Starfield already takes a lot of influences from tabletop games like Traveller but what others could you try if you’re in a sci-fi mood?
Bethesda’s Todd Howard is always letting fans know he loves tabletop gaming and has made it clear that classic pen ‘n’ paper role-player Traveller is a major inspiration for Starfield. There are even pretend board games in Starfield – Solar Frontiers and Starlocked, published by the fictional Scholar Sisters – to honour the connection.
Whether you’ve been enjoying Starfield or not it’s inspired a new wave of interest in space-based games in general, and that includes tabletop titles. There are plenty of new and old games that will have you exploring the universe, managing galactic empires, and boldly going where no tabletop gamer has gone before.
From epic, galaxy-spanning conflicts to quick interstellar skirmishes, there’s a space-themed game here for every cosmic traveller. So, gather your fellow starship captains, roll the dice, and launch into an unforgettable tabletop adventure, including board games, role-playing games, and collectable card games.
Originally published in 1977 (the same year Star Wars came out), this tabletop game from the dawn of role-playing has gone through many rewrites, updates, and expansions since then. It’s always had a large influence on video games, right up to today, with Bethesda’s Todd Howard citing it as one of the main inspirations for Starfield.
Your characters are created as the crew of a spaceship, exploring, trading, and taking on odd jobs to repair and improve their ship, as well as pay off the loan they took out to buy it. Sound familiar?
Set in a huge space empire called the Third Imperium, there’s plenty of politicking, trade, and conflict to build a huge campaign with. The character creation process is the stuff of legend, as you create a life path to flesh out characters’ lives and histories before they start playing. There are no fresh-faced elf bards here, mostly space truckers clocking in for the next shift!
Traveller gives players, and the games master, the tools to create their own universe but there’s no denying the rules are complicated, especially those revolving around your spaceship stats, so this isn’t necessarily a role-player for first time players. Traveller, in all it’s downtrodden brutality, still holds up as a great space exploration game and, to be honest, it’s a shame Starfield didn’t take even more influence from it.
Mongoose Publishing: £45.00
Space Marine – The Board Game
Battling Starfield’s terrormorphs is just a warm-up for the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 video game, that we saw previewed at Warhammer Skulls. The star of Space Marine 2, and head honcho of the Xenos extermination squad, Lieutenant Titus is coming to a tabletop near you in a new tie-in board game.
Space Marine – The Board Game places you and a friend at odds, as you take control of either the lone Space Marine or more than 20 ravenous Tyranids that want to devour him like a wave of space piranhas. Titus is no pushover though, with superhuman strength and some suitably brutal weapons.
The not-so-big box contains 23 miniatures, including Lieutenant Titus, 20 Termagants, and two Ripper Swarms. There’s a double-sided game board; a 40-page rulebook, including lots of background lore; two starter missions and two unique missions for veterans to jump straight into.
Strangely, the game is being sold exclusively in Target stores in the US, but it should be in UK stores for Christmas. It’s perfect for those who might be scared off by the bigger boxes and more complex armies of Warhammer 40,000, but who have been dying to get their hands on a short and simple Space Marine game.
Games Workshop: $39.99
Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition
The grandest of all tabletop space operas, this is a brutal war game that spans the galaxy – and that’s not just referring to the time and space you’ll need to play it. Each player controls a unique faction, vying for total control of the galaxy. Strategy is king, as you plot your domination with multiple ways to play, all of which lead to different conditions for victory.
While not a game for beginners it’s unmatched in terms of its scope and sense of depth, with only a game this big able to combine military might, research, and politics in such a comprehensive manner.
Fantasy Flight Games: £164.99
I’ve always had a soft spot for Star Realms (I was addicted to the mobile phone game for years) as it’s one of the easiest and best two-player card games ever made. It takes literally five minutes to set-up and learn, with infinite replayability and it’s great for camping with kids or downtime at festivals.
It has a classic deck builder mechanism, where you start off with the same cards and then shuffle them, deal, and build a suitable space arsenal. There are four different factions and each of them gives you different advantages and abilities. There’s a ton of expansion sets, starting with Space Bases, but the core game is very cheap and definitely worth trying out.
Wise Wizard Games: £17.99
Coriolis – The Third Horizon
In Coriolis, the beauty of deep space is only matched by its danger, as strange energies drain your every step. This science fiction role-playing game is set in a remote cluster of star systems called The Third Horizon. Ravaged by conflict and war, it’s home to the First Come colonists, who encounter the Zenithians – who are keen to pursue an aggressive imperialistic agenda through trade and military power and who appear out of nowhere with their huge colony ship. The game’s authors describe it as ‘Arabian Nights in space’ and there’s plenty of nods to Middle Eastern motifs throughout.
