Home Forums Sci Fi General Sci-Fi What exactly are sci-fi games?

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    Angel Barracks

    My sci-fi games are not really sci-fi stories at any rate…

    They are generic stories in a sci-fi setting.
    For example, some games I have played involved; extracting a corporate employee, stopping kidnappers, scouting an outpost, destroying a remote facility.
    None of these are only playable in a sci-fi setting.
    They are simply generic stories/missions put into a sci-fi setting.
    That is to say the missions could be played out in WWII games or even dark ages games.

    Take Firefly for example; the train robbery, Jaynestown, our mrs Reynolds (hee hee) etc, they could all be set in any time period.
    Defiance (good sci-fi show) could be set at any time, with the aliens simply being foreigners.

    I have alien wildlife in my games but they could be substituted with dogs, wolves, tigers etc.

    Even Predator could be set in any time period, it is just a very strong enemy that has excellent camouflage.

    Bladerunner however deals with artificial life and manmade sentience, this I would argue is sci-fi and the same story could not be told in a historical setting without seeming nonsense, though I await to be corrected.
    ‘True’ Sci-fi stories should not be able to be set today.
    As such I think most sci-fi stories are in fact generic stories in a sci-fi setting, if you catch my drift.

    However, my question/point was:

    What makes rules sci-fi then?

    I did think that to make rules that reflect warfare in the future we would need to have some radical shake up around ways of playing.

    Maybe in 100 years, all wars will be commanded by AI’s and we will simply sit back and pray.
    Would in game terms that mean just we pick the force and roll on an action – reaction chart to see how the various AI’s fight each other, with no actual strategic thought by us?
    Just see which AI outwits the other?
    Would it all be about ECM/ECCM/ECCCM rolls until one player fails and the nuke goes off?
    Would it be about hacking and firewalls and cyberpunk?

    Or maybe sci-fi rules are any gunpowder rules that have stats for lasers/walkers and aliens?

    It was whilst pondering this question/dilemma that I found my own answer.

    It is not the rules or the mechanics as such, it is how we as gamers game.
    Let us consider the normal wargame.
    We look down at the table and see everything, troops not yet put on the table, troops behind hills, troops inside buildings, etc.

    This kind of godlike insight may well work for moderns and sci-fi, as we have drones sending back information, satellite imaging, sensors and all sorts of communication that could give us this view of the battlefield.

    So for sci-fi games this method of playing should be fine, why then does it seem lacking?
    Because we have the same view of the battlefield in sci-fi games as we do in ancients games.

    A 4th century BC general would not have real time updates on the battlefield.
    A 14th century general would not have real time updates on the battlefield.

    Yet this is how we often play them, which in turn means that if this is how ancients games are played then how do we represent future and modern technology which would actually allow this.

    So, in summary I think sci-fi games don’t feel sci-fi enough as they use the same way of playing as games with technology that has yet to invent wi-fi!

    So for me the problem is with historical games.
    How to solve this?

    A quick fix would be to play ‘old’ games as we do now, but when a unit is encountered or in some way interacted with, roll a d6.

    1 = it is actually 5” further away.
    2-3 = it is where it is.
    4-5 = it is 5” closer.
    6 = it is not even a unit, just rumours.

    Something like that anyway.
    That would mean the fog of war as so common in olden days would be represented, and sci-fi games with all their super technology would allow real time positioning of troops.

    That make sense, or am I waffling?


    To answer the title first: Fantasy with lasers or tech that currently exists/is set to exist in the next 20 years, still with a fantasy element of making certain things practical and not combining them too much.

    The medium is too limited (including by representations of the past and present) to get really out-there with serious extrapolation of future technological trends. It’s something you need a PC to really be able to present in an interesting manner; such as combat between two sets of Von Neumann machines aka Total Annihilation would be pretty unplayable in a tabletop format due to the constant production measured in seconds of insane amounts of units that still need to be directed.

