Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Star Fleet Battles

Maps and the Adventure Gaming Hobby

Joesph Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard has observed that there seems to be an almost inevitable form that emerges in the most successful role playing campaign maps. Of course, campaign-oriented fantasy role playing is not the only style of game out there… and there are many of genres of gaming that make quite different demands on the players. This post will explore how map designs adapt depending on the context in which they are applied.


My first thought about those campaign maps is that they so rarely became relevant in the usual sort of D&D game I’d played in. It wasn’t until that grey Forgotten Realms box came out that I really even gave much thought to the whole idea… and that Greyhawk box set my friend had had for so long always seemed so odd to me. What’s it for, really? It would take years before I realized the benefits of having a coherent setting– and of course, most serious Dungeon Masters spend huge amounts of time developing such things. But it was always a bit beyond me.

When I think of the Moldvay Basic Rulebook, my first thought always goes to the legend containing all the map symbols you’d need to make dungeon maps. (The door symbol, secret passage marking, statue, and dais got the most work in my maps.) Due to the fact that the cutaway view is not of Skull Mountain, I never fully appreciated what it was communicating. Today I see it as a powerful cue to think of your dungeons in three dimensional terms and to also try to vary the tone as you change levels.

The palette of hex map symbols from the Cook/Marsh Expert Rulebook are equally as compelling. It offers up detailed large hex symbols for one-mile hexes and more abstract markings for 36 mile hexes on the main campaign map. Whither the six mile hex of gaming yore…? You’ll find those on area adventure maps like the one detailing the Isle of Dread. Most of the large scale maps seem to be in miles in a factor of six, so centrality of the six mile hex for hex-crawling is subtly implied.


While not strictly a part of the original rules, Traveller’s icosahedral world map projections quickly became an essential part of the game’s ouevre. Though it can be argued that the archetypal Traveller referree was far more obsessive over interstellar census data than local geography– never mind the fact that the scout service had pretty well mapped all of known space– it was nevertheless pretty darn cool to be able to describe the look of an unknown world as the players arrived to it the first time.

Given that you’d never want to stay at a particular world for more than a few sessions (the game would cease to be Traveller anymore, after all), there just wasn’t much call to get too much more detailed than this. With the massive number of star systems of the setting and assuming total autonomy on the player’s part, having the luxury of a fully detailed world map should be a fairly rare thing given the all-too-limited prep time. And yet drawing up a world’s map remains largely a tedious exercise derived largely from the world’s hydrographics percentage and number of continents. Water worlds are pretty easy to whip up, though.

Car Wars

While Traveller cartography is largely dedicated to drawing up sector and subsector maps, autoduel-themed gaming is similarly focused on the arenas. These range from wide open areas for brawling free-for-alls, the great big donut-shape of Armadillo, the maze-like approaches seen in many custom layouts, grid-like cityscapes, and in the tail end of autoduelling’s heyday, epic multi-level arenas with way too many ramps.

Switch over to the freeways for some role playing adventure, though, and you get an entirely different sort of map. Note how Convoy’s player map has so many roads cutting between the two main routes. It’s as if Steve Jackson were doing everything he could to keep the adventure from becoming completely linear. (Hint: spend time checking out rumors before you arbitrarily decide to take the shortest path between two points!) Of course, in dungeon layouts that are insufficiently Jacquayed– and in games where the playing time for combats take 10 times as long as those in B/X D&D– you’re adventure structure will actually steer towards this sort of format. New school D&D recapitulates the adventure structure of old school Car Wars.

Text Adventures

In the days when B/X D&D, Classic Traveller, and Car Wars dominated the hobby shops, text adventures were pretty well state of the art when it came to adapting “adventure games” to the home computer. In the same way that ELIZA simulated a Rogerian Psychotherapist, these programs provided a completely impartial dungeon master that was always available when the game group couldn’t get together. While the Zork series perhaps provides a window into aspects of what late seventies D&D sessions at MIT might have been like, these programs tended to deal more with exploration and puzzle solving than killing things and taking their stuff.

