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Boarding Party
"Ain't no party like a boarding party 'cause a boarding party don't stop! ...'til the other side surrenders."

Going over to the other Cool Starship or Cool Boat in person, to capture it, rescue someone, etc.

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. A third option is the Boarding Pod, which is simply fired at the target with the intent of punching straight through the hull.

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, and in their early days, even submarines.note 

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     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.
  • In Bodacious Space Pirates, the Bentenmaru deploys boarding parties during the ship's usual 'raids' on cruise liners and on more serious jobs.
  • Happens twice in Valvrave the Liberator. The first time is in episode 1 when L-Elf and several of Dorssia's Ideal troops infiltrate JIOR's Module 77 to steal a Super Prototype mecha called a Valvrave.
    • The second time occurs when Cain, the commander of the Dorssian forces which harasses Module 77's advance to the moon, attacks it by ramming their modeule with one of his ships, and then attempts to gain control of it, while simultaneously keeping the Valvraves outside from interfering.

    Film 
  • The first Star Wars film opens with Princess Leia's ship being boarded by Imperial Stormtroopers and Darth Vader.
  • 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. Also less conventional is Davy Jones and crew's ability to teleport between ships, which apparently has a fairly narrow minimum and maximum range.
  • 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.
  • Happens at the beginning of The Ice Pirates when the pirates raid an ice freighter.

    Literature 
  • one of Poul Anderson's "Trader To The Stars" stories has Nicholas van Rijn board an alien interstellar transport, only to find that quite WHO the crew are, is the next problem...
  • Stephen Donaldson's Gap Series. Angus and company are forever blasting open airlocks. And sweating.
  • Several of the novels in the Alliance/Union series by C. J. Cherryh feature ship-boarding power-armoured marines, especially among the piratical Mazianni.
    • In Merchanter's Luck, the makeshift crew has to endure a boarding, bringing back unfortunate memories for the captain of the time, as a child, when he lost most of his family.
    • Rimrunners features a former Mazianni faced with a difficult choice when the ship she's hired out on is boarded by her one-time compatriots.
  • 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 The Battle Star'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 Battle Star 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.
    • In "Wraith Squadron" has an interesting variation in which they capture a Corellian Corvette by having one of their members wield a converted X-wing laser cannon and threaten to blast a hole in the bridge window from the inside.
  • 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.
  • The third Space Wolf book, Grey Hunter, had Ragnar as part of a boarding party whose goal was to blow up a Chaos warship from the inside out. The Wolves were deployed by attaching their ship to the other one by colliding with it and boring into its side with a giant drill.
  • Happens several times through the course of Vatta's War. More often than not, to Kylara Vatta's ship. The first time, they are boarded by a Private Military Contractor who has been hired to put down a rebellion and to act temporarily as Law Enforcement, Inc.. Kylara and her crew, not looking for a fight, comply to the boarding and searching, except for one character who ignores Ky's orders to stand down and attempts to fight back, nearly getting Ky killed in the crossfire. Later, an attempt to board is made by a disavowed and deranged cousin of her father's, and they have none of that. After Ky's ship is disabled in a brief spacebattle, Uncle Osmond makes it as far as the airlock (with a bomb in tow), where Ky manages to kill him with a knife.
  • The first Destroyermen novel has Captain Reddy plan to capure a Grik East Indiaman. Unfortunately, the USS Walker, a World War II destroyer, isn't designed with boarding in mind. As such, he takes a page out of the history books and has the Lemurian build him a "corvus", a boarding ramp with a spike of Roman design. His gunners then demast the Grik ship and, after coming alongside, the corvus is dropped, embedding itself in the Grik ship's deck. The first party, including Reddy himself, makes it through ok. Unfortunately, the Lemurians built the corvus out of bamboo, which breaks when the second party tries to follow. Despite this, the first party manages to fight through the ship and slaughters every single Grik, except their captain, who commits suicide. For the Grik, this is standard, as their ships lack any weapons beyond primitive firebomb catapults. They just crash their ships into the enemy and board it.

     Live Action TV  
  • 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."
    • And in the series finale, they board a large Cylon base both by infiltrating with Raptors, as well as by ramming the Galactica through the side of the station and boarding directly from there.
    • In the original series, Apollo and Starbuck use a captured Cylon Raider to infiltrate and sabotage a Cylon Base Star, allowing the Galactica to engage and destroy it easily with her bow-mounted BFGs.
  • In Blake's 7, 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 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.
  • Several times in the Mini Series Hornblower:
    • "The Even Chance": Horatio misses his first opportunity to participate in a boarding party because he is taking a member of his division to the ship's surgeon. His friend Archie didn't miss it and enthusiastically asks Horatio if he saw him kill two enemies, or one certainly, excited, bloodied and being a Badass Adorable par excellence.
    • Also in "The Even Chance", the crew from Indefatigable boards French ship Papillon. They succeed, however, both their lieutenants die and Midshipman Jack Simpson tries to murder both Archie and Horatio during the raid.
    • "The Examination for the Lieutenant": Horatio and Captain Foster board a fire ship that was about to burn the Indefatigable down. Horatio manages to get to her helm and changes her course.
    • "The Devil and the Duchess": At the very beginning of this episode, Horatio and his division successfully board a French ship, but when they are taking her to England as a prize of war, they accidentally get in the middle of a Spanish fleet, and they are boarded themselves.
    • "Retribution": Horatio was ordered to command three Spanish ships — they were prize of war. However, the imprisoned Spaniards managed to take Renown, and Horatio and his men managed to board her just in time to help their shipmates win the fight.

