Spacefarers is a set of 25mm miniatures skirmish rules that I recall seeing at my local Games Workshop when I first started visiting in mid-1983. Its a game that I remember seeing on the shelf amongst various other RPG’s and probably picked up, but never actually bought a copy. I was more interested in the actual figures themselves, which I’d spend hours pouring over the Citadel catalogues trying to work out what I could buy with my limited pocket money. Eventually, Spacefarers disappeared from the shelves along with the miniatures, as Games Workshop became a more house-rules-based and Warhammer Fantasy Battle / 40,000 orientated.
However, Spacefarers stuck in my memory and recently I started a search on eBay for a copy of the rules. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long and managed to win the auction, purchasing a copy for £18.99 which was in decent condition considering the age.
I have seen more copies recently pop up on eBay, some with ‘buy it now’ prices of between £30-45, so there are still copies still out there in the wild.
The main rules are broken down into the following sections:
Sequence of Play
Weapons and Equipment
Tables of Organisation
Forming a Unit
Appendix 1: Spacefarers Range of Figures
Combatants statistics comprise of four attributes:
Weapons and Equipment
The first 14 pages of the book is made up explanations on how combatants can move and fire at each other in the combat sequence. Vehicles, namely jet bikes (one or two person flying bikes which carry an array of weapons) are integrated into the rules right from the word go and probably reflect the range of miniatures that were available at the time. Hit resolution is through referring to a D20 chart for location, according to armour and weapon type. Depending on the type of hit (dead, serious or light wound, no effect) you refer to a table as to what happened to the target and applicable modifiers. There are a number of modifiers and tables to keep track of and to be honest, because of the amount of text on each page, it looks far more complicated than what it probably really is.
Pages 15 and 16 detail the specialist skills and really should only be used in a limited manner, ie. only particular soldiers should have them, rather than an entire squad. Of course, all the skills are combat orientated in some way or another, such as specialisms in ‘Heavy Weapons’, ‘Force Blade Master’ or ‘Jet Scooter Master’. A percentage value is presented at the end of each description to indicate how much of a chance that a soldier may possess the skill. The only two non-combat related skills listed are ‘Medic’ or ‘Technician’.
The Weapons and Equipment section describes the ‘things that go bang’ with some hand drawn illustrations and descriptions that aren’t too dissimilar to those in the TTG Laserburn rules. Kit such as the ‘Powerglove’ (a powered glove that is designed to crush armour), the ‘Force Knife / Sword’ (a sort of light sabre) or the various types of bolt guns indicate the possible influence that Spacefarers had in Games Workshop and the team of writers that brought Warhammer 40,000 to market a few years later. Vehicles however only go as far as jet cycles in the stats, again reflecting what was available in the miniatures range. Other vehicles only get a quick mention and there are no rules for creating your own. There is also a limited amount of armour, robots and other equipment available in the description.
The next several pages set the historical background linked to who the key protagonists are, namely The Imperial Marines, The Dark Disciples and The Star Patrol. There are some platoon / team structures and background information on who they are, motivations and how they are typically equipped.
There are two scenario’s supplied with the rule book; both use the map supplied of the spaceport on the following page after the descriptions. The first ‘Planetary Assault’ details a Dark Disciple regiment that lands at the spaceport and the Imperial Marines need to sweep the spaceport, clearing the Disciples of the area. The first player to kill or disable six enemies is the winner – so its a pretty simple and straight forward objective. The second scenario is a bit tougher, where the Star Patrol must use only stun or smoke grenades to capture or disable a bunch of pirates who are using the spaceport as a base of operations. The Star Patrol must take the spaceport inside twenty turns to win, otherwise the pirates destroy the evidence and get off with a light punishment.
The rules have some guidance on ‘Forming a Unit’ and building some sort of long-term aims with missions and assignments. A couple of tables are provided to roll for a mission idea, depending on what type group you are (Imperial Marine, Pirate etc) so there are some ideas to be gained but these have no further background, other than the one line description.
Penultimately, the optional rules expand on the basic already provided; suggestions include playing on a hex map to regulate movement, changes to who or what can see each other during combat, applying rules on the amount of ammunition each soldier has and modifications to the existing weapons such as the needle rifles. Detail is also provided on fighting inside buildings, spacecraft and enclosed spaces or harsh environments.
Finally, Appendix 1 lists the Spacefarers range of figures as available at the time. A total of 53 figures are listed, including 48 ‘standard’ sized miniatures and 5 ‘specials’ which were typically larger than the usual 25mm models. The image below is from the 1982 Citadel Miniatures catalogue – however I have noticed that there are a couple of extra miniatures added to the end of this list, that are different to the list published in the rules (S54 and S55).
The book is illustrated throughout with a cover by Tony Yates and interior illustrations by Jim Pitts and Tony Yates. A number of the images formed the basis of many of the miniatures available in the range (you can see some of these via one of the links at the bottom of the page).
From my research, I can’t say I’ve been able to locate any additional supplements or scenario’s published or even fan-written material for the product so I’m not entirely sure how popular the game was. There are some mentions on RPG forums; it seems that the game was played, but not to a huge degree and though people have fond memories of it, it doesn’t seem to have the same amount of continuing support and love that TTG’s Laserburn has had.
I’ve done a bit of digging and found a piece of text from one of the original writers, Nick Henfrey with a reply from Bryan Ansell; if you want to take a look at the original post, it can be found here at boardgamegeek.com.
‘I co-wrote this game!
I’m really gobsmacked that people are talking about it after all this time.
I developed most of the basic mechanics, which came from a background of playing S&T tactical games, and I thought were quite novel at the time. Andy Murdin developed the game from my fairly rough design into quite a nice overall system – I felt at the time – although I can’t remember the details.
I do remember it came about because Dave Morris and I visited Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone at their Ravenscourt Park Games Workshop store (I think they only had the one then) and we were introduced to Bryan Ansell. Bryan ran Citadel miniatures (I think Ian and Steve had just bought it). He had this huge wad of typewritten rules for a game involving figures and Steve and Ian had this wacky idea that they’d sell a lot more figures if there was a set of rules to go with them. Bryan had obviously spent a lot of time on his rules, but I looked through them, and just thought we’d start again with a much simpler, slicker system, figuring that kids wanted something simple – and that was Spacefarers.
I’d love to say that Warhammer 40K was based on Spacefarers, but actually I think it was based on that big wad of rules that Bryan must have produced in the late Seventies! Perhaps Bryan can confirm if he’s still around somewhere?
The huge wad of typewritten rules was Laserburn. Laserburn was influenced by the Mike Blake’s Old West gunfight rules, by Once Upon a Time in the West (which, by strange chance, I illustrated), Heavy Metal Magazine, Tony Yates and Philippe Druillet.
Warhammer is it’s own thing, but was certainly influenced by Laserburn and Rick and Hal’s Imperium. It’s where Space Marines originated though.
I’ve compiled some additional links which you may find interesting if you want to find out more about the history of Spacefarers.
**Update May 2022** – the GÖATERDÄMMERUNG blog has an excellent article describing some history and images of painted Spacefarers over at How to Paint and Collect Citadel Spacefarers Miniatures.
I also found this advert in (I think) in a White Dwarf magazine a few months ago which presents the Spacefarers rules and range.