Astro Wars: A Blast From The Past

Back in the early 80’s, the closest thing to having an arcade in your home was to have one of a plethora of electronic tabletops. In a sea of these portable tabletops, one stood out head and shoulders – Grandstand’s (Epoch developed), Astro Wars. Everything about this black and grey beast was and still is uber cool. It looks like a miniature arcade and it even plays like one. It has a 2-way metal joystick (for left and right movement) and one big plastic fire button – what more could you want !


Even after three decades, the hardware oozes coolness. Just look at the unit ! The display is a “vacuum fluorescent display”, or VFD (the box says Multicolour FIP Display !). This was used on consumer-electronics equipment back in the early 80’s, like calculators. Unlike liquid crystal displays, a VFD could emit a very bright light with high contrast and could support display elements of various colours.

The unit feels sturdy and can be powered by mains (6 Volt) or with four ‘C’ batteries. The unit is “portable” – perhaps only around the house as you wouldn’t want to lug it around.


So, how does this Astro Wars play ? Well, as a shoot’em up, it is quite simple – move your earth ship left / right to avoid missiles from the fierce squadron of attacking fighters and fire back to blast them into smithereens. Once you blast away waves of enemy fighters, warships and command ships, you attempt the docking manoeuvre – landing the upper module to the rocket part of your earth ship. Succeed with this manoeuvre, and you are given extra points. Speaking of points, once you reach 9999, the counter resets to zero and you have effectively “clocked the game”. When you do end up finishing the game, you still want to re-play it. Now that is saying something for a game that has been around for 30+ years. How many other games can you say that about ? OK, I hear people screaming Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and yes, them too.

If you want a cool piece of gaming history with “pew-pew sounds” and a great game to boot, then hunt down this unit – you will not regret it.

For more photos of Astro Wars, go to the Facebook album


  1. Can’t believe I didn’t come across this article before! I am a big fan of these handhelds, and others by Grandstand, but Astro wars is my favourite. In the UK the Grandstand branded units had either white or red lettering on the front (I have both of course), never quite got to the bottom of why though. I’d also recommend Galaxy Invader 10000 for a lightweight handheld alternative, if you don’t have already!


    Roly (@retrogamesnow)

    • Haha, I do have the yellow wonder (Galaxy Invader 1000). It is a tad more portable. Astro Wars is still one of my fave tabletops. There was an interesting article about the Epoch & Grandstand relationship in Retro Gamer (mag).

      • I spoke to Darren at Retro Gamer about that article when it was being written, tried to get my collection featured – fame at last! Didn’t happen in the end, but it was a great feature.