Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review & Retrospective: Traveller Board Games

Azhanti High Lightning
I can't really talk about Traveller without mentioning my history with the game, or more to the point, my non-existent history with at least one aspect of the game.  The Traveller Boardgames.

I remember reading ads for Traveller in Dragon and White Dwarf Magazines and among the RPG books and very cool looking minis, there were the board games.   I remember reading about Azhanti High Lightning in particular. This was a board game and yet it could be used WITH the Traveller RPG. It even included material that could be added to your Traveller RPG OR played completely on its own.  Then imagine my surprise that this was not the only one.

Long-time readers will know this was the start of something I call my "Traveller Envy."  Even then in the early 80s, I was blown away by the amount of material for this game.  RPGs, Boardgames, starship minis.  It was enough to make a die-hard D&D player like me jealous.  Sure, I had Dungeon! but that is not quite the same is it? 

Sadly, and long-time readers know this too, I never got the chance to play any of them.  

Fast forward to, well, last week.  I picked up three of the board games from DriveThruRPG.  These are PDFs, but they are, as far as I can tell, complete.  They are PDFs though.  

I want to review them, but I really have no context for them save they are, to me, worth everything I paid.  Honestly just to see what they are all about was worth it even if I never get to play them.  

General Overview

I picked up three games, Imperium, Mayday, and Azhanti High Lightning.  All three share similarities. There is s set of printed rules that are easy to read.  There is a board game that really doubles as an awesome map.  And there are counters.  If anything is the weakest link here it is the counters.  I have, with other games, tried printing and gluing to cardstock (gotta wait for the ink to dry), but that is time-consuming.  I have been considering a completely futuristic plan.  I would use my HDMI projector to project down on a table and use 3D printed starships.  I have found a few online and I am 100% certain there are more.  It would be far more time-consuming than laser printing and gluing, but it would be 1000x so much cooler.  Thankfully the ships would not need to be huge so I could do a few at a time. I wouldn't even need to spend a lot of time painting them, just a solid color the same as the counter. 

Imperium (1977)
Imperium (1977)

This PDF features a 16 page rulebook, 3 pages of rule summaries, a turn tracker, 7 pages of background on the Imperium which may or may not reflect the same history as Traveller*.  There are also 3 pages of color maps/boards, 2 pages of counters, and an additional page of a counter manifest that looks like a page from Excel. Missing is the d6.  Bet I can dig one up.

This is a game of interstellar war. It actually predates Traveller by a bit, but obviously has similar DNA.  While the original 1977 RPG lacked an explicit setting, this one involves the Imperium (natch) and the forces of Terra (Earth).  The phases in the players' turns can include buying equipment, moving, and attacking.

This was published the same year as Traveller and the ideas of the Imperium had not been added to the RPG yet, so there are differences between the events of this game and future Traveller products. 

My issue with this set is I have no idea how big the map needs to be.  I can assume it is some multiple of the box size, but this is not a big issue.

Mayday (1978)

This one seems to be more explicitly linked to Traveller and is in fact Game 1.  The Mayday in question is the infamous "mayday" of the Free Trader Beowulf.  This is a game of ship-to-ship combat.   It was part of GDW's Series 120 games.  These were designed to play in two-hours or less. 

The Mayday is presented as a single PDF. Thre are 15 pages of rules. 1 page of counters. And a counter manifest/inventory (Excel printout). A board/map of a space hex-grid, and a scan of the box cover.

In general, this scan feels much more useful than Imperium did.  I can get a blank hex grid like this from my favorite local game store and I can print out all the counters I need, as I need, or use the 3D printing idea I have. 

While this game is more explicitly linked to Traveller, I see it could be used for any sort of ship-to-ship combat. I could even try my MCRN Barkeith vs. the USS Protector.  Might take some work, but the Barkeith would be a lot easier to do in the Traveller universe. 

Azhanti High Lightning (1980)
Azhanti High Lightning (1980)

This is where it all began for me. Well. At least my Traveller Envy began here.  This is Traveller Boardgame 3 and it is a companion to the S05 Supplement Lightning Class Cruiser.

This game is personal combat on a starship.  This PDF package includes 3 PDFs.  The first is the complete game of 118 pages. This includes 40 pages of rules which includes six different sorts of "Incidents" (read Scenarios).  The next section (40+ pages) of this PDF is S05 Supplement Lightning Class Cruiser.  So if you are looking for this supplement for Classic Traveller, then here it is. 

The next 16 or so pages include the counters and the deck plans for the Azhanti.   Again these counters are good, but I would like to use minis or something like that.

I have been told this game is a lot of fun.  I'll have to endeavor to get it all printed out into a playable shape.


It is hard to give these a proper review since the only proper proof is playing them.  One day maybe, but for now I can honestly say my curiosity has been satisfied.  




Azhanti High Lightning


Dick McGee said...

There's a good unboxing vid of Imperium that will give you a good idea of the map size:

Azhanti High Lightning has a *lot* of maps, and is likely to be a bit of a pain to print out. Worth the effort IMO, and the rules have enough similarities to Snapshot (their other "fight on a starship" boxed game) that learning one helps with the other.

I played all three of these to death back in the day (actually went through two copies of Imperium - the first died to a soda flood) and heartily recommend them all. Both Imperium and AHL can be a bit long though, at least for some scenarios, so plan accordingly.

If you like Imperium, Dark Nebula is essentially a smaller, faster version with modular maps for more replay value and more detail added around planetside combat. It covers clashes between human colonists and the alien Aslan in the Dark Nebula region of space as bith sides expand into the area.

Shannon Appelcline said...

Imperium was actually published about four months after Traveller. Their design was simultaneous (following development of a previous game also called Imperium). But, as you say, there was no connection between them at the time. I think the connection was made for the first time in JTAS #4 (1980), which includes a brief history of the Traveller Imperium that notes the events of the Imperium board game (though even that is still implicit: you'd need to be familiar with the game to understand that was what was being discussed).

Alec Semicognito said...

Gonna review Striker and Snapshot too someday?

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Dick McGee, Thanks! I'll check out Dark Nebula too.

@Shannon, I'll have to find that. Thanks!

@Alec. If I get a copy of either I will.

Tom said...

Try printing your counters on label sheets, so you don't have to futz with glue. If you have a good enough cutting tool you can attach the whole sheet to cardstock and then do your cutting.

Something else I've played with is getting little wooden craft squares and attaching the cut label counters to them. This gives them more mass and they look good (you can find hexes too). The down side is that for most games like this the counters print out to fit the map squares exactly and this method works best when the wooden squares are a little larger than the counters. So you either have oversized counters or need to up the printing scale on the map.