Monday, May 9, 2011

A closer look at Starfleet Wars (part 4)

So we’ve covered the basic Starfleet Wars game, examined the SfW advanced rules, and taken a look at some of the game’s supplemental material, such as starfortresses and SGDNs.  But Starfleet Wars Book 2 packed even more rules into those twelve pages, and we’ll go over the rest of them right now.

At the other end of the spectrum from the super galactic dreadnought, SfW2 describes two new ship classes smaller than a stellar destroyer: the starbomber and the star armored pursuit ship.  These craft are the worst of both worlds—too big to avoid a starship’s main guns, and too small to shrug off a starfighter’s lasers.  One hit from an offensive factor or particle weapon destroys these ships, and they also go boom if they take four hits from attack craft.  They do have their uses, though: as torpedo boats and anti-aircraft platforms, respectively.  SBs and SAPS both carry small lasers of their own, which are only good against fighters, transports, or other starbombers and stellar armored pursuit ships.  SAPS have about twice the laser firepower of SBs, but starbombers also carry a fair number of particle weapons while pursuit ships have none.

Speaking of transports, Book 2 doesn’t say too much about them.  Called galactic transports on the data table at the center of the rules, these noncombatants have a maximum speed factor of 4.  They take damage from attack craft lasers, and otherwise operate similar to other starships, with offensive and/or defensive factors (max of 1) and even Close-In Defense Systems.  Also of note, I think there’s some sort of interface with the MAATAC ground combat game, as the chart lists “Launchers” and “ROB” for each galactic transport, just like the starfortress module table in the section for using starfortresses with MAATAC.

Another question the new material raises is how to stop the most colossal starship on the table, the super galactic dreadnought.  The authors give us the answer with the Captive Towed Tactical Missile.  CapTacs are big—larger than a starfighter—and they can’t enter the battle on their own; you have to use a ship’s tractor beam to tow them into combat (or a starfortress’s tractor beams to hold them in place).  This puts a practical limit on how many CapTacs you can bring, as a starship can only haul two of the massive missiles at a time (and like when towing anything, you’re stuck with a maximum movement factor of 2).  Another weakness: CapTacs are vulnerable to starships’ CIDS and starfighters’ small lasers—and if one gets blown up while being towed, the energy feedback damages the ship that’s pulling the missile.

But these large devices do have their advantages:  First, unlike starfighters, there is no limit to the number of CapTacs that can attack a single ship in the same turn.  Therefore, a swarm of missiles will likely result in at least a couple of hits.  In addition, CapTacs can be towed to a certain point, cast free, and triggered remotely at a later time.  Also, these missiles do a fairly huge amount of damage—40 power units.  Finally, similar to particle weapons (which have their own table in the original rules), a successful hit with a CapTac means a roll on the Book 2 special damage table, which usually only occurs when a ship has sustained at least 20 percent damage.

The rules call for rolls on the special damage table to be kept secret, based on the premise that an opponent would have no way of knowing what, if any damage occurred on the enemy ship.  In practice, however, I think I would require such rolls in the open.  The in-game justification is that advanced sensors can tell what’s happening with your foe; the metagaming reason is that I just think it’s fun to roll and announce the results.

The special damage outcomes vary from no effect (by far the most likely) to sensor damage (reducing weapons range) to temporary or permanent reductions in offensive or defensive capacity, and so on.  I like this feature, as it could not only affect the current game, but could carry over to subsequent battles if playing in a campaign.  This table also allows for that “golden BB” factor: there’s a tiny chance of a reactor hit, which destroys the target vessel.

Damage of the non-reactor kind can be fixed using the damage control rules; I think this occurs at the end of the turn.  As that part of Starfleet Wars Book 2 is missing from my copy, that’s about all I can tell you about that subject. 

I do have some more to add to this review, though: There’s a little additional game material for Starfleet Wars in another publication: the Observer’s Directory & Identification Manual.  While the ODIM is mostly setting background material, it contains two tables of note.  First, it lists data for some new releases by Superior Models, including stellar destroyer leaders, space stations, galactic attack carriers, and galactic battlecruisers.  Second, there’s a new firing table with better to-hit odds that (shades of Munchkin), is only available to players that own this publication.

All-in-all, Starfleet Wars seemed intimidating at first glance.  However, after a careful review, I can see the nuances this game possesses.  It combines some classic science fiction tropes with interesting game mechanics and player choices, all in a set of rules that probably contains fewer words than this multi-part review.  It isn't perfect—especially the unrealistic movement system—but I'm looking forward to giving this game a test drive.


Porky said...

Well, you've held my interest. There are some good ideas in there and it's an even more thorough review than I expected. I'm enjoying it.

Desert Scribe said...

Thanks, Porky, for sticking with me this long. I didn't think it would end up being so lengthy, but here we are.

I set out to write this review because I couldn't find an in-depth look at Starfleet Wars anywhere else on the Internet. Basically, I ended up writing the review I wanted to read in the first place.

maxmike said...

The CAP TAC is basically very similar to a weapon used in a now-famous spacewar universe that didn't exist at the time--Honor Harrington. Ships in the Honorverse tractor huge missile "pods" into battle, releasing them to attack independently. As a matter of fact, with Starfleet Wars' CIDS (=point defense) systems, particle weapons (=grasers) laser weapons, huge fighters (LACs),starbombers and armored Pursuit ships (more special type LACs), dreadnoughts (HMS Majestic) and super galactic dreadnoughts (HMS Manticore), you can pretty much play the entire Honorverse Wars using Star fleet Wars mechanics. I sometimes suspect that Weber may have been a Starfleet Wars player back in the past...


Can you post the old Star Fleet rules into pdf? or is there atill some copyright issues?

Legacy Magazines said...

I have a few boxes of Superior Models MAATAC and Starfleet Wars, any chance if I send you pics you can help me identify them?

Desert Scribe said...

No problem, LM. Check the email you have listed on your Blogger profile page for my message; you can respond to that.