What I’d like to draw your attention to is the maps that players tend to make when playing these sorts of games. Each room has a number of exits, usually along the cardinal directions: north, south, east, or west. A player map for these games ends up looking like an insane flow chart. This is very different from the maps made by “map makers” in the typical D&D session where they ask tons of questions in order to make everything fit precisely onto graph paper. (For people that complain about the movement rates being so slow in old school D&D… this is why it’s that way.) And interesting feature of these maps is that often times you cannot go back the way you came: south might take you to a new room, but north will not necessarily take you back where you were. While this is counterintuitive, it actually is realistic when it comes to modeling something like the Colossal Caves. The passages can twist so much that the entrances and exits really don’t line up anymore!

Star Fleet Battles

The most striking thing about the map in SFB is that… it’s empty. The connoisseur of fine gaming maps can really struggle with this. (A lot of people to accuse this franchise of not having any terrain.) Lay down the first couple of scenarios from Introduction and if quickly becomes clear where the map went….

Enemy drones can easily be shot down with your phasers. However, you can kill them with a single shot only if they’re pretty close: the damage potential of a phaser shot degrades quickly. But they’re moving– either directly at you or else at some other more vulnerable target. As you maneuver through this ballet of destruction, lining up targets, shepherding your energy, and sometimes influencing the drones’ movement, all of that jinking and positioning might as well be in response to terrain. And it is…! There’s no terrain marked on the map because the “terrain” is always moving around.

You could always lay down a black hole or an asteroid field, I guess. That doesn’t seem to happen too often, though. The real meat of the game is in how you maneuver against your foe. Are you going to toy with him a while with a battle pass? Or is it time to head for knife fighting range and overrun? Do you fire now and hope to take out a critical torpedo weapon on his ship? Or do you risk the same thing happening to you so that you can close to a range where you can potentially do far more damage? This game succeeds so well at simulating its subject matter that it has been the go-to game for making people feel like Captain Kirk for decades. And it does it… with practically no markings on the map at all.


This game has scads of maps for it. I even saw that they came out with some nifty hex overlays, too. But the thing about this game is… if I’m not playing on someone else’s massive miniatures terrain, I’m almost always using the original map that came with the basic boxed set. The lake in the middle is probably the most fought-over piece of terrain out of all the maps in my game collection.

But that lake isn’t there just for mechs to jump over or for hovercraft to skate across. It’s there because of the game’s anti-asset of heat. Most of the unit designs in the original game were overgunned such that they could not fire all of their weapons every turn. If they did, they would rapidly build up enough heat points to cause an ammo explosion or shutdown. A consequence of this rules dynamic is that enemies jockey for position waiting for the best moment to alpha strike. Then a turn or two is spent desperately trying to cool down. The utility of lakes when it comes to this cool-down process makes them something to fight over. Chess players try to take and hold the center. Jedi try to take the high ground. BattleTech players go for the lake. The fact that the water terrain is tied so closely to the core of the rule system gives it a significance that is seldom seen in other games– and it’s the reason why this particular map hits the table so often.

My Take on Star Trek: Into Darkness

Spoiler Warning: Probably the most amazing thing about this movie is that I got to see it without any spoilers. This movie is so imminently spoilable… you really don’t want to read anything about it before seeing it. Seriously.

If you’re going to hash out a Star Trek movie, then the first thing to get out of the way is whether or not the file serves up the thing that made Star Trek so compelling in the first place. Regardless of how crazy the plot for the old episodes got, the thing that really and truly made them work was in how the crew had to face real dilemmas. Generally, there’d be this epic threat… and Bones would provide the emotional response in contrast to Spock’s logical reaction. Lots of time there was no right answer… or there was significant unknowns… and no matter what happened there’d be tough consequences. That is what I was paying my $12.50 to see this movie in 3D and that is pretty well what I got. A double dose, even.

(But just a quick side note: The Next Generation failed in comparison because it never could touch the depth of the older series. I mean there just isn’t anything in the way of gripping drama when the answer to every problem is to just tech the tech. “Reroute the matter/antimatter inducers through the sensor dish” and all that.)

