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"Ain't no party like a boarding party 'cause a boarding party don't stop! ...'til the other side surrenders."
Having Cool Ships unleash technicolour Beam Spam against each other is all very well, but audiences can tire of such impersonal battles. Additionally, there may be someone or something on that ship that has to be captured, or rescued rather than plasmafied.
Sometimes the boarding is stealthy: A Trickster hero might use the fact that their opponent just isn't thinking about people breaking into his ship in flight. Other times it's all about the direct approach: for example the Imperials blasting their way into the Corellian Corvette at the start of Star Wars IV. Tractor Beams can be most helpful here.
Often a small shuttle is used for boarding. It's also possible to beam aboard via Teleporters and Transporters in some works.
Once aboard, combat can be oddly diffuse, a matter of stalking down deserted corridors and taking pot-shots around corners. Or it might be white-knuckled claustrophobic close combat.
In a nautical setting, it's more a matter of swinging on ropes with a Cutlass Between the Teeth. In more modern settings a rubber dinghy and a rope ladder might be the start of a boarding party's adventures.
Throughout history, and into current times, this is Truth in Television, particularly when dealing with maritime law enforcement agencies such as the US Coast Guard. Real Life versions can involve boats or helicopters.
Anime and Manga
- Outlaw Star featured ships with grappler arms for close-quarters combat, but the title ship also had an "assault bolt", tipped with a hole saw, which would bore into the opponent ship to deliver a crewman - generally Gene Starwind - for sneaking and violence.
- Captain Harlock also frequently harpooned enemy ships with cables that doubled as tunnels to allow for boarding parties - indeed, a Space Pirates's way to fight.
- Occurs several times in Legend of Galactic Heroes, from taking a Death Star-like space station by a ruse, to several more direct approaches. Combat can be assumed as vicious, and the boarding party's success variable, since due to the show's Minovsky Particle (an explosive gas-like particle that prohibits the use of ranged weapons in its presence) the favored weapon for most infantry engagements are two-handed battle axes. Except when Walter von Schönkopf Or his favorite student, protege, and eventual son-in-law Julian Mintz is commanding. His success as a boarder can be only compared to his fame as a ladies' man.
- The opening of the first Star Wars film.
- Star Trek, Beaming aboard the enemy ship is a mainstay (though if either party has their shields up, it can't be done). One example, Kirk and Spock beam aboard the Narada in the film Star Trek (2009). Fun fact: terminology changed between the original series and the Next Generation era. In TOS, there were boarding parties for ships, and landing parties for planets; in TNG, there are away teams for both.
- Pirates of the Caribbean has a classic maritime boarding by swinging rope, and a rather less conventional boarding: walking out to the ship in question.
- Captain Blood is an old pirate movie that featured rope-swinging boarding action.
- Executive Decision had a boarding party infiltrating a plane mid-flight.
- The climax of Master and Commander, though rather than swing over on ropes they just lay down gangplanks and use the enemy ship's fallen mast.
- Stephen Donaldson's Gap Series. Angus and company are forever blasting open airlocks. And sweating.
- Rimrunners by C. J. Cherryh includes ship-boarding power-armoured marines.
- In the Gor series the ships of Ar's Station subvert their boarders by boarding back with hundreds of infantrymen hidden in their holds. (Ar is a landlocked city-state, so their not-quite-colony Ar's Station on the Vosk River is not considered a sea power. They use their superior infantry to wage a land war on the river and take their enemies' better ships.)
- Several Horatio Hornblower stories involved boarding parties. Most boarding involved a variant called a cutting out action. This is where ships that take shelter close to shore are boarded via boats launched from a pursuing ship, usually by night to ensure stealth. There are occasionally the more familiar direct ship-to-ship boarding actions as well.
- A couple of E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels had boarding parties in space combat. With nifty zero-G axes. Yeah!
- Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories had at least one boarding party made up of robots.
- Right back in 1935 we have the short story Proxima Centauri: a human ship encounters an alien vessel, which promptly sends over a hostile boarding party. They are spacefaring carnivorous plants (and we though triffids were bad.)
- Boarding actions happened in the science fiction Planet Pirates series. Justified that the titular bad guys were slavers, and wanted to capture slaves. In one case, they were trying to capture a cruiser because it was a better ship than anything they had.
