Transcript of our podcast from 9 November 2008

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Popular Culture in Gaming Part 3: Star Trek

by Moritz Eggert

Let's talk about the Star Trek gaming franchise this time - a franchise not quite as big as the Star Wars gaming franchise, but more enduring perhaps. And with a new film in the works a resurgence of Star Trek Games might well be possible.

As with Star Wars there are good and bad games, duds and classics, but I will try to talk mostly about the good games out there. This feature draws heavily on the Star Trek geek list "To boldly play where no man has played before" by Phil Taylor, so thanks Phil for the work you put into that.

The oldest and most long-lived Star Trek game is most certainly "Star Fleet Battles" by Task Force Games, which began it's life as a Ziploc game of moderate complexity and then proceeded to become the ASL of Science Fiction games, a veritable monster game with dozens of expansions in which you control all aspects of a Star Fleet Vessel down to the cleaning ladies it seems (I guess the cleaning ladies on the US Enterprise are red shirts... eh skirts? Whatever....). Even though a round only takes seconds in a game it seems that it takes hours to play it. The game influenced several follow up games, some of them on a galaxy scale, several computer games and exists today in a version called "Federation Commander: Klingon Border". Interestingly enough it never really had an "official" license from Paramount it seems, as the title "Star Trek" is never really referred to in the games, and there are even some differences between the "Star Fleet Battles" Star Trek universe, and the TV/film-version of it. This is by the way typical for many Star Trek games, which seem to exist in a kind of half-legal limbo that is also populated by the famous "halfling" or the "Treant" in Dungeons and Dragons - "Orcs" and "Elves" couldn't be copyrighted by the way, as they exist in mythology already, whereas Ents and Hobbits are creations by Tolkien.

But I digress: Among the unlicensed Star Trek Games is also "Star Explorer" - a game by FGU, which is all Star Trek but in name. You man a ship and explore an uncharted space sector by beaming down your crew to single planets. Other unlicensed games are the DTP games "Embattled Trek" and "Starfight", which you can easily print out and get for free.

During the run of the old series there were very few boardgames of note, but with the first motion picture (also called the "Motionless Picture" by fans) came a relatively good movie-tie-in game by Milton Bradley, the "Star Trek - The Game" which has - lo and behold - a modular board and some good mechanics.

Also the second and best Star Trek movie - "The Wrath of Khan" - got a game treatment, this time by Tsukuda Hobbies in Japan. Even though it mentions the correct film title on the board one cannot entirely be sure if they asked Paramount for permission, as this game has been curiously only available in Japan.

From the third Star Trek film on the franchise somehow ended up with two different gaming companies in the US, which is relatively unusual. These two companies were FASA (also known for producing the long-lived Battletech game) and West End Games, who were also happily churning out Star Wars game at the time.

A very difficult to find game is FASA's "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock", which apparently has some roleplaying elements. Even I as a collector have never seen this game in reality, only on pictures. Less difficult to find is the microgame "The Struggle for the Throne", which is a kind of small Cosmic Encounter Variant with many problems. My absolute favorite game of that era is West End Games "Star Trek: The Adventure Game" which is a variant of the storytelling game "Tales of the Arabian Nights" by the same designer, Greg Costikyan. This game for 2 players really recreates the old series Star Trek atmosphere best and even uses story elements with a twist from it. It is especially fun to play the Klingons encountering known storylines from the TV series and being rewarded for doing exactly the opposite from Captain Kirk - mostly by blasting everything to Smithereens. A very recommended game! Greg Costikyan was also involved in the less known "Star Trek III: Three Solitaire Games", which is notable for its "Kobayashi Maru" starship combat simulator which really is a lot of fun to play.

The popularity of the Next Generation Series opened up a flood of new type franchise games that were more dedicated to a younger and hipper market than the more geeky games mentioned before. So we had of course endless Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit clones with a Star Trek theme slapped on, and should I mention the most useless game of them all, "Star Trek: Uno"? All I can say to that is "KHAAAAAANNNNNNNNNN"....

With the new marketing going on it was no surprise that Star Trek relatively early jumped upon the bandwagon of collectible card games, and the result was "Star Trek: The Next Generation CCG", one of the better representants of its genre as it had quite a long life compared to most other CCG's. It also introduced the term "customizable" instead of "Collectible". Even though it means exactly the same when you think about it.

There was also a much less successful "Star Trek: The Old Series" CCG. Should I also mention "Star Trek: The Collectible Dice Game"? Yes, I should, and while I am it I should also mention "Red Alert", the Star Wars Diskwars game - remember "Diskwars" by Fantasy Flight? I am lucky that I sold my collection of that shortly before this strange fad died a silent death.

Last but not least there was a strange attempt to invent a new genre - the component game system which basically had each player buy his own board game and then put them together for a bigger game. There was a Next Generation game that you could also match up with a Deep Space Nine game. Both these games can still be found in truckloads at Essen for around -1 Euro, which means that vendors actually GIVE you a Euro if you take that game.

And that's basically it - except the new version of Star Fleet Battles above which takes a full circle to geekdom all the later versions of Star Trek never created enough buzz to create any boardgames of note. So right now the Star Trek gaming scene is dead, Jim. Let's hope it will rise again!

May you live long and prosper,

Moritz over and out.

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2008, Westpark Gamers