Growing the Game

General Starfire discussion, including information about old products and editions.

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Growing the Game

Postby mcb1968 on Sun 26 Nov 2017 12:06

I think that the Starfire Game is pointed in the wrong direction. The current focus on tactical/4X is missing a whole raft of players who are looking for either more of a linked campaign system or are looking for more of a one-off/tournament system that they can play with friends. If the miniatures idea is ever going to get legs, it is going to be in more of a tournament/one-off mode than as units in a monster Starfire fleet.

I have played Starfire since the old pocket days at Task Force Games, and I have touched various new versions of the system in the past few years and I keep falling back on the above style of play. In deference to the current rules set, I use the quick start rules as a baseline, but rarely am I playing or showing the 4x version of the game. Part of it is that the 4X doesn't show well as a convention game, part is that NONE of my friends would invest that much time in a 4X game (We can't even find time for Twilight Imperium, and that only takes an afternoon!). I have one friend who bought the new Solar Rules and he threw up his hands in despair at the integrated complexity that is the current Starfire.

If the game is going to attract new players, it is going to have to find different ways of presenting the rules and different styles of play. 4X is not for everyone, neither is tournament play or one-off games, but all of this is covered by Starfire. If you compare the versions of the rules since 3rd edition, you find a game that does not come with any tactical scenarios or ship lists to help players learn the game from the box.

Break out the old Star Fire I and notice how the "tech tree" was introduced in a story that also served to introduce both the concepts and weapons systems in an engaging and consistent framework. Steve Cole's ongoing genius is in using the stories to teach the games and helping the players learn the game a layer at a time. This is lacking in the current published rules sets. The quick start rules go a ways to address this, but they are equivalent to the old Starfire I in what they cover. We need examples and teaching sets that introduce fighters, small craft, and gunboats as well as PCU combat. These may need to be put out as supplements or storyline based campaign books similar to what FASA did with its Battletech and Renegade Legion lines, but it really helps to grow the games!

Gamers want stories, not just to count bullets and biscuits and the games that do well, are the ones that tell the best stories.
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Re: Growing the Game

Postby Cralis on Mon 27 Nov 2017 01:10

mcb1968 wrote:I think that the Starfire Game is pointed in the wrong direction. The current focus on tactical/4X is missing a whole raft of players who are looking for either more of a linked campaign system or are looking for more of a one-off/tournament system that they can play with friends. If the miniatures idea is ever going to get legs, it is going to be in more of a tournament/one-off mode than as units in a monster Starfire fleet.


Keep in mind that Starfire is still alive, 42 years later, because of the 4X direction of the game. There are very few games like Starfire, and most of those don't have the tactical or storyline background with such a well known author behind it. It wasn't until the 2000's when board gaming -- specifically tabletop wargames -- started to become less desirable to the common gamer.

The "why" is something we can debate philosophically for months with no agreement (and have before), so I'm not concerning myself with that.

That said, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. The primary motivation behind Solar Starfire was building a new set of rules based on Ultra Starfire that was geared more towards a background story then for balanced competitive play. Oh how I didn't realize what a job I created when I started! But the more recent course that we've embarked on: starting with miniatures, the QSR last year, and other stuff we are working on now is because we realized that the traditional Starfire rulesets are monolithic rulesets that do not interest the younger board gaming players of today.

I have played Starfire since the old pocket days at Task Force Games, and I have touched various new versions of the system in the past few years and I keep falling back on the above style of play. In deference to the current rules set, I use the quick start rules as a baseline, but rarely am I playing or showing the 4x version of the game. Part of it is that the 4X doesn't show well as a convention game, part is that NONE of my friends would invest that much time in a 4X game (We can't even find time for Twilight Imperium, and that only takes an afternoon!). I have one friend who bought the new Solar Rules and he threw up his hands in despair at the integrated complexity that is the current Starfire.


Part of what you are saying is the reason that Marvin and I have been discussing a simplified set of strategic rules. Admiral's Challenge was Marvin's first attempt, but though it does simplify the strategy game in many aspects, it has a lot of record keeping in regards to the map and is very "tabletop war gamey" (if you'll allow me that wording...). We don't believe it is a good replacement in respect to the younger board gamer, thus the survey. You could take that as an indication we are working on something.

If the game is going to attract new players, it is going to have to find different ways of presenting the rules and different styles of play. 4X is not for everyone, neither is tournament play or one-off games, but all of this is covered by Starfire. If you compare the versions of the rules since 3rd edition, you find a game that does not come with any tactical scenarios or ship lists to help players learn the game from the box.


Here is where we get into the weeds. And the weeds are where different opinions, play styles, and preferences all come into play (as you've noted).

There are three distinct "levels" of gameplay in a game like Starfire:

Tactical Game -- pre-built scenarios (one-offs), BYO battles, or battles resulting from a campaign or strategic game. Tournament games have always been pre-built scenarios or BYO battles.

