Strategy games

Tactical and turn-based strategy games on the ZX Spectrum.

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Rebelstar - in-game screen
Droids 'n' troops ready to storm the base in Rebelstar. Joey's pumped for action

  • Release year: 1986
  • Publisher: Firebird Software Ltd
  • Author: Julian Gollop
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing


I was trying to avoid featuring too many Julian Gollop strategy games but let's face it, that wasn't going to happen. After all, they've probably taken up over 80 percent of my lifetime strategy gaming time.

So here's Rebelstar - set in space, a turn-based strategy game. A re-booted, slicked-up successor to Rebelstar Raiders, taking the coding and gameplay to the next level.

Rebelstar loading screen
Simon Clarke's slightly clunky-looking but charming loading screen

You can play the game 1-player vs the computer, or 2-player vs another human. It's the RAIDERS vs the OPERATIVES (one of the lesser known American football teams), the former infiltrating the base of the latter to destroy the central computer, 'ISAAC' (an indicator that even in our hi-tech future, businesses will continue to use unexplained acronyms).

Rebelstar tape inlay picture - small
In their spare time the Raiders make extra cash as a novelty strip outfit. Click image for a (slightly) larger version

As with Laser Squad, I played this both 1- and 2- player back when it came out, but nowadays I only play vs a computer opponent.

The Game

Rebelstar - in-game screen
The Raiders are in the base and the first skirmish between man and droid has taken place

There are a few entry points the attackers can break through to get into the base. Their party includes combat droids armed with blast torches that can break through the airlock doors, as well as the inner sealed entrances that lead to the computer core.

The droids can also take a fair bit of damage, so can act as shields for the Raiders when under Operative fire.

Each unit has a number of action points for moving and actions during their turn; they can optionally reserve a few for opporunity fire. This involves aiming at an area (e.g. a doorway) - if one of your opponents steps through it during their turn, it triggers a shot or two from your covering unit.

Rebelstar - in-game screen
Our combat droid is surrounded but still alive - a blast torch shot or two might take out the green master droid. And just barging into the mosquito-like Zeeker should flatten him

Unlike with Laser Squad where unit movement is hidden, in Rebelstar both sides can see where each of the enemy units are, and where they're moving.

Computer AI is fairly basic, and can be exploited - if you break through multiple entrances the central operative units seem to get caught in two minds which way to go, and can be caught out in the open. However nothing is too easy in Rebelstar, and multiple difficulty levels add to the challenge.

Rebelstar - in-game screen
One of the Raiders units, laser sabre in hand, in a game of cat and mouse with an Operative unit, around a water tank

There's plenty of interesting and varied scenery you can use around the base for cover, and lots of different routes you can follow around the base.

Something I quickly discovered with Rebelstar is that there are quite a few 'side activities' you can indulge in, including:

  • Picking up coffee tokens to use in coffee machines, to restore energy
  • Using 'droid mend' bays to repair your damaged droids
  • Using a droid key to activate/deactivate droids (used in the two player game to activate your droids in the central area)
  • Destroying laser defence computers to trigger the arrival of reinforcements
  • Mowing the lawn! Slightly surreal but entertaining all the same

Rebelstar - in-game screen
"Maim mower, maim..." - see if you can mow the lawn before destroying the central computer, for the ultimate victory (probably)

Unlike Laser Squad, each of your units comes pre-equipped with different weapons, ammo, and some with a medi-kit that can restore the health of injured personnel. Ammo is a bit limited, meaning that you need to be reasonably careful with your shots, though if you suffer casualties you can pick up weapons from their bodies.

When firing, you have a choice of aimed shots and snap shots, which have different accuracy % and action point cost. Enemy units consist of androids, 'zeekers' (small and mobile but weak) and lumbering but strong master droids.

Rebelstar - in-game screen
Nearly there! The ISAAC computer is in sight, along with victory for the Raiders

Julian Gollop later progressed the ideas of Rebelstar with a sequel (unsurprisingly called Rebelstar 2) before the later Laser Squad, which although not considered a direct sequel was a spiritual successor.


Rebelstar - in-game screen
'One man and his droid' - our boy Kurt, armed with the heavy but quick-firing photon

I still find it remarkable that the quality of this game came with a paltry £1.99 price label - surely one of the best value strategy games you could get.

Despite there only being one scenario - compared to Rebelstar 2 and Laser Squad that is - I felt compelled to replay Rebelstar, just trying different tactics, attack formations and the like.

I also found Rebelstar's shot accuracy (both snap and aimed) a bit more forgiving, compared to the frustrating Laser Squad lottery where an advantageous strategic position could be scuppered by sheer bad luck in the form of a highly inaccurate Stormtrooper-esque shot flurry.

The magazines were quick to praise the game. It received a smash in the Crash Review and a 5/5 rating in Sinclair User. Your Sinclair were the outlier with a stingy 7/10 (with 7/10 for 'value for money' - seriously??).

Rebelstar - Crash review Rebelstar - Sinclair User review
Highly rated by Crash and SU, I don't know why they're always reluctant to do strategy game reviews in colour

If you haven't played Rebelstar and don't typically play strategy games, it's worth a shot. It's easier to get into than its successors - a lot less 'equipment admin' as I call it. The lowest difficulty level should offer a challenge for your first go whilst giving you a fighting chance, even if you're not a strategy game afficionado.

...At very least, it'll give you a subtle prompt you that your lawn needs mowing...