Wednesday 4 June 2014

Laser Squad

The year 1987 saw the release of a new breed of science fiction skirmish game, where big shoulderpadded future space warriors squared off against an angry, uncaring universe. No! not that one, this one:

Not Steve " Zenith" Yeovil's finest.

Laser Squad, for the ZX Spectrum (and later converted to a bunch of other stuff, including DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad) by Julian Gollop (probably most famous for the XCOM game series) & Ian Terry.

It's reasonably common knowledge in geekdom that Laser Squad is an implementation of Bryan Ansells 1980 tabletop skirmish game Laserburn, published by TTG.

Laserburn is a small-scale skirmish game, which in turn Bryan had based on western gunfighting rules. Ruleswise it contributes nothing to Games Workshops 1987 Warhammer 40k, published under the management of Bryan, which in background and equipment borrows concepts like the Red Redemption and The Imperium, power armour, dreadnaughts etc. Laserburn did however, go on to be briefly resurrected, edited, redressed and republished in GWs house organ White Dwarf as Confrontation.

Many of Julians early games owe the tabletop scene a great deal,  Rebel Star is basically an implementation of Mark Millars Snapshot (itself a development of Traveller) and Chaos (recently kickstarted as  Chaos Reborn) very loosely based on the Games Workshop board game Warlock, which also published it. When looking for a publisher for X-COM, Julian takes it to Micropose UK, where it is comissioned by none other than Stephen "Chainsaw Warrior / Chaos Marauders" Hand and Mike "Imagine /White Dwarf / Realm of Chaos Editor" Brunton.

But that's all in the future. Back to the 8bit, let's compare and contrast some character data between Laserburn and Laser Squad:
Laserburn Character Sheet

Laser Squad Character Info Screen
The basic 3-stat WS / CC / I (or AG). The Action Point system, armour locations,

The Instruction Manual reads like a rules-light wargame from the 1970s, all the data seems to be there, but somehow actually making a game out of it seems an impossible task. Fortunately you don't have to work it out,  because you can play Laser Squad online here. or watch someone else laying it to get gist of it  (hint: save your APs for overwatch / opportunity fire or whatever it is called):

It's actually a lot of fun for a turn based strategy game, the action flows really nicely and the UI is quite easy to get the hang of.

By the 1990s Atari ST / Amiga version, everything started to look a bit Rogue Trader, which is quite funny, considering.

Not-Beakie Marines attack Not-Daleks
while some aged copyright cyber-lawyer pulls his base face

Laser Squad seems to have built a dedicated following, and garners much positive nostlagia, there's Russian game editors, people reverse engineering it, mobile versions, a long faded MMOSCG (Massive Multiplayer Online Skirmish Combat Game) and various android, remakes and the such ( being the best palce for updates and whatnot) which is cool, because it basically is Jullians house-ruled version of Laserburn being kept alive on digital platforms.

Haven't looked at Jullians XCOM series  just yet (time), but it is widely recognised to have been based on Laser Squad (and indeed was pitched as Laser Squad II), and could well retain some of its Laserburn  heritage, but unfortunately not 16-bit Rogue Trader Space Marines, nor Confrontation style new-romantic punk gangers... now wouldn't that be a thing...


  1. I knew I'd seen a Laser Squad screenshot with Beakie Marines in it somewhere but I couldn't remember where.

    1. Ha ha! Glad to have recovered it for yu. I'm plagued by maddening "I'm sure I've seen /dreamed / drawn / remembered ..." type memories so it's nice to have cleared up one for someone. Most recent for me was discovering the images of Marvel Superheroes so fixedly burned into my memories were a set of promo cards produced by the hamburger chain Wimpy, and not a hallucination.

  2. I loved Lazer squad, I actually wore out my casset of it. I recently played it on an emulator (well about a year ago) took some screen shots of me dying horrib;ly on the first mission while trying to remember how to play the game.

    The link you posted appears to be a bette, that is bigger version so i may try again.

    1. It is a toughie, but ensuring you have enough APs left for opportunity fire is the key. So slowly, slowly...

      I never played Laser Squad back in the day, so there's no personal nostalgia there (well, apart from the general 8-bit ness) - it's just a good game imho. Don't know if I linked to it, but there's a great presentation by Julian on the early development of Laser Squad II (he doesn't mention Laserburn tho').

  3. I played a lot to Laser Squad Nemesis under the nickname of Laserburn. I even wrote a tabletop version of the game and painted some Laserburn figures to play with: