A periodic blog about Games, Books, Movies, Pop culture, Technology and whatever else I happen to feel like writing about...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Starfleet Battles, Conquest of the Empire

As Sunday afternoon arrived, it was time for the inaugural Starfleet Slug-a-thon. Since there were three of us, me, Cim and Colin, I decided to act as controller, while Colin took a Klingon D7 and Cim took a Federation Heavy Cruiser. I went over the rules on Ship Systems Displays, (SSD's) Power generation and consumption, ship facing, manoeuvring, shields, weapons systems, shield reinforcement and Drone use.

The first turn saw a few hiccups related to pre-plotting of movement, but after that, both players settled into the game. Colin, who is a old hand at the game, showed good use of his Klingon ship, keeping drones out to draw phaser fire, reinforcing shields and keeping good bearings on his target. Cim, after taking a drone hit, was able to negate the threat after that, mostly by destroying the drones with his Phaser 1's, but it was the photon torpedoes that proved to be the undoing of the Klingon.

Cim was able to fire three full spreads, and only missed with 3 torpedoes the entire game. Since he had 4 tubes, that meant he hit with a total of 9 torpedoes, or 72 points of damage. Colin's disruptors were also able to score some hits, but since not all were at optimum range, he was frequently getting 4 or 3 points per hit. The main game breaker was the ability of the Federation Cruiser to absorb a lot of internal hits without compromising critical systems.

It was good to get a game of SFB under our belts, and even though we played with only the most basic of rules, there is a lot of depth to the considerations that must be made, as well as the very important movement plot. If you can get a good shot on a weak shield at close range, it can be a very satisfying manoeuvre. The World Series of Poker bluff of the day occurred when Colin, who had just asked me in secret for a clarification of the Tactical manoeuvre (the ship will use high impulse to make one 60 degree turn, but does not need to plot the timing or direction), spent a few minutes diligently appearing to complete a very detailed movement plot.

Worst dice roll of the day came as Colin missed with a full broadside of disruptor bolts. The best dice rolls were most of Cim's photon torpedo rolls, as he went 9 hits for 12 shots.

Needless to say, James T. Kirk would have been happy, in his stentorian way, and would have heartily approved of Cim sending another Klingon b*****d to Stovokor.

After SFB, Mike dropped in, and we set up Conquest of the Empire (COTE). It was very fortunate indeed that we had built the game table, as COTE would never have fit on our regular table. The map is beautiful, and very large. Once the pieces are set up, it really does give a very grand impression.

Since none of us had played before, we went over the rules, which are fairly brief, and started the game. As the game went on, we developed a real appreciation for the underlying rules, especially the auction for turn order and alliances. It is really amazing how much depth this auction adds to the game, and while no one wanted to spend more than 10 talents on this auction in the first round, by the fourth, one of these went as high as 30.

The available cards add another dimension to the game, and having your actions limited to 2 per round means that you really have to decide whether or not you want a good, but higher priced action card versus making an army move or recruiting new forces. The merchant cards, I am sure, will be highly sought after in the next game, as well as the Diplomacy cards which can provide good temporary troops for a campaign season.

By the end of the game, we were really enjoying ourselves. Colin, who had been leading for a few rounds, would clearly win the game unless Mike, who was in second place, was able to take over a few of his influence tokens. Unfortunately, Mike did not have enough remaining actions, so Cim decided to throw his main army into a battle that saw the drastic reduction of both armies, which allowed Mike to swoop in for the very narrow win.

Of course, while this was happening, I was able to execute a nice naval move/battle off the shore of Egypt which eliminated Mike's galley and which allowed me to make a maritime move of my Ceaser and some troops which then allowed me on the next turn to claim two of Cim's undefended influence tokens, allowing me to edge just ahead of him.

So, in the end, Mike was victorious, though he owed his victory to Cim, Colin was second, I was third, and Cim, last but not least in battlefield glory.

I can only imagine how this game would play with the full complement of 6, and can only hope that we get a chance to try it out one of these days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Starfleet Battles

While I was at my mom's celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I decided to look through some of the things that I had left to rescue a few games. I found old copies of Barbarian Kings, The Air Eaters Strike Back, Hot Spot, a deck of French Tarot cards and my Starfleet Battles rules and expansions.

I have the original boxed set, with the first version of the rules, as well as expansions #2 and #3. I had decided to bring Starfleet home so that Cim and I could play around with some tactical starship combat. We have both been reading the Honor Harrington books, and seeing that there is a starship combat game based on the series, I decided that it would be a good time to get back into some SFB to test the waters for a possible purchase of the newer system.

Before we go any further, I do realize that the Saganami Island Simulator (based on David Weber's Honor Harrington books) is much closer to Full Thrust than SFB, but I never got into Full Thrust.

SFB, to those who read any of the internet fora on which it is discussed, is more of a religion than a game system. The adherents keep trying to convert new followers, and the detractors keep pointing out how convoluted and heavy the rules can be. I must be one of the rare moderates in this case, as I believe that, while the rules can be fairly heavy, there is a very good game in there for those that have the patience to become familiar with the system.

The basic system is not overly complicated, in that engines produce power, which can be used for propulsion, weapons and shields. This is not too complicated, but once you add rules for transporters, boarding parties, mines, transporter bombs, Wild Weasel and Suicide Shuttles, etc., there can be an awful lot to remember.

Many years back, while I was in Pembroke visiting my parents, I remember playing a quick game against my friend Gilles. It was a simple Fed CC vs Klingon BC, two fairly evenly matched ships. Gilles had collected many of the rules supplements, while I was more familiar with the standard rules (if such a thing can be said to exist in SFB!). I remember being very surprised when Gilles announced that he was putting my ship under a tractor beam. I remember saying that he couldn't do that, as my ship still had functioning warp engines. He then picked up supplement two or three and showed me the new rule allowing this. It seems that the rules had been changed, and that ships could now be tractored at warp. The next time that we played, as he tried to tractor my ship, I immediately announced that I had put more power into my tractor beam than he had, turned his ship so that I was facing the weak shield and cut loose with every phaser that I had charged. Ahh, the memories...

If players are all familiar with the rules, and there is agreement on which rules will be used, SFB can be a very rewarding game. It can also be a long game, and some players might not relish the degree of micro management required. But, if you always wished that you could command a Federation Starship on a daring rescue mission or klingon raid, few games approach the SFB experience.

I am quite hopeful that we will be able to dust this off on the weekend, as well as play our first game of Conquest of the Empire. As always, a full report will follow.