Tuesday, 28 April 2015

From Space fleet to Battlefleet gothic ? Part 1

Over the years, GW has released a vast array of games developping other aspects of their major settings (namely warhammer Battle and Warhammer 40k). For Warhammer Fantasy Battlle you could think of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play,  Mighty Empires, Man o'war, Mordheim, Heroquest, Warhammer Quest, Blood bowl, etc...

Warhammer 40k which was already strongly Roleplay oriented at the start was developped with Space Hulk, Confrontation, the Epic system, Necromunda, Inquisitor,...

One of the games I'd like to talk about today is Space Fleet :

Space Fleet was published in July 1991 by Games Workshop and designed by Jervis Johnson and Andy Jones. It was released as a board game for about 2 to 4 young players. I insist on young players because the rulebook given with the game is actually printed on just 2 A4 sheets (we'll develop on that a bit later.)  Space fleet was not the first step into space ship combat for Citadel who had previously released models for Star Cruisers.

While released in July 1991, the game was advertised in November 1989 in WD119 (that's 20 months before) so let's have a look at that :

First thing you can notice is the name of the game was originally "Battlefleet gothic", that's intersting since in 1999, Games Workshop released a new version of the game called precisely "Battlefleet gothic".
Another intersting detail about the sketch presented is that while it obviously became the basis for the box cover, the background is actually different from the final version (you can see below). The revised version shows more ships tough those displayed are still the 2 types available in the box and one could also point that while on the first version, the number of ship is even with the eldar ship dodging an attack, the second version shows a clear superiority of the imperial fleet both in numbers and in the fact the eldar ships is getting a direct shot.

The previews show us illustrations by Tony Hough (if I'm correct) to give the ambiance. I particularly like the one below because you don't get to se that many children in 40k illustrations and you don't get to see smiling bionic dads that often either. (that just reminds us that in the grim darklness of the far future there has not always been only war...)

On top of that, you get to see many of Jes Goodwin's renowned sketches for ships and general designs :

... but also for characters associated to the game. Now this is great to see that the attention to detail was pushed as far as to imagine people in the ships for a space ship game (that part could have easily left aside for cost/convenience/timing issues). As usual, Jeremy's work is defining and nobody would object to pasting these concepts directly into modern 40k as they are now.

and it seems nobody ever did since you can actually see that the fleet officer sold todays for the Imperial guard AKA Astra militarum is not that far from the concept published in 1989 (only real difference is the absence of the great coat) :

You also get to see sketches for Fleet officers but it seems that this concept never really made it into a sculpt.

And then the fleet crewmen with slight variations depending on the roles they have (can't think of a more impractical working suit than the one on the right...) :

 Though those didn't make it into putty (as far as I know), the models released for the Titan crew would have been just perfect to embody those characters :

Taken from the 1991 blue catalogue (picture from solegend)

Amongst the illustrations, you can also pick this charming discusison between 2 inquisitor/rogue trader types of characters, both wearing heavy power suits with a touch of space suit :

You can see the models it inspired (or was inspired by) below. Funny thing is that the one on the left even has some osrt of jet propellers attached to his legs which tends to say those imperial agents were meant for space.

Taken from the 1989 Autumn trade catalogue (picture from solegend)
I wonder if those models were imagined as part of a boarding game (like PSace hulk or SPace crusade) or for some ship based skirmish (thinking about confrontation which was released at about the same time)...

Anyway... since the game box contained two sides, namely imperium and eldars, Jes Goodwin had no choice but to add some eldar sketches as well (being the source of space eldar he is). It goes without saying those are a treat for the eyes of those who like me any many others love Goodwin's work.

What really caught my eye though with my renewed interest for Space fleet was the last picture showing the model of an eldar ship (Just count the sails, 1, 2, 3...) :

And now try and find that same model amongst those released :

Eldar wraithship : 2 sails
Eldar shadowhunter : 1sail
I'm missing my ship with 3 sails ! The body is not even the same as the wraithsip's !

I'm not done with Space fleet as I'd like to talk a bit about the models and rules too. This game was one of those I really enjoyed in my youth for its simplicity and finding my box of it in the garage a few months back really woke my interest for it.
I'l lleave you with the mistery of the missing ship and will try to comment about the rules ans models in a future post !


  1. I've never played Spacefleet (or indeed BFG), but the early concepts and artwork have always been fascinating to me. I guess there's something about the combination of Jes Goodwin and Tony Hough that hits the spot!

    Jes did dozens of sketches for Eldar ships, including a large Seer ship complete with a pyramid structure mounted in the centre of the superstructure - it's a real shame most of them never saw the light of day. My 1991 catalogue has 14 Imperial ships but only 2 Eldar ships.

    I wonder why the tri-sail version never got released? Not enough space on the sprue for a plastic version?