Anyways, I laughed out loud for much of the film and enjoyed myself immensely. I don’t go to the movies very often, so the sheer scope of the event tends to dazzle me– I’m not usually the best critic immediately afterwards. But I do have my wits about me enough to pick a few nits this time:

  • I don’t think the 3D is all that. This is of course the real trick to get people into the theaters instead of watching movies on Netflicks or whatever. But really, the technology has not improved all that much compared to what I saw in the mid-eighties at Epcot Center. (Captain EO, anyone?) Some of the visuals were marred obvious cheapo 3D effects and were therefore distracting. That one scene with all the debris from the space battle actually took my breath away, though– but mucking up the rest of the film wasn’t worth even that.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is introduced first as some sort of terrorist. I was really dreading that it might attempt to be a particularly relevant storyline. (Doesn’t Iron Man 3 have sort of an Osama Bin Laden type bad guy, too?) But on the whole, I was pleased with how this character was developed, how he fit in to the setting, and what all was actually going on. However… the way they had him singlehandedly taking out a small Klingon army was just over the top to me. It looked like a silly videogame type sequence or something.
  • The real bad guy turns out to be some general that had been dug up out of the old Doctor Strangelove movie. This was kind of ridiculous. I mean… you honestly think a McCarthy era paranoid militarist dude has a place anywhere in Gene Rodenberry’s future history? I was slamming my head on the seat in front of me at this. In the first place… the Federation navy is all war ships. Think about it. The ship they sent on a five year mission can stand toe-to-toe with D7 Battlecruisers and Romulan Warbirds for crying out loud. Even the ships that are chock full of civilian families have to go up against stuff like the Borg. I’m supposed to hate this starfleet officer just because he wants to reduce the crew units, remove the labs, take out the bowling alleys, and increase the weapon suites by fifty percent? Seriously?! That’s supposed to make that improved ship look downright evil? Good grief, people…. (Did anyone on the production staff ever spend time daydreaming and flipping through Star Fleet Battles SSD books? I mean… what would you want to fly in a dangerous universe? A dreadnought is the dead minimum…. But where was the third nacelle? Idiots.) I get that he’s a lying traitor bastard that’s trying to gin up a war. The filmmakers obviously have to give us reasons to hate him. But it’s just insane that probably the biggest indictment of all is that he is developing combat effective starships. How dare you…. This violates everything Starfleet stands for! Yeah, right. More like… “I’m shocked, shocked… our peaceful science vessel just blew up a fleet of Romulan starships that were attempting to break through the neutral zone for a sneak attack…? We’ll court-martial the captain immediately!”
  • I like the original theatrical release of Star Wars. It was kind of cool to see the blow-up-the-Death-Star sequence recapitulated in Return of the Jedi with two other battles going on concurrently. I was less thrilled when the Lucas tried doing that shtick a third time… and when the Matrix franchise did pretty much the same thing, I was irritated. How many more times am I supposed to watch pretty much the same freaking movie, anyway? Well… in the land of Star Trek… Star Trek II is that movie that we have to keep doing over and over again. The Next Generation crew had to take a stab at it with Nemesis. And now we had to waste an entire movie in the series with a loose reworking of Star Trek II. Honestly, there was a point where I could play along, but the point where we had to redo the exact, classic dialog from that movie with these actors…. Ugh! It almost worked…. I could see where they were going with Kirk… and I understood why they had done that first scene like that when it got to that point…. But to have Spock scream out, Shatner’s signature line… that was cheesy, stupid, lame, and anti-climatic. So basically the movie was really kind of good… except in the one point where it mattered most!

Oh my.

I won’t say anything about the useless scene of the hot blonde standing around in her underwear. (I guess they worked that in just so it can be in the previews?) I will not rant about the strange, maze-like Rube Goldberg nature of the Enterprise. And I won’t even mention the obvious device of Chekov’s Tribble. (As soon as Bones spoke the dialog, I knew the ending.) I know it sounds like I hated this thing. But I really was entertained. There were a lot of great moments and a lot of pitch perfect scenes. Still… if I’m going to bet getting my Trek fix, I expect I’ll continue to do so by reading more Star Fleet Universe stuff. Those games are pretty much the real thing as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea what these studio types think they’re doing.

