Sunday, July 10, 2016

Starship Troopers Miniatures Game and the Perils of Licensing

I have a confession to make: I love Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

Whether its the serious Starship Troopers novelization proselytizing about taking responsibility toward a functioning society, or the tongue-in-cheek mockery of a militaristic dystopian future, both takes on it are equally pleasing to me.

That's why back in the ancient times of the early 2000's I got heavily into the Starship Troopers miniatures game from Mongoose Publishing. It had everything, beautiful bug miniatures based on the cheeseball movie, fantastic rules written by the illustrious Andy Chambers of ex-Games Workshop fame (who's wargaming genius was not being recognized by GW during their foray into a 4th edition of Warhammer 40k), and Starship Troopers fluff written by Mongoose publishing, which is a gaming company that only employs writers who really love the shit out of the stuff they write about. Unfortunately Mongoose has a bit of a "holding onto the license" issue, which I'll get to...

When Mongoose Publishing announced they'd be releasing a miniature wargame based on the Starship Troopers franchise I immediately fell in love. It was a match made in heaven. As a disgruntled Warhammer 40k player in 2003 and a lover of all things Heinlein (yes, I'm basically a libertarian sci-fi optimist), I was all-in.
Hell yes.
I convinced my local game store at the time (Valhalla Games in Champaign, IL) to carry Starship Troopers (probably against their better judgement -- sadly its closed now). One of the workers there ("Darth Panda") agreed to split a ST starter box with me, where I would paint the bugs and he'd paint the troopers. When we read the rules and played our first game we both knew we had a fantastic game here. The ruleset written by Andy Chambers had everything you want out of a wargame ruleset, and it played smooth. Oh so smooth. I was sure Starship Troopers was a game that would finally pull the sci-fi wargaming society out of their 40k sleeping bags.

The bug tunneling rules were very smooth and a perfect counterpart to the Mobile Infantry's Jump ability.
I even took pictures of all our games with my state-of-the-art 3.0 MegaPixel digital camera, downloaded them to my blazing fast Pentium IV PC computer, drew special effects on the pics with MS Paint (of things like gunfire and flamethrower effects), wrote up picture-laden battle reports, and uploaded them onto my original e2evolution blog (before the days of blogspot) at "" (No, I don't own it anymore). Then I'd link the battle reports and images to the dakkadakka Starship Troopers forum. The guys at Valhalla got so into it they commissioned a miniature-building artist to make a grand canyon-esque game table for Starship Troopers (to emulate the Klendathu/Planet P terrain from the first movie). Darth Panda and I had some spectacular battles on Klendathu, and they were all recorded on the Scantabulous blog and on the dakka dakka forum at the time. It was a glorious day to be a Starship Troopers wargamer.

Don't bother looking for them on the internets (other than with a Wayback machine), as I let the domain for that blog expire in my youth as I was suckered into venturing over to (free-to-use!) blogspot when it came out (hey, I was a grad student and the $10/mo hosting costs were a major expense!). And dakka dakka has since rebooted its forum and dropped all the old content of yesteryear. And then when I upgraded my computer in 2007 or so I locally lost all those sweet gaming pics of our MS Paint-enhanced Starship Troopers battles. I now recognize it was a major oversight to let all that disappear, as the Starship Troopers miniature game is no more.

Why is Starship Troopers miniature game no more? Well, I think it has to do with the perils of Licensing. Mongoose Publishing is a company who is great at getting licenses to awesome properties...for a short amount of time anyway. They do a great job writing rpg and wargaming rules for properties they license, but then after a few years they seem to just drop support for those games. I'm not privy to their inner workings, and I recognize that running a gaming business is a probably a pretty unthankful job. Nevertheless, it feels like they have a serious problem with holding onto commercial licenses, be it Conan, Judge Dread, or Starship Troopers.

