Looking at solo sci-fi wargames

I’ve been writing a bit here about shifting to a solo wargame, and it feels like I’m coming to a final decision on the matter. At this point, I have narrowed it down to two choices, both very similar but with some distinct differences

The first is Five Parsecs from Home, published by Modiphus Entertainment. It’s third edition hardcover retails for $30 and is available from Amazon or Modiphus directly.

The second is 5150 No Limits, published by Two Hour Wargames. There was a recent Kickstarter for a new edition, entitled 5150 New Beginnings, but that’s released yet. No Limits is currently out of print in anticipation of the new edition.

In many ways, the two games are very similar. Both use miniatures, but are “miniatures agnostic” in that neither has miniatures particularly affiliated with the game so you can use whatever you like or have on hand. Both are solo play, with the single player using roughly half a dozen characters operating as a team against opponents. Both define characters in relatively simple terms:
5150 has a single stat (REP), two derived skills (Savvy and People), backgrounds, and Attributes (which are small quirky things the character can do). There are humans and a handful of fairly typical alien races.
Five Parsecs from Home has five ability scores (Reactions, Speed, Combat Skill, Toughness, and Savvy), Luck points, backgrounds, motivations, class, and again there are humans, a larger number of alien or sub-races to choose from, and robot characters.

Both have the player’s crew participating in randomly-generated missions in which success or failure has long-term implications for the vitality and financial status of the crew. Both have rules for character advancement. Both have rules for spaceships and spaceship combat, creating NPC’s, and alien planets. In both cases the player’s crew have that “merchant marine” vibe that has existed since Han Solo, the Traveller RPG, and all the picaresque aspects of most adventure roleplaying (including Firefly, Dark Matter, and God alone knows how many pulp sci-fi novels out there).

So lets talk about differences. The first major one is in complexity, although that is relative to how complex other games can be. Five Parsecs from Home has 184 pages, including ten pages dedicated to gear. 5150 has 78 pages, with only three kinds of weapons (pistol, melee, and auto) and the entire equipment section on three pages (including weapons).

Five Parsecs from Home has encounters on basically a small wargaming table, ranging from 2′ by 2′ to 3′ by 3′. There are detailed rules for terrain and tactical movement, such as line of sight and objectives. 5150 uses a “battle board,” which is recommended to be 8″ by 10″ (basically a sheet of paper), and has abstracted rules regarding ducking back, cover, etc. in which the use of terrain features is almost a non-issue. In fact the rules themselves downplay the use of terrain on the battle board, with the figures mostly being used to understand who is closest or in contact with whom. To put it another way, 5PfH sees combat usually taking place in a large building, a city block, or a spaceship, while 5150 sees combat usually taking place in a single room. 5150 does have optional rules for larger gaming spaces in a single page addendum in the back of the book, using the same rules from their more wargaming-oriented games like All Things Zombie.

5150 also has encounters or scenarios that do not have combat at all, but instead feature just rolling dice against stats to reflect the outcome of the event, such as trying to hire new recruits, sell goods, etc. In 5PfH these narrative aspects are folded into post-encounter gaming.

Based on what I’ve seen online, both games can be played in a short period of time, certainly under the two hours promised by Two Hour Wargames.

So what is the verdict? Both games are well done, have good online support, and thematically and mechanically are similar. The biggest difference is that Five Parsecs from Home feels like a wargame with narrative elements, while 5150 No Limits feels like a simple roleplaying game with slight wargaming elements. As someone who is trying to find a game that fits around my life and schedule, the simpler rules and smaller gaming surface requirements lend me towards 5150; I could theoretically play a gaming session on my desk, versus needing to take up a chunk of my gaming/craft table. I found out THW will be printing 5150 New Beginnings in just the next month of so, and that the new rules have expanded options, so the lack of possibilities in No Limits (compared to Five Parsecs) may be a thing of the past. There’s room in both games to get what I want, and of course I could always switch systems any time I like, but I think for the short term I’ll be looking at 5150 instead.

Thoughts? Comments welcome.

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