    1. I'd really like to sort out a game of Space fleet at BOYL or a similar event. It really is a simple and yet enjoyable and the advanced rules really add the depth to have great fun without being too heavy.
      I have no idea why the last ship was unreleased or if it's just a conversion mean for playtesting...

      Anyway there's vast fields yet to explore with this game and all that accompanies it (the idea of conforntation games inside a ship have a certain appeal to me...)

  2. I didn't realise there was so much more to this game than meets the eye... makes me want to get a copy too :s nice write-up mec! Now show me your spaceships!

    1. Aha, I'll show you ships for sure (in a little while). This game is really good as you can add as many layers as you will, either by sticking with basic rules and standard ships or by adding advanced rules and more complex ships. A lot of fun to be had !

      Merci mec !

  3. There's actually a further layer to the game's history. I playtested the 'original' BFG in about 1990, prior to SpaceFleet being released, when I was working at GW.

    The rules were incredibly complex, and involved lateral thrust, and protractors(!), from memory. I helped run a demo game of it at the Nottingham store. The version released in 1999 bore little to no relation to the original.

    1. Oh that's excellent to know ! You mean even the added rules from WD were actually only a skimmed version of the originals ? I think the playtesting played its part then as in all honesty the full rules are really enjoyable !
      Funny to read the originals were horribly complex as it echoes those for confrontation released just at the same period !

      Many thanks for your commenst Evo.

    2. From what I remember, the released version of BFG was a total rules re-write. I playtested both it and Confrontation at about the same time. Strange that it took nearly ten years for the new version and Necromunda to be released, and both were changed utterly from what I tested!

    3. Well yes, Battlefleet became quite something else drawing inspiration from the epic40k system and with Necromunda taking things from 2nd ed and RT. Funny to see Space fleet got a rewrite when conforntation stayed pretty much the same (i.e. laserburn with RT bits).

  4. That is fascinating. I would be very interested to see what the original rules were like.

    1. Well, I wil try and develop on that in the next part as Andy Chambers has added some really nice info on how it all happened, makes me want to see those proto rules even more !

      Thanks Conrad !

  5. Great post - I love the pairing of the illustrations and the miniatures, especially those imperial inquisitors. It's a pity they didn't do more sculpts for BFG (like the Imperial Officer).
    I never played SF or BFF, but I always loved that art. It seems the closest that Rogue Trader gets to Dune. There's something so great about that opening illustration, with the astropath, or whatever he is, pointing at the tome like a maddened preacher. Thanks for bringing it all back!

    1. I totally agree with you here, the Dune influence shows at every corner and Tony'art adds the right balance of Grim darkness and lightness. The simultaneous release of Space fleet and confrontation really leads to thinking the 40k universe was being explored wherever it could be and I'd even go as far as to say its popularity comes from the wide horizons opened at this period. If you consider the many concepts that stayed even if only between the lines.
      For me it really is a pity at the 2nd edition, they opted for the "...there's only war" way but I supposeit was a different logic at the time.


  6. I have never seen that first art before, it is very surprising how art can change in such a short space of time, I remember getting a few of these boxed games that GW put out at the time, but sadly I never did get this one.

    It's a shame the sets and the ships command silly prices today, otherwise I'd get some......

    1. Well I have to say I rediscovered all those illustrations when reading white dwarf issues from issue 70 to 170 during febuary vacations...
      The box I got was from a hobby shop selling second hand material in france (must have been in 96 or 97). There seems to be little demand for those ships but even less offer unfortunately, hard to get any easily, only patience (or ridiculous prices) to expect.

      Thanks !

  7. Nice article JB. I longed to pick up a lot of the ships for SF, but at the time it was way beyond my means with 28mm 40k taking any cash that I did have. I have a painted Chaos Fleet for BFG but I didnt play much of it for scheduling reasons.

    I have been accumulating models to represent the crew of an Imperial ship for a few years now and I have come up with some surprisingly excellent proxies for some of the Goodwin sketches. Ill get to them eventually...

    Did you ever see the Tyranid ships for SF? They came out around the era of the release of 2nd ed 40k IIRC.

    1. The tyrannid ships for Space fleet are repurposed ships from Star cruiser and are therefore even predating Rogue trader. Weird little sculpts I nearly got my hands on but the funds were simply not there and I had (for once) to listen to the voice of reason). Hopefully I'll get another opportunity ;)

  8. I was commissioned for over 30 illos for what would have been the rulebook and the emphasis was on the massive scales involved, so many of the illos were full of silly levels of detail. When the published version appeared with its one rulesheet, the illos were consigned to the pages of White Dwarf and often published much smaller than intended.
    Those interested (and on facebook)can see better copies here

    1. Tony, I think, it's fair to say your vision of this has greatly contributed to making the setting so evocative, your alternative angles (both from a physical and philosophical view) is what makes it so good. You really put the 3D bacl onto the illustratons and those tiny details of everyday people, kids and all are the sign of a masterwork here.
      Thanks you very much for taking the time to comment !


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