Space Station Zero

Product review

wargame gaming

I've been having a lot of fun playing the narrative campaign of Space Station Zero by Adam Loper and Vince Venturella, and this is my review of the game. The rules are, impressively, just 44 pages out of its total 120 pages. You read about 20 pages for the rules (after which, you've learned everything you need to know about wargaming) and then flip through 20 pages of crew and gear options, and you're ready to play Space Station Zero. The remaining 80 pages are the scenarios for the game's campaign, which you can play solo or with a friend, or you can just set up some armies and try to kill each other's toy soldiers. It's a fun wargame, a fun game system, and it's easy to learn and thematically flexible.

The solo campaign, however, is awfully brutal, at least for solo play. The book hardly conveys just what you're in for. It's got quirky artwork that might lull you into thinking the game is meant to be casual, and I initially thought the campaign was sort of an exploration mission with some incidental dangers. In a wargame, it's reasonably to expect combat at every turn, but the campaign in Space Station Zero is just plain unbalanced. There are challenges your crew literally won't be able to pass because the starting stats just aren't high enough for the target numbers required. The book's campaign isn't a casual game, it's a gauntlet designed to kill your crew before you reach the end. If you're not happy with that, then you can adjust the targets and tests as you see fit so you can get through the entire station (that's one of those advantages of tabletop gaming you just don't get elsewhere).

What about the miniatures

This is a miniatures wargame, and when you buy the Space Station Zero book you're just buying a book. You are expected to have or acquire miniatures. However, unlike big-brand wargames (like Warhammer and Malifaux and Deadzone and so on), Space Station Zero doesn't require specific miniatures. You can play with any sci fi miniatures you happen to have lying around. (Well, it's a tabletop game, so strictly speaking you can play with paper cutouts or coins if you really want to.) I bought a pack of space troopers from Wargames Atlantic, which provides 24 miniatures for $60 NZD. You only need 8 for a crew, so you can build and paint the remaining 12 as baddies. I usually end up using a mix of my Wargames Atlantic models with some D&D or Mansions of Madness monsters, and it works great.

Game mechanics

Space Station Zero is designed around the d12. Every time you buy a dice set, you get a d12 that you probably never use, and I can only imagine this was the sole motivation for basing a game around it. The rules are pretty simple.


  1. Move a number of inches up to your Mv (Move) stat.
  2. Take an action.
  3. Roll 6+ to retain initiative.


  1. Roll a number of die equal to your Co (Combat) stat. Any dice displaying an even number result counts as a success.
  2. If your enemy has Armour, then only a die displaying an even number matching or exceeding your target's Armour value count as a success. For example, Armour 4 means you need to roll an even number that's 4 or above to score a success.
  3. Your enemy rolls Co as defence. Each even number (of any value) result cancels 1 of your successes. Each success you have remaining counts as damage to your enemy.

There's a caveat to combat when you're in melee, but more on that later.


  1. Roll the number of dice listed next to the stat being tested.
  2. Any dice displaying an even number counts as a success. Some tests have a threshold number in brackets, in which case only even results above the threshold counts as a success. For example, if you roll a 2 and a 6 on a In 2 [4] test, then only the 6 counts as a success because it is greater than 4. You fail the test, because you need 2 successes to pass.

That's it. You basically know how to play Space Station Zero now. Obviously I've left out all the context required for those rules to make sense, and there are weapon and gear bonuses you can get in game, but you can see how simple the system is. There are some exceptions and edge cases, of course, because it's a wargame and the authors know that players are inevitably going to do the unexpected. But in terms of the standard play loop, those are the rules!

Crew creation

To venture into the space station, you must have a crew. A crew can be 4, 6, or 8 miniatures, and there are different types of crew profiles depending on what kind of ship you flew in on. There are science vessels and military vessels and so on, and your crew is based on those themes. One crew might have stats that favour aggression, while another crew tends toward Intelligence, and so on. It's a build process though, so you get a few build points so you can customize your team to fit your vision.