You play as the crew of a spaceship and explore the ancient ruins of the Portal Builders, undertake missions for the various factions, and partake in a game of political intrigue on Coriolis station – the centre of power in the Third Horizon. You might even encounter strange beings from the Dark Between the Stars. There’s a lot of mystery in this game but not in the mechanics or rules, which are written with care to make it as accessible as possible to all players.
Free League: £35.99
It’s pretty obvious from the name what Terraforming Mars is all about, as you try to make the red planet capable of supporting life. That means you’re going to have to be skilled in resource management and forward planning. You must lead corporations to create oceans, grow and nurture forests, and raise the temperature and oxygen levels to support human survival.
While human survival is a common goal, this is not a cooperative game and the factions are always competing with each other by trying to gain as many points as they can while looking like they have humanity’s best interests at heart.
Terraforming Mars is another long game, with a steep learning curve that needs everyone to be paying attention to play, but it’s a thoroughly engaging experience and one of the best non-violent tabletop sci-fi games.
Star Wars Villainous: Scum And Villainy
Disney and Ravensburger are riding high on the recent success of cute card game Lorcana, with Chapter Two due to hit shelves in December, but it’s not their only game based on Disney-owned characters. Villainous allows you to take on the role of famous Disney villains, working against each other to become the first to realise their own unique goals and objectives. Once that became a hit, they then created a Star Wars version, with the same basic rules.
The base game is relatively cheap but there’s also a new £30 expansion pack focusing on bounty hunters and other lowlifes, including Boba Fett, who can quickly swap sides on the game board and fan favourite Cad Bane. The Inquisitors from Star Wars Rebels also feature and the expansion can either be combined with the base game or played separately.
Alien The Roleplaying Game
While the Alien film franchise has gone off the boil in recent years, in terms of movies, a lot of the spin-off media is still very good, such as video game Aliens: Dark Descent and this tabletop role-player. The latter won the Best Game award at the Ennies in 2020 and is a must-have for xenomorph fans.
It uses the Year Zero Engine, used in other Free League games such as Tales From The Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, and can be used for either one-shot adventures or a drawn-out space trucker campaign in the cold darkness of space. Trust us, you’ll constantly be looking over your shoulder as you roll your stress dice.
The contents of the box include the core sourcebook, Games Master screen, universe map, game markers, card deck (for initiative, weapons, and non-player characters) and two sets of dice (10 base dice and 10 stress dice).
Free League: £39.95
Star Wars Shatterpoint: Witches Of Dathomir
Since we previewed Star Wars Shatterpoint it’s gone on to prove itself one of the year’s best games and had a huge presence at UK Games Expo this year. The first wave of additional miniatures is already out and if you’re addicted to the Ashoka show, like I am, you’ll be intrigued by the presence of Morgan Elsbeth – who is seemingly a Nightsister from Dathomir, aka a space witch.
The Nightsisters were introduced in the Clone Wars animated show and this expansion pack features a number of characters from that period, including Mother Talzin, two generic Nightsisters, and Darth Maul’s brother Savage Opress. They’re very good miniatures and the pack also contains all the Stat, Order, and Stance cards players needed to field them in a game of Shatterpoint.
Atomic Mass Games: £49.99
Star Wars Legion: Ewok Warriors Unit Expansions
The best-looking Star Wars game on the block continues to support its player-base with a consistently solid release schedule. Everyone is still crazy about Legion even if has been overshadowed by the releases of Shatterpoint and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these short, furry natives of the moon of Endor.
Ewoks may be limited to primitive catapults and gliders but they aren’t scared of fiddling with any advanced technology left lying about and haphazardly using it to great effect. While Ewoks’ might look cute they are always up for a fight and are valuable allies against the Dark Side. As well as the pack of generic Ewok warriors there’s also a two-pack of the more famous Wicket and Logray for £32.99.
Atomic Mass Games: £43.99
Back in Christmas 1990, I was desperate for HeroQuest and when opening my presents my heart sank at the sight of Space Crusade. I shouldn’t have worried though, as this cooperative board game is basically the sci-fi equivalent and extremely fun and quick to pick up and play. One of the first collaborations between Milton Bradley UK and Games Workshop it won my heart and even ended up being adapted as a video game.
Unfortunately, it’s not available anymore but if you are lucky enough you can find a cheap copy on eBay for around £50. Similar in a lot of ways to the upcoming Space Marine board game, it was Saturday morning competitive fun with your best friend, as one player controls the aliens and the other controls the three commanders and their Space Marines.
It wasn’t complicated but it was a great introduction to the world of Warhammer 40,000 and tabletop gaming, and hopefully it’ll get a remake too soon, just like HeroQuest.
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.
Sign up to all the exclusive gaming content, latest releases before they’re seen on the site.