Arcane Game Lore

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Review – Recently re-released PDF’s of Star Frontiers’s Knight Hawks supplement

Cover of the Knight Hawks supplementWizards of the Coast continues to release more material for their old Star Frontiers game.  A few weeks ago they released the Knight Hawks supplement ($4.99) which I purchased and downloaded and will review here.  I should have done this sooner but got a bit caught up in the holidays.  Since then they have also released the core rules (labeled Alpha Dawn) in both PDF ($9.99) and print on demand form ($19.99 softcover & $29.99 hardcover).  I’ve not purchased or downloaded those but will post my thoughts in a separate post later.  On to the review!

What’s Included

Your $4.99 gets you PDF’s of everything that was included in the original box back in the day that retailed for $12 when I purchased mine back in 1984.  This includes:

  • The 16-page Tactical Operations Manual describing the board game rules for ship combat (filename: Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Basic_Rules.pdf)
  • The 64-page Campaign Book describing ship construction, new skill and equipment, and background material for the setting along with a strategic game that can be played with the enclosed map and the boardgame rules. (filename: Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Expanision_rules.pdf)
  • SFKH0:The Warriors of White Light – this 16-page modules outlines a series of small adventures that utilize the new skills and ships in the Knight Hawks rules.  (filename:Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Mission_brief.pdf). As an aside, we are currently running a series of articles in the Frontier Explorer (that started in issue 22) which add more encounters and material for this adventure.
  • A PDF of the counter sheet included in the boxed set.
  • Scans of all the maps, both the cover of the module (inside and out) and the big poster map.

Overall, it’s a great deal for $4.99 if you didn’t already have them.

Let’s Start With The Maps

I was quite interested to see what they did with these after reviewing SF2: Starspawn of Volturnus.  This turned out to be a mixed bag and somewhat disappointing.  The counters and the maps come in a zip file called that expands out to a subdirectory containing a bunch of files and two more directories.

Unfortunately, all the maps are chopped up into little pieces.  The two page maps that were the inside and outside cover of the module, containing the Frontier Deployment Map for the strategic game (outside cover) and deck plans for two freighters (inside cover) are each split into two non-overlapping (but cut properly so that they can be combined) images.  The big poster maps are cut a little differently but still divided into lots of smaller pieces.

The big hex map for the tactical game is cut up into eight pieces that do not overlap horizontally but the vertical bits do.  The station map on the back and the maps of the assault scout deck plans are chopped up into 15 different overlapping maps (I have not tried to assemble them all into a single map to see exactly how they overlap).

Also the color quality is only okay.  By themselves they look fine but compared to the original maps, the colors are a bit saturated and don’t match the original colors as well as they could.  (Originally I had written that the color was very bad but in preparing some of the images for this post, I realized that the problem was at least partially due to my image viewer doing something weird based on the embedded color profiles.  Opening the images in GIMP the colors were a lot closer to what they should be.)

I have to admit I was disappointed when I saw the maps.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t have put them together into single cohesive maps or gotten the colors correct.  However, there is some redemption.

  • For the maps that are the cover to the module, the module PDF actually has them as complete single page maps and the colors in the PDF are much closer to the original printed materials.  You should definitely just extract those from the PDF and use them if possible.  Obviously these were done by two different scanners.
  • The hex map isn’t a big deal.  It’s pretty easy to get hex maps although finding a black one might be hard.  And if you’re using a virtual table top, you can usually just have it make a hex map to use.
  • The station and assault scout deck plans would be the biggest disappointment except that I’ve already recreated all of those maps and you can grab them on-line.  The assault scout deck plans are on the Frontier Explorer website (green version, blue version) as I published them years ago in issue 5 of the fan magazine.  The station map can be found, along with the city map from the core rules, on the map page in the wiki on my Star Frontiers Network site.
Thumbnail of remastered station map

This is a thumbnail of my recreated station map. Click on it for the full sized version.

