Review: 5150 Fringe Space

“A Captain’s goal was simple: Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying.” – Firefly

In a Nutshell: RPG Lite game for solo, co-op or head to head play, focussed on free traders, smugglers, and fringers in general; much like Firefly, Dark Matter, and similar. In fact, that Firefly quote up there pretty much summarises the game. 105 page PDF by Jospeh Beutel and Ed Teixera, published by Two Hour Wargames, $20 – hard copy also available, $25.

IF YOU’VE NEVER PLAYED A THW GAME BEFORE…

They’re skirmish wargames with roleplaying elements, designed from the ground up to be used for solo or same-side play as well as the usual head-to-head wargaming.

In most such games, side A moves, shoots and conducts melee, then side B moves, shoots and conducts melee. In the THW “reaction system”, side A activates and moves some of its figures; side B reacts to that movement, which in turn may cause side A to react to that reaction, and so on. That goes back and forth until it peters out – usually one side dies, is incapacitated or flees – and then side A moves another group of figures. It plays much faster than that description would lead you to think.

The combat scenarios are stitched together by some really clever setting and campaign rules which generate background on the fly as you play. In terms of equipment, your characters have whatever you think they should have, but they can only carry a handful of items at any given time.

Each player only really has control of one figure, the rest move according to dice rolls and the rules. That’s like Marmite: You’ll either love it or hate it.

CONTENTS

This is the latest science fiction iteration of the Chain Reaction game engine; if you’ve not played one of those before, Chain Reaction is free to download at either THW or RGPNow.

THW games are now at the stage where they are highly modular. Fringe Space essentially takes the combat engine and wilderness terrain generator from Chain Reaction (reviewed here and here) and the expanded character creation, alien races, city map system, police and crimes, and job offers from 5150 Urban Renewal (reviewed here), and adds space combat, interstellar trade and some setting material. So I’ll focus on the latter elements, because they’re what makes the game unique.

Fringe Space expands on the skeletal setting information in Urban Renewal by explaining the Gaian Hegemony’s Ring system and world classifications. Conceptually the universe is divided into nine rings; each ring has six sections, and each section has an undefined number of planets. Each race or faction has its own stomping ground; for example the Hegemony dominates rings 1-3, contests ring 4 with the Hishen slavers, and travels in rings 5-6. In a one-month campaign turn you can move from one area of a settlement to another, from a planet to a sector or vice versa, from sector to sector in the same ring, or if in sector 1 of a ring, to sector 1 in a different ring. (I may as well mention that in a campaign turn you can also choose whether to have a voluntary encounter such as looking for work, and must resolve 3 random encounters.) Why would you want to move around between planets? Normally because someone has hired you to haul cargo (possibly contraband) or passengers (ditto) along that route. You get paid in dice for increasing your Rep, and expenses are represented by dice for decreasing your Rep – in effect, your Rep is also your bank balance.

Urban Renewal’s world of New Hope is detailed here, with a simplified map which can and does apply to any settlement (very like the ones in Larger Than Life), and terrain generators for both urban and wilderness terrain.

Character rules are expanded with aging and family ties; if you survive everything else 5150 throws at you, your character will eventually die of old age, and meanwhile he (or she) might have siblings, parents or a spouse for the Big Bad to kidnap. Character advancement is entirely in terms of Rep, with rewards given as dice for increasing Rep, and penalties in terms of dice for decreasing Rep.

The other new elements are space combat (which might be merged in from some other game I don’t yet have), interstellar trade, and settlements. Space combat is highly abstracted, and works by cycling round a series of tables in the rules – models or counters are used as status markers, no map or ruler required. Half-a-dozen ship types are provided, each rated for Firepower, Hull, and Thrust; lose all Thrust and you can be boarded, lose all Hull and you blow up, everyone dies.

There are the usual quick reference sheets, followed by a “toolbox” appendix with optional rules for gambling, companionship, sports and cybernetic enhancements. And – a welcome addition – we close with two sheets of paper counters for ships and characters.

FORMAT

The usual THW trade dress; colour covers, two-column minimalist black on white text with the occasional illustration. Simple, straightforward, gets the job done.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

If it were me, I’d add in some of the weapons from Star Army to improve the SF flavour, as was done in Urban renewal.

CONCLUSIONS

I really like this one. It’s the first in the 5150 line where I felt I could take a character anywhere and do anything without having to bolt on pieces from another game to cover gaps. I can be commissioned by a patron to do a mission on a world surface, haul cargo, passengers or contraband, be a pirate or fight them off, rescue damsels in distress, take in the wonders of the red light district, hunt bandits in the badlands, dogfight with slavers, salvage lost ships, negotiate with customs inspectors, get robbed or arrested, go on the run from the police or navies of one or more factions, recruit sidekicks, and of course answer distress calls. This has everything I was hoping for in a solo SF RPG.

The ring-sector-planet system looks clean and simple to use, a good halfway house between detailed starmaps and no map at all. The schematic d6 maps for settlements and ships are pure genius.

Recent THW games in the RPG Lite category seem to be de-emphasising actual tabletop battles, as movement is getting more abstract and less necessary; I suspect that like LTL, FS could be run for extended periods without getting any figures or terrain out.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. Expect to see this in use very soon.

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2 thoughts on “Review: 5150 Fringe Space

  1. It piqued my interest too but I don’t see it on drivethrurpg yet. I’ve used the chain reaction system to help when playing Savage worlds solo, might give this game a try on its own.

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