Building a crew doesn't take long, and in fact I have to admit that I wish building a crew had a few more choices than it does. The actual crew build was easy enough, but equipping them with gear was a little underwhelming. My models all had the typical toy soldier accouterments, mostly rifles in hand and pistols in holsters, with maybe the odd grenade on a belt here and there. Trying to develop a system to reflect what I see on my miniatures with stats in the book basically didn't work out because there just wasn't enough variety in the gear listed in the book. By the end of my build, a lot of my models had basically the same gear, and none of it felt like it was specific to the miniature. I ended up developing my own gear list just to add variety to my crew.

Of course, I present this as a critique but actually, honestly, it's also a feature. I'm the first to admit that trying to track all the special rules for my Midde-earth Strategy Battle Game army is basically impossible, and so is trying to remember all the different kinds of blunderbusses and calavers and prods my Adeptus Mechanicus army carries around. Half the time, I don't bother with the details of an army for fear of information overload. I appreciate the restraint that Space Station Zero exercises, and I think it benefits the player.

That said, though, I do think that a list of bonuses to stats is pretty easy to track, and adding a dice or two to your pool is a pretty easy special rule to remember. It's a lot easier than flipping to page 358 to refer to a special rule that may or may not take effect depending on the situation. Glance at the model's stats, check for a bonus, roll.

Challenge rating

You can set up a battlefield, deploy two crews, and use the rules to govern a fight between them. If you want a greater challenge, though, you can try the campaign in the back of the book. It can be a solo campaign, although it's only "solo" in the sense that you can control enemies in the same way you control your own miniatures. There aren't special mechanics to make enemies easier to run, you're just playing two armies.

The campaign is about 80 pages long. In it, your crew goes from room to room of Space Station Zero as they pursue an objective from a random table.

As fun as it is, it's not perfect and there have been several challenges that are simply too challenging. The very first challenge of the game has environmental hazards you select from a random table, and a few require so many repeated tests that they're almost guaranteed to kill a few of your crew members. Initially, I assumed this was just the kind of game Space Station Zero wanted to be, but subsequent challenges were notably easier. Until, that is, another near-impossible challenge popped up and took several crew members out of action.

I think a lot of the most problematic mechanics come from environmental hazards, many of which happen every activation. If you're playing with an 8-member crew, that's maybe 48 tests during a 6-round challenge. Everybody's guaranteed to fail multiple tests across that many rolls.

I also get confused sometimes about the in-game point of it all. Your crew is exploring the space station for a reason, which is provided to you from a random table during the crew build, and that helps. In some rooms, though, it just doesn't make sense for a crew to continue. Challenge 4 is a room full of toxic gas and some not very threatening enemy drones that can only deal damage in melee. I found the scenario hard to justify my crew remaining in the room instead of just rushing for the nearest door (and the doors aren't marked on that particular map, so that's confusing, too).

Each challenge usually insists that you clear the room of enemies, too. This feels a little strange, because narratively I feel like a smart crew might just rush through a room to avoid an enemy instead of hanging around to get shot at. But Space Station Zero is a wargame, after all, so you come up with story reasons to justify the constant combat. Your crew is ambushed, your crew fears that enemies left behind are sure to sneak up on them later, your crew loves war, or whatever works for you.

I can't help but compare the "dungeon crawl" experience of Space Station Zero to that other great game about exploring a vast building floating in outer space, Blackstone Fortress. In Blackstone Fortress, your team is determined to find the Vault because Janus is loyal to the Empire, and besides he's a rogue trader who wants to prove himself to his family. The games allows for you bursting into an encounter, looting the room, and then running into a maglev chamber without defeating the enemies. In fact, the enemies potentially summon reinforcements even after you think you've defeated them, so fighting to the bitter end doesn't make sense. Space Station Zero doesn't have the same logic built in, and so it's hard sometimes to justify exactly what to imagine your crew's priority is. Should they be running for the doors, or searching the room, or fixing a problem in the room, or just fighting to the last man standing? After half your crew is out of action, does the rest of your crew really just stand around and keep taking a beating, or do they pick up their fallen comrades and hurry back to the ship?

