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"For an instant, the decades rolled away and it was the time of the Second Interstellar War, when Commander Nikolai Borisovich Antonov, his Operations officer, had learned of the birth of a son on the eve of the Second Battle of Ophiuchi Junction. They'd all had a little more to drink that night than they should have, but Nikolai had survived both the vodka and the battle. And toward the end of the Third Interstellar War, President Anderson had met Vice Admiral Antonov's newly commissioned son . . . who now sat across from Minister of War Production Anderson, tossing back his vodka so much like Nikolasha that for an instant it seemed . . . Too many memories. We are not meant to live so long."—Howard Anderson, In Death Ground
Starfire is a hex-map-based wargame, focused on combat between fleets of space ships.
Building ships and fighting between individual ships was originally designed to be almost painfully simple, so that the players could focus on fleet tactics. As the game evolved, however, the rules grew more complex, until players needed to keep track of almost as much information per ship as in Star Fleet Battles. (Which, coincidentally, was originally written by the same author).
The game is now in its fifth edition. Of particular interest is the fact that David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington series of SF novels, became a contributor to the game starting with the Starfire III: Empires supplement of the 1st Edition. Some of Weber's online comments about the game, and his involvement with it, can be found here (the black text on that page is an expandable link container). Weber later teamed up with Steve White to write novels set in the Starfire universe, of which 6 have been published so far:
- Crusade (part of The Stars At War)
- In Death Ground (part of The Stars At War)
- The Shiva Option (part of The Stars At War II)
- Insurrection (part of The Stars At War II)
- Exodus (by Steve White and Shirley Meier)
- Extremis (by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon)
Not to be confused with the DC Comics character. (For that, see the Teen Titans.) Also bears no relation to the 1980 coin-op Arcade Game Star Fire, or to the rocket-armed F-94C, or to the nuclear fusion process that powers actual stars.
The wargame provides examples of:
- Achilles Heel: All starships have a 60 degree "blind spot" directly aft. If an enemy can work its way into a ship's blind spot, it can shoot all of its weapons at the ship and its target will be powerless to fire back.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: When dealing with humans, the Vestrii (from Alkelda Dawn) like to wear powered armor suits that make them look like humans -- often hot chick humans.
- Antimatter: If nuclear missiles don't pack enough punch for your Space Navy, you can upgrade their warheads to the antimatter variety, which (depending on the tech level and which rule revision you're playing with) can do anywhere from 2-5 times as much damage. Of course, having all that antimatter sitting in your starship's missile holds can be a tad dangerous....
- Armor-Piercing Attack: Lasers pierce (a limited, tech-determined number of) shields. Energy beams do the same with armour. Primary (force) beams skip armour and shields, but only do a single point of damage. Capital primary beams drop the "only do a single point of damage" bit, though they still do less damage than a standard capital-scale weapon would.
- The Battlestar: The first expansion published during the 1st Edition years, Starfire II, introduced fighter carriers. Fighters are tiny, fragile, single-seat weapon platforms capable of flying faster and turning more sharply than a normal-sized starship. Their carriers mount their own weapons with which to defend themselves even if all their fighters are deployed. The Terrans, Orions, and Ophiuchi first encountered them when they ran into the Rigellians.
- Beam Spam: Take your pick -- laser beams, force beams, primary beams, energy beams, needle beams, capital force beams, capital primary beams, capital energy beams, second-generation capital force beams, nuclear-pumped X-ray lasers, heterodyne lasers, and don't even get me started on inertial sinks.
- Bug War: The Fourth Interstellar War.
- Catfolk: The Khanate of Orion. If you smile at one, don't let your teeth show; they'll consider it a combat challenge.
- Civil War: Long after the Fourth Interstellar War was over, the Terran Federation grew so large that its core worlds and corporate worlds no longer respected the needs of its fringe worlds. Thus, the fringe worlds declared their independence, and the core worlds tried to pound them back into the fold.
- Deflector Shields: A ship's shields behave like ablative armor, providing protection by collapsing. The more shields you install on a ship, however, the less room your ship will have for other systems. Higher tech levels have access to more expensive shields that provide more protection per hull-space.
- A starship's Ion Drive engines also produce a "Drive Field" around the ship, which no physical object can cross without being vaporized. Thus, nuclear missiles are programmed to detonate just before they reach their target's drive field -- and that separation distance at the moment of detonation means the target ship takes far less damage than it would if the missile had come into direct contact with it.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: The Rigellians. Not only do they look like bears, they believe in the extermination of all other spacefaring species.
- Fantastic Rank System: Nexus magazine #8 and #12 had articles on the militaries of the Khanate of Orion and Protectorate of Rigel, including their rank structure.
- FTL Travel: Of the "portal network" variety. Strategists measure the "distance" between star systems not in light-years or parsecs, but in how many warp-point hops it takes to get from one system to another. Strategic maps look more like the state diagrams of the old text-based adventure games than actual maps.
