Iron Stars. I think it was destined to be unpopular. As if VSF isn’t niche enough, it decides to be Edwardian science fiction instead. And not land warfare, but rather space – er – ether combat.
I must admit the background is fascinating, probably because it includes both the Prussians and the Austro-Hungarian space, um, ether forces. The rules themselves are actually quite clever in my opinion. To me, an “elegant” rule system (a greatly over used term) or rules mechanism makes things happen without any special work. No extra modifiers, no extra rules. It just “happens”. For example, in Iron Stars, larger calibre weapons find it harder to hit smaller targets. There are no special rules, or die roll modifiers – it just happens. Torpedoes are more likely to hit certain parts of the ship. Again, no special rules or anything.
I think the designer rather likes them, as there are two supplements to the rules and a whole book of nothing more than Edwardian scientifictions, to get players in the mood. There is the beginnings of a Iron Stars range at Brigade, but as it never expanded, I suspect sales were dismal. The author even ported the background and universe to his other, much more popular game, Starmada. Which I thought was a shame, as I think it lost some of the charm as it was forced into the generic Starmada.
(As an aside, there are on sale at Wargames Vault right now, during their “Summer Offensive Sale”.