It's up to you, ultimately. This is a tabletop game, so you can roleplay or wargame your way through it in whatever way you prefer. I've made additions and changes here and there, and in the end it's been a creative and fun exercise.


In the game, combat normally means the attacker rolls to hit, the defender rolls to dodge or block, and the difference in successes equals the damage dealt to the defender. In melee, however, when the defender rolls more successes than the attacker did, then the attacker takes the difference in damage. So melee is dangerous.

That seems like a clever twist, but there's a problem. There's basically no reason to ever engage in melee, and in fact there's every reason to avoid it. When you go into melee, you have a chance to be wounded out of turn (and you probably only have 3 or 4 Life anyway so every hit counts). Your ranged weapons have a range of infinity inches, so you may as well take cover and shoot.

This can make for some pretty static battlefields. Unless the enemy is advancing on your crew (but that's mandated rarely), the two sides of the battle are safer when completely immobile. There have been times I've been playing the campaign when I didn't even bother setting up miniatures, because the enemy was immobile or was better off remaining in one place and my crew is always better off staying in one place (given a high roll on the terrain random table so I could place cover just at the edge of the deployment zone).

I don't think discouraging melee serves the game well. In fact, if anything melee ought to have a bonus so it's encouraged. That way you have miniatures running around your battlefield, ducking behind terrain, running from the foes closing in on them, and so on. The Space Station Zero games I played before I noticed the difference in melee rules were a lot more fun than the games I played afterwards. These days, I ignore the added danger to melee, and actually move my crew and the enemies around the board.


And that's another thing. I don't think there's enough terrain in the game. There's a random table for terrain, and the "best" possible results are two large terrain (5x5 inches) and two pieces of scatter terrain. There are several scenarios in the campaign that ended up being completely open. That's thematically appropriate, maybe, but it's not all that fun for a wargame, especially given that the ranged weapons in this game have no limit. Setting up two lines of miniatures on the opposite side of your gaming table, and then never moving them again, and rolling dice, does not a dynamic wargame make.

Fun game

The game mechanics are nice, but I think the campaign is the thing that compels you to keep coming back for more. Every room of the space station is something new, and it's so much fun to turn to the next challenge and find out what you've stumbled into this time. And then there's the process of constructing your battlefield! There are maps for each room, with starting positions and major terrain features marked on the map. I've got 3 or 4 sci fi buildings I use for my battlefields, and some junk I've painted into industrial-style structures, so with each room I get to pick through my modest collection and figure out what gets to play which role. It's also a lot of fun to pick out monster miniatures for the enemies, and I love that the endless variety of baddies in the campaign has given me lots of opportunities to play with miniatures I otherwise would probably forget about.

Game system

Space Station Zero is a fun game, and a nice and simple battle system. Some of its terminology is a little imprecise (is a "number" the thing displayed on the dice, or the number of even digits displayed on the dice? is a "crew" the same thing as a "crew member"?) but mostly the rules are clearly written, easy to understand, and a pleasure to play.

Its narrative campaign is punishing, but if you're either a masochist or willing to adjust rules, it can be entertaining.

As a general rule set for miniature battles, it's genuinely fun and simple to use. With a few modifications to the rules (dropping the melee penalty, especially), it's a good simple system for any given scenario (capture the flag, secure the objective, last man standing, and so on) you might find in a White Dwarf or on Wargame Vault.

Best of all, it doesn't care what miniatures you use. It's pretty easy to drum up stats for whatever collection you own, and play using these rules. Its gear list is pretty minimal, so you might feel compelled to invent your own gear to either match what your miniatures appear to be carrying, or just to add variety to the battle.

I don't think this is an appropriate game for a beginner, but if you're an experienced wargamer or a hobbyist game designer, this is a fun system to tinker with.

Photo by Seth Kenlon, Creative Commons cc0.

Previous Post Next Post