Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TSR's "Attack Force" Minigame

I've recently covered TSR's Minigame "Revolt on Antares", one of TSR's chances at dipping into the microgame / pocket game market first realized by Austin, TX based company "Metagaming".  I'll make a personal confession here ... for me, games in my life, in my wee years (1969 to 1977) consisted of card games like "Go Fish" and "War" as well as stuff like Milton Bradley's offerings.  Most of my "games" were the mass market, childhood staples ... fun kids stuff like Parker Brothers "The Six Million Dollar Man".

Finding "OGRE", my first Microgame from Metagaming in 1977 not only turned my world upside down (gaming wise) but it blew my mind.  This is easy to do for a 7 year old avid sci-fi quasi nerd ... here was a game that picqued my imagination and it fit in my pocket (or my 3 ring binder when I snuck it to school).  Small format, with only a few illustrations and a dump truck load of imagination.

For years Metagaming had the monopoly on "microgames" but the blood was in the water and other big fish began circling the cloudy waters ... big fish like SPI and TSR.  TSR's entries were limited but bore TSR's high quality (at least to me).  Sometimes manufacturers have a "tell", a certain "feel" to their games and TSR's minigames generally had that TSR "feel" to them.  As a kid I was drawn to this "feel", at least for two of TSR's offerings; "Revolt on Antares" and ... "Attack Force".

Designed by David James Ritchie, the main two things that can be said about TSR's 1982 offering "Attack Force" is that not only is it part of a family of "copy-cat" games that tried to cash in on the amazing runaway financial success of "Star Wars" but it is amazing to me why George Lucas didn't sue the ever living hell out of TSR for this game.  

In the time following the release of "Star Wars" on the silver screen, George Lucas was a sue happy zealot, going after the likes of Ideal for their "Star Force" line of action figures (which predated "Star Wars" and bore a remarkable resemblence to C3PO and R2D2 long before there actually was a C3PO or R2D2) and going after "Battlestar Galactica" because, you know, if you were to watch "Star Wars" and watch "Battlestar Galactica" the similarities really just jump out at you ... not.

"Attack Force" is, in a few short words, the final epic starfighter battle of 1977's super sucessful "Star Wars" played out on paper with die cut counters and a pair of six sided dice to determine the outcome.  If you have any doubt to that, the catch phrase on the front of the game, "Starfighters stalk planet killer" should remove all doubt but if there are any further doubts, let me try to remove that as well.  Just read the back of the instruction manual ...

Game play revolves around four flights of star fighters, divided into two types; Falcon and Eagle (which could be X-wing and Y-wing).  Four flights of Arcturan starfighters, four different colors of flights, facing a round, planet killing Nova Ship which not only has surface mounted launch bays for Imperial fighters but also a vast network of surface mounted defence turrets.  The defense turrets, which consist of lasers, blasters and pom-poms, can move along a track type of network giving the Nova Ship not only a variable defense but one that can be modified or arranged according to the desires of the Nova Ship player.  Each type of surface battery has a different type (or volume) of firepower giving each a unique strategy in setting up the defense as well as playing the game.

Imperial fighters come in two varieties; standard and custom.  The standard Imperial fighters are called "Cobras" while the custom fighter is a super fighter owned by the Imperial hero Vaj Korsen, evil tyrant of the Empire of the First Born.  The similarities between the Nova Ship and the Death Star, as well as Vaj Korsen and Darth Vader, right down to each having their own "next gen" starfighter.

Even as a 12 year old kid, the name "Vaj" caused more than a few pre-pubescent giggles and laughs at our games.

As for the weak point, the Achille's Heel of the Nova Ship, there are several exhaust ports which the Arcturan starfighters must attack in order to destroy the Nova Ship.  Only an attack against the correct exhaust port will set up a chain reaction that will destroy the Death Star ... sorry, the Nova Ship.  The actual exhaust port is randomly placed each game making each game different from that point of view.  I wonder if the exhaust port was only two meters wide ... the only thing missing from this game was a trench run.

Playing this game was a lot of fun back then.  The game itself was simple and didn't take a lot of time to set up or play (one of the great things about the small format games) but the real attractiveness of the game was the counters ... 

The counters for the Imperial Cobra starfighters, the Arcturan Eagle and Falcon starfighters were easy to use with TSR's other (then) contemporary science fiction offering "Star Frontiers" and its spaceship supplement "Knight Hawks".

Like I said, it amazes me that George Lucas never sued the hell out of TSR for such a blatant "Star Wars" ripoff as this game was.  Once an inexpensive offering from TSR, "Attack Force" is the second and last minigame offering from TSR that I bought and it still remains a guilty pleasure to play every few years.