The nerds who enjoy intellectual hobbies also enjoy intellectual television. A love of board games typically comes with a love of Star Trek: show me a board game fanatic and I’ll show you a Trekkie. We see in Geek and Sundry the former Ensign Wesley Crusher now podcasting about some of our favorite board games. A case could be made that the continued popularity of Star Trek is in part due to rise in popularity in high end board games. Let’s take a look at how Star Trek and board games have influenced each other.
1. The early Star Trek games: 1967 to 1979
The first Star Trek themed game was aptly named, “Star Trek” Game. The publisher, Ideal Toys, was a bit off the mark with the box cover. Spock looks like he’s constipated. The game, however, was not a simple roll-and-move after thought. It was a card driven race game several decades ahead of Snow Tails. Players had to move to various planets, collect fuel cards and return to Earth.
Star Trek’s five year mission lasted for three TV seasons. Fans pleaded with Paramount to release more episodes. In 1973, CBS/Paramount released two seasons of Star Trek the cartoon show. It’s a good cartoon that has stood the test of time. Hasbro’s take on this show, however, has not. This spin-and-move game gives Hasbro’s typical dreck a bad name. Hasbro wouldn’t hire talented game designers until the 80’s. And even then I’m being generous.
Palitoy Ltd. released a game, also bearing the monicker “Star Trek Game”. This game, published in 1975, was inspired largely by the Gold Key Comics. The game includes a giant rubber spider, Klingon standees and an advertisement for Planet of the Apes action figures. Oh, the game play? Probably something that wouldn’t hold your interest.
2. The Star Trek movies inspire another generation of board games: 1979 to 1985
Paramount decided to forego making another Star Trek television show in the late 70’s. This decision was made because of the popularity of Star Wars. Paramount decided they could cash in on some big
screen adaptations of our beloved franchise.
And Milton Bradley sunk their teeth into the project to adapt this into a board game. They got famed game designer Michael Gray (designer of Fortress America, Dungeon! and many other titles) to do the heavy lifting. The outcome is a solid game that does the Star Trek theme justice.
Players roll-and-move about the galaxy in a Merchant of Venus style game board, completing missions and scoring points along the way. The game still holds a solid 6.12 at BGG, by far the highest Star Trek game of its day.
West End Games got Greg Costikyan (designer of MegaCorps and Pax Britannica) to design a Star Trek themed game. The result: Star Trek the Adventure Game.
This game is a predecessor to Tales of the Arabian Nights. It’s a storybook game where you have to interact with numerous different worlds and refer to a paragraph book
to see the results of their decisions.
The game plays 1 to 2 players. And from what I can gather, it can be brutal. You could very easily lose your crew or your ship.
Still, the game holds an impressive 6.8 on BGG. And it’s a much more interesting theme than Tales of the Arabian Nights.
Before the advent of the Chicken McNugget, McDonalds toyed with the idea of making board games. Their “Star Trek Starfleet Game” was free to kids who bought a 1979 Happy Meal. While this game has little strategic decision making, it is surprisingly inexpensive. Copies go for $5 on amazon.
3. Star Trek teams with Task Force Games: 1979 to 2014
Task Force Games (later Amarillo Design Bureau) would publish Star Trek knock offs for the better part of four decades. Star Trek is not listed in the logos or titles but this is the Star Trek theme lifted and applied to classical wargame mechanics.
One side is the Federation and the other is the Klingons. Players allocate energy to their shields, weapons, engineering, etc. They try to outthink and outplan their opponents.
While Star Fleet Battles took on tactical starship combat, Federation & Empire took on the strategic, political aspects of the Alpha Quadrant. Federation & Empire melds with Star Fleet Battles almost seamlessly. You can play Federation & Empire until it’s time to resolve combat and then you can break it down into a game of Star Fleet Battles.
I was not able to discover in my research how Task Force Games was able to publish Star Trek themed games without using the logos or names of Star Trek. I’ll look into this more and get back to you on that. But if you see a Task Force Game at the thrift store: pick it up! It’s probably a good game.
4. Star Trek partners with FASA Games: 1983 to 1989
While Task Force Games used material from Star Trek, FASA was allowed to use the logos and licensing. FASA did Star Trek up nicely too. Until 1989. We’ll get to that point in a moment.
FASA was a miniatures publisher. Think: Battletech. The designers at FASA made amazing miniatures in the 1980’s. Their Star Trek was no exception.
Their line of miniatures were expensive. And they required painting. And assembly. But nerds in 1983 were okay with it.
The rules were overly complicated and required extensive patching and errata. But nerds in 1983 were okay with that too.
FASA also published some RPG material. Minis, strategy wargames, RPG’s and Star Trek: FASA did it all.
FASA thought they had the rights to make anything Star Trek related. They published a rules book for Star Trek; The Next Generation without explicit permission from Paramount. Paramount was horrified by FASA’s cavalier attitude regarding their new hit show. The relationship soured and Paramount yanked the license from FASA in 1989.
I might be deluded in thinking I can write poignantly on the history of Star Trek board gaming. But I do know that such a thesis is too broad for a single blog post.
We’ll return soon with the following topics: the new TV shows, Star Trek the CCG Years, Star Trek: the Wizkids years and the where Star Trek board gaming is heading. That should be a strong overview of Star Trek and board gaming.
At least as strong an overview as I can give.
-Chris, on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers.