Starfire (board wargame)

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Designer(s)Stephen V. Cole
Publisher(s)Metagaming Concepts
Publication date1979
Genre(s)Science fiction, board game

Starfire is a board wargame (a "4X", eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) simulating space warfare and empire building in the 23rd century, created by Stephen V. Cole in 1979.


The Starfire game is currently published by the Starfire Design Studio (SDS), but was formerly published by Task Force Games. There are six editions of the Starfire Game.

1st edition Starfire[edit]

The first edition consisted of three products: Starfire (1979), Starfire II (1980), and Starfire III: Empires (1981); the first by Stephen V. Cole; the second by Barry A Jacobs, and the last one by the notable military science fiction writer David Weber. Later versions combined the first two into Tactical Starfire, and the third was largely rewritten as Strategic Starfire.

2nd edition Starfire[edit]

Starfire, 2nd Edition (or sometimes known as boxed starfire since the first edition was packaged in resealable plastic baggies...) (1984) is a game of sublight space combat on the small-fleet scale. Speed of play is often touted as an advantage of the system; it does have a major advantage in fleet handling over Star Fleet Battles (Steve Cole's other starship wargame at the time), but there are many other games around of similar handling time to Starfire. Starfire is one of the few games in which the player has nearly complete design control of his spaceships.[citation needed]

Starfire, 2nd Edition is based on the original version of Starfire, and on its sequel Starfire II. The rules booklet is divided into "modules". Module A is an introduction to the game series. Module B is titled Starfire and replaces 1st. edition Starfire. Module C is titled "Strikefighter" and replaces Starfire II". The 2nd edition product line continued with Starfire New Empires (1985), the first strategic-level game in the 2nd edition series, and The Gorm-Khanate War (1986) which was a campaign game utilising Starfire New Empires for the strategic part of the campaign, and Starfire, 2nd Edition for the tactical battles.

Starfire New Empires is a game of building a space empire, inspired by the original Starfire III: Empires. Players must decide what to invest their income in (colonization, R&D, trade, military, exploration, etc.) to determine both the nature of their empires and their ability to survive and conquer.

3rd edition: Imperial Starfire[edit]

The 3rd Edition of Starfire is a boxed version called Starfire (i.e. Tactical Starfire) while the Strategic Component is called Imperial Starfire. These, along with Stars at War and Crusade were written by David Weber and produced by Task Force Games. TFG also produced Sky Marshal #1, Alkelda Dawn, and First Contact.

Thereafter, the Starfire rights were sold to Starfire Design Studio (SDS). SDS updated the Tactical Rules with the 3rd Edition Revised manual (3rdR). Sky Marshall #2 updated the Imperial Starfire rules making them more usable. SDS also released Interstellar War #4: Arachnids (ISW-4) (electronic only), which was written by David Weber and sold to SDS in a preliminary form by TFG; Insurrection (electronic only) is based on the book of the same name by David Weber and Steve White; and Shipyard is a computer program to speed the designing of ships. Admiral's Challenge is a small scale strategic game (actually more of an operational level game) that uses the tactical rules to resolve battles.

There was also a freeware 'campaign assistant' named Starfire Assistant, by a player in England. It started out with approval from the SDS but due to changes and additions not supported by the core rules it fell out of favor. It automated most of the record-keeping of the campaign game, leaving only actual combat needing maps and counters. It also allowed PBEM, or play-by-email, campaigns.

4th edition: Galactic Starfire[edit]

The 4th edition of Starfire is called Galactic Starfire. This edition combines all the rules (Tactical and Strategic) back into a single rulebook, and replaces the earlier system of Technology Levels with Tech Trees. It is one of the few printed products released by the Starfire Design Studio. Elite (PDF) is a supplement to Galactic Starfire.

5th edition: ULTRA Starfire[edit]

The 5th edition of Starfire is called ULTRA Starfire. It is a single complete PDF manual of roughly 375 pages. The manual is one of the most integrated rulebooks in the gaming industry with every reference hotlinked to the referenced rule. This rulebook was updated directly and an entirely new set of integrated rules sent to the owners quarterly.

