Starport Scum, a Forgotten Gem

Back in 2016, Nordic Weasel Games published a title called Starport Scum written by Ivan Sorensen and Mathew Sparkes. It is a quirky narrative miniatures wargame”, much like Two Hour Wargames’ 5150 RPG line (Fringe Space, No Limits, New Beginnings, etc.) This means that there is about an equal amount of support for RPG-like activities as there are miniatures like ones.

The game’s basic mechanic is this:

Roll Dice Pool = Character Class +/- TRAITS

Your character class is going to be one of Goon, Bruiser, Ace, Hero” and TRAITS are the sorta thing you see in a lot of Indie RPG titles: freeform keywords that have mechanical weight. TRAITS are written in all caps which is handy to keep track of them.

Like any good miniatures game there are all manner of rules about activation, initiative, movement, shooting, fighting, stabbing, throwing grenades, etc. It is not overly complicated but there is a solid framework that works best with any 15mm to 28mm individually based figures you have but can be scaled up or down without much effort.

There’s also several story mechanics for Doing Things” from picking locks, talking things out, finding clues, etc.

If you boil it down to the basics you are going to be rolling anywhere from 2 the 5 d6 dice, looking for 5s or 6s, and comparing the result to a table like this:

# of Successes Result
0 Failure
1 Success w/ consquence
2 Success
3+ Success w/ bonus

There are specific tables for each system in the game but mostly they abstract to this range of results. You shoot someone and get one 5 or 6? Then you have PINNED them down. PINNED is a TRAIT, and it has specific rules that could impact the figure’s movement. In an expansion to the game getting that lone success might make the opposing figure PINNED but would also allow them to Return Fire (ala, Two Hour Wargames Chain Reaction-style shooting system.) If you had scored two or more successes you could deal damage to the figure (with the opposing figure having a chance to make a damage saving throw.)

The core rules come with a lot of random tables to help build the story around why you are having miniatures battles. A lot of tables. In fact if you’ve read the 3rd edition of Five Parsecs From Home (“5P) you will see a lot of familiar topics. There were a number of expansions to Starport Scum that added rules for more guns, loot, vehicles, additional jobs to be done, etc. It has a lot of support in that area even though the game is not ring actively worked (though there are not canned” scenarios - in general you will randomly roll up an encounter: the tabletop terrain, opposing force size, the extra circumstances, the goal, etc.)

I don’t have an extensive collection of miniatures or terrain - I have a lot of 2D battle boards, counters, paper figures, and even my custom-painted space smuggler” meeples. As such this type of loose game framework is very much to my liking. I do enjoy a good dice pool but I never want to roll 20 dice - the 5D cap makes it very reasonable and solo friendly. I like that there are miniatures rules as it helps me as a solo player work out the details of combat in a way that seems less arbitrary than entirely relying on theater-of-the-mind but I also like that the game has rules for you doing not combat things. As you’ve seen in my various actual plays, space is dangerous. Getting into firefights every session would be a great way to roll up an entirely new crew once a week and I prefer my crew to stick around for a few episodes.

Why Starport Scum over 5150 you might ask? Solid question! I think the opened-ended TRAIT system (which is extended in the core rules to work for gear, weapons, conditions, etc) plays nicely into a solitaire game. I’m often already writing down WORDS that mean things I need to remember for my game’s state.” If I mark a word in ALL CAPS that’s a great reminder to myself that something happened in this game that influences the mechanics. Feels like less bookkeeping that way. I will say that Starport Scum’s job engine (encounter system) and advancement system are not as fine tuned as that in the 5150 titles - Encounters and Rep” are very well done in the THW line. I think the streamlined mechanics of Scum are a solid benefit over some of the nuances that are found across the THW titles. I can keep the Scum mechanic in my head without any page flipping. I don’t think one is necessarily head & shoulders better than the other though - so it comes down to a matter of your own preferences.

October 12, 2022 · Starport Scum · Nordic Weasel Games · Observation Deck


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