WHERE ARE ALL THE SCIENCE FICTION GAMES?
Within the realm of console and PC gaming, the science fiction genre is dominant. Ignoring the singular success of World of Warcraft within the massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre, nearly every other genre is defined by a science-fiction game. Real-time strategy. Tower defense. Multiplayer online battle arena. First-person shooters. Stealth games. Battle Royale. Every one of these lists a science fiction game atop its list. Obviously, The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher series are extremely popular, but these are countered by Bioshock, Mass Effect, Half-Life, Starcraft, and Halo. But with tabletop games, this dynamic is flipped.
Fantasy and semi-abstract historical eurogames have dominated for years and continue to do so. Obviously, the top game, Gloomhaven, is fantasy. However, other popular games seem to disprove this theory—Pandemic, Terraforming Mars, Twilight Imperium, and Star Wars: Rebellion all pop up in the top-ten…but then something changes. Past the top ten, the next science fiction game doesn’t appear until #33, which is another Pandemic.
In the top 100 games of all time, only about twenty are science fiction, which may still seem like a lot until you remember that three are Pandemic and three are Star Wars. Adding in the next one hundred, that number drops to only ten and is repeated for the next hundred after that. From there, it falls even further, now with only five titles that are science fiction. This same pattern can be found on Kickstarter, where on the top ten most-funded board games of all time, none are science fiction.
It’s come to a point that when I see a real science fiction board game come about, I take notice. I meant real…and no, Firefly Clue and Star Wars Monopoly don’t count. Franchises occupy a vast majority of these titles, so sifting through all of them to find truly original science fiction games is like sifting for gold in Barkerville (it’s a Canadian tourist spot; look it up).
Terraforming Mars is one such title, though it is more a free-market economy game than a science fiction game. Alien Frontiers is by far the best die-placement game on the market. I cannot begin to stress how good Kepler-3042 is. Super Motherload is my favorite deck-building game. And don’t forget one of the first and definitive sandbox games ever is a space game called Xia. The one thing all these games have in common is there relatively small scale. Most of these titles can be acquired for less than $70. But where are the Gloomhaven-, 7th Continent-, or Tainted Grail-scale games, those epic campaign-driven experiences that take months to complete?
Nemesis? Nemesis looks pretty enough, and it’s not a bad experience. I mean, I love the setting, but it’s a fiddly game, to say the least, and it doesn’t feature a campaign mode (actually, it does—it’s four missions and ends poorly).
Zombicide Invader. Another beautiful game, but one where most of the cost is in its miniatures and not its gameplay.
Alas, as one that adores the genre and is always on the lookout for deep, campaign-driven science fiction board games, the pickings are slim. One must always be vigilant in looking out for these rare titles. When they do show up, I’ll undoubtedly parade them in front of everyone I know. I’d back that game. Purchase a pre-order. If I wanted every large-scale fantasy game on Kickstarter, I’d be broke within a month. If I wanted every epic science-fiction game…I’d maybe hit the pledge button once a year.
Looking at 2020, there are only two titles that have gotten my attention. One is ISS Vanguard, the newest title from Awaken Realms, the publisher of Nemesis and Tainted Grail. The second was Starlight, which I backed BEFORE starting to write this article.
It’s important to support what you love.