the basic Starfleet Wars game provides tough choices for players—“How much should I move, shoot, or protect myself?”—the book's advanced system brings in rules crunch as well as sci-fi fluff.
The nature of defensive screens means they are ineffective if a shooter gets inside the shields’ radius. A ship can use its tractor beam to draw another ship alongside and attempt to board it—or use that same device to counteract an enemy’s beam. One of the Five Powers mentioned in the game has an “invisibility shield” (cloaking device!) for its ships, but you need at least half your available power in order to use it. And all ships have energy damping beams, which can neutralize an opponent’s offense, and maybe its defense too, for that turn.
The Starfleet Wars background shines through in the section on particle weapons. These are essentially missiles that do a fixed amount of damage and have a chance of causing additional harm, such as a permanent reduction to a target’s maximum offense or defense. Mechanically, they all work the same, but each species has its own version of the particle weapon with a highly evocative name, from the Terrans’ neutron torpedoes to the Aquarians’ radon bomb catapult to the Entomalians’ thermonuclear dart.
The other big feature of the advanced section is attack craft—i.e., fighters. These ship-carried vessels come in several flavors: assault, interceptor, and ground support. Assault craft carry one particle weapon they can launch at a conventional vessel; this particle weapon functions just like those from larger ships. They can also fire their conventional lasers at other attack craft, but only once. Interceptors can also try to take out other fighters with their conventional weapons, but they get to shoot for three turns. Once they’ve shot their load, fighters must return to their carrier and spend one turn on board before they can rejoin the battle. It’s important to note that only an assault vessel’s particle weapon can damage large warships—an attack craft’s lasers are only effective against other fighters. Likewise, a warship’s lasers are unable to target the nimble attack craft.
However, starships do have a weapon capable of countering starfighters: the Close in Defense System (CIDS). Starfleet Wars has an interesting way of depicting this defensive system: each ship class has a CIDS factor, such as the Terran destroyer’s 24%. When attacked by fighters, a ship gets 10 rolls with the percentile dice; each roll equal to or under the CIDS factor is a hit. While this is a lot of rolls, a starship loses one CIDS roll for each one-tenth of its starting power lost in combat (so a ship at half-power would only get five CIDS rolls).
As I mentioned, you can use your tractor beam to grab an enemy ship in an attempt to board it. To determine you success, compare your available power to your opponent’s and make a roll according to a table. The greater your power superiority, the better your chance of capturing the enemy vessel—you need at least 10 more power units than your target for a 4% chance; a differential of 250 or more is an automatic success. Note that you’re only comparing power units; neither ship actually spends or loses power during this phase.
Finally, there’s the good ol’ hyperspace jump, referred to as “light speed” in Starfleet Wars. It takes half of a ships initial power units to make the jump to light speed, and it basically takes the ship out of the game. While this can come in handy for escaping certain doom on the tabletop, it’s also necessary if you have a campaign that factors in interstellar travel.
The only drawback to Starfleet Wars (besides a lot of basic math) is the huge ranges involved—for example, ships’ lasers have a range of 48 inches, and sensors reach across 60 inches! That’s why the authors say you need to play on a ping pong table or the floor. When I do play this game, I’m gonna divide the ranges by three and use a hex mat to keep things manageable (and able to fit on my dining room table).
All in all, there’s quite a few nuggets in this 16-page rulebook. While the movement system is unrealistic, it’s a helluva lot simpler than the vector mechanics of Galactic Knights. With a simple combat system and plenty of add-ons, I can see the attractiveness of this game. And late ’70s gamers must have, too, because they bought enough copies to convince the publisher to issue a Starfleet Wars supplement (or two) a couple of years later, which I will tackle in part three of this Starfleet Wars review.