Three Lesser-Known Sci-Fi Worlds We Think Would Make Unique Miniature Wargames!

August 12, 2023 by brennon

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When it comes to choosing universes to explore on the tabletop, Sci-Fi is probably the genre that offers up some of the most interesting options. With intricate storylines, expansive world exploration, and sometimes, profound messages, many universes have made a mark on popular culture and could make for interesting tabletop games. With that in mind, we thought we'd have a look at three lesser-known Sci-Fi worlds that we think could transition from the page and screen to the tabletop as wargames.


The three worlds that we've chosen start with Annihilation, most well-known as a film starring Natalie Portman but also a book series by Jeff VanderMeer. We also thought we'd dive into what The Expanse could offer (beyond the roleplaying game by Green Ronin) by James S. A. Corey and also, and this is an interesting one, The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick and also adapted into a long-running TV show.

With each of these worlds, we're going to look at what form the game could take and then some of the key mechanics and ideas that each might feature to make it feel unique as a play experience.

Annihilation - Expedition: Area X

Annihilation feels like a game that would be perfect as a cooperative experience. In the game (that we've called Expedition: Area X), you'd have players joining forces to probe the enigmatic Area X as you face down external threats and strange, psychological pressures.

annihilation book

The game could focus on diving deeper into the ever-morphing natural world that makes up Area X. To this end, you could have some fun with game tiles, turning this into more of a miniatures board game, allowing you to always change and update the board as you explore what lies within. You could even introduce mechanics where the path behind you vanishes as you explore, meaning that even if you want to backtrack, you can't be sure of safety. This would heavily work with the uncertainty and uncanny experiences that the protagonists face in both the book and movie.

annihilation movie

Another element of gameplay you could play with is a Stress Meter mechanic. As you go deeper into Area X, you could have it that the game tests your mental fortitude and physical resilience. Stress could affect your units and characters with more and more conditions as you come up against bizarre phenomena and strange alien-like creatures. This could also play well into the cooperative nature of the game where you need to look after your companions and make sure that you all make it to the subject of the missions!

Last but not least, you could dive into the narrative side of Annihilation and the storytelling elements presented by the book and movie. You could have players finding documents as they play throughout a campaign-style experience, or find themselves jotting down information that they find based on what they face during their encounters. I like the idea of taking the journal mechanics from other successful roleplaying games and applying that to a solo/cooperative experience in the world of Annihilation.

annihilation crew

The stories that you collate during your games and throughout a campaign could effect what happens in the next scenario. You could also have it that if your team perishes out there in Area X, the next team that you assemble could use the information you've gained and written down to help them avoid the same fate!

annihilation weird 1

Creating something cooperative as a wargame could be really fun, especially with a focus more on exploration and narrative compared to straight up fighting. Imagine if you had a nice modular plastic kit to make your characters, equipping them with the kit you feel best helps. Then, as they get lost in Area X, they become NPCs that you meet in future games that could either turn into allies or enemies who are too far beyond your aid.

If I was going to equate this to an existing game out there, I'd say it would be something akin to Rangers Of Shadow Deep or The Silver Bayonet. A narrative based skirmish experience that gets tweaked to become more of a board game-based affair to help elevate the theme.

The Expanse - Gravity's Pull

The next universe that we're looking at is one that presents a potentially more straight forward wargaming experience. The Expanse is no stranger to the tabletop with a roleplaying game already out there in the world from Green Ronin but it also seems ripe to be turned into a proper miniature wargame. You've already got three (or possibly four!) factions to play as with Earth, Mars and The Belt.

leviathan wakes

The struggle between these three factions forms the core of the struggle in The Expanse and it's not hard to see where you could play with those tensions to have small, skirmish-based games being played out by specialists that have been tasked with specific missions by their higher ups. You already have lots of distinct and unique ways for you to play each faction too. Earth are pretty prim and proper, perhaps the all rounders of your wargame, with access to some decent tech but overall doing just about everything "ok". Your jack of all trades faction perhaps.

Mars are the hardened soldiers and veterans that have a distinctly militaristic society and have access to some serious tech! You could imagine them being very focused on high-impact gameplay, fighting using their powered suits and getting up close and personal.  Lastly, you've got The Belt who are by their very nature going to be your scrappy faction. They could have a "make do and mend" mentality to them and go with the approach of them working as a glass cannon. The "easy to learn, hard to master" faction.

the expanse tv

All of this would come together to form a skirmish game which is very heavily objective focused. Assemble your small team and perhaps engage in one-versus-one or multiplayer games where you're all after the same thing.

