Triplanetary (board game)

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Rulesbook cover

Triplanetary was a science fiction board wargame published by Game Designers' Workshop in 1973. It was a simulation of space combat within the solar system in the early 21st Century. The game was designed by Marc W. Miller and John Harshman as part of a series to be named "The Stars! The Stars!".[1]:53 The game is loosely taken from SF novels and short stories of the 1930s, 40’s and 50’s - - particularly Heinlein.[2] A second edition of the game was issued in 1981. In 1989, Steve Jackson acquired the rights to the game, with ambitions to release a new version of the game in 1991 that would tighten up a number of rules to improve play. After various delays, the third edition was finally released by Steve Jackson Games in 2018.[3]

The game consisted of a 16-page book of rules (with four additional pages of errata and clarification); a hex map of the inner solar system; a clear acetate overlay for the map, a grease pencil, a set of cardboard counters representing the various spaceships, and a 6-sided die.[4] The game scenarios typically allowed for two players, although some allowed for more players.

The map includes the Sol, Mercury, Venus, Terra and its Luna, Mars, part of the Asteroid belt, and Jupiter, along with the four largest Jovian moons. There were also hexes for two of the largest asteroids, and for a secret asteroid base. The map scale is 9.3 million miles across, so that the placement of the moons is entirely unrealistic; they were situated primarily for game play purposes and not for accuracy.


Marc W. Miller states that one late-night session of blank hex-grid battle board combat with John Harshman for the game Lensman "inspired the design for Triplanetary, with its image of our solar system and use of vector movement".[5]


The most contemporary feature of this game is the clear acetate overlay that allowed each player to plot the movement vectors of their ships. Each ship could accelerate during the turn, which then modified the vector one hex in any direction. The ships continued to follow their current vector from turn to turn, which could only be modified by acceleration or by entering the "gravity field" of a planet. For simplification purposes, this gravity field consisted of the six hexes surrounding the planet. Moons have a weaker gravity that only affected a course when ships pass through two adjacent hexes[6][7]

Acceleration consumes part of a ship's fuel supply, and players were required to track the current fuel remaining on each ship. If all the fuel was consumed, a ship would be unable to accelerate. Ships could refuel by landing on friendly planets, orbiting a base, or passing slowly through an asteroid base. They can also refuel by matching speed with another ship (such as a tanker) and transferring fuel.[7]

Each game was played in a series of turns that alternated between each of the players. Each turn a player followed a sequence of five phases:

  1. Astrogation — plot the movement vector of each ship.
  2. Ordnance — launch mines and torpedoes from ships.
  3. Movement — follow plotted course to new location.
  4. Combat — attack enemy ships in range, including using mines and torpedoes; roll for space hazards.
  5. Resupply — perform various logistical activities, as well as looting and rescue.

A ship counter showed the vessel silhouette symbol, an identifier number, the combat rating, fuel capacity, and the cargo capacity. The counters were printed in several colors to represent different sides in each conflict. The combat ship types were: Corvette, Corsair, Frigate, Dreadnaught, Torch (Frigate that doesn't need fuel), and Orbital Base. The non-combat ships included the Transport, Packet (armed transport), Tanker (fuel carrier), and Liner.

Combat used a damage table that was based on the ratio of the attacker ship combat strength to that of the defender. The odds ranged from 1:2 to 4:1. A six-sided dice roll was used to determine the results of an attack, with one subtracted from the roll for each hex of range between the ships. Before the results are applied, the ship being attacked can optionally fire upon its attackers.

The results of an attack are expressed in a number of turns the ship is disabled, or, for high odds and a favorable roll, the ship is destroyed. Higher dice rolls resulted in more damage. If the cumulative damage to a ship required more than 5 turns to repair, the ship was destroyed.

Torpedoes and mines also have their own combat damage tables that are used when the course of a mine or torpedo intersected a ship. (Torpedoes were generally very effective weapons, as they had a 2/3 chance to inflict an elimination result.) There were also damage results for ramming attacks, as well as for moving too rapidly through asteroid hexes.

Some scenarios use hidden counters, so that ships and planets can only identify enemy vessels that come within range. Planets can detect ship types up to five hexes away, while ships can scan a distance of three hexes.


The game came with six scenarios, plus an additional pair in the errata sheet.

  • Grand Tour — A multi-player race about the planets.
  • Escape — One side is attempting to escape a tyrannical government by fleeing the solar system, while the other tries to stop the escape.
  • Lateral 7 — Pirates try to nab a wealthy liner while avoiding the navy.
  • Interplanetary War — Earth colonies rebel from the rule of the mother planet.
  • Alien Invasion — Earth forces try to stop an invading fleet of alien barbarians.
  • Piracy — Pirates try to loot merchant transports while Patrol tries to neutralize their efforts. Merchant can expand fleet by delivering cargo successfully.
  • Prospecting — Economic scenario of mining asteroids.
  • Retribution — Follow up to the Escape scenario.


Scott Rusch reviewed Triplanetary in The Space Gamer No. 4.[2] Rusch commented that "It's quite a flexible game, and it's fun. It's even fairly accurate, which is something most tactical space games can't claim. I heartily recommend it."[2]

Kelly Moorman reviewed Triplanetary Variant V/2 which is an expansion on the suggestions made in the Prospecting Scenario in the Errata sheet of the Triplanetary rules in The Space Gamer No. 9 .[8] Moorman concluded, "I would recommend this variant to anyone interested in a very realistic space-economic-tactical game."[8]

William A. Barton reviewed the 1981 edition of Triplanetary in The Space Gamer No. 41.[9] Barton notes the Invasion and Piracy scenarios were removed in this edition and the editing of the rules is not clean. Barton states that "GDW should release an errata sheet."[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702- 58-7.
  2. ^ a b c Rusch, Scott (1976). "Triplanetary Review". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (4): 22.
  3. ^ Jackson, Steve (July 6, 1998). "The Return of Triplanetary". Steve Jackson games. Retrieved 2008-02-29.
  4. ^ "Triplanetary: Space Combat in the Solar System, 2001", RPG Reference: Traveller Universe Boardgames (and related releases), Wayne's Books, retrieved 2011-11-14
  5. ^ Miller, Marc W. (2007). "Lensman". In Lowder, James (ed.). Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 176–178. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
  6. ^ Low, David (2010). "Teaching Inductively: Games in the Tertiary Classroom". Creating ACTIVE Minds in our Science and Mathematics students: Proceedings of the 16th UniServe Science Annual Conference. University of Sydney. pp. 72–78. Archived from the original on 2011-03-10. Retrieved 2011-02-27.
  7. ^ a b Weuve, Christopher (January 1, 1998), "Triplanetary", Kentaurus, retrieved 2011-11-14
  8. ^ a b Moorman, Kelly (December 1976 – January 1977). "Reviews". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (9): 29.
  9. ^ a b Barton, William A. (July 1981). "Featured Review: Triplanetary". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (41): 26.

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