(Scroll to the bottom of this post for the Print’n’Play instructions)
In 1979 a few critical events occurred. The Great Chicago Blizzard raged, Iran seized American hostages, Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters, Pioneer 11 got us our first up-close pictures of Saturn, I was born, and the original Starfire microgame was unleashed upon the world for a mere $5.95.
(Today I’m going to be talking about my experience rediscovering the original Starfire rules. If you haven’t yet read my previous post on Galactic Starfire, I suggest you start there. Don’t worry. I’ll wait! )
In my last article I talked about my struggles in attempting to decipher the highly complete but confusingly complex rules for Galactic Starfire. It is worth noting that I didn’t give up very easily. The idea of Starfire still had a grip on me. Everywhere I went I was able to read about how simple of a game Starfire is, how powerful the ship building system is, and how it’s a beginner-friendly microgame. This infused in me a desire to go back to the beginning in an attempt to retrace the steps of the series. To find the path that brought so many people so much joy over the years.
It was especially frustrating because I felt I understood the mechanics of the game. I just didn’t understand how it became more than the sum of its parts.
I looked into finding a copy of the original microgame, but complete copies were very expensive. Scans of the original rules and pieces were not available. Legitimately or otherwise.
Every few years I would look again. I would see posts from others who wished there were scans of the original rule book. But availability remained ever elusive. That is, until recently.
At the end of 2014 something strange started to happen. The original Starfire rules were retyped and made available for purchase. Starfire II quickly followed. While Starfire III is not yet available (the 4x expansion to the game) the 2nd Edition rules for the Starfire tactical game and its 4x expansion – Starfire:New Empires – became available.
When I finally learned that these rules were available, I rushed to purchase them. What followed was a truly transformational experience! I wish I could say it was immediate and eye opening, but it wasn’t. It took a little bit of work for a pretty impressive payoff.
As I dove into the rule book I found that the original rules aren’t actually that easy to comprehend. They’re understandable enough if you spend a bit of quality time with them, but they may be slightly offensive to modern sensibilities. The structure of the rules has detailed game examples embedded into each section. Which prevents related rules from remaining close to each other.
Worse yet, each rule section goes into incredible detail in the context of the universe it exists in. While background information on Inertialess Drives and Gun/Missile combo systems are interesting, they don’t help you play. Separating the lore from the play rules would have significantly benefited the reader. As would some high-level sections on play which could then reference the appropriate rule section for more detail.
Of course these are forgivable sins for rules written in 1979. These rules were fairly state of the art for the time. Almost 40 years of intervening game development has taught us a few things about making rules more accessible. Such advances simply can’t be expected of this time period.
That being said, I was a bit concerned that the rules had been modified. The first thing I noticed with the downloaded rule book was that the page count had increased from about a dozen pages to 23 pages. When I compared against photos of a few original rule pages, I realized that the difference came down to the original rules being more densely printed. I imagine that made comprehension problems even worse.
However, I shouldn’t complain. As a child in the 80’s I remember having nothing but time to decode complexities like this. It was a part of life. A much slower life than we could possibly stand today. A life where we could still use pen and paper effectively.
Oh right. That brings me to my next point. A ship in Starfire is represented by a string like SAIGIRII. This means that the ships has the following equipment:
- A single shield represented by the letter “S”
- A single layer of armor represented by the letter “A”
- One gun (“G”) and one missile launcher (“R”)
- Four “inertialess” engines represented by the letter “I”
The ship would usually be written with a number before and after to represent the number of times the ship has to move before it can turn and the number of moves it has in the movement phase. The latter number is a convenience number as it is more or less the count of engines on the ship. Damage to the ship reduces the number.
Damage is handled by crossing off the letters from left to right. This is a very simple system that keeps the record keeping down. Which is a good thing. Playing the game I quickly found that record keeping was the bane of my existence. The game might be reasonably fast to play, but I found the setup time excruciating.
Back in the 80’s I would have copied down ship strings easy as pie. Unfortunately, my skills with pen and paper have waned in this digital age. I found setting up for even simple scenarios to be rather painful. One option is to make the play sheets digitally and print them out. The manual even states that you can use a typewriter to make your ship record sheets.
