Skip to main content

My First Wargame: Reviving 'Revolt on Antares'

If you don't count playing Risk as a kid of nine with a bunch of adults on a camping trip, then Revolt on Antares was my first proper wargame. And it was infatuation at first sight. I had already been playing D&D for two or three years when I first clamped eyes on this game. I immediately recognized Jeff Dee's style on the cover art from his illustrations in the D&D books, and the idea of such a little box containing an entire game from D&D's publisher, TSR--"The Game Wizards," don't you know--was too enticing to pass up. 

It was spring of 1981, and my family was on vacation in the Boston area to visit some close family friends (the Dashes) who had left Dayton, Ohio a couple of years prior. They had one son a couple of years older than me (Adam) and another almost exactly my age (Benji). In retrospect they could both be kind of obnoxious at times, but when they weren't, we found ways to have fun together. Our parents were quite tight as friends, and every other Sunday we would alternate between going to the Dashes for the day or having them to our place. Coincidentally, on one of these occasions it was Adam who brought over the Holmes Basic D&D set that introduced me to the game in 1979.

The Dashes had relocated to Framingham, Massachusetts, and one night we went to the mall in their neighborhood. Outside of a game store stood a cardboard standee with cubbies filled with the new line of TSR mini-games. I'm not sure how long I looked all of them over before picking Revolt on Antares, but it retrospect it was the luck of the draw because Antares has gone on to be considered the best of the TSR mini-game line. (I've subsequently in adulthood acquired them all.)  

My "pal" Benji made fun of me for spending $4.95 of my vacation money on that "tiny little game." His mocking abated after we played it and both had a blast. 

Back in Dayton I kept playing it with childhood friends, including my best school chum, Casey Dean. I know this because my copy still has our scores and "recruitment point" tallies. I only found one occasion in adulthood to crack the game open, while on vacation at the Outer Banks with another guy who had fond childhood memories of it.

The little envelopes I kept each faction's chits in. I was a compulsive organizer even then.

Back in 2016 I had a strong pull to revive some of those things that brought me such joy as an adolescent and teenager. I dusted off the Milton Bradley game Shogun and took it to a game day gathering at my local library, and while doing so I stumbled upon Revolt on Antares again. The diminutive size, which had been such a virtue in my youth, was now clearly going to be a source of frustration for these middle-age eyes and fatter fingers. The paper map was too flimsy to lay flat any longer, and the little chits were near-impossible to read, even with reading glasses, and so small and thin as to make moving and stacking them on hexes a fun-sucking chore. I knew before I asked any of my other middle-age friends to play it with me that I would have to fix these physical limitations.

My copy from 1981, with original dice!

This set me on the path in 2016 of recreating the whole game at a size about 50% larger. Scanning 84 already loose chits was going to be a nightmare to work with on the scanner and then in Photoshop, so I ended up procuring a new, unplayed copy on eBay for about $15 with the chit sheet intact and unpunched. I set about scanning the chit sheet and map, and then spending a few hours cleaning it all up (e.g., removing fold lines from the map, refining the art on the chits to increase their contrast/readability, etc.).  

And then I got distracted and let the project sit unfinished for four more years.

Last week I remembered I had never gotten this project across the finish line, and so I ordered some Scrabble tiles from Amazon and got to work on the remaining digital restoration work necessary to print and construct this middle-age boys version of Revolt on Antares.

A couple hundred cheap Scrabble replacement tiles from Amazon.

My enlarged and "enhanced" counters (left) ended up about 50% or so larger and far more legible than the originals (right).

I simply used a glue stick, which worked better than I anticipated to affix the paper counter images to the wooden tiles.

These are going to be so much easier to pick up, stack, and move around the map board.

The enlarged map compared to the original, which is starting to show its age.

One of the things that's so lovable about the game is all of the great characters, implied plot lines/backstory, and "world building" that lurks in the rule book's scenarios and short descriptions of the factions and galactic heroes controlled by each player. The prime TSR-era art beautifully reinforces this, with characters and spacecraft designed by the likes of  Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, and Bill Willingham. I hated leaving all of this flavorful text stranded in the rule book, and to help game play and immersion I created character cards for each faction leader and each galactic hero in the game, with an even larger portrait than what appears on the chits. I also created a reference sheet for the ancient alien artifacts that can be recovered and used throughout the game to help your house's family win the battle for Imhirrhos, the ninth planet of Antares. And because I still had fuel in the crafting tank, I went ahead and cobbled together a couple of spare copies of the rule book that will hopefully keep my original from finally giving up the ghost and falling to pieces. 

Front and back of the "Leader" cards. The cards weren't something in the original game, but I thought they'd aid play and immersion in the game's world.

The "Hero" cards I created. It's good fun recruiting these characters throughout the game.

Laminated artifact sheet and a couple spare copies of the rule book for at-the-table reference.

My wife Ellen saw me working on this much of last weekend, and though she isn't a gamer, she's volunteered to play it with me this coming Friday night. Love in the time of COVID-19 is a beautiful thing.

...and if Ellen won't play, Cha-Cha has already called dibs on Messalina from House Orsini.



  1. So great to see these "semi antique" games get back into rotation! Why is this one considered one of the better (the best?) of the tiny TSR games? I think it was one of the few I never got to try...

