find from back in the day.  If you know of something more, in these magazines or in other periodicals please let me know.

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