Monday, November 21, 2016

Remembering Full Thrust

I didn't get out much when I was a teenager. Besides being the official friendless geek of my high school, I had the misfortune of being born to a pair of domineering parents who wouldn't let me learn to drive until I was in college. However, once I had my license, I did my best to make up for lost time by going to all the local game stores my uptight mom and dad wouldn't take me to when I was a kid. One of these stores, Adventures Games Plus in Greenfield, WI, would become my home away from home and its usual crowd would become the crazy, geeky friends and the second family that I had longed for all my life.

While Adventure Games Plus (or just AGP) catered to all gaming interests, there was very strong miniature gaming clique who'd meet on Tuesdays and weekends to play. There was a group that played Star Fleet Battles each Sunday, and being a fan of old-school Trek, I jumped at the chance to learn. I didn't realize what I was getting myself into. I thought SFB was going to be this fast-paced game of space combat. What I got instead were hours of energy allocation accounting and slogging across a hex map. My young ADD-addled mind rebelled at the codified dullness of the rules and the dichotomy of how could something that looked so cool could be so boring. After a game where a single impulse took four hours to resolve, I had all but given up on miniature gaming. Then I found out about a little game called Full Thrust.

Full Thrust was everything I was looking for in a space combat game. It was fast and easy to learn, you could field large fleets of ships, and it was generic enough to be used for just about any science fiction setting: Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and many others. Tuesday nights became the night of the week I lived for. It was the night that I would meet with my growing group of friends with our fleets of miniature ships and pit them against each other in white-hot science fiction battle. This was the time I started to learn to paint figures, where I started to learn basic tactics, and

I was in college at the time (circa 1994) and one of my professors mentioned the existence of this strange new computer technology called "the Internet" and the "World Wide Web." Discovering an online community of FT fans on an e-mail discussion group, I started to make connections with players across the planet, including the game's author, Jon Tuffley of Ground Zero Games. I soon discovered how easy it was to create your own web pages, and using a basic HTML reference and a share of server space on the University of Milwaukee--Wisconsin I started an online resource for players. Thus, The Unofficial Full Thrust WWW Page  (i.e. UFTWWWP) was born.

About that time, I met Gina, a girl who seemed interested in my strange and esoteric interests and we struck up a relationship. I was able to convince her to play FT and despite not knowing anything about tactics she always beat me. (No, I didn't let her win!) She and I attended my first Gen Con together when I found out there was going to be a large group of FT players running events. Back then, Gen Con was run in Milwaukee so attending only entailed a 20-minute drive into town. Even better, Jon Tuffley was flying in from Great Britain to attend. Gina said I was like a kid in a candy store, and after a whole day of gaming, I vowed to make keep making the annual pilgrimage and run game of my own.

After that, I started running convention games. Being the mid-90s, my sci-fi media obsession was Babylon 5 and I nearly swooned when Agents of Gaming came out with their Babylon 5 Wars line of miniatures. For one of my favorite con games, I got ahold of the Monogram model of the Babylon 5 station itself along with several Omega Class Destroyers and Hyperion Class Heavy Cruisers and created a scenario based on the epic battle in the B5 episode "Severed Dreams." It was always a sellout game.
Full Thrust Ship System Diagram

Sadly, local interest in FT began to wane by the late 90s, especially when the official "Fleet Books" series was released. Gina dumped me about a year-and-a-half and I haven't found a gamer girlfriend (or any other for that matter) since. While I found the brand new ship construction rules to be open up new possibilities, my friends found them too constraining. Eventually, my friends moved on to other games. Full Thrust became something I could only play at Gen Con. The final blow was the fateful day when it was announced that Gen Con would move from Milwaukee to distant Indianapolis. Being an impoverished nerd, working a series of low-paying office jobs, even a weekend in a cheap hotel was a cost I couldn't bear. I haven't played Full Thrust since around 2004.

Science fiction was moving on too, as many TV space operas began to finish their series and science fiction was moving to less expensive, SFX-lite conspiracy dramas. I lost the password to the UFTWWP and owners of the server aren't answering my e-mails, I've been unable to update the page since 2005. I've often thought of moving it to a new site, but there was something always comes up to distract me.

However, I sometimes hear the siren song of my favorite miniature game. I still collect and paint starship miniatures. The rules are still available for free from Ground Zero Games website. There is still an active Full Thrust fan community online. The only thing I lack are people willing to play. Maybe it's time to dust off the figs and make an effort to bring the game back to life.


  1. FT is great. Lacking the time, money, painting talent, space, and patience for miniatures, I bought up a bunch of Rocket Men boosters (by WizKids, think Pirates of the Spanish Main, but Flash Gordon style spaceships), and used those. Great fun.

  2. Forget gaming (for now), work on getting a better paying job and finding a girlfriend.

  3. Mark have you ever tried playing FT over the internet? I was wondering if Roll20 or a similar site could be used to play.

  4. Old Zeljanz will be 42 this Friday, so it's a little late for starting a new career. Also, too late for love. Woman don't like fat, old, crazy geeks with no prospects. (Can't say I blame them. I wouldn't want to sleep with me either.)

    No, gaming is the only opiate that gets me through my crappy life until the sweet, sweet release of death.

    1. It's never too late to start a new career! I went back to school at 38 and finished at 40, and I'm glad I found a new profession.

      Back to spaceships and gaming: Have you played any other starship combat rulesets you like?

  5. 42 this friday? Congratulations! You just became the answer to the question of life the universe and everything! (ask Arthur Dent for the question)

  6. Dear Mark. It sounds like you were really feeling bad when you wrote this post. Is there anyone you can talk to, like a friend, or better even, a professional psychologist you can go to? Please seek out help, even if it's very scary or seems hopeless. I've been in the black hole of depression too, and it's not a place you want to be. Best wishes, J.

  7. Jaap:

    Sorry for the delay in a response. While I do have difficulty with chronic depression and was feeling a little maudlin when I wrote this, I'm fine. If anything it gave me the motivation to come up with a new FT blog based on my old WWW site. I'll be posting more on that in the next couple of days. Thank you for your concern.


    1. And I'm glad to have found it (the new blog)and to contribute to it. Also fear not met my wife at age
      52 that was 7 years ago....some girls dig geeks....)

  8. :-) Stay cool. If you need help, don't be afraid to look for it. Even if it's tough.


    PS like the nostalgia by the way

  9. Talon from GMT Games is a brilliant compromise between the simplicity of Full Thrust and the setting of SFB. Huge dry-erase coated counters that you track everything on, shield facings, super-simple energy allocation (choose a mix of speed and power: speed determines the turn mode for the ship, power is used to charge the handful of weapons, put a single point of reinforcement on shields, or a handful of other things.) Speed ranges up to 5 (6?) And power not much more. Weapon ranges are short and combat resolution is fast. No fancy special rules, short rule book.

    Highly, highly recommended.