One definition of science fiction that separates it from the space fantasy of something like, say, Star Wars, is (prepare for mangled paraphrasing) ‘an exploration of the effect of technological development upon the human condition.’ An example of sci-fi that fits this definition would be something like Dune, which at its most basic explores the question of “how would humanity react to the discovery of a limited source of immortality.” Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep looks at the impact of replicants and androids on the concept of humanity. These are gross simplifications of complicated works of fiction, but hopefully they’re illustrative of what I’m talking about.
I’m curious as to how this sort of definition can be applied to skirmish level sci-fi wargaming. Most rules sets that I’ve looked at seem to just be translating modern warfare into a vocabulary of laser rifles, dropships, and plasma cannons. Admittedly, my level of experience with this kind of wargaming is very limited, so I reserve the right to change my opinion as I learn more.
Skirmish level gaming is probably not ideal for exploring fundamental changes to the nature of humanity through technology, but it should be capable of examining the changes wrought by technological advancement to warfare on a tactical level.
The first major issue that comes to my mind is the possibility of technologically asymmetrical warfare, due to disparity in advancement between cultures. Aliens vs. humans is an obvious possibility for this scenario, but we see this asymmetry even in contemporary warfare-just compare casualty rates for the U.S. in the Iraq war versus its opponents, for instance. I suppose this could simply be modeled through the potency of weaponry, but I think it’s the tactical implications that are potentially most interesting.
Speaking of aliens, I’d much prefer that their alienness be more than simple fluff. I’m thinking of something like the Kafer from GDW’s 2300AD, whose brains were stimulated by danger and conflict. The Kafer would start out dumb as rocks during a violent encounter, but quickly grow into a dangerous and potent force as the danger and casualties of combat kick-started their strange physiology. The tactical implications of this are pretty interesting. On the opponents side, the situation calls for lots of ambushes, rapid hits, and highly mobile forces. The Kafer would want to have some sort of highly codified standard procedures in place to limit losses during initial contact, merging into a more fluid doctrine that reflects their ever-increasing intelligence and tactical savvy. It would be interesting to see how a player of Kafer forces would develop strategies over the length of a campaign.
Two strictly technological advances that seem really interesting are Gravitics and highly advanced electronic warfare. Combat would be highly three dimensional with the widespread use of grav vehicles and power armor. Electronic warfare would be a huge component of future combat. Communications and even simple operations of highly computerized equipment would be in jeopardy. Then there’s the question of air and space superiority: Who controls the satellites, who can monitor the situation on the ground with complete impunity, and who can drop troops in at any geographical location are all important questions.
Maybe I just need to buy Tomorrow’s War-I get the impression Ambush Alley Games might be looking seriously at some of this stuff. Anyway, enough rambling from me. If you have any thoughts, comments, or criticisms, feel free to post below.