Another of the big elements of The Expanse's world is that it's got a realism to it. With that in mind, playing around with some fun gravitational elements would be super cool. We've already seen this in games like Lunar from Black Site Studios so it's not an alien concept. You could have this have a direct impact on the movement and combat dynamics of your games where factions could use it to their advantage to get one up on their opponents.

the expanse mars new

If you took "Gravity's Pull" as a skirmish/campaign-based game, you could also dive into the political and diplomatic element of The Expanse universe. You could have espionage and more going on between games where you could spend your resources gathered during missions in order to get one over on your opponent and perhaps swing things in your favour for future encounters. Maybe you could even team up and take on someone else in the group who has their own motives!

This also opens up some engaging ideas when exploring tech, research and developing your factions. Some factions might have more access to technology than others which helps create a nice asymmetrical experience but I really like the idea that you could also use the resources you've gathered in games in order to unlock more tech and weapons to enhance your crew.

the expanse characters new

You've also got the enigmatic Protomolecule to play with! This could well be the resource that everyone is fighting over and trying to control. I like the idea of there being a way to use it but making sure that it has a drawback as well. It never goes well for a lot of the characters in The Expanse so why should it be good for you?!

As mentioned earlier, the Protomolecule could even end up being a "faction" in their own right. Maybe, as in games like Core Space or Stargrave, the Protomolecule ends up being the threat that could end up scuppering your plans during a particular scenario (like Pirates or the Purge in the aforementioned games).

The Man In The High Castle - The Resistance Of High Castle

Last but not least, we're going from the Sci-Fi to something potentially Weird and Pulp I suppose. The Man In The High Castle, or as we've named it, The Resistance Of High Castle, could have you taking on the role of various factions and fighting for an alternate 1962, all whilst trying to work out what's going on behind the scenes.

man in the high castle

Much like all of these game ideas, it's one that seems like it would suit a more skirmish-based setting than a mass battle game. Games could play out in a traditional way with you controlling various crews but there could also be an interesting push and pull integrated into the experience where you look to battle over territory. Fight over urban strongholds and rural hideouts. One side would have the distinct advantage, The Nazis, but there are lots of ways for you to have the Resistance slowly looking to claim back what was once theirs.

man in the high castle resistance

I've already named a few factions here but you've got The Nazis, Japanese Pacific States, Resistance Groups and perhaps also those that dwell in the Neutral Zone who could act as mercenaries, spies, contacts and more. Each could have their own strengths and weaknesses which make them asymmetric and make it so they all approach scenarios very differently!

Another element that you could bring into the mix are the films that show alternative realities where (in the books and the show) other outcomes to World War II are portrayed. You could use that alternative realities element from the storyline to give you different ways that you could mitigate good/bad luck during your games. Those films could also end up being the hidden objectives that your teams are looking to get their hands on during your games, opening up various options for future games too!

man in the high castle japanse

There is also an interesting balance of technology and mysticism within The Man In The High Castle. For example, the Nazis lean more on technology and might whereas the Japanese employ the work of mystics and seers. This starts to build on the "Weird" elements of the game and offer you lots of interesting ways to influence game mechanics.

man in the high castle german

The Man In The High Castle could take cues from games like The Elder Scrolls: Call To Arms and Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, engaging in that narrative element whilst also diving into campaign-based elements where you track an unfolding story and mystery at the same time.

What Lesser Known Worlds Would You Explore On The Tabletop?

This is by no means an extensive exploration of what you could bring to the tabletop with these games but it's a start! For example, The Expanse also feels like it would make for a perfect starship battle game! It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments below about potentially lesser-known Sci-Fi worlds that could be adapting into unique wargaming experiences.

Adapting beloved narratives into wargames is an art. It's about capturing the essence of each story, translating its core elements into mechanics that offer both challenge and immersion. Whether navigating the surreal landscapes of Area X, battling for supremacy in the vastness of space in The Expanse, or navigating the intrigue-laden streets of an alternate history in Man In The High Castle, these wargames could provide you with experiences that resonate deeply with fans and newcomers alike. Do you think we could capture that using some of the ideas here?

Through making good use of unique mechanics, players can step into the worlds they've read about or watched, crafting their own stories or perhaps just retelling ones that they enjoy from their worlds.

Drop your thoughts below!

"...we're going to look at what form the game could take and then some of the key mechanics and ideas that each might feature to make it feel unique"

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"It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments below about potentially lesser-known Sci-Fi worlds that could be adapting into unique wargaming experiences..."

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