Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Wednesday 25 May 2016

"Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt?"

Bug Hunts: Surviving and Combating the Alien Menace is as straightforward a source book as you might want for a military Science Fiction game. It is the future. There are giant alien bugs trying to kill us in space. Go shoot things. More specifically, the setting for Bug Hunts is the 23rd Century. In the one hundred years and more since the invention of hypersleep technology made faster-than-light travel a possibility, mankind has established hundreds of colonies, outposts, and bases. Nowhere did mankind find intelligent life, but that would change in 2239 with an encounter with bug-like Xeno-Parasites on Draper’s World, followed in 2246 with the psychic, aggressive ‘Araknyds’, in the Centaurus Arm. In the forty years since the first encounter, mankind encounters multiple species, many capable of travel between worlds, some infecting whole colonies and outposts, others invading. This culminates in 2283 in a meteor strike on Earth, which turns out to be an invasion. 

Shortly after the encounter on Draper’s World, mankind’s leading corporation, STAR Industries, wins the bid to privatise interstellar defence. It establishes the STAR Pan-System Marine Corps or STAR Marines, who train to fight the bugs. Although it consists of multiple regiments, the STAR Marines’ primary deployment is as STAR Marine Expeditionary Units, each consisting of three platoons and three dropships plus a headquarters unit carried aboard a Demeter-class cruiser. Although every STAR Marine is a rifleman, four in each platoon are specialists. They operate heavy weapons in the main, but each is also capable of operating a Phalanx Combat Exo-suit, advanced, powered combat armour capable of wielding railguns, heavy auto-carbines, and flamethrowers.

This then is the setting for Bug Hunts: Surviving and Combating the Alien Menace, a Science Fiction source book published by Osprey Publishing under its Osprey Adventures imprint. Although the publisher is best known for its military source books, it has in recent years began publishing more esoteric source books on subjects such as Knights Templar: A Secret History and Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam; boardgames like They Come Unseen and the forthcoming new edition of Escape from Colditz; and wargames rules such as Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City.

Although Bug Hunts presents a future for mankind going out into space, it primarily focuses on our first, disastrous encounters with the various insectoid species, followed on our attempts to stop them. As well as timeline, it includes plenty of details of both sides in the ongoing war—each of the insect-like alien species as well as the STAR Pan-System Marine Corps. This covers the formation and organisation of the STAR Marines, plus their tactics and equipment. Particular attention is paid to the latter, complete with illustrations.

There is no denying that Bug Hunts: Surviving and Combating the Alien Menace is very obvious as a setting. Nor is it particularly original, given that it wears its influences in the head-up display of the STAR Pan-System Marine Corps MK II Tactical Helmet. These are the films Alien and Aliens as well as Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (as opposed to the book the film is based on by Robert A. Heinlein) with just a little hint of the classic board game, Space Hulk. The latter is of course no surprise, given that the author of Bug Hunts is a former editor of White Dwarf. Now despite the lack of originality, what this means that both the setting and the point of Bug Hunts are highly accessible and easy to grasp and then easy to adapt to the game system of your choice.

Physically, Bug Hunts is a nicely illustrated book. The writing is clear and the book’s content is easy to grasp. One issue might be that the book is perhaps underwritten, but if there really is an issue with Bug Hunts it is in the lack of the game system of your choice. Now obviously the book is written as a systemless setting, ready to adapt to said setting of your choice, but there is a complete dearth of advice or suggestions as what that system might be, of how to use it as a background for a game, and so on. It is not even as if Osprey Publishing publishes rules for the Bug Hunts setting or any Science Fiction setting. None of this should present too much of a challenge to an experienced gamer, but a gamer with less experience might have some difficulty in either choosing the right rules or adapting the setting of Bug Hunts to those rules. 

In terms of wargaming, Reviews from R’lyeh is not best placed to make suggestions as to what rules to use, although Northstar Figures and Copplestone Castings do manufacture some suitable minaitures. In terms of roleplaying, Savage Worlds is an obvious choice since it handles small scale skirmish engagements as well as roleplaying. It is probably best used in conjunction with the RPG's Science Fiction Companion since it will provide rules and mechanics for many of the elements of the Bug Hunts setting. Other generic RPGs would also be suitable, such as Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS or Mongoose Publishing’s version of Traveller.

Ultimately the problem with Bug Hunts is twofold. The first is its content, which far from being being unusable or unplayable, feels more familiar than it does fresh. The second is its lack of application and suggestions as to how the content is used, the inclusion of which might have countered the problem with the familiar feel of the content. The combination of both issues means that Bug Hunts: Surviving and Combating the Alien Menace is more likely to underwhelm than it is enthrall.


Osprey Publishing will at UK Games Expo.

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