sci-fi covers

Sci-Fi Games: Not Just Space but Mostly

When I think sci-fi, I tend to think space things along with wibbly wobbly time wimey stuff. I wasn’t entirely sure if or how this definition translated to board games, so I decided to check the BGG definition: “Science Fiction games often have themes relating to imagined possibilities in the sciences. Such games need not be futuristic; they can be based on an alternative past. Many of the most popular Science Fiction games are set in outer space, and often involve alien races”. With that in mind, let’s look at some sci-fi games that appeal to David T., Harry-Pekka, and myself.

David T. on Sci-Fi Games

David T. likes sci-fi themes because he likes sci-fi in all its forms: books, movies, he wants them all. As it relates to board games, he tends to like epic sci-fi games that involve world building and the creation of backstories for player empires, i.e., Eclipse, Burning Suns, and Twilight Imperium 3.

Recently, however, David has been playing shorter strategy games. When he wants shorter sci-fi-themed games, he is drawn to Alien Frontiers or Among the Stars.

It would be difficult to talk about sci-fi games and not discuss what David considers to be “the special kind of games: licensed ones”. He describes Battlestar Galactica as one of his all-time favorite games based on an existing intellectual property and finds “the space and killer robots theme [to be] thoroughly integral to the game”. If you’re looking for “the most thematically integrated beautifully dripping ameritrash madness”, he would point you towards Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit. What draws him to this game? He “just love[s] how no matter what players do, Gungans die.”

Harry-Pekka on Sci-Fi Games

Harry-Pekka tends to find that sci-fi board games aren’t pushing boundaries by integrating new sci-fi concepts. Instead, they capitalize on players using “existing” gadgets, etc. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t games out there doing creative things with sci-fi. He loves Twilight Imperium 3 for instance. He also cites Burning Suns as maximizing “the sense of wonder in outrageous things one can accomplish”. As far as unique universes go, Warhammer 40,000 has “the coolest universe of its own and is most independent in ideas”.

Rhiannon on Sci-Fi Games

I’d have to agree with both David and Harry-Pekka. I love most all things sci-fi, but I also feel like sci-fi games are largely the same. A little pew pew pew here, a little [explosion noise] there, a seven hour play time for giggles, and we’ve got ourselves a game! It seems to me that if you’re going to make a game about space things or wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, it should be as silly as possible. That’s why I like completely ridiculous sci-fi games.

If being a galactic trucker was a real thing, I would be the best galactic trucker the ‘verse ever saw. I know this thanks to Galaxy Trucker. The spatial reasoning aspect of building ships really appeals to me. I’m unnaturally good at building mostly indestructible ships, which is a good thing because the event cards aren’t always kind. Normally random stuff annoys me immensely, but asteroid showers in space make sense. Therefore, I say bring on the destructive explosions! Blow up all the spaceships!

Speaking of explosions, I have an indescribable obsession with Battle Beyond Space. Aside from questionable spaceship color choices, I enjoy the chaos that ensues with the flip of every card and the movement of each squad. Did you just fly off the board? Sorry ’bout it. How’s that asteroid blocking your shot making you feel now Gunny McGunnerson? Good!

A Bit More about the Sci-fi Games Mentioned Above

Eclipse is a two to six player game designed by Touko Tahkokallio. Players control a vast interstellar civilization and try to maintain dominance through exploration, research, technology, and war. The player with the most victory points at the end of nine rounds wins.

Burning Suns is a two-five player “tactical science fiction game set in an expansive universe in which you’ll be competing for supremacy through technology, diplomacy, exploitation and destruction” designed by Emil Larsen. To win the game, you must be the first empire to have the required amount of antimatter wins.

Twilight Imperium III is a three to six player game designed by Christian T. Peterson. Players try to build an empire capable of seizing the imperial throne using warfare, diplomacy, and advanced technology to their best advantage. The player who scores at least 10 victory points by meeting specific conditions wins the game.

Alien Frontiers is a two to four player game designed by Tory Niemann. Players place dice on orbital stations in an effort to obtain and manage the resources necessary to colonize and control the planet. The player with the most points when a player’s final colony is placed on the planet wins.

Among the Stars is a two to four player game designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis. Players are assigned an alien race with a variable player power and draft cards over four rounds in order to build the greatest space station. The player with the most points at the end of the fourth year, wins.

Battlestar Galactica is a three to six player game designed by Corey Konieczka. Players are assigned roles aboard Galactica along with a  loyalty card: human or Cylon. The humans aboard Galactica are trying to get the ship to earth while the Cylons are trying to sabotage the mission. If Galactica makes it to Earth, the humans win. Otherwise, the Cylons claim victory.

Star Wars: Queen’s Gambit is a two to four player game by Rob Daviau, Alan Roach, and Craig Van Ness. The game recreates the four battles at the end of The Phantom Menance and pits Naboo forces against the Trade Federation. The Naboo forces are able to win if they can destroy the Trade Federation Control Ship and has majority in the palace throne room. The Trade Federation wins if they destroy all but two of the Naboo pieces in the palace.

Warhammer 40,000 is a two to six player miniatures game designed by Andy Chambers, Jervis Johnson, Rick Priestley, and Gavin Thorpe. Players choose a faction to lead to victory via strategic movement and combat.

Galaxy Trucker is a two to four player game designed by Vlaada Chvátil. Players are truckers trying to transport goods, people, and most of their spaceship across the galaxy. First, they simultaneously build their ships. Then, they start their route, which is plagued by pirates as well as asteroids with the occasional abandoned space station. The player with the most credits at the end of three rounds is deemed the best trucker.

Battle Beyond Space is a three to four player game designed by Frank Branham. Players take on the role of a unique alien race that commands three squadrons and has unique powers. All players have the same deck of nine cards that are shuffled and revealed simultaneously. Players move all of their ships in one squadron based on the revealed card’s available movements: move, fire, and move and fire their capital ship.

You on Sci-Fi Games

Obviously, the above mentioned games are hardly the end all be all of games rooted in science fiction. There are games like Cosmic Encounter that may as well be called Chaotic Encounter because of variable player powers and predictable, potentially overpowering movements yet has stood the test of time. Then, there’s the debatably popular Race for the Galaxy. Is it better than Android Netrunner? You tell me. Let’s not forget about games that integrate technology right into the board game. (I’m looking at you XCOM.) Does the addition of actual technology to a board game enhance or diminish the game?

What are some of your favorite sci-fi games?