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 STARGRAVE: THE LAST PROSPECTOR from OSPREY GAMES Stargrave  transports the fantasy RPG  Frostgrave  lock stock and barrel to a science fict...





Stargrave transports the fantasy RPG Frostgrave lock stock and barrel to a science fiction setting.  Behind it all are Joseph McCullough, the prolific writer and creator of these two worlds and many other novels too and the publisher's Osprey Games.

Though RPGs are very much the outer rim  of my gaming world, how could I resist the kind opportunity given to me by Osprey Games to preview this latest expansion to the Stargrave canon, especially when I discovered that it's due to be released on 28th April - my birthday!

In case any of you are totally unfamiliar with its origins, I'm going to start with the briefest of outlines .  This core was presented in a substantial hardback book that gives you all the background, rules, stats and scenarios etc. Thematic art work and photos of diaramas taken from games adorn and enliven the text.  We're dealing with a small unit, miniatures skirmish game set in a typical devastated and blighted galaxy.  The rather long subtitle to the core game says it all- Science Fiction Wargames in The Blasted Galaxy.

There is a substantial gallery of miniatures that have been sculpted purely for this game, but it really is one game where you can bring virtually any existing figures, terrain and buildings you possess to your gaming table.  

Your first task is to create a team made up of a captain, first mate and assorted crew then follow through the scenarios.  Like most RPGs, the wealth of written material provides an excellent resource to create your own scenarios.

A free supplement introduced solo play, while the first published expansion, Stargrave: Quarantine 37 , landed your crew slap bang into a deserted research station where you can compete through the scenarios against other crews in two mini-campaigns or take on a solo mini-campaign.

The Last Prospector, the second supplement similarly presents a range of new elements and a new region of the galaxy to explore.  The presentation is a glossy softback book of 86 pages. The introduction had me hooked at once.  Though only two pages long, in it Joseph McCullough gives us a clear, succinct explanation of his intentions and inspirations.  Three things leapt out at me.  

Foremost was his desire to explore the connection between the genres of science-fiction and the western.  This is a pairing very familiar to me as were his seminal references to Star Wars and especially Firefly, the sadly curtailed Josh Wheedon series and the film Outland which, as he notes, has often been compared to High Noon Firefly in particular struck me as a particularly important influence on the geography and geopolitics of The Last Prospector.

The region in question, the Honoreb System, has become a backwater of the galaxy, though still a mineral-rich asteroid belt.  Among its locations that will feature in the scenarios are Penthalia Station, a once vibrant and important hub, now largely decaying and derelict; Honera, a steamy jungle planet with originally three enclosed bases and Saint Mollia [or "Molly" for short] a vast titanic though abandoned ore carrier.

Next to seize my attention was his desire to depart from the linear progression of so many, many RPGs.  Instead the Campaign provides a ten scenario arc of which only the opening and final episodes are fixed.  The other eight can be played in any order.  The suggestion is that the game players take turns choosing a scenario usually based on what each thinks will be most immediately advantageous and suited to the qualities, powers and abilities of their crew.  My own instant reaction was, at some future date, to offer up this order to the random gods of the dice world! 

The third detail that I was highly enthusiastic about is summed up in the following extract"...instead of a focused narrative , this campaign is based around a mystery and a location ... to solve the mystery, the crews must travel all over the system , searching for clues."  Great idea was my immediate reaction - a game with not just sci-fi, not just westerns, but a whole touch of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective too.  Sadly this was my one disappointment.  The disappearance of the old friend, the eponymous Last Prospector and his rumoured "big score" are simply what Alfred Hitchcock would have called the McGuffin.  In other words they are the motivating trigger for the game's plot that sends your crews hither and thither across the Honereb System.

Just one of the many pieces of artwork that enliven the text

At this point, I think  one other sentence from the introduction is important to quote: "I leave it up to the players to fit my work into their own imaginative framework."  As Joseph McCullough stresses in his introduction, it's entirely up to the gamer whether you stick closely to his detailed descriptive script or not.  This is very important comment for the whole creation of your table-top, as you'll see in the next section where I explore some of the scenarios.  The fact that all bar the grand finale of the game is designed to be played on a 3'x3' table is a big plus for the gamer with limited space. However, the setup for many of the scenarios could task the physical terrain resources of the average gamer.