  2. Lovely back story on this old game! I look forward to hearing how the replay plans out! Oh and just fyi my castle/city walls are up on my blog if you want a look, I thought of you as my nephew said when I set them up, we should have a skirmish game through the streets!
    Best Iain


Post a Comment

Well-thumbed posts

Chainmail: Battle of Emridy Meadows

In my imagination, Chainmail has always been that shadowy precursor to Dungeons & Dragons that I was both intrigued by yet leery of. I loved the idea of a game involving mass battles in a fantasy setting akin to those depicted in the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I also had a sense that Chainmail, released in 1971 a mere year after I was born, was likely a clunky wargame that would be too frustrating to bother mastering. It also didn't help that my first inkling of its existence was around 1980 or so when I could never dream of amassing the miniature armies needed to play out these massive conflicts. No, back then I was pretty sure Chainmail was the province of grizzled old grognards who had started wargaming before I was even born.

Even after my gaming rebirth decades later in 2016, I was fine with letting the dim past remain so, and was more than content during my first couple of years back in the hobby exploring rules of a more recent vintage and manageable scale…

Lost Art of D&D: Alex Nuckols

Artist Alex Nuckols made what disappointingly ended up being a minor yet still evocative contribution to the visual history of D&D with a series of paintings he was commissioned to produce for a school supply company named St. Regis. It seems he painted nearly a dozen pieces that graced the covers of D&D-themed notebooks, folders, and three-ring binders in 1980-81. As a D&D-obsessed kid of 10-11 years old at the time, I owned three or four of these and have never parted with them. 

Here are some examples I found online. I’ve always regretted that Nuckols didn’t produce work for any actual gaming material released by TSR (or any game company) because to this day I think he captured the gritty feel and texture of how I imagined these fantasy worlds in my mind’s eye. He was certainly a more accomplished artist than many of those who ended up in the stable as staff at TSR at the time. Artistically, his compositions are always compelling and typically eschew the over-heroic pose…

Lost Art of D&D No. 2: Games Workshop's Holmes Basic (1977)

After Games Workshop attained the license to print a co-branded edition of TSR's 1977 Dungeons & Dragons basic rules book, they set about putting their own stamp on it, designing a new cover and replacing a number of the illustrations they deemed too crudely drawn for their U.K. market. 
The cover art was by John Blanche at the very start of his career as a fantasy illustrator. Blanche went on to be a mainstay at Games Workshop, producing countless illustrations for them. His fannish enthusiasm for the material--as an artist as well as a lifelong gamer--has deservedly made him a favorite over the decades.
I first encountered Blanche's work in the David Day compendium, A Tolkien Bestiary (1978), to which he contributed five illustrations that sit comfortably alongside the book's chief illustrator, Ian Miller. I have a special fondness for this book, having coveted it as a child during my incipient Middle Earth fixation. My parent's procured an out-of-print copy of the…

All Together Now: 'Sellswords & Spellslingers' and the Pleasures of Cooperative Gaming

I've always enjoyed a good competitive match as much as the next guy, whether it was sports in high school or video games (HALO, etc.) in my thirties. But regardless of the game, I've always been partial to team play, and the best cooperative games put all of the focus on succeeding as a team. That's one of the reasons I was enthusiastic about getting Andrea Sfiligoi's latest release, Sellswords & Spellslingers (Ganesha Games), on the table for this month's Second Saturday Scrum Club gathering.

Last year I had organized a Halloween game (recap) to beta-test Sfiligoi's Run From the Dead, which is built atop the same cooperative mechanics as Sellswords. I was surprised when I discovered these rules were re-skinned for the fantasy genre and released last December ahead of Run From the Dead. Hopefully, the zombie apocalypse version of the rules is not too far behind because I definitely think Run From the Dead is the best tabletop miniatures rule set I've …

Striking Back Against COVID-19: Free Conan Scenarios for 'Sellswords & Spellslingers'

Long-time readers of the blog will remember the adaptation of "Beyond the Black River" I started working on in the spring of 2018 for the Sellswords & Spellslingers rules. I ran it for the first time at Historicon 2018, and have now run it at several conventions and game days since.

Sellswords & Spellslingers is designed for solo and co-op play, so to do my bit in helping the game community in its fight against boredom during these isolating pandemic days, I've decided to gather and organize all of the material I developed for my convention scenarios and make it freely available as a download via this blog. At the link further down is a 68-page PDF file with all of my player aids and notes.
Of all of the major solo/co-op miniatures rules that have been released in the past few years, Sellswords & Spellslingers is hands down the best if unfortunately not the most widely known or used. I highly encourage you to buy a copy of the rules, if you haven’t already, a…

Scrum Con 2020: A Leap Forward!

Scrum Con 2020 was held last weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland on Leap Day, which seems fitting in that the convention itself took quite a jump forward from 2019: More than double the number of games, more than double the number of attendees, double the number of convention t-shirt designs, and three times the space.

And we sold the show out again! 

We had about 215 registered attendees and filled almost 275 seats in the 35 games we offered over the course of the day. We had folks come from some distance to attend, including Philadelphia, West Virginia, New Jersey, and other exotic locales that I'm sure I'm forgetting. As always, we organize the convention as an equal split between miniatures games and role-playing games, and I was pleased to see even more attendees this year sign up for one of each type.

We're admittedly small as far as these things go, but I think the quality of the experience we offer is a cut above, and we put a lot of effort into everything from the pri…