Thursday, 10 April 2014

Combat 3000

As much as I was fighting shy the previous post then this one is a much more cherished task.
Of all the games that I played before leaving school, this, a sci-fi skirmish set in the distant future, was the one that really fired me up...

Written by Halliwell and Priestly in 1979, it flung gamers into a universe of possibilities some of which were trailed on the inside as including...

"Command a squad of Star troopers, blast your way into the Galaxies richest banks and out of the strongest and most infamous jails. Boldly go where no man had probably gone before, swap insults with exotic aliens, then swap blows with insulted aliens..."

Front cover by Tony Yates

Which all sound great to me as a kid raised on Dr Who, UFO, Space 1999 and just discovering The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Combat 3000 seemed like an ideal jumping off point for the whole universe...

Not that there was a whole universe inside the rule book, this was a TTG product and the whole thing ran to 32 pages long, with just three alien races (plus humans) for the players to get there teeth into; Trimotes, three armed apes, lifted shamelessly from Larry Niven's 'A Mote in God's eye', Maniblax, bipedal insectoids, and Zarquins, which had a more alien hive-mind thing going on, but this was enough, along with what seemed like an endless list (50+) of lasers and blasters to arm your soldiers, and loads of armour and secondary weaponry to add, the game lent itself to highly personal squads.

Once again, looking back, the rules themselves were quite complex, a percentile system with everything; (range, movement, target size and situations, types of weapon,  types of fire; aimed indirect, covering, conditions etc) adding or subtracting from the chance to hit, and then all that armour and variable weapon effects to take into account for damage, once a hit had been achieved... which lead to quite small intense games, 6 - 10 each minis a side on a 4 feet square area would take a few hours for us to get through, with each -5% for being hotly (childishly) contested, each move/shot/throw or melee vital...

Space Marine by Nick Bibby
I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that this game played so sweetly, and that I became so enamoured with it, Halliwell went on to become THE greatest British game designer of his generation, with a list of credits that include; Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and it's highly regarded but less well supported sister game, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, Battlecars, the most entertaining car-wars game ever, and of course the classic Space Hulk.

This was also the first game I played outside school, the time needed play meant we (Simon, Mark, a lad called Richard Purseglove and I) had to meet up on Saturdays to play at each other's houses. In fact the only time Andy Chambers ever came to my house, was to play was a game of Combat 3000, he arrived an hour or so late, mocked my rudimentary modelling skills on a future-tank I'd made, and then nuked the playing field from some cool looking space-fighter he'd scratch built.

Which cuts to the heart of what I loved about Combat 3000, and the problem with Sci-fi gaming in general. This is summed up in a quote from Ripley in the Aliens movie... present with an insumountable number of menacing monster aliens she says..."I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit?", in that, in the far-future whole planets can be whipped-out at the press of a button, or alien cities reduced to dust by half a dozen power-armoured Space Marines with imploding mini-nukes, so that minor conflicts can't/shouldn't exist, without some kind of narrative to drive the game forward, scifi gaming becomes a power gamers dream.

Trimote, by Nick Bibby

How much better then, not to use all those high-end future weapons (Imperial Arsenals, the standard weapon of Imperial troops, +18% to hit, +5 damage effect!) "check your blasters at the door", and duke it out with pistols and laser sabres, rather than to fight armoured combats, with roughly man-shaped future tanks... Battletech anyone?

Combat 3001 was released in 1981, this time authored by Halliwell alone, and although it did add more depth to our imaginary future worlds; gravities, vehicles, more weapon types, more Aliens, it didn't really add anything much to the gaming experience, and apart from Laserburn, British Sci-fi gaming was heading to the doldrums for half a decade or so...

Future-Cafe from the inside cover of Combat3001, reportedly showing the Asgard crowd responsible for the game
Interested in reading these veteran rule-sets?
Check them out here on my Scribd page. Combat 3000, Combat 3001