The fixed opening Scenario of the Campaign screams its influence from the classic western mythos in its title: The Barfight!  The setup specifies the classic bar down one edge of the gaming table and various other familiar accoutrements such as tables and chairs.  However, later scenarios grow more taxing in their requirements, such as a cavern floor with an upper level shelf running all around the edge of the scene.  This is where the comment about using your own "imaginative framework" applies - in other words "do the best with what you've got".   I've got to say that the suggestion of using 3" strips of paper didn't appeal.  So, substantial quantities of packaging from a recent home purchase, plus extensive Stanley knife work, are going to be pressed into service. 

The transformation begins!

Similarly, broken bits of polystyrene are in the process of being transformed into rocky outcrops that may serve both in some of the underground locations and on the planet's surface.

However, the thick jungle of a scenario like The Devil's Punchbowl will stretch my current resources considerably, though it will be one of the cheaper to beef up.  Though behind my nascent rocks lurks one of the rare items that I possess which I need to greatly expand and spend on to furnish my jungle settings.

On the other hand, left-over creations made for my son's long past days of Warhammer 40K and Necromunda, plus my own Deadzone 2 building collection will certainly feature prominently in other scenes, as will many of the figures pressed into service from those games. 

The one above I particularly like and feel it will work both in a jungle setting and also can be adapted to serve as a mine entrance.

Before looking at the typical Scenario outline, it's important to explain a narrative feature that I strongly like.  This region of the galaxy is split between six factions each with their own ideals, culture and needs.  Each player's crew will be affected by their shifting "standing" with each faction that will be affected by how they perform in each Scenario.  Outcomes will be positive or negative and, not surprisingly, will bring rewards or disadvantages that feed into other Scenarios.*[see below]   This adds a lot of colour to the story and game play - a definite winner for me, as it also sits well with the "western" influence, making me think of the factions successfully played off by Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars!

Each Scenario is presented in a well organised pattern:-
A brief narrative introduction to set the storyline scene.
Crew - these details usually introduce specific factors that may change the constituents of your crew, introduce limitations, exceptions, additional equipment or even additional units.
Set-Up - outlines the terrain/physical details to create the scene, the placing of loot tokens and the positioning of figures.
Special Rules - fairly self-explanatory!
Faction Advantage - changes in each player's crew standing with the factions in the game and the benefits and disadvantages resulting [*see above]
Outcome - what may generally be summed up as victory conditions, in that this section tells you what you'll gain or lose by certain actions.
Loot and Experience - usually this results in players rolling on the core game book's tables for these two factors plus special ones just for this supplement.

The typical start to a Scenario's organisation

As you'd expect with any supplement, there are new additions to all elements of the game.  They start with new backgrounds and powers for the two most important characters in each player's crew, your captain and first mate.  There are new soldier types , ship upgrades and advanced technology, a series of new attributes and in the section labelled Bestiary there are ten new creatures that you'll encounter through these Scenarios.  I'm not quite sure that a Foreman or Miner would be too happy finding themselves in a chapter entitled Bestiary or be lumped among "creatures"!

One of my favourite figure illustrations

All in all this is a very attractive and well produced addition to the Stargrave canonThere's plenty to read and its well illustrated with many exemplary photos and artwork.  The Scenarios cover a good range of situations culminating in a lengthier three-part finale and as the author observes, there are plenty of hooks and dangling storylines in the narrative to chase down by creating your own scenarios.  

With the Western influence in mind, I can already envisage a captain and first mate with five other crew members finding themselves called upon to defend a rag-tag group of isolated and down-trodden settlers from the brutal oppression of the nastiest elements of one of the system's six factions.  My captain might just be called Chris!

So, look out for Stargrave; the Last Prospector and its publication date on 28th April!