Game the Game: Retrostar Design Blog #1: Embrace the Cheese!


So, Spectrum announced Retrostar awhile back. The intention of it is to emulate the sci-fi shows of the 70s: BSG, Bionic Man, Buck Rogers, etc. Not the films of that era, but specifically the TV shows.

I have taken it upon myself to dissect this “genre” and my goal is to come up with a game the forces the GM and players into an experience that feels like a 70s sci-fi series, with all that implies.

Instead of designing a core mechanic that allows players to punch, and shoot, and pilot, I am starting someplace else.

What makes these shows special? What makes the 70s sci-fi experience unique? There are lots of systems out there that let players fight and shoot and pilot. I want the play session to feel authentic. Steve Austin doesn’t solve every problem by just using his bionics. The scenes with bionics are the highlight of the show. To use a cinematic example (I know this is about TV shows, but bear with me, this is a great example), we don’t see lightsabers in every scene.
Why? SFX budget.

So, one of my design goals is to have each session have an SFX budget.

Secondly, frequently these shows had some real 70s-isms in them, stuff that makes them feel dated and topical (and in this situation, usage of these terms is a positive). So, I want some way to bring these sort of 70s-isms into play, whether it is a discussion on race, or divorce, or a cheesy disco scene. We want to embrace these things and make it so that a session of Retrostar feels unlike any other sci-fi game out there. We do not want folks saying “man, this system is awesome, I can’t wait to run a hack of Retrostar for my hard sci-fi campaign.

Third, TV shows have certain tropes. An most episodes of BSG will have a dogfight, Steve Austin will have to run fast or jump high, etc. So, any series being played with Retrostar should have this built in.

These are my three primary goals for Retrostar, and I have been taking notes, and jotting down ideas how to make these be an integral part of the game. Referring back to Intention, Mechanics, Setting: I want them to mesh perfectly together. It’s a big challenge I have set for myself, and I really excited thinking about the possibilities. Will there be a core mechanic for fighting? Absolutely. But I want these three design components an integral part of the game, so I am starting there as opposed to having them be a secondary concern.

To give a teaser and peel back the curtain a little, one idea I am toying with is a card based mechanic that helps control the flow of the game, ensuring that each BSG episode would have a dogfight or two, and so on. It is an idea in the early stages of germination no doubt, but some neat ideas are coming out of the design process.

Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and suggestions! And know that I am not adverse to letting you on the design process as well! For now, my internal tagline is:
Science fiction- take a scientific principle; pose a question or hypothesis about that principle; and then explore the effects of that principle on society/culture. Now, add disco!

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