I mean, how hard would it be to run the script past me before you start filming?!

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!

Scatter packs, Anti-Drones, and Overloaded Photons

There is a lively Star Fleet Battles group starting up in a nearby city. I bit the bullet, made the drive and dove in. (I’ve owned this game since I was in high school and have always wanted to play it more– and if I turn 40 without filling a map full of fighters and drones in a nasty eight hour fleet battle, then I’ll not have done my gaming duty.)

I showed up at the game store and was glad to see tons of gamers. There were a couple of Warhammer tables, some Magic people, and some Euro-gamers. I just can’t get over the Warhammer people. They have these beautiful miniatures of futuristic hover-speeder things… and they just sit there on the crowded tabletop… hardly moving. Don’t these people have a desire to turn, dive, and whoosh… risking death with insanely violent high-G turns? It looks like they just line up their units and start rolling dice…. Argh! Their miniatures look really really good, though… as do their nifty matched six sided die sets marking various units for damage and so forth. Sigh.

We had a good crowd of SFB people. The grizzled veteran was extremely well prepared with his giant maps, rules binders, and whole cases of counters and ship displays. Two young ladies had arranged for a tutorial in advance. Another grizzled veteran showed up to help out with them. I ended up playing a fellow IT professional who had brought his teenaged son along.

We let the teenager pick any ship he wanted: he chose the really cool Federation BCG which is rated as being worth 180 BPV points and is armed with four photons, a pair of extra drone racks, and a killer phaser suite. My ally agreed to go with drone and disrupter armed Kzinti ships. I picked out a 110 BPV medium cruiser for him while I took a 70 BPV heavy frigate.

The game was fairly straight-forward. We agreed in advance to not use electronic warfare rules or mid-turn speed changes. This was partly because we were collectively new and/or rusty, but mainly to keep the game moving.

The Federation ship stayed at speed six for the entire game. He launched scatter packs every turn and recovered the shuttles as he went. He had heavy shield reinforcement and (as I expected) held overloaded photon torpedoes.

I went speed 19 in my frigate so I could have a good turn mode. My ally in the medium cruiser went speed 21. Because the fed was moving so slow, this meant we could easily stay in range 9-15. I took pot shots at the fed’s #1 shield each turn and then turned away so that I could stay alive. My ally danced in much more closely.

The game mainly turned out to be a training lesson on how to defend against drones. The fed would be swamped with anywhere from six to ten drones each turn. His G-racks were loaded with enough anti-drones that he could easily shrug them off, though. In spite of that, one of my drones just barely squeaked past his defensive phaser fire on the first turn to damage the shield that I’d already scored disrupter fire against.

The Kzinti medium cruiser was armed with two anti-drone racks. Due to his ability to turn away at about the same speed as the fed’s drones, my ally was effectively immune to the Federation scatter packs. After the ADD-rack demonstration– and after getting stung on that first turn– the Federation captain decided to use his turn 2 and turn 3 scatter pack launches to neutralize the Kzinti medium cruiser scatter packs. (This father-son pair really liked scatterpack shuttles. I imagine the shuttle contractors of the Star Fleet Universe appreciated this fact a lot– especially given how stressed the economy is…!)

There were a few times where I had to be what I called “the SFB nerd.” It was a friendly game and all– and we were training up the next generation of wargamer– but I had to point out that we have to declare all of our fire before resolving it. If you can check for the success of your anti-drone fire before declaring your phaser fire, then you’re effectively operating under the Module J Aeigis fire control rules!

During the third turn it became critical for us to know how much ADD ammo the Federation had left… and just how exactly reloads work for those complicated type-G drone racks of his. I tried looking up the rules on the that, but was couldn’t figure it out with confidence under time pressure– most other rules I could look up faster than the other players could ask a veteran, though. Another point of confusion was how many drone reloads the medium cruiser had. I wasn’t explicit about the ship’s refit status and the drone rack display can be confusing if that’s up in the air. After launching three scatter packs, he very well could have been out of drones.