I’ll talk more about where I went with record keeping in future entries. For my first few games however, I wanted to stay true to the original experience.
Up to this point everything I have described to you are things I already understood about the game. What changed was when I setup for the scenarios. Before the first scenario, a bit of lore about man’s expansion into space was given. In this lore mankind was rocked by the discovery of an alien species: The Khanate of Orion.
Rather than describe the encounter the first scenario sets you up to play that encounter. This is where the game’s brilliance starts to shine through. As you play you become the Humans and the Orions. Your imagination lights on fire and you experience first contact gone wrong. You command the exploration ship Discovery through an unexpected battle and learn everything there is to know about your new enemy.
As soon as the first scenario is over, the lore drops you into an analysis from Earth’s military minds. They’ve decided that the Khanate will strike first if they’re allowed to. The military is refitting the Discovery and sister ships for combat. And thus starts the First Interstellar War…
Can I just stop for a moment and say… THIS GAME IS FRIGGIN’ BRILLIANT!
The way in which this game transforms a hex map and a few chits into a visceral experience that draws you in is amazing. And while the depth of the lore drops off pretty quickly in favor of ever bigger battles, it has already done its job. You are invested in this world in a way that I have only ever seen in top notch video games. Never before have I been pulled this far into a board game.
Like Sokath with his eyes opened, I finally see the power of this game. I see why it has such a following. And I see a clear path toward learning more. I’m so excited!
In the image above you can see me playing the first scenario using the Galactic Starfire components. The printed out rules are in the upper-left corner and the extra ship counters are the blue and red pieces in the lower-right baggies. Galactic Starfire uses a single D10 rather than the two standard dice (D6) used in the original Starfire. I had to dig up some dice to play with the original rules. Which is ok because the original game rudely told you to go find your own dice. Guess that’s how they got the game to fit in a ziplock bag.
Pay no attention to the cards on the left or the baggies next to the ruler.
Join me next time when I discuss my own print and play experience and reveal what are those odd components I just told you to ignore. It will be fun!
How to Print and Play Original Starfire
Step 1: Purchase the rule book from Starfire Design Studios. The cost for the original Starfire I Rule Book is only $5.00. Make sure you make a backup of the file you download as their site won’t let you download it again in the future. (I put my copy on Google Drive to make it accessible on multiple devices.)
Step 2: Print out the rule book. You’ll need it as a reference. You could just look at it on an iPad or other tablet, but there are a few special pages that are better to have paper copies of. Chief among them is the “Probability of Hits Table” that you’ll be consulting before and after you fire your weapons.
Step 3: Get yourself two standard D6 dice. D6 is a fancy way of saying “dice with the numbers 1 to 6 on the faces.” D6 are what most people think of when we talk about dice, so you’re not looking for anything special. Personally, I got a total of four dice so that my opponent and I wouldn’t have to pass them around during play.
Step 4: Print out a hex map. I find this online generator to do a pretty good job of creating sheets of paper with hexes on them. You’ll need to cut and tape a few pages to get a map large enough. Note that the size of the map is important to gameplay. The original map went from coordinates 0101 to 2834. You should try to replicate this.
The numbering system works like this. The first two digits are the column. These count up left to right. This means that 01 to 28 is 28 hexes wide. The second two digits are the row. This means that 01 to 34 is 34 hexes tall. Note that the hex rows are offset from column to column. This is ok. You can see a reference image of the original map on BoardGameGeek.
I strongly recommend that you write the numbers on your printed hex map every five hexes. It will make scenario setup a lot easier.
Step 5: You will need square counters to represent the ships. Since the components haven’t changed much over the years, you can use later Starfire counters to play. The easiest thing to do is to go to the downloads section of Starfire Design Studios and search for “counters”. There are a few different options for counter sheets you can download and print out. Any blue/red set should work.
My favorite set is Aukel’s counters for Ultra Starfire. [direct link] These are well laid out for printing and the first sheet has pretty much everything you need to play. While you can print these on stock paper and cut them up, consider using card paper instead. It will make them a bit stiffer and easier to use during play. Alternatively, you can print out on standard paper and then glue the page to cardboard. Your counters should now be substantial enough for play.
Step 6: Enjoy your Starfire experience!
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