Interstellar - Close Quarter Battles for Fans of Military Science Fiction!

Mac McLaughlin

I've been working on a new science-fiction miniatures game for Skirmisher Publishing on and off for several years now. It's in the final development stages and I'd like to share some details about the project, and maybe even get a little feedback on decision points I'm still working around. Let me start out with a basic introduction of the Interstellar project, and the CQB game engine.

Some of you other ... ah... more mature gamers might recall a boxed supplement for the old GDW Traveller game titled Snapshot. It expanded the Traveller personal combat rules focused on fighting onboard starships. I always remembered the game fondly, and thought that elements I remembered from Snapshot were lacking in other contemporary sci-fi miniatures game rules. I tracked down an old copy of Snapshot. It was fun to reacquaint myself with the game... but I still felt that something was lacking. I saw a game development opportunity in the making and is where I began to answer that important game development question I discussed in my last blog post, "What's the big difference?"

Close-Quarter Battle (CQB) tactics have long been near and dear to my heart. While I was a intelligence officer during my years in the Army, I was assigned to a pretty unique unit that had been focused on training for urban warfare for decades (the Berlin Brigade). In recent years I worked as an evaluation specialist helping to refine an Air Force introductory training program for military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) as well as running MindGame Productions as a military simulation events company. While many of our events are more for fun, we've also run some pretty focused training events, such as this relevant event focused on Vessel Boarding, Search and Seizure (VBSS) tactics. --

While I'm a far cry from any sort of Tier One operator, I have a pretty solid understanding of CQB principles. I have a great appreciation for the complexity of the tactics and the speed at which the cognitive decision loop must function in a CQB environment. That gritty, fast-moving, fluid and deadly reality of close-quarter battle was something that I found to be lacking in the miniatures games I examined and I decided to make this the cornerstone of the game.

I began working on what I've been referring to as the the CQB game engine, a core miniatures game system designed to replicate realistic individual and small unit tactics in close-quarter / urban environments. With only minor modifications, the CQB game engine could be "skinned" to support science-fiction combatants, modern counter-terror teams, SWAT tactics against the supernatural and other settings. MindGame Productions and Skirmisher had already collaborated on FM 7-22 Space Boarding Operations, a "training manual" themed in support of the United States Marine Space Corps (USMSC) events MindGame Productions had been running at a series of major game conventions under the TerrorWerks and Interstellar banners. We felt the science-fiction genre would be a great platform through which we could launch the concept, with the long term vision of follow-on products featuring genre-specific adaptations of the CQB game engine.

So what exactly is Interstellar, a working title drawn from the USMSC setting, all about? Or in terms of that fundamental question when developing a new game, "what's the big difference?"

The game is a set of science-fiction miniatures rules focused on individual and small unit tactics aboard starships, space stations, industrial sites and similar close combat locations. The rules adapt well to urban combat settings, but the game is not designed for large unit battles across open battlefields. Reflecting the confines of the close quarter battlefield, the rules focus on infantry weapons, equipment and tactics. No vehicle rules are planned for the initial release, although the basic rules include some crew-served weapon systems and heavy combat robots. The technology level in the game is "near future", at a projected level about two to three centuries from now. While there are some directed energy weapons, they are not common and have some limitations in their design. Advanced firearms are still the most common weapons in the game.

Appendices provide information on the Interstellar setting developed in support of the USMSC events and FM 7-22, but the game rules were intentionally left flexible to support realistic, tactical science-fiction gaming in a number of popular settings from film, television and literature. The game is oriented primarily to human combatants, but includes statistics on domestic and military robots as well as two alien races familiar to fans of the genre. Other non-human character types can be easily accommodated in the rules framework.

The turn system developed for the game allows for very realistic synchronous movement and actions of opposing forces. Rather than a "movement phase" or a "shoot phase", and one team moving first, followed by the other, the CQB game engine provides a means through which all combatants act in a near-simultaneous framework. Players must realistically coordinate timing between team members, try to second guess enemy actions while they happen and adapt their own strategy as required based on what the enemy is doing. I believe this will introduce an exciting and realistic new level of tactical gaming.

The combat system reflects performance difference of various weapon systems at different ranges and provides for weapon modifications such as scopes and laser aiming devices. Rules are provided for low-light and blackout operations, along with night-observation and thermal imaging devices. The system includes material on various grenade types, breaching charges and guidelines for blowing open doors, hatches and walls. The game includes rules for slow to horrifically fast atmospheric depressurization from hull breaches, as well as movement and combat in a zero-gravity environment.

As noted before, there are some very successful and well established science fiction miniatures games out there, but Interstellar and the CQB engine are being developed to target a niche that we feel is lacking... a gritty, realistic system for fans of military science fiction, specifically focused on small unit tactics. As can be expected, the game rules are not simplistic --there will be a learning curve for beginning gamers. Experienced gamers should be able to grasp the different system mechanics and be up and going fairly quickly.

Interstellar and the CQB game engine are going through some late-stage development at play-testing at this time. Our plan is to release the game in the spring of 2016. More information on the game will be posted in the coming weeks and months. Some of my future blog posts will cover some specific discussion points on which I'd welcome reader feedback as we make some final revisions to the game system.