During turn three, my ally lowered his rear shield and transported a crew over to his empty scatter pack shuttle. This took him dangerously close to overload range. Other SFB fans were coming over to the table to comment on the tactical situation. I proudly pointed out how we could stay at range 9-15 all night as long as the Federation continued to stay at speed 6. I also gloated over the fact that the Federation was just about out of anti-drone ammunition! Ha ha!

I’m not quite sure what happened in the final impulses of the turn. Maybe we were tired and distracted. Maybe I called impulse #32 twice by accident. Or maybe it was due to the fact that the Federation battle cruiser moved after the Kzinti medium criuser instead of the way that the sequence of play dictates. Anyhow… the medium criuser was suddenly at range seven from the Federation vessel. The teenager fired… and all four overloaded photons blew the Kzinti ship to scrap! Argh!

The teenager was thrilled. During our scatter pack exchanges, he’d already been saying that this was the most fun they’d ever had playing Star Fleet Battles… but now he was talking about promoting his tactical officer and putting the medium cruiser into his kill file…. He joked that he was afraid his dad was going to make him walk home, but they seemed to leave the game store in good spirits….

Here are my observations about the game:

1) The caller needs to be a sequence of play Nazi. He needs to have a solid procedure that prevents goof-ups from occurring. An air-tight procedure is essential for the point of the game where you’re getting drowsy. The old cadet training manual had a pretty good impulse procedure chart that you’d step through marking each sub-impulse step with a counter as you moved through the list. I will make sure to have something like that for the next game.

2) In my opinion, maneuver is what starship combat is all about. How close do you come in? When do you fire? We didn’t really get to that sort of thing in this game, so we really weren’t doing much better than the Warhammer guys at the next table. I think every cadet training program should emphasize what’s going to happen if the enemy can control the tempo. The fact that we had a major goof-up on the “saber dancing” side doesn’t change the reality of this.

3) The obsession with scatter packs turned the game into a war between competing accountants. If we’d agreed not to use scatter packs, the tracking of ammo would have been basically irrelevant to the game and we’d probably have done a little more shooting and maneuvering. In my opinion, if you’re going to outlaw mid-turn speed changes and electronic warfare in order to “speed up the game”, then you probably want to outlaw scatter packs as well. (I really think that the “Commander’s Level Rules” should be taken all together or not used at all.) That said, people really enjoy launching scatter pack shuttles!

4) One thing that did not happen is that we Kzinti’s did not follow our scatter packs into overload range. We also did not launch drones at point blank range. Anti-drones made large drone waves effectively impotent in this game… and I’d really like to see drones do something in a game besides eat up a few points of phaser energy. Maybe some day….

5) We really need to be clear about refit status, reload rules, and drone rack capabilities before we start another Kzinti game!

Ah well. A good time was had by all, though. If we can set up a rematch, we should be in position to have a pretty good game now. The teenager was already fluent in movement, energy allocation, overloads, weapon status, and so forth. With just a little tiny more attention to detail… we can be playing “real” SFB!

Now about that G rack…. The Fed player has several choices. He can start the game with eight anti-drones loaded in the rack. In that case, he’ll have sixteen anti-drones available for reloads. Alternately, he could start with four regular drones in the rack– in that case, he’d have four drones for reloads and also eight anti-drones. He could also start with four anti-drones and two regular drones already loaded into the rack. In that case he’d have twelve antidrones and two more regular drones available for reloads. (In every case, one set reloads matches what is in the rack at the start of the game and one set of reloads is entirely made up of anti-drones.) If it is Y175, then the rack gets one more set of reloads that are identical to what the rack was loaded with at the start of the game– so don’t let your Fed opponents play in Y175!! Also… to reload a rack during a game, it must not be fired for an entire turn. (You declare it out of use in advance.) This can reload two spaces of “stuff”– ie, either two regular drones or four anti-drones.

SO… what this means is… that it is unlikely that the Federation BCH could have launched three fully loaded scatter packs and at the same time fired his ADD’s as much as he did. If he had so many drones available, then I’m pretty sure those racks would have at least been taken down for reloading at least once during those three turns…. (The BCG’s only got two drone racks, right…?)