Next Up, The Counters

The scan of the counters in the printables zip file are okay.  They are straight and everything is there.  They suffer from the same color problem as the maps (something was just not calibrated properly in that scanner) and don’t match the originals.  Also the image is a jpg so there is a bit of the noise that comes with JPG compression.  The file as presented appears to be scanned at 300dpi.  I don’t know if it was done intentionally (probably) or was just part of the process, but it does appeared to be de-screened removing the small dots from the printing process which would definitely be visible at that scan resolution.  I know, because I scanned my unpunched sheet of counters years ago (2009).  Here is a comparison of the file from the download (left) and my scan (right).

Comparison of the counters from the download and my scanned copy.

Comparison of the counters from the download (left) and my scanned copy at the same resolution (right).

You can see that the colors are somewhat different (mine matches the original printed colors better and is not de-screened.  If you want a copy of my scans (as PNG files with no JPG loss), you can grab them at various resolutions (100dpi – 1.3MB, 200dpi – 5.4Mb, 300dpi – 16MB, 400dpi – 23MB, & 600dpi – 46MB).

If you want to actually use these counters on printed versions of the maps, I recommend printing them on card stock and then cutting them out.  If you want something with a little more heft like the original counters, print them on paper, and then glue them to a heavier cardboard before cutting.

Now To The Books

I actually don’t have much to add here over what I described in my earlier review of the module and character sheets.  I’ve only scanned through the PDFs and haven’t actually tried to use them for any significant time.  I’ll hit the high points again here.

The text is still fuzzy.  It would have been nice for a crisper scan.  The text is OCR’d but there is a problem with the two column format.  If you just want to copy a paragraph, you can just copy it.  If you want more than one, it tends to jump back and forth between the two columns and gets thing out of order, a paragraph at a time.  I can’t speak to the quality of the OCR overall but the little I’ve looked at seems to be okay as far as spelling goes.  Tables get mangled, however.

Each of the books have an index in the PDF file which is very nice.

The scans of the black and white interior art is good.  It suffers from the same fuzzy line problem as the text but still looks good.  The grayscales are well reproduced from the originals although if anything, they are a little darker.

I just noticed this as I was thumbing through the Campaign book while writing but there are even some cross links in the document between the rules sections.  When a part of the rules calls out another section of the book the text is actually linked to that other section.  That is a nice touch.

One thing that is weird is the page ordering in the PDFs.  In all of them they have the front cover then the back cover as the first two pages.  I personally think that’s a bit strange but see it a lot in digital books so okay.  What happens next depends on the file.  In the Tactical Operations Manual, the content of the book is next and then the last two pages in the PDF are the inside of the front and back cover respectively.  In the Campaign book PDF, the inside covers are pages 3 & 4 and then the main body of the book follows.  Not sure why they are different.  For the module, the front and back covers are the Frontier Deployment Map and the inside of the covers are the freighter deck plan and those are first in the PDF followed by the pages of the book.


Overall it’s a great product.  Just like with the module, I like the older scans better for reading as the text is crisper but overall, the quality of these PDFs are excellent.  The biggest disappointment is the maps and counter images.  I was disappointed that colors didn’t match the original printed versions a little better and that the maps were broken up and not stitched together into single maps.  Luckily, I had already recreated the important ones.

I’m excited to see WotC releasing these and hope it breathes new life into the game.  Granted I have a bit of a personal bias since I’ve been carrying the flame for Star Frontiers on-line for many years now and run a fanzine for the game but it’s been fun to watch all the comments on Twitter about the releases and see names popping up that I’ve never seen talk about the game before.  And who knows, maybe we’ll even get a new edition finally after all these years.

Since I personally own at least one physical copy of all the original material (the only thing I don’t have a duplicate of is the referee’s screen and the SFKH4: The War Machine module) as well as PDFs, I probably won’t be buying any more of the PDFs on DriveThruRPG.  Although if people would really like me to do a review of other items as they are made available, they are more then welcome to gift me a copy to write about.

Have you downloaded these materials? What were your impressions?  Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Categorised as: Resources | Review

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