- First Contact: Occurs between the Terrans and the Khanate of Orion in 2205 A.D., at the piddling little backwater star system of VX-134. Both starships in the encounter opened fire on one another.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Lasers are the first type of beam weapon available to a low-tech civilization. At higher tech levels, an empire may have access to X-ray lasers or high-powered heterodyne lasers. All types of lasers will pass right through a target's shields, but not through a target's physical armor.
- Giant Spider: The Arachnids of the Fourth Interstellar War.
- Heavyworlder: The Gorm home planet has much stronger gravity than any other spacefaring empire's homeworld. Originally, this was the reason given for their ships' ability to mount greater numbers of engines and thus have higher top speeds. When helpful readers pointed out that Ion Drive Engine technology didn't actually generate G forces on the ship or its crew, the reasoning was retconned to be that the Gorm's higher radiation tolerance allowed them to operate more engines at once.
- Hive Mind: The Arachnids, being closely patterned on the Arachnids from Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers novel, exist as a mentally interconnected colony of many many worker bugs and only a few "brain bugs". They have no qualms about sending worker-manned starships on suicide missions, since the loss of a worker isn't seen as a "death" in the human sense.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Arachnids consider humans a delicacy.
- Inertial Dampening: The standard Ion Drive Engines can instantly bring a starship from a standing stop to a sizable percentage of the speed of light, almost like an inertialess drive. Likewise, a starship can instantly drop from full speed to a dead stop, and then resume speed again, up to 6 times per turn. What it can't do easily is change direction.
- Intelligent Gerbil: The Khanate of Orion are cat aliens. The Ophiuchi Association are bird aliens. The Rigellians are bear aliens. The Arachnids are, as might be expected, spider aliens.
- Lensman Arms Race: The Tech Advancement system assures that these happen. At the beginning of the First Interstellar War, the Terrans and the Orions had shields, ion drive engines, low-powered lasers, and launchers that could fire long-range or short-range missiles (but not both). By the end of the First Interstellar War, both sides had tractor beams, anti-tractor shearing planes, hybrid long- and short-range missile launchers, anti-missile point defense, datalinks that could coordinate missiles fired from multiple ships to overwhelm the target's point defense, and multiplex tracking that could allow a single ship to fire on multiple targets simultaneously.
- Macross Missile Massacre: Due to the presence of Point Defense systems on most units, damaging an enemy at long range requires you to inundate him with so many missiles he can't possibly stop them all.
- Meaningful Name: In 1st Edition, the surprise attack launched by the Rigellian Protectorate against the Khanate of Orion took place at Paurl Harbor.
- Mobile Suit Human: The Vestriian encounter suit is supposed to be this, but they just can't seem to get the face right. Their suits sometimes make up for this with curvy hips and the Most Common Superpower.
- No Bulk Discounts: In 1st Edition, if your empire manufactured 2 or more identical starships, you got a 10% cost discount on all identical ships after the first. This encouraged players to create "classes" of ships, like real navies do. However, this rule was removed in 2nd Edition.
- Nuke'Em: Standard anti-starship missiles are all fitted with nuclear warheads. The only reason a starship can withstand so many hits from these missiles is that their engines' Drive Field prevents physical objects from coming into contact with the ship's hull -- so the missiles have to be programmed to detonate an instant before they reach the target's Drive Field.
- Old School Dogfighting: Fighters, like starships, take time (and distance) to change heading, and must always be pointed in the same direction they're moving. Since a fighter's weapons only fire in a 60 degree arc to the front, a fighter squadron will try to maneuver such that their enemy is in its firing arc but no enemy fighters have it in their firing arc.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Any hit on a fighter destroys it. (Getting that hit is significantly harder than hitting a starship, however.)
- Our Wormholes Are Different: Naturally-occurring warp points link the star systems to each other. They can only be traversed by a ship with a Drive Field, and have a chance of destroying ships if 2 or more of them try to make transit at the same time.
- Portal Network: Warp points form a naturally-occuring one.
- Proud Warrior Race: The Khanate of Orion, a thinly-veiled copy of the Kzinti. The Rigellians, by contrast, are simply out to exterminate the competition.
- Reactionless Drive: Little description is given as to how the standard Ion Drive engine works, let alone as to whether there's any exhaust coming out its tailpipe, but starships can cruise (and make any number of course changes) at 5-10% of the speed of light for weeks without refuelling.
- Shout-Out: The Primary Beam is a shout-out to the weapon of the same name in Gray Lensman.
- The Arachnids are closely modelled on the Bugs in the Starship Troopers novel.
- The introduction of the Space Fighter and fighter carrier in Starfire II was inspired by the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica. The 1st Edition rules example for a squadron control sheet even used the name "Blue Squadron."
- The Khanate of Orion bear a striking resemblance, both in physical appearance and mannerism, to the Kzinti from Larry Niven's Known Space universe.
- Space Base: Space stations are sprawling space complexes which, due to the lack of a Drive Field, are especially vulnerable to missile fire. Base Stations, on the other hand, have the full protection of a starship's Drive Field, even though they don't go anywhere.
- Space Battle: The whole game.
- Space Fighter: See The Battlestar above.