Ah well…. We’ll get this…!

Teaching Star Fleet Battles

A friend of mine let me know about a guy in the area that was interested in learning the game, so I quickly made room in the schedule for the fellow. We had to baby-sit a six-month old for the first part of the session, but things picked up a bit when baby took a nap and his wife stepped out to go shopping.

I explained, movement, HET’s, phasers & phaser capacitors, Photons, Disruptors, Overloads, and shield reinforcement. I must have talked for an hour or so. After a single turn walk through, the guy was asking about how to do mid-turn speed changes– except for a few details he had a basic intuitive grasp of the intent of the rule already! After our first big volley of damage, he was asking about the “energy balance due to damage” rule. (As far as I knew he’d never seen a rulebook.) He asked about a lot of the unexplained boxes on the SSD, but as with the above advanced rules I just mentioned, I said not to worry about them for this game.

I played the Tournament Klingon against his Tournament Fed. I’ve had the hardest time grasping Klingon tactics, but things finally fell in place for me in this game.

On the first turn, I took a shot at range 13. On turn two, I charged overloads and tried to evade. I couldn’t prevent an overrun and we blew each other up pretty good. We dropped each other’s #1 shield and when I passed over him, I let him have it with all my phasers on his rear shield. (Need to double check that same hex combat rule again.) I then turned to follow him to pound him on the next turn.

On turn three I got to range 3 and dropped another rear shield and scored a couple more internals. On turn 4 I continued to follow him. My opponent was faster than me because I had lost a lot more power and he managed to prevent me from taking any shots through his downed shields. Not having a #1 shield made it very difficult for me to follow him!

My opponent turned as I held my fire… then HET’d such that we were a few hexes away off of each other’s #1 shields. (Thinking about it later, I think he could have nailed me through my down shield without giving me the same option if he hadn’t turn duirectly towards me, but I didn’t realize it at the time so I could tell him he’d ‘really’ won.)

He missed with two of his three photons… and I hit with all three of my disruptors. When the dust settled, he had no phasers left and only 2 photons… while I had three disruptors and a few phasers left. He conceded the game– but I had obviously won due to my insanely lucky die rolls, so he didn’t seem to feel too bad about the loss….

(I’d arrived at 12:30 or so and was leaving before 4PM, so it took the usual 3 hours that I allocate for the usual SFB duel even though I had to do a lot of explaining….)


I’ve struggled to learn SFB for years, but now it all is beginning to come together. The rules that we played with this time were fairly easy. Adding shuttles, tractors, boarding parties, scatter packs, and mid turn speed changes wouldn’t be that hard to do. It’s just detail from here on out. If we played several games and added a rule or two each time, I’m sure we’d get the hang of it.

One thing that made it hard to pick up the game before now was never having the right scenario. I thought pirate scenarios or police actions would be the way to go… but these scenarios just fizzled for me when I tried to play them with my friends. I played the Tholian in the classic Juggernaut scenario with an SFB group back when I was in highschool. I played the “Surprise Reversed” scenario more recently and just got blown up before I could do anything. In neither of these situations did I really learn anything.

I played the D7-CA game with a friend waaaay back and we just went to range one and blew each other up. I couldn’t figure out how the Klingons could possibly win. Last year I tried again and got creamed– I was trying to keep my opponent at range 15 for several turns and found out it could not be done. (Sabre Dancing just doesn’t last for several turns like I had thought it should!)

Anyways, in this game… I could see how the different aspects of the ships really were balanced against each other. It was neat to finally see that in action and have it be something more to me than just an idea in a “Victory At…” article.

I like the tournament ships because you know they are balanced and you know that the game is a fair test of skill. As I continue to learn the game, I intend to focuse on the tourney ships and ignore the weirder rules/ships/scenarios until I’ve mastered the game that’s been “playtested” at hundreds of tournaments.

As others have noted, the game that’s underneath the rules is really dynamic. I think I’ve finally caught my first glimpse of it… and I’m looking forward to seeing more!


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