The Ultra edition includes 50 levels of technologies and rules covering Tactical Combat, Ship Design, Squadrons and Carriers, Galaxy Creation (e.g. the map), Empire Building, Surveying, Intelligence Gathering, R&D, Political Treaties and Alliances, Non-Player Races (NPR), and NPR governments (so that each NPR acts differently). Likewise, optional Technologies, Galactic Oddities, Random Events, and finally a set of rules for the creation of races that can live on gas giants, hot planets, cold planets and in the vacuum of space.

6th edition: Solar Starfire[edit]

The 6th edition of Starfire is called Solar Starfire and was released in 2012 in both PDF and CD formats, and is being actively expanded on, as ULTRA was. There is an active forum[1] for fans of the game. A new campaign setting is being developed for Solar Starfire.

Gameplay and strategy[edit]

The game involves maneuvering ships into optimum range for their own weapon systems to destroy enemy ships. This is not always easy, as each ship's movement is limited by its speed and ability to turn, and the impulse based movement system that has players moving almost simultaneously. Each ship also has its own unique assortment of systems, including shields, armor and weapons, which are destroyed by enemy fire in a specific order, so part of the strategy involves choosing which enemy ships to target based on which enemy systems a player wishes to destroy. Some weapons have a better chance to hit and inflict different damage at different ranges, and some weapons have the ability to bypass shields and/or armor. When point-based and campaign ship creation is allowed, a new layer of strategy is added, not just in which systems one chooses to put on one's ships but also the order in which they are arrayed and thus destroyed under fire.

Some elements of the game are similar to that of Star Fleet Battles, which was also created by Task Force Games in 1979, including the impulse based movement system and a ship sheet with shields, armor and weapons that are destroyed in a specific order. Starfire is a much faster-player game designed for far bigger fleet combats, not including such elements as ship speeds that carry over from turn to turn and weapon and shield facings which are included in SFB. It also lacks the concept of defining speeds over shorter intervals than one turn, and this eases the elimination of advance plotting of movement.


Though the game emphasizes custom designed ships, an official setting was provided for the first to third editions, along with star-faring nations to populate it.

Arachnid Omnivoracity – As the name implies, the Omnivoracity was made up of large creatures with a resemblance to spiders. While the Arachnids were intelligent, communication with them was found to be completely impossible. As a result, little is known about them other than the fact that they were quite advanced, considered all other intelligent races to be food sources (treating captured subject populations much the way a herder treats sheep or cows), and did not care about their own kind, taking absolutely no measures to preserve their lives in battle and showing complete indifference to the massive losses they took. Due to physiological limitations, the Arachnids were completely incapable of operating strikefighters, though they did develop a gunboat-style vessel to compensate for this. The first encounter between Federation and Arachnid vessels led to Interstellar War 4. As with the Rigellians, the attitude of the Arachnids toward other races made peace impossible, and all known Arachnid worlds were destroyed by bombardment from space by the combined fleets of the Alliance – save one small colony hidden, isolated from its homeworld by a hidden warp point. Interstellar War 4 and the fate of the Arachnids is described in the novels "In Death Ground" and "The Shiva Option".

Empire of Gormus – The Gorm are a race of hairless centauroids that discovered the Khanate shortly after Interstellar War 2, and came to the conclusion that the Khanate would soon attack them. As a result, the Gorm decided to strike first. The war was eventually ended in favor of the Khanate, but the Gorm impressed the Khanate sufficiently for the Khanate to allow the Gorm to continue as an effectively autonomous client state with minimal interference from the Khanate. Gorm have an unusually high radiation tolerance, and as a result are able to "tune" their engines for longer periods of time than other races. This practice causes the engines to emit radiation that can prove harmful over a period of time, but also allows the starship to move faster while the engines are being tuned. Due to their size, they are unable to operate strikefighters.