- Space Is an Ocean: The Ion Drive Field of a starship can instantly bring a vessel from a dead stop to 1/10 of the speed of light. However, a ship must always follow its nose, it can't fly sideways or backwards. It takes time and distance to change heading once a ship has started moving.
- Space Navy: The ship weight classes are named after their wet-navy equivalents -- Escorts, Corvettes, Destroyers, Light Cruisers, Heavy Cruisers, Battlecruisers, Battleships, Superdreadnoughts, and Monitors, not to mention Cutters and Pinnaces. The Terrans' main military space force is even called the Terran Federation Navy.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Big but slow capital ships, small but fast cruisers, fighters and fighter carriers.
- Standard Starship Scuffle: Distances are realistic -- a single hex represents a region of space 150 thousand kilometers across (reduced to 75 thousand in 3rd Edition Revised) -- but the tactics and feel are still of old naval ships banging away at each other with broadsides.
- Subsystem Damage: The entire combat system is practically defined as this. A starship's control sheet is basically a string of system codes, where each code represents a shield, a layer of armor, or an "internal system", like so: SSSSAAAZLIRIII. (Each S is a shield, each A is a layer of armor, and the other letters are various internal systems like lasers and ion engines.) With most weapons, one damage point destroys the first undamaged system on the control sheet -- so, after taking 9 points of damage, the same ship's control sheet would look like this: xxxxxxxxxIRIII. In order to destroy a starship, all of its internal systems must be destroyed. Thus, while a ship is being pounded on, more and more of its systems will go down and the ship can do less and less.
- Technology Levels: Until 4th Edition, the technological progress of all races was gauged by a single ladder of Tech Levels. At Tech Level I, you got Ion Drive Engines, Shields, Missiles, and Lasers. At Tech Level III, you got Tractor Beams. At Tech Level VIII, you got fighters. Didn't matter if you were Terran, Orion, Ophiuchi, Rigellian, Gorm, or Arachnid; all races progressed exactly the same, even if they'd never encountered another starfaring race before.
- Tech Tree: Introduced in 4th Edition to replace -- or, rather, enhance -- the old system of Technology Levels. Each empire still has an overall "Science Level", but the development of specific new pieces of technology is based on earlier development in that particular Tree; the Science Level is merely a limiting factor that prevents an empire from going too far down one Tree at the expense of all the others.
- Theme Naming: Like the Real Life Navy, nearly ubiquitous when naming the starships belonging to the same class.
- In 1st Edition, all Ophiuchi ships had Arabic names, and all Rigellian ships had German names. This despite neither race having ever heard of Earth before.
- To Serve Man: The Arachnids of the Fourth Interstellar War find humans a delicacy.
- Tractor Beam: A starship's tractor beams are a terrifying weapon, capable of yanking enemy units around like ragdolls and preventing them from dodging your weapons fire. As a consequence, the "shearing plane," which nullified all tractor beams used against a ship, was invented immediately after tractor beams first appeared on the battlefield.
- A variant called the "Presser Beam" also exists, which serves not to draw an enemy unit closer but to push it away.
- The Force Beam and Primary Beam were developed by using tractor technology to punch instead of push.
- 2-D Space: The game is played on a flat hexmap, after all.
- We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Starship hulls, and individual ship systems, are priced in "megacredits."
The novel series also provides examples of:
- Bring News Back: In both In Death Ground and The Shiva Option, deep scouts from the Terran Federation Navy discover closed warp points with huge strategic implications -- while they're several systems deep in enemy territory and have no way of getting a message home.
- Humanity Is Superior: Weber rarely misses an opportunity to point out how much better Terran industry, and to a lesser extent technology, is than the Orion Khanate's.
- Knight Templar: The alien civilization in Crusade thinks of the Terrans as their godlike saviors, and the Khanate of Orion as the devil -- to such an extent that any Terrans seen aiding the Orions are viewed as "fallen angels" who must be exterminated for the greater good.
- The aliens got their ideology from an isolated Terran expedition while the Terrans and Khanate were at war. When the aliens emerged into the galaxy, the Terrans and Khanate were on friendlier terms....
- Match Cut: In Crusade. ("... Redwing!")
- Military Science Fiction: Of course!
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Certain select individuals have received "antigerone" treatments, which vastly extend their lifespans. Admiral Ivan, the main fleet commander during Crusade, is still on active duty in In Death Ground nearly a century later.
- Unwanted False Faith: In the back story for Crusade, a Terran starship crash-landed on an inhabited alien planet during the First Interstellar War, and its captain told the inhabitants there how the Khanate of Orion was the enemy. The aliens take his words as Divine Revelation, painting the Terrans as angels and the Orions as devils. So when, long after hostilities between the Terrans and Orions have ended, an Orion starship happens to poke its nose into their star system, they blast the "devils" to smithereens. To prove to the Orions that we're still friendly and prevent another war, the Terrans have to attack this alien race -- who, unwilling to give up their Cargo Cult beliefs, conclude that these new Terrans are "fallen" Terrans.