Phoenix Command – Complicated Gun Nonsense – 1980’s style

In the late 1980’s the now-defunct game company Leading Edge Games produced a role-playing game called Phoenix Command. It’s no longer in print, but is remembered as one of the most absurdly complex systems ever.phoenixcommand

Pretty much as a dare, I just ran a one-shot for my regular group this week.

I’m not going into the details of the system (there’s a good review here), but it more than lives up to its reputation. Every action requires looking up something on a voluminous series of charts. Every gun has a ludicrous series of stats. The characters only have one skill – Gun Combat. Everything is based around that.

The Scenario

It’s Christmas – 1988 (the year when the game was originally released) in the fictional Venture City, Florida. I was going for a Miami-Vice-style, B-Movie flavor with this one.

The setting is the Venture City Galleria, a classic 1980’s neon and pastel colored shopping mall.

The players play the Venture City Police Vice Squad. They are set to apprehend Antonio Mendoza, a feared drug lord, as he is finishing up his Christmas shopping. He only has his two body guards with him.

Suddenly, a shot rings out, and a gang of “punks” open fire on Mendoza with Glocks blazing.

This is where the scenario starts. We only had about 2.5 hours to play, and were able to get through about 2 seconds of game play, in which many, many people were shot.

Here are the pregenerated characters I used, with weapon stats, in PDF format. (If any of the names seem familiar, I got them from here)

Angelo Provolone
Joe Bomowski
Deke DaSilva
“Machine Gun” Joe Viturbo
Kit Latura
Lincoln Hawk
Marian Cobretti
Ray Quick

Here’s a sheet with the bad guys and their weapons. “Goons” are Mendoza’s men. “Punks” are the assassins. I also added a possible wild card sniper character (I call him “Snipey”), just in case.


Here’s a blank version of the character sheet I created. It doesn’t have space for weapons, as I just copied those from the book on separate sheets.

Phoenix Command Character Sheet

I’m a little conflicted about this game. On the one hand – I’m impressed that someone was inspired enough to try and model gunplay to such mind-numbing detail. Is this what the GNS Theory people would call Simulationism?

However, running this beast is just a slog. To make it even slightly workable, I had to print out pages of tables for the players, and attach them to each pregen character sheet.

I wouldn’t actually recommend running this game. But its very existence is just fascinating. If you’re interested in game design at all, it’s definitely worth reading.

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