- In one early Hoka story, a group of Hokas watch a Captain Ersatz of Flash Gordon and decide to become the Space Patrol. They steal a ship, bumble their way through space to a nearby space empire with expansionist leanings. The Hokas, flying a space yacht, fly straight into TheBattlestar's docking bay and charge out, wearing suits of armor forged from spare meteorite plating. It is explicitly mentioned that the reason they won was because the people who designed The Battlestar believed that boarding parties went out of style with wooden sailing ships. And the aliens started panicking before they even saw a Hoka.
- The Toralii in Lacuna tend to favour this style, even when everything seems to be going well for them in straight-out ship battles.
- Happens a few times in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles. Since the vessels in question are open longships, the resultant combat tends to be face to face and exceptionally brutal.
- All over the place in Honor Harrington. Pirates boarding freighters, marines boarding pirates, customs boarding suspect smugglers, attackers boarding stations—you name it! Action (if it comes to) is quick and brutal in the ships' confined corridors, and sometimes boarders are blown out of space (mostly by panicked and not very bright defenders, as hardly anyone boards unsubdued ship in Honorverse) before boarding starts.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe uses this with some frequency. However, more often than not, after a ship's engines have been hit and its communications destroyed, its crew doesn't put up much of a fight.
- The Tomorrow War by Alexander Zorich has both human factions doing this from the first book on. There's even a specialized assault craft. One of dirty tricks was disabling the target's Artificial Gravity early on so that proper marines get even greater advantage over a crew of recruits not even used to zero-gravity recoil.
- Done the stealthy way in Septimus Heap, where Septimus, Jenna and the others gain back the Cerys after surreptitously climbing aboard the ship under the cover of the darkness.
Live Action TV
- In Blakes Seven, the original team is formed when, having lost several of his own men exploring a deserted alien ship, the commander of the prison ship sends a boarding party comprised of prisoners. Not like that's going to go wrong.
- The Magog on Andromeda use Swarm Ships to punch holes in the attacked ship and swarm in.
- Babylon 5
- Babylon 5 was boarded by Earth troops invading via hull breach at the start of the Earth Alliance Civil War.
- And they would be invaded via that tactic again by an unnamed alien race in "A View From The Gallery".
- The good guys use this tactic themselves to sneak aboard Babylon 4 in "War Without End".
- Battlestar Galactica: The Battlestar was boarded by a Cylon heavy raider crashing into her abandoned starboard flight pod in "Valley of Darkness."
- The Destiny was boarded by hostile aliens in Stargate Universe by cutting holes through the hull, which came into play later when the ship was overtaken by the Lucian Alliance.
- Thanks to their use of Teleporters and Transporters, this should be a source of constant Paranoia Fuel in Star Trek, where it is shown that transporters can drop enemy troops down right next to a target aboard another ship, be it a specific key system, or an important passenger or crew member (Captain Picard was abducted this way in "Best Of Both Worlds". Thankfully, it is shown to be relatively straightforward to shield against this tactic, assuming the enemy is unable to disable your shields in combat or via subterfuge.
- Star Ruler has "Boarding pods", which fire boarding pods at the enemy, allowing you to take over enemy ships if you have more soldiers than they have crew. The size of the boarding pod launcher in the ship designer determines how many soldiers are in it - it's possible to get boarding pods fitting over ten thousand soldiers.
- Mass Effect 2: Part of a main mission. A particularly interesting case, as the ship in question is not only huge, it's supposedly, but not really disabled, and just so happens to be the very same ship that killed you and your ship in the beginning of the game, two years ago (and is the ship you encountered on Horizon) as you find out during the mission. A few side missions also feature this, but the ship in question is almost always disabled or derelict.
- Players in X3: Terran Conflict can train marines to board enemy capital ships. The marines will do a space walk towards the targeted ship, and will cut open the hull if the shields are down. The player can also load the marines into a boarding pod and fire them at the ship like a missile, which accomplishes the same thing but makes it easier for them to cut into the hull and is less likely to result in them being gunned down in open space.
- Homeworld 2 includes assault parties breaking into enemy ships via beaming and hull-breaching infiltrator pods.
- In Sid Meiers Pirates, you can board enemy ships and defeat their captains in order to capture them and their valuable cargoes.
- Being based on the Star Fleet Battles example below, Star Trek Starfleet Command had boarding parties that could destroy components or capture ships.
- Ships and stations can be boarded in Master of Orion II through several means. Marines can be ordered to attempt to take over the ship or simply do as much damage as they can.
The most common way is approaching a target with disabled engines. Ships equipped with transporters can beam marines if the facing shield is down. Assault shuttles can also be used to board a ship or a station, which have no mobility or shield requirements, but take time to get there and can be shot by point-defences like missiles.
