The aim of a licensed game should ideally be to capture the essence of the original product – to take the iconic scenes that flood your mind when you hear the title and make them work on the tabletop. When it comes to Star Trek Adventures the developers hit this square-on, though at times the breadth of mechanics on offer comes a cost to ease-of-use.
It’s hard to tell if that is a criticism of the design or simply a natural consequence of trying to replicate a Star Trek experience, however.
After all, when you think of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars – two other iconic pillars of nerd culture – there are a few core aspects of the universe that you want to nail down if you’re going to nail the feel of an adaption properly. They’re deep, for sure, but if you get the lightsabers working right and the action flying fast you’ve already made a good start on the tone. When it comes to Star Trek things get much harder.
Star Trek Adventures aims to let its players experience the universe shown in the television series’ and the films, placing them in the role of senior crew aboard a Federation starship. With this in mind, you’d feel as though something was missing if there weren’t rules covering everything from diplomacy to space combat.
You need to be able to solve problems with science and with sympathy, to give players the chance to investigate a rogue pulsar one session and strap on chainmail to explore a primitive civilisation the next.
There are two ways out of this predicament. The first is to go rules-lite; just leave everything abstract and loose so that the same simple guidelines can be applied to every situation a starship might possibly encounter.
The second is to double-down on the systems and cover everything you possibly can – make it so that the differences between a phaser rifle and a Klingon battle rifle are written down and codified.
Star Trek Adventures chose the second path.
Wide Open Space
If you’re into crunchy stats and Star Trek, this is a blessing. The core book contains a real wealth of information on everything from different classes of starship to Andorran ritual knife-fights, all of which impact the game in one way or another.
The level of customisation on offer is equally impressive, with every crew getting to outfit their ship to fit their tastes and their mission. With a bit of tweaking and the right choice of hull, it’s possible for them to be sailing round in anything from a warship to a dedicated science and exploration vessel.
Of course, this commitment to content doesn’t just apply to the objects and people of the game, but also to its systems. There are rules in place for solving problems through science and teamwork, as well as guidelines on how promotions work and how much trouble a character may get in for violating Starfleet procedure.
An incredible amount of work clearly went into all of this and it fits together nicely. However, with so much on offer its possible for the actual gameplay to get a little choppy.
While the core mechanic – a variant on the 2d20 system used in several Modiphius games – is intuitive and adaptable, the exact way you’ll be using it depends on the situation.
Over the course of an evening you may have a combat encounter, need to solve an extended task as a team and overcome simple obstacles such as locked doors or stubborn guards. Each of these has its own spin on the rules and switching from one to the other can be jarring.
For example, players can generate ‘momentum’ through particularly successful roles and other actions and then spend it on various benefits. The sheer range of ways in which momentum can be used, however, is almost overwhelming and if the party is indecisive about when and where to spend their tokens it can slow down some scenes to a crawl.
Does this mean the game is bad, though?
Not at all.
To Boldly Go
If you want a game for simulating life among the stars, where managing oxygen levels and travelling between ports is a vital part of the experience, this probably isn’t for you. Likewise, if you want to just shoot some lasers at some space monsters and experience wacky hijinks, there are more appropriate systems.
If you want to experience a Star Trek episode at your kitchen table, however, you need to pick this book up. It has a few flaws and needs both the GM and players to be pretty comfortable with the rules if you want things to zip along at a reasonable pace. But when you order the engineer to divert power to shields while the ship’s doctor and security chief hammer out an energy pulse that will safely knock out the alien boarding party… well, it’s hard not to break into a grin.