Another of my earliest childhood gaming memories was of a boardgame called “Zylatron: Battle for the Galaxy”.
This obscure sci-fi-themed game was the first “wargame” I ever played, with a big map, different unit strengths, currency for buying/replacing units and the ability to “take-over” a central command for added bonuses. It could be played with 2, 3 or 4 players, each representing a different alien race (although all races were the same). The only visual reference for the theme was the front box, but it was enough to envision what the various aliens and units might look like!
I remember getting my first copy at the local “Sunday Market”, a “flea market” that used to be held every week in our town’s shopping center car park (I miss that market so much!). Between that market and garage sales (which were all the rage back then), that’s where I got a *lot* of my childhood toys, especially rare ones like Kenner Star Wars figures and vehicles that were long gone from shelves even when I was young. Unlike a lot of those toys, this Zylatron boardgame was brand new and complete. I instantly fell in love with it!
The game was designed by Ian Digney, a member of the Royal Australian Navy, and was quite a departure from the “roll and move” boardgames I was used to as a kid. There was genuine tactics involved, and the fact that each unit had different strengths and weaknesses made you plan and think far more than just rolling dice and moving around a board. Each corner of the board belonged to a player and featured their home planet, where they would start their forced from, but you could land on (and attack) other players’ planets). In the middle of the board was a neutral fifth planet which housed a central control; seizing (and holding) this was a major goal to achieve.
The addition of Monopoly-style money (“Zys”) added another dimension; you earned money each turn (to spend on new units) and the amount was increased or decreased depending on how many Factories you still had running (other players could destroy them) and whether you held temporary control of the otherwise-neutral center planet or not.
Combat between units was achieved using a “range measuring card” ruler (long before I’d encountered the concept in miniatures wargaming) and by drawing a random card to see if shots destroyed, damaged or missed your target.
As well as the complicated rules, the other draw for me was the interesting backstory included with the game: Zylatron was in fact a “game within a game”. The story went that after terrible wars, the four great civilizations decreed that rather than lose any more lives, all future wars would be fought as a boardgame! Whenever disputes arose, they were solved not with real armies and armadas, but on the game board of Zylatron. This very (totally unnecessary) “meta” concept fascinated me as a kid!
I still have my original “red box” copy of Zylatron in near-mint condition and love to tell folks about it whenever I can since few have ever heard of it. It is far from a perfect game, indeed I had several house rules (and “expansions”) I added to it even as a child, but it was my first “wargame” and one I have very fond memories of playing with my mum, dad, and even grandparents/great-grandparents!
A few years later, I picked up a second copy from a local toystore, and interestingly it had a completely different “black” box and rather “Alien-esque” art… but the game inside was the same.
Both copies are among my most treasured and beloved games today, if only for pure nostalgia.