     Music 
  • Since the song is about attacking and looting other ships, Running Wild's "Under Jolly Roger" ends with pirates boarding their latest victim.

    Roleplay 
  • Destroy The Godmodder: Used many times as the way to take over or kill large vehicles. Also the form of death of the UOSS

     Video Games  
  • 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.
  • Part of a main mission in Mass Effect 2. 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; the MSV Broken Arrow is probably the best example here, given that the reason you are boarding is to kill the last set of boarders and reactivate the engine before it crashes into a major population centre on the world it's orbiting.
    • And let us not forget the mission where The Normandy is boarded by the Collectors while Shepard is away.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Shepard and co. storm an enormous geth dreadnought to disable a mysterious Reaper "control signal" that's coordinating the whole fleet. Combat is very much a hectic matter in a series of long corridors, while trying to reach the signal and not get boxed in by the vast numerical superiority of the geth. In one case, in order to escape a lockdown, the team runs down the maintenance walkways of the main gun, and briefly across the firing rails (if you're too slow, you get shot into space). Also, the fleet battle is very much ongoing, and as the mission progresses, your allies start coordinating fire on the ship over your obvious objections. If you like, Shepard can be diplomatic about this, or slug Admiral Gerrel in the stomach.
    • The Miracle of Palaven in 3 consists of krogan and turian troops boarding Reapers to place nuclear weapons, then setting them off in person to avoid indoctrination.
  • Players in X3: Terran Conflict can train marines to board enemy capital ships. The marines will spacewalk 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. The marines will radio in their status as they move through the ship's decks towards the ship computer core, gunning down the crew and automated turrets before attempting to hack the ship.
  • Homeworld 2 includes assault parties breaking into enemy ships via beaming and hull-breaching infiltrator pods.
  • In Sid Meier’s 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.
    • "The Fall of the Samurai" expansion for Shogun 2 brings the action to the 19th century with steamships and ironclads. While boarding is still possible, it's very difficult and, largely, unnecessary. It's almost impossible to board ironclads.
    • Rome 2 will return the action to Ancient naval battles with oar-powered ships whose main weapon is the ram, although boarding is also going to be common.
  • 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.
    • Halo: Combat Evolved's first level involves fighting off hordes of covenant forces boarding your ship.
    • Halo 2's first level again involves fighting off multiple covenant boarding parties.
    • Halo: Reach has the player board and plant a slipsace bomb inside a covenant corvette.
  • A frequent mode of attack in Faster Than Light. Enemies with teleporters will often send their crew to attack your ship, or launch drones containing attack robots to breach your hull. These same tools can be used by the player if their ship has them, and many designs are specifically designed around a boarding strategy.
  • Assassin's Creed III: Happens in a couple of naval battles, usually when someone on an enemy ship needs to be interrogated. To do it, you have to destroy any other ships attacking while keeping the target ship afloat. Then, you have to switch to Chain Shots, loading your cannons with chains that are shot in an arc to break the ship's mast, which of course leaves it as a giant hunk of wood in the water. Then you approach, and you and your crew jump on. Cue a massive, widespread battle on the deck. Special mention goes to the Battle of Chesapeake Bay: At the end, the cannons are destroyed after a Man O' War hits the ship full blast with its broadside cannons. Without missing a beat, Connor rams into the Man O' War and boards it alone. He kills dozens of men, including the captain, before blowing the ship to bits by shooting the gunpowder reserves and jumping back to his ship. Without a doubt one of the most awesome moments in the game.
    • Assassins Creed IV will have even more of this with nearly 40% of the game taking place on the high seas, and not limited to specific missionsnote . This time, the character replayed by the Animus is Connor's grandfather, a pirate/Assassin named Edward Kenway. According to one of the trailers, Blackbeard claims that he once saw Kenway clear the deck of a Spanish galleon by himself without breaking a sweat. Better yet, this is not only entirely, legitimately possible in gameplaynote swim over to the target ship, but possibly even easier than taking on that ship in regular naval combat!
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: In the aptly named flashpoint "Boarding party" you do this trope to a republic ship. Also, this being a Star Wars game, there are several other instances of this trope in the course of gameplay. Typically, each class story has at least one instance of a boarding party.
  • Xenonauts: Arguably the most important element of the game is assaulting downed or landed alien ships to disrupt their missions and capture their valuable equipment.
  • Fire Emblem titles whose storylines require sailing often have encounters at sea played out with boarding planks connecting the ships. Both sides often use flying units to bypass those chokepoints.
  • After commandeering a pirate ship in Bloodbath Bay, the gang in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves can use it to attack other ships, and board them for booty.

     Tabletop Games  
  • 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, 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.
  • The lesser known but more mainstream Milton Bradley & Games Workshop boardgame "Space Crusade" (and it's successor) has this as well.

    Webcomics 
  • As a Space Opera about mercenaries, this trope comes up pretty often in Schlock Mercenary. During the Shufgar arc, the phrase "Boarding Party Favors" was coined to refer to the equipment for a job like this.


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