By the way, how is the Conan franchise still a license you have to buy? Why isn't it open source by now like Cthulhu? Is it because of the movie? Does that make Conan not open source even though Robert Howard's been dead for like 80 years?

Now that said, when Mongoose got the rights for Starship Troopers they went whole-hog with it, to my absolute delight. Not only mini wargaming rules, but also rpg rulesets in that one d20 system that was so popular at the time. And I picked up all the Starship Troopers rpg books. Never got time to actually play the rpg, but I planned on it. I prepared games and wrote military adventures using those books that I was perpetually ready to run, just as soon as "my scheduled calmed down a bit."(tm) Playing the rpg for me never came to pass, but nevertheless I bought and read everything they put out for Starship Troopers just to support the game. Sadly it didn't make a difference to the survival of the game by Mongoose.
Now the remaining books sit sadly on my bookshelf in the Pariah section that also contains D&D 4th edition.

Mongoose lost the license to Starship Troopers, and their support for the game disappeared seemingly overnight. For a time, they promised a new line of pre-painted miniatures with their Battlefield Evolution line, but it never came to pass. Starship Troopers just...ended. Game stores suddenly sold all their Starship Troopers stock for 60-80% off and just stopped carrying them (I bought a lot of stuff during that time, sure that Mongoose would come back on line with Starship Troopers support any minute...but to no avail). That was back in 2007 or so. Starship Troopers miniature game and RPG soon after came to a sudden end.

It was never that popular, really. Not compared to 40k or Wahammer Fantasy, anyway. Feels like most of the Warhammer players just scoffed at the idea anyone could compete with 40k and went on leading their Black Templars into glorious battle, with hardly a tear at the Ballad of Rodger Young. But not me. I was horrified, and ashamed. I had begged, cajoled, and pushed people into playing Starship Troopers over the previous year, and with partial success I felt like Starship Troopers would soon be seen by others as it had been seen by me: the ultimate Science Fiction Wargame.

Instead: *POOF!* Starship Troopers Miniature Game was suddenly gone from retail shelves.

The actual details of why Mongoose lost the license I never fully found out. Some reports said that they had a miniature manufacturing issue and lost a bunch of money so gave up wargaming for a while, and others said that they decided to focus on modern combat (a la Call of Duty) wargaming rather than sci-fi. But some others said that the cost of the license was jacked up in price across the board, because someone wanted to make a Starship Troopers 3 movie. Now, movie licensing and wargame licensing should be separate you might think, but it isn't usually. Because the Starship Troopers wargame minis are of the sculpt that was used in the movie, that probably meant the wargame license was tied up in the movie license. So when a third movie was being made the Heinlein license owners then jacked up the price of renewing the license for everyone, including game makers. Presumably Mongoose then said "Meh, no thanks then. We're going to go work on Conan or something." And the Starship Troopers license (and Miniatures Game support) was no more.

So because their can be only one (license holder), instead of continued support of a fantastic wargame, us Heinlein fanatics got the movie: Starship Troopers 3: Maurader.
"The bugs are back! Prepare for attack!" ...Sweet Jesus.

If you haven't actually seen the third cinematic installment of Starship Troopers, let me assure you, in no sense of the term was that a fair trade.

So now that I look over the progress toward the Mongoose Publishing Paranoia Rpg coming out, I do so with not a small amount of trepidation and a definite sense of defensiveness. Licenses don't last forever, and even very popular games based on them (e.g. Pokemon Go) can suddenly lose support in an instant. Keep that in mind next time you see a Conan or Star Wars miniature game. Yeah, its great they exist, but any game using a licensed property has a shelf life that can very abruptly come to an end if the license falls through.

To love and it truly better than to never have loved at all? As I look at my pile of still-unpainted chickenhawk and tanker bug sprues for a game I'll never play again, sometimes it feels like it might've been better had I never heard of the Starship Troopers miniature game.

But then I remember the immortal words of Lieutenant Rasczak...
"Come on you Apes, do you want to live forever?!"

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