TSR in the early days – when original Dungeons & Dragons was new – developed wargames and turn-based campaign games. Not surprising, as that was where D&D originated.

John M. Snider helmed Star Probe and Star Empires, with a 3rd release planned but never released.

Star Probe was a simple game of exploration. It was a really thin book, only 36 pages which makes it the same thickness as Men & Magic. Not so much a RPG, the player ran a starship trying to explore places in the galaxy.

The “star map” was pretty generic with staggered squares instead of hexes (around 24×20, if I’m counting accurately). Each square had little dots with + or – numbers, representing the height above or below the plane of the map. (Oooooo. 3D star maps back in 1974!) Each square had anywhere between 1-5 or so dots, so there were hundreds of systems to explore.

Star Empires was a 72 page book designed to expand upon Star Probe This book had more of an emphasis on military actions — ground troops and starship conflicts. It came with a similar star map (although not as high quality and mine is starting to yellow with age) and a tiny card of you-cut-em-up counters with some generic starships on them.

from Finarvyn’s remarks at OD&D Discussion Forum. Visit thread for more info.

Star Probe 1975 … John M. Snider … 36 pages + star map + half-sheet of game pieces + 4 pages of record sheets … TSR Games

Check Wayne’s Books Inventory | Amazon | Noble Knight

Star Empires 1977 … John M. Snider & Brian Blume & Richard Snider & Greg Svenson … 72 pages + star map + half-sheet of (blank) game pieces … TSR Games

Check Wayne’s Books Inventory | Amazon | Noble Knight

Star Probe

Star Probe plays a bit like a game of competitive Star Trek, with each player in command of his own personal Enterprise. Players must not only compete against one another, but must also marshal their resources so as to acquire the most data before they return home for re-supply. Once home, their actions are subject to a Board of Review that decides whether or not they are fit to engage in exploration again or whether they should be beached, resulting in certain penalties to further activity. The game’s mechanics are filled with trade-offs, as players must weigh certain costs against unknown rewards, as the nature of star systems is randomly generated, using several tables.

Grognardia Retrospective: Star Probe

Photos are from a Star Probe that came through the shop in 2013. I didn’t take many pics back then. But I’ll update this blog post next time a set shows up.

In the Foreward by Gary Gygax, he remarks about a Star Probe crossover with Blackmoor!

Star Empires

Star Empires differs from Star Probe in that it actually presents a setting of its own. The game begins with a timeline that stretches all the way back to 10,000 BC and into the future almost as far. This setting references several historical empires that rose and fell, the last of which collapsed, ushering in an interstellar dark age. This re-contextualizes the game play of Star Probe, which serves as the “basic” version of Star Empires. That is, Star Empires isn’t merely a sequel to Star Probe but more or less requires that you have played it and will be building upon the results of that game play. (It’s true you can play Star Empires alone – there are simple rules that cover most of what is elaborated upon in Star Probe – but that’s clearly not the intention)

Grognardia Retrospective: Star Empires


The Flowcharts in Star Empires look very familiar… They are near-identical to the charts in Gamma World 1e!

Map and Counters

Map is plasticized. Counters are blank.

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