J'rill Directorate – The J'rill were a race of cybernetic brainships. They were originally created to act as cybernetic rulers of their star empire, who were expected to be able to act impartially. But too much time out of the body led to the leadership losing their humanity. Inhumane acts began to occur because the Directors viewed them as the most practical choices. The subjects eventually revolted, but the J'rill had control of nearly every computer at this point, and the subjects were punished for their revolt by being completely wiped out. A J'rill ship used a single brain to control all functions instead of a normal starship crew. Each "fleet" would be centered around a single ship that contained that fleet's director. Other ships within the fleet would be operated by brains that had been conditioned for the tasks needed (so that, for instance, a brain on one of the small J'rill suicide ships wouldn't refuse to obey an order to ram an enemy ship and blow up). The J'rill suddenly appeared during the middle of the war between the Kess and the Vestrii. The fleets encountered had no planets of their own, and appeared to be interested in harvesting populated worlds for raw materials (including the body parts of the local inhabitants). The J'rill only ceased to be a threat when new fleets suddenly quit appearing on the edge of Alkelda space.

Kess Dominion – The Kess were a four-armed, red-skinned race that developed around their state religion. They spread their religion to other races through "Chapter-Missions" that were created from elements of the church, the starfleet, and the marines. Races that refused to convert were punished – frequently by complete xenocide of the race. The Kess is known at this point primarily because Chapter-Mission Koshgari – I – 4 became lost in a nebula, and eventually stumbled across the Vestrii in their original home. Attempts to convert the Vestrii did not go well, but what the Kess hadn't realized is that the initial Vestrii world that they discovered was only a small colony of a larger nation. The Kess attempted to forcefully convert the entire nation using their initial technological edge, but the Vestrii were able to catch up in time to build a fleet that could push the Kess out of their space. The Chapter-Mission eventually gave up and found its way back to Kess space, hoping to get reinforcements. But the Kess had already been swept away by the same aliens that would eventually drive the Vestrii from their homes.

Khanate of Orion – A race of humanoid felines that believes strongly in honor and fighting, the Khanate was the first empire encountered by the Federation. The Khanate and the Federation clashed during Interstellar Wars 1 and 2, but new leadership and a common enemy during Interstellar War 3 brought the two enemies together as allies. They have remained on good terms since that time.

Ophiuchi Association – The Ophiuchi are a race of humanoid avians who excel in strikefighter combat due to genetic traits inherited from their flight-capable ancestors. The association is composed of multiple races, but the Ophiuchi are the dominant race and make up the majority of its membership. The Ophiuchi first encountered both the Federation and the Khanate during the first battle of Interstellar War 2. While initially hostile to both nations, the Ophiuchi eventually chose to align themselves with the Federation, providing them with a decisive edge and bringing the fighting to a close. They have remained close to the Federation ever since then. Unlike the other races, the Ophiuchi inhabit a pocket of space with warp points that lead exclusively to dead end systems, or to systems occupied by foreign powers. As a result, they are unable to expand the space under their control.

Rigellians – The Rigellians were a xenophobic race that had a passing resemblance to humanoid badgers. The Rigellians attacked all races that they encountered, and killed the inhabitants of any planets that they conquered. Several less developed races were encountered and destroyed before the Rigellians simultaneously came into contact with the Federation and the Khanate in Interstellar War 3. Initially, the Rigellians had an advantage due to their exclusive use of strikefighters. But the other two nations were able to quickly develop their own designs, and the massive weight of numbers against the Rigellians eventually caused their defeat. Due to the genocidal tactics used by the Rigellians during ISW-3, it was decided that the only way to bring a real end to the war was to bomb every Rigellian world encountered, and the Rigellians were nearly destroyed as a race. The only known survivors were on a planet belatedly discovered some time later. The Rigellians on that world had fallen back to a pre-space level of technology, but were just as xenophobic as they had been when they flew through the cosmos. Interstellar War 3 marked the first time that the Terrans, Orions, Gorm, and Ophiuchi all fought on the same side as the "Grand Alliance".