Campaign Game -- a series of scenarios that are either pre-built with a specific order of play (Stars At War), or a regional set of potential scenarios that the player(s) have some choices in how and where to make engagements (Alkeda Dawn).

Strategic Game -- the "4X" game, as you put it, where you control some or all (in the case of Starfire) aspects of an interstellar empire emerging into space to make friends and conquer everyone else.

As you noted, there are elements of most of this in various editions of Starfire. But you are correct that Galactic Starfire and Ultra Starfire did not include a story line and scenario books -- it was designed from the onset as a balanced, competitive tactical and strategic game. And it was designed this way because that is what the players at the time wanted. Now there is some room to quibble, if you knew about how events transpired at the time, but I'm not going to debate that here. Suffice it to say, Marvin was building rules to cater to the players and play-style that he was working with at the time.

I should know -- I was one of those players. It's how and why I got involved with working on Starfire in the first place.

Break out the old Star Fire I and notice how the "tech tree" was introduced in a story that also served to introduce both the concepts and weapons systems in an engaging and consistent framework. Steve Cole's ongoing genius is in using the stories to teach the games and helping the players learn the game a layer at a time. This is lacking in the current published rules sets. The quick start rules go a ways to address this, but they are equivalent to the old Starfire I in what they cover.


We won't quibble over the definition of a tech tree. That only becomes important if you want to debate the merits and changes between the various versions of Starfire. 8-) But I get the point.

The QSR was my first attempt to do anything like a beginner's "step by step" set of rules. It was a baby step with the goal of creating something easy to use for teaching new players. And it was designed using Solar Starfire is the base. It sounds like you might agree that it was successful in meeting these goals, but that you would also agree there needs to be an intermediate step between those rules and the big rules. Thus the survey...

The Kyo Scenarios were an attempt to do something story-based for the QSR. In doing that, I realized that I needed to re-think my entire purpose. The QSR is not good for this because it was intentionally designed shallow for teaching new players.

What you seem to be leaning towards is not the strategic game, or even a campaign system, but rather scenario books full of battles that are based on a history and background. Is that a good interpretation of what you are saying?

We need examples and teaching sets that introduce fighters, small craft, and gunboats as well as PCU combat. These may need to be put out as supplements or storyline based campaign books similar to what FASA did with its Battletech and Renegade Legion lines, but it really helps to grow the games!

Gamers want stories, not just to count bullets and biscuits and the games that do well, are the ones that tell the best stories.


We agree on the majority of what is said here, albeit the big picture view and knowledge of stuff behind-the-scenes gives me a wider perspective. Ultimately, the problem is time: every single person working in the SDS right now has a day job. Most of us have children. And all of us are having a really bad year for having free time.

The problem is not what we want to do. It's that we can't do this as our day job. If we could, we'd be making more significant progress.
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Re: Growing the Game

Postby eoghantodd on Mon 27 Nov 2017 17:47

I really like /most/ of the detail and stuff to let you run a 4x game that has lots of options and everything; but the bookkeeping aspect is a big hurdle. I'm fiddling with some sort of optional simpler campaign system for my friends. Where you are dealing with much smaller numbers and able to still design your fleet and choose where to colonize and so forth.
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Re: Growing the Game

Postby mcb1968 on Mon 27 Nov 2017 23:01

Great responses and thank you. I think a mix of "general" and "story driven" scenarios would help add depth to the game. Some of this might could be worked on by volunteers with some direction. Maybe some of the long running campaign games featured on this site could provide some scenario and even universe back stories?

A quick DYO list/tournament set up might have some merit.

I have had some success building a Starfire story-driven campaign set in the Terran system in the near future. It sets aside some of the operational/strategic ideas in favor of putting the battles in the midst of a broader developing conflict. Battles feature smaller ships and a good depth of terrain (again something that seems to appeal to many of the younger gamers).

Thanks for keeping the game alive for all these years. Thanks to these efforts, we have a game here to discuss! :) Sometimes working in the hobby feels like a second job, but man its fun! :)
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Re: Growing the Game

Postby aramis on Mon 27 Nov 2017 23:27

mcb1968 wrote:I think that the Starfire Game is pointed in the wrong direction. The current focus on tactical/4X is missing a whole raft of players who are looking for either more of a linked campaign system or are looking for more of a one-off/tournament system that they can play with friends. If the miniatures idea is ever going to get legs, it is going to be in more of a tournament/one-off mode than as units in a monster Starfire fleet.

I have played Starfire since the old pocket days at Task Force Games, and I have touched various new versions of the system in the past few years and I keep falling back on the above style of play. In deference to the current rules set, I use the quick start rules as a baseline, but rarely am I playing or showing the 4x version of the game. Part of it is that the 4X doesn't show well as a convention game, part is that NONE of my friends would invest that much time in a 4X game (We can't even find time for Twilight Imperium, and that only takes an afternoon!). I have one friend who bought the new Solar Rules and he threw up his hands in despair at the integrated complexity that is the current Starfire.

