Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

All Call to Arms: Star Fleet at Gamers of Winter 2013

The red marker on the Klingon’s base indicates that he is boosting power to shields. The brown lego on marking the Federation ship indicates that it has moved this turn, but not yet fired.

It can be tough when a new game comes out. I mean… there it is… nobody’s played it hardly… and somebody has to master the rules, develop a scenario, and then teach other people the game. I’ve done that with the Starmada entry into the Star Fleet Universe and I tell you… I was too exhausted to give A Call to Arms: Star Fleet the same treatment when it finally rolled around. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait long for someone to put me through the paces of this new game!

Enter Bill Stec, who happened to sign up for the Gamer’s of Winter at the last minute. His set up was beautiful. The models looked pitch perfect and even had decals for the ship names and registry numbers. He had special markers that fit directly on the base that I think he and Tony Thomas developed. The bottom of the ships’ bases had stickers marking out the firing arcs– I think he hired a graphic artist to develop that. Finally, he had record sheets for all the ships that he had thrashed out in some word processor. He had everything you could possibly want for this game with the single exception (from the unrepentant Car Wars fan’s standpoint) of some sort of turning key to help get the models into position with a little more accuracy.

When I showed up, twelve ships were on the table and there was maybe half a dozen of players. I think they ended up playing four turns in four hours. That seems on the long side to me, but the convention environment can be hard on playing times. It’s loud and everyone has to learn the game and the various options might get explained multiple times…. When the dust settled, Bill kindly agreed to run a game just for me. He took two Constellation class Heavy Cruisers against two Klingon D7’s for me.

Turn 1: I think I won initiative, so Bill moved one of his ships to the center of the play field. I measured from my ships to that target and realized that while my disruptors were in range,  none of the Federation’s weapons could hit me at all. I announced that one of my ships would be staying in place. Bill warned me I might not have the best position there, but I stuck to my guns. I wanted to get as many free hits as possible before those photon torpedoes got in range! His other ship moved up and my other ship stayed still. I wondered if I would even do any permanent damage at all when Bill announced that his ships were both putting extra power to shields. My first set of disruptors did nothing– they just impacted against the extra shield points he was benefiting from. In my second set of shots, though… I rolled one six. That meant that I automatically penetrated the shield to do some permanent hull damage! I was on my way….

Turn 2: I don’t remember who won initiative on this turn, but somehow one of his ships ended up hanging back in the middle of the board while my other two got to combine fire power against the one that kept barreling right along into my weapon sites. I used my Klingon agility to make three sets of ninety degree turns so that I moved about eight inches down hugging the far edge of the play area. I really wanted to stay as far away from his other ship as I could. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that both of his ships were firing at my front arcs– that way, it would be harder for him to damage my D7’s. We all fired all of our weapons, and it seemed like in every throw of the dice, I somehow got at least one six nearly every time. All of these penetrating hits gradually wore down his hull and sometimes resulted in some additional critical hits. That ship was in some serious trouble!

Turn 3: I lost initiative and took my most damaged ship, put additional power into engines… and then positioned myself on the other side of his ship. Bill completely surprised me by leaving his ship right where it was! I was flummoxed because I was counting on him to move forward at least a little, but there I was with my disruptors out of arc! Even worse, my port side phaser-2’s were gone and that it right where he was! I chose to leave my other ship right where it was so I could finish him off. Meanwhile… his other ship positioned itself so that it wouldn’t have to fire at my front arcs. I took some heavy damage, but got rid of one of those pesky Federation starships.

Turn 4: I lost initiative yet again and so had to move one of my ships without having any real idea where he was going to be. I picked what I thought was a good spot, and then was flabbergasted when he successfully executed a high energy turn and put himself in just the most inconvenient place possible. My other damaged ship then trudged along to best place I could manage. (I really should have moved that one first so that my undamaged ship could get all his weapons lined up.) We fired all of our weapons and after it was done, Bills last ship was down to just a single hull point. He struck his colors because he didn’t even have a chance to withdraw what with his engines being all torn up.

Well, that was fun. My favorite thing about the game is how the critical hits stack up and can even start to run away and cascade on their own. The various options in the game for boosting shields, focusing on damage control, reloading photons, boosting speed and so on… these add a great deal of the flavor and tactical possibilities of Star Fleet Battles’ energy allocation system in a very clean way. There are some very significant tactical tradeoffs in how they set that up that give depth to the gameplay. Given that I have long preferred the phased movement systems of Car Wars and Star Fleet Battles over the initiative systems seen in games like Battletech, D&D, and FASA Doctor Who, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the movement system is the part I like least. Of course, that is the part of the game that makes it possible to play large fleet battles in a reasonable time, so there you go. (I expect that with a group of people that are familiar with the game that this could really go quickly, though.)

Bill mentioned to me that he was planning on taking his setup to Origins this year. I’m not sure if I can make it myself but I will say this: I fully expect his table to be completely sold out and have people crowding around him to get a glimpse of this good looking game. If you want to get in on A Call to Arms: Star Fleet there, I suggest you sign up for it as soon as you can!

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