Star Union, The – A collection of races banded together in one empire. The Crucians were the first race, and are the most dominant race within the Union, so humans and others often append "of Crucis" to The Star Union's name. The Star Union encountered the Arachnids before humanity, but were able to avoid subjugation because the section of Union space that bordered the Omnivoracity was filtered through a closed warp point (a warp point that could only be detected from one side). The Star Union erased all evidence of the warp point on the side facing the Omnivoracity, and were able to safely withdraw through it – though this led to the loss of the homeworld of one of the races (none of the Union races knew what the Arachnids did to captured subjects at that point in time). During the 4th Interstellar War, Alliance survey ships stumbled into Star Union space, helping the Union Star Navy (USN) survive the Arachnid onslaught with considerable technological assistance, prior to the USN's offensive to breakthrough to Alliance space.

Tangri Corsairs – A race of centauroids with a clan structure. The different clans all have their own colony worlds, and are able to operate somewhat autonomously of each other. The homeworld has exclusive control of strikefighters and carriers, and acts as the united front for the clans when needed. Tangri view other races as unintelligent creatures that ape true intelligence (and it is noted that there are actually creatures on the homeworld of the Tangri that truly do exhibit this sort of behavior). Because of this, Tangri view themselves as the "Raider Supremes" of the galaxy, and feel that it is their right to plunder and pillage any colonies and starships of the other races that they come across. However, the Tangri realize that they must be careful to limit themselves, as the other races will only tolerate so much piracy. For instance, the Tangri originally appeared during Interstellar War 4, when they launched a huge raid on the Khanate. Because of this sudden threat, the Khanate assembled a fleet which backtracked the Tangri, and smashed the base that they originated from. The Tangri claimed it was all a mistake, and because of the more pressing Arachnid threat the Khanate accepted this claim. Since then, raids have been smaller, with all nations suffering as a result of Tangri depredations, but too weary of war to want to gather the forces necessary to finally resolve the Tangri problem once and for all.

Terran Federation – The Terran Federation is composed of humans from Earth. The Federation enforces a strict non-interventionist policy in the affairs of pre-starflight races within its borders, and as a result, humans are the only race represented by the Federation. The Federation has fought one civil war, as detailed in the novel Insurrection.

Founded in the late 21st century, the Terran Federation is a federal republic, originally consisting of the nations of Earth, then, as humanity spread throughout the galaxy, its colony worlds. The Federation has seen several waves of expansion, most of them coinciding with or happening in the aftermath of interstellar conflict. There are three major political/astrographical blocs within the Federation: the Heart Worlds, consisting of the oldest and richest planets, including Terra itself; the Corporate Worlds, strategically located systems dominated by major corporations and industrial combines; and the Fringe Worlds, the systems out in the frontier, which tend to be the last refuge for iconoclasts and peoples wishing to preserve their ethnic identities.

The Terran Federation is the largest and wealthiest power in the Starfire universe (as of the end of the 4th Interstellar War, 2370, in David Weber's The Shiva Option), a fact that garners mixed admiration and resentment among the other galactic powers. The Federation fought several wars with the Khanate of Orion during the 23rd century, until the events of the 3rd Interstellar War forced them to ally against the genocidal Rigellian hordes. Since then, the Federation and Khanate have had a mostly friendly relationship, further solidified by the horrific experiences of the 4th Interstellar War in the late 24th century.

Thebans – An alien race from the other side of an unexplored warp point near the Federation/Khanate border. Due to an odd confluence of events, the Thebans worshiped the planet Earth as "Holy Terra", and claimed to be Terrans. They embarked on a vicious campaign to "free" humanity and "return" them to the worship of Holy Terra. Despite initial Theban successes, the Federation ultimately prevailed. The peace treaty following the war invoked severe limits on the Thebans, and prohibited them from building their own starships. Details on the Theban War can be found in the novel Crusade.

