What would make a sci fi game interesting? Well, I suggested using some interesting and original settings, for a start. But I think I kinda missed the big picture, which is this:
Sci Fi should allow you to use tactics and methods you haven't used before.
Sci fi offers a designer a blank slate to create a unique game. But they simply remake historical games. Why? Part of this is the audience's fault. We ask for Alien and Starship Troopers and Star Wars. So they make what the audience wants. That's safe. However, it's not the spirit of sci fi. I'd like to play a game that is awesome in itself, not simply because it's another set of mechanics I can play "xy" setting with. The first sci fi writers didn't even know they'd have an audience. Jules Verne didn't go "ah, submarine stories are popular, I'll write one about that."
I don't mean we need to run around inventing new weapons, powers and technologies. There's plenty of inspiration there already. We just don't emphasize it enough. The sci fi bits are simply window dressing tacked on to a WW2 or modern theme.
Most sci fi wargames treat hacking as a kind second-rate magic spell. By why not make the virtual world central to the game?
You could pick a recognizable sci fi technology and base your game around it. One of my old buddies is making a spaceship videogame which uses warp technology to "teleport" around the combat area. Ships wink in and out of existence all around the map. This gives a completely different feel to existing space games. I'd like to see a sci fi skirmish game where there is a heavy use of Portal-style powers - units can pass (and fire) through portals allowing dramatic (dare I say Chess-style) redeployments all over the battlefield.
I'm personally fascinated by the idea of demons/telepaths "possessing" miniatures. Rather like Magic the Gathering, you have a "pool" of power tokens which you can place on one mini (giving it super powers) . As "possessed" units are killed/lost/exorcised, you permanently lose the tokens. So you can concentrate your power tokens to create a few super-powered units (all eggs in one basket) or scatter your influence amongst many minions. Psychic powers would enable you to manipulate how your opponent moved/reacted, or simply resist intrusion by others. Again, by emphasizing one aspect of the game strongly, it could totally change up a traditional WW2/modern style game.
After trying the fascinating time travel PC game Archon (which, mindbendingly, allows you to go back in time to counter your opponents moves in the present). I'd like to see if/how it could be incorporated in a tabletop game.
Most sci fi games include robots, but they are usually just heavily armed humans with different/no morale rules, or walking tanks. Why not base a game around robots? For example, the movie Surrogates had everyone living alone and interacting through robots. Completely robot-centric warfare could be interesting - remote-controlled, AI-controlled - with prominence given to EMP weapons (and shielding). Heck you could even fight every game to the last man if you wanted and ignore those pesky morale rules...
The movie Surrogates had a robots as a central theme. The Surrogates world could make for an interesting sci fi wargame.
Many sci fi games include hacking but usually it's just a mild buff/debuff to a unit or perhaps freezes a vehicle temporarily in place. Why not make hacking the central theme? Make it much more important than shooting and melee, rather than a poor magic subsitute. You could even have miniatures battle in a virtual world - it's not like we don't have plenty of inspiration.
You could have "spawn points" where practically limitless reinforcements could be teleported in - (unlimited respawn) giving the game where killing opponents is always secondary to capturing these invaluable objectives.
Stealth might become important, and a cat-and-mouse battle between small special forces ensure. Yes, it might mimic a submarine-war style game but on land "stealth" encompasses a totally new range of challenges and environments.
Ok, enough examples. I admit I got a bit carried away....
I guess the point I'm making is that none of these ideas are new, and they already exist in many if not most sci fi games. But the technology or "big idea" needs to be the main focus of the game, not a tacked-on special rule to make a WW2 rules set "sci fi."
With the proviso - it needs to make the game different than any existing setting - i.e. a Dune-eque game with a focus on personal shields might make the game simply melee-centric medieval-with-sci fi-jumpsuits. A Revolution-style future where all electric circuits don't work might simply mimic late WW2. That doesn't allow players to try new tactics.
TL:DRMy previous response to "same-y" games was "make cool new settings." This might be simply disguising the underlaying issue, which is:
A. Does it promote tactics and gameplay I haven't experienced before in historical/existing games?
B. Easy fix = Pick a "big idea" or futuristic tech and base the game around it. Don't just tack it on to a WW2-style game to add "gloss." Make it (teleportation, stealth, hacking, etc) the focus of the game. Make it absolutely central to tactics and gameplay.
C. Make sure the "big idea" (point B) actually promotes different tactics (point A). Or you haven't gained anything.