    As for the latter part about how we game, well I think though for the historical games part what it really boils down to is not things like fog of war, but simply design of the rules with the aim for simulation vs game-y (can’t think of a better word, and toy-soldiers is kind of a loaded term that I want to avoid). Any game that is playable will include elements of both, but it’s in the amounts that’s key. For example, Bolt Action makes nods towards simulation with not differentiating too much between people in the way that say, Warhammer Historical would and instead focusing on experience. But then it heavily leans towards game-y things in parts like how the line-of-sight system involves checking from the miniature, and thus treating it as the combatant not a representation of one.  As it is, the most popular games all lean towards the game-y part of the spectrum over the simulation part except in certain niche areas like with Moderns and Force on Force (heavily leaning towards simulation).

    We as gamers also need understandable context. This is where the more ‘hard’ end of sci-fi is not coming in. The best example of this I can think of is actually with RPGs. There’s two RPGs I know of that really lean on sci-fi based on the best understanding we have of future tech trends and they are Eclipse Phase and GURPS: Transhuman Space. And both pale in comparison in popularity compared to the RPGs based on Warhammer 40k or Star Wars (both literally fantasy with lasers) and a lot of that is down to the need for players and GMs to be familiar with a ton of current scientific concepts and predicted technologies as to have any idea of what is going on because it gets to the point of technological integration where People are not necessarily Human.

    Basically for hard(er) sci-fi you need people who at a bare minimum read (and understand) New Scientist frequently, where as the alternatives is very easy access because the concepts are just ingrained culturally through other games, films, tv shows and so on.

    You would need the same for an even vaguely hard sci-fi wargame, and frankly there’s not even a good public understanding of how modern warfare works in general let alone how the predicted and planned future systems and methods would affect things, especially since it’s in a very fluid state currently where there’s all sorts of things that may work, might not be that great, might not be feasible for longer than expected and so on.

    Which incidentally is what’s stopped production of the sci-fi version of A Fistful of TOWs dead, as the developers can’t work out what would need to be covered and apply it with their same attention to detail and realism that they put into their current game. Because it’s not just a case of better guns, better armour, better engines. There’s potentially a huge paradigm shift in the works over the next couple of decades or so and that can’t reasonably be represented by just better line of sight and unit control rules when aiming for the simulation-y end of the spectrum.



    Ivan Sorensen

    As you say, the problem isn’t that the scifi games aren’t futuristic enough, it’s that our historical games are basically science fiction already.

    Making predictions on futuristic technology is fun but tough, but in the end, the miniatures we have available are dudes with guns, tanks and dudes with swords.
    So games tend to reflect that and we settle on “Vietnam in Space” because we have the miniatures and we can conceptualize it more easily.

    Nordic Weasel Games


    You know, I started out an hour ago, with a really wordy, thoughtful post.  Then I started deleting the excess, and ended up with:

    The game is a story about needs or wants (both can be reduced to wants, but with slightly different motivation).

    “Sci-fi” is just a collection of adjectives used to describe the story.


    Sorry for the under-whelming start to the day.  Gotta go to work now.




    Blade Runner is just a story of refugees.  It could just as easily be set in 1960’s America where the plot is to root out Soviet spies, or late 1940’s where they’re looking for former Nazis.

    All stories are just stories, they can be set anywhere.  Some, very few really, would need a lot of coincidences and unlikely events but nothing impossible.

    It’s a “Sci-fi” game because one of the elements is something we don’t actually have (lasers, jet packs, space ships, the Nautilus, etc.), or don’t have as commonly available as it is in the story.

    It’s the same thing as “Fantasy”, but instead of Magic doing amazing things, it’s Technology.


    Well, <i>Blade Runner </i>might have been editted up to be just another refugee story, but in its original version, which the Director’s Cut recovered, it was not that: Dekker himself was a replicant and he didn’t know.

    That would be sci-fi, as the story hangs on a technology that doesn’t exist and without which it doesn’t work.

    I would say that is a good guide for sci-fi. That means few games actually are. <i>Battletech, </i>maybe. Uhm…

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

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