Umbra of Vestrii – The Vestrii are a race with an unusual physical structure composed largely of nerve clusters and bundles. They subsist on food and minerals that most races would find inedible. When dealing with other races, they typically use humanoid shells that are designed to resemble the other races (particularly humans), though no one would ever mistake one of these shells for an actual member of that race at anything other than very long distances. The Vestrii did not originate in our part of the galaxy. Instead, they are refugees driven from their homes in the Alkelda sector by an alien race that gave them the options of assimilation (with the resulting loss of Vestrii culture) or extinction. The Vestrii decided to pick a third option – flight. They ran through a series of unstable warp points and eventually used a captured piece of prototype equipment that collapsed the warp point behind them. They eventually settled in the area of space previously inhabited by the Rigellians and Arachnids, and after careful observation decided that the Terran Federation might make good allies. To demonstrate their good will, the Vestrii embarked on an anti-piracy campaign against the Tangri. Tangri complaints (and the possibility of another large war) eventually caused the other races to intercede diplomatically, and the Vestrii were eventually welcomed into the local area of the galaxy. One noteworthy point about the Vestrii is that all of their technology was originally quite different from the technology used by the members of the Alliance. Alliance technology had developed as a result of the different races building off of each other either to improve known weapons or to develop counters to known weapons. The Vestrii had developed away from the Alliance, and had very different weapons, ships, and tactics. In order to hide this from the races of the Alliance, they constructed what is known as the "Sham Fleet", a fleet of warships built from technology that had been hastily reverse-engineered by the Vestrii. While the Vestrii are solid allies and willing to stick with their friends in impossible situations, they also have no problem concealing information and motives from those same allies as the Sham Fleet demonstrates. The write-up of the Vestrii in the Starfire product "Alkelda Dawn" indicates that when the Vestrii first arrived, they concealed much information from the Alliance. This information was revealed during something called "The Second Visitation" during the "Battle of Corcyra". What a "visitation" is, what the Battle of Corcyra involved, and what this information was is currently unknown, although the write-up suggests that it may somehow be tied to either the Kess or J'rill.


There have been six novels published based on the Starfire universe, written by Steve White. Between 1990 and 2002, David Weber and Steve White co-authored a tetralogy of science fiction novels set in the game universe. They are, in publication order, Insurrection (1990), Crusade (1992), In Death Ground (1997), The Shiva Option (2002). The Shiva Option made the New York Times bestseller list. "Crusade" and "In Death Ground" was later published as an omnibus edition The Stars At War (2004). "The Shiva Option" and "Insurrection" was later published as an omnibus edition The Stars At War II (2005). A follow-up novel, Exodus, co-written by Steve White and Shirley Meier was released in December 2006. The latest novels, Extremis and Imperative, were co-written by Steven White and Charles E. Gannon and published in May 2011 and March 2016.

Besides these professionally written novels, numerous Web sites contain fan fiction written by Starfire players.

In chronological order of events within the books:

  1. Crusade
  2. In Death Ground
  3. The Shiva Option
  4. Insurrection
  5. Exodus
  6. Extremis
  7. Imperative

Ordering with the omnibus editions:

  1. The Stars At War
  2. The Stars At War II
  3. Exodus
  4. Extremis
  5. Imperative
List of novels
  • Insurrection ISBN 0-671-72024-4 (read online[permanent dead link])
  • Crusade ISBN 0-671-72111-9 (read online[permanent dead link])
  • In Death Ground excerpt ISBN 0-671-87779-8 (read online[permanent dead link])
  • The Shiva Option excerpt ISBN 0-671-31848-9 (read online[permanent dead link])
  • Exodus ISBN 1-4165-2098-8 (sample chapters)
  • Extremis ISBN 978-1-4391-3433-7
  • Imperative ISBN 978-1-4767-8119-8


Steve Winter reviewed Starfire in The Space Gamer No. 30.[2] Winter commented that "If you're looking for detail and realism, you won't find it here. If you enjoy maneuvering massive fleets into high-technology slaughter and don't mind an extremely simplistic treatment of space combat, you'll like Starfire."[2]



  1. ^ "Forum".
  2. ^ a b Winter, Steve (August 1980). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (30): 25–26.

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