In either case, they may end up triggering the Self-Destruct Mechanism. Optimization for boarding is still a fairly powerful strategy, because capturing ships allows reverse-development of technologies required to build them. A successful raid on a smallest Antaran ship early on—not that it was easy—may be a near-Game Breaker.
- All ships and stations in Star Trek Armada equipped with transporters can board the enemy as long as their shields are down. Klingons have a ship that can launch breaching pods that ignore shields. The Borg are especially adept at this, given their tendency to assimilate anything remotely useful. Assimilated ships show distinctly Borg-like characteristics (i.e. green lattice on the hull). The second game also adds a ship class specifically designed for ship capture. They fire their weapons until the target's shields are down and then immediately start transporting troops. Species 8472 can neither board nor be boarded, as all their ships have a crew of one.
- In Sword of the Stars, ships equipped with boarding pods can attempt to capture enemy ships. This can get to the ridiculous extent that a single boarding pod that makes it through the point-defense fire can take over a ship full of thousands of crewmembers. The Zuul, being scavengers, are masters of this trope and get the technology for free when they gain access to cruisers, whereas other races must research it separately.
- The Space Pirates of Metroid typically board enemy ships via a small pod packed with explosives and Pirates ramming directly into the ship's hull. The survivors (if any) are then free to raid the ship.
- The Orz Nemesis ship in Star Control 2 releases space marines to board the enemy ship as its secondary attack.
- Infinite Space requires the player to board a few ships for story purposes, and it's also an option in most fights. It's played out as a giant melee of all surviving crew from all ships still on the field.
- Space Empires 4 has boarding as a researchable vehicle upgrade. It allows you to take over ships. (Psionic races can skip it and just get a mind control device.)
- In the three Total War games that feature naval combat (Empire, Napoleon, Shogun 2), boarding is a valid tactic for capturing enemy ships. This is more important in Shogun 2, where most ships lack cannons and rely on archers and marines to win battles. Ships will usually employ grapping hooks when near their target, which will start the boarding action. The Wooden Ships and Iron Men version in Empire and Napoleon has gangplanks.
- Escape Velocity: This is the method by which enemy ships are captured. The chance of success depends on how many crew the boarding and boarded vessels have. a relative "power" rating for the ships in question, and the presence (and number) of any "Marine Platoon" outfits equipped on the boarding ship.
- Buck Rogers games:
- Can be accomplished with Random Encounters in Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday and its sequel, Matrix Cubed once an enemy ship has been disabled, either by destroying its control system or its engines. A variety of scenarios can take place once aboard the enemy ship, from the crew setting the self destruct for you to try to disable, to an ambush by a much larger ship, to the commander of the ship ordering the crew to kill all the prisoners if you get too close (which you can then rescue to help take over the ship.) Could also lead to Money for Nothing as the ships can be worth a ton of money for your salvage account, which is used for all ship repairs, plus whatever loot you get from battling the enemy crew.
- Happens again towards the end of Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed when enemy forces take control of a living ship and begin assaulting the mining platform you are on. You are given the option of sending a single party member up to the ship to try to take it back. Better hope the random number generator is in a good mood.
- The Halo series is quite fond of this tactic.
- Flying Buffalo's Berserker game (based on Fred Saberhagen's stories) had boarding parties of both robots and humans.
- Task Force Games:
- Star Fleet Battles had rules for boarding parties, which could damage specific sections of or even capture enemy ships.
- The game Boarding Party had a team of humans blasting their way into an automated alien starship and fighting a crew of robots.
- Many ships in Battlefleet Gothic are equipped with special boarding capsules, akin to escape pods, but wire-guided and able to bore into the enemy ship's armor which are typically launched broadside. In practice, boarding actions are relatively rare, however, due to the ranges involved in space combat. One does feature prominently in 40k's forgettable attempt to break into the First-Person Shooter market, Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, however. There is also a second kind of boarding action, using so called "Assault Pods". They are launched like a squadron of fighters, and can make an attack. Of course, since these ships are crewed by thousands and thousands of people, in general, it's about causing damage rather than actually taking over the ships.
- Traveller has boarding parties as well. It is sometimes done to secure crippled ships.
- In the Lux Aeternum setting, boarding parties are the normal way to settle starship combat. Justified in that the control core of an FTL-capable starship is priceless, and a Beam Spam would probably destroy it.
- Dystopian Wars uses (too small to model at this scale) rocket-launched infantry to perform boarding actions, and they can launch from ships, landships or airships.
- Space Hulk and its Video Game derivatives (including Space Marine) are all about this trope.