If the game is going to attract new players, it is going to have to find different ways of presenting the rules and different styles of play. 4X is not for everyone, neither is tournament play or one-off games, but all of this is covered by Starfire. If you compare the versions of the rules since 3rd edition, you find a game that does not come with any tactical scenarios or ship lists to help players learn the game from the box.

Break out the old Star Fire I and notice how the "tech tree" was introduced in a story that also served to introduce both the concepts and weapons systems in an engaging and consistent framework. Steve Cole's ongoing genius is in using the stories to teach the games and helping the players learn the game a layer at a time. This is lacking in the current published rules sets. The quick start rules go a ways to address this, but they are equivalent to the old Starfire I in what they cover. We need examples and teaching sets that introduce fighters, small craft, and gunboats as well as PCU combat. These may need to be put out as supplements or storyline based campaign books similar to what FASA did with its Battletech and Renegade Legion lines, but it really helps to grow the games!

Gamers want stories, not just to count bullets and biscuits and the games that do well, are the ones that tell the best stories.
QFT.
Old school starfire was largely a tactical game. I, like you, like/miss that.

From my point of view, there is nothing the current editions offer that isn't better done electronically, except for the tactical game itself. And that's better done by older editions.
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Re: Growing the Game

Postby Cralis on Tue 28 Nov 2017 01:57

eoghantodd wrote:I really like /most/ of the detail and stuff to let you run a 4x game that has lots of options and everything; but the bookkeeping aspect is a big hurdle. I'm fiddling with some sort of optional simpler campaign system for my friends. Where you are dealing with much smaller numbers and able to still design your fleet and choose where to colonize and so forth.


That is how Procyon and his family like to play the game. In a regular "open" universe game, they have less habitable planets and they reduce income by 90% so they never have more than a couple dozen ships in their games. But more often then not, they also play with reduced playing areas like the Nemesis game where they only had the Solar System available to play with. Other than that, they add detail and complexity in small print pages with hand written notes in several different colors of pens between the lines and around the edges of the page. 8-)

aramis wrote:Old school starfire was largely a tactical game. I, like you, like/miss that.

From my point of view, there is nothing the current editions offer that isn't better done electronically, except for the tactical game itself. And that's better done by older editions.


And to be fair, there have been two (three, depending upon how you count) attempts to computerize Starfire. I was also a participant of at least one additional negotiation with a gaming company, and it fell through when we had one minor legal issue to clear up (it was fixed the next month), but more importantly they wanted to pay us for the exclusive rights to use the Starfire IP in a one-time payment that is less than they paid their average developer. It isn't going to happen on terms like that.

mcb1968 wrote:Great responses and thank you. I think a mix of "general" and "story driven" scenarios would help add depth to the game. Some of this might could be worked on by volunteers with some direction. Maybe some of the long running campaign games featured on this site could provide some scenario and even universe back stories?


We actually have an outlined history and a bunch of details for a new history for the Solar Starfire ruleset. In fact, the name comes from the name of the human empire in that history, the Solar Union. It was our intention to finish rebuilding the rules before we started the history and... well life happened. But that was a few years ago.

Because of the various reasons we are discussing right now, we built the QSR and are working on a couple of other projects that we think will broaden the appeal of the game to new users. And our playtesters (especially Procyon!) have been essential to the development and testing of the QSR.

This is also one of the primary reasons we spent a lot of time in the last couple of years re-building the older products for re-publication. Some players prefer certain versions, so we wanted to make sure that everyone could play the version of Starfire that they prefer.

And then we reserve the right to try and build something new that ya'll will want to play. :D

A quick DYO list/tournament set up might have some merit.


The ship designs in the QSR are actually based on ship designs that Marvin used for Ultra Starfire tournaments (specifically, QSR scenario #2). This is one area that I'd be willing to work with someone to build.

I have had some success building a Starfire story-driven campaign set in the Terran system in the near future. It sets aside some of the operational/strategic ideas in favor of putting the battles in the midst of a broader developing conflict. Battles feature smaller ships and a good depth of terrain (again something that seems to appeal to many of the younger gamers).


One thing that we have mentioned (in hushed voices) from time to time is that if someone wants to build scenario books based on their campaigns, and they are willing to meet Marvin's standards for a product, we would be willing to sell the scenario book. That actually holds more weight now that we are working with War Game Vault to sell our products!

Thanks for keeping the game alive for all these years. Thanks to these efforts, we have a game here to discuss! :) Sometimes working in the hobby feels like a second job, but man its fun! :)


I don't mind the second job. I just wish I had more time to work that job :) We will get there. It's just taking too long...
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