Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

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…!


6 responses to “Scatter packs, Anti-Drones, and Overloaded Photons

  1. Dirk July 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Hey, Jeffro, I was there that night, at the other table, helping the newbies learn the game. I was really glad you made it that evening, and hope you can join us again.

    I didn’t catch much of your game, but I did see bits and pieces. I read over your description, and I agree with most of your observations. The chart controller, optimally, shouldn’t be flying a ship. The Command Cards product does help with Sequence of Play, and that old impulse breakdown chart is also a good idea.

    Arguably, all warfare is about allocation of resources – massive quantities of energy in SFB – maneuver is just a by-product of those choices. If the Fed bakes up fully-overloaded photons, he’s not going to have the spare engine power to chase ships around the board and runs the risk of yielding the tempo to the enemy. Standard loads might allow retention of control of the tempo, but the resultant alpha strike might not cripple or even seriously injure the opponent. My point here is that resource allocation is the heart of combat, maneuver is just one aspect of the results of the allocation choices.

    Regarding scatterpacks, they’re the bread-n-butter for the Kzinti. There’s a reason your ships had the capability to control twice as many drones as an ordinary ship. If you were going to ditch scatterpacks, you might as well have flown Klingons (or Gorns, or Romulans). It would have been a waste to fly Kzinti.

    While dropping mid-turn speed change rules is not that big a deal (indeed, some levels of plotting effectively do that), I really don’t understand the issue some players have with EW. Dropping EW from the game renders an entire class of ships (Scouts) worthless, and also eliminates a primary tool bases have to defend themselves (EW is why bases have an exception to the usual rule of blinding powered Special Sensor channels as a result of firing heavy weapons).

    Moreover, dropping EW really hampers Kzinti, who rely on their drones so much, to the point of replacing heavy weapons – like Disruptors – with drone launchers. Again, there is a reason that the Kzinti have double the usual percentages for “special” drones and drone modules (like ECM and armor). Remove EW from the game and the Kzinti is reduced to a Klingon that is short of Disruptors but has some extra drones, rather than a dangerous drone-equipped foe.

    Imagine if those scatterpacks had an ECM drone in them. Would Ryan have been scoring so well with ADDs? Imagine if the Kzintis had also purchased an ECM drone with ATG to protect each ship. Would Ryan’s photons have hit? Your ships should have crushed Ryan’s BCH, and EW was the only way to do that.

    Ditch both EW and scatterpacks you guys might as well have played Romulans or Gorns. Kzinti would have been useless.

    I agree that, for the most part, Commander’s Level rules should all be used, or all not-used. Cherry-picking is not a good idea.

    While you should have followed your drone waves in, EW would have made them considerably more effective. The reason that Kzinti are allowed to buy so many “special” drone types/modules is for EW and other ways of “tricking out” your drones. It’s their speciality. Klingons have good power, excellent weapon arcs, and plenty of weapons. Romulans have the Cloaking Device, PPTs and a weapon that can fire 8 impulse after it’s been destroyed (wouldn’t that be nice with photons!). ISC have… well, you get the idea. If you want to see drones do more than eat phaser energy, then try a Type-IV with an internal armor module and a single-space warhead (it’s disheartening when two Phaser-3s don’t manage to kill the drone).

    Heck, since you guys had so much drone-control capability, you could have loaded up shatterpacks …twelve Type-VI dogfight drones – they only do 2 points of damage each, but the BCH would never have been able to stop 24 incoming drones, even draining his phasers and ADDs. A Kzinti with plain vanilla Type-I drones is just lame.

    With regard to things like refit status, reload rules, and drone rack capabilities, that’s driven largely by the year. Most ships, prior to Y175, only had two reloads for drone racks (some only had one reload). Ships with G-racks typically had two reloads (one regular drones, one ADDs) before Y175, and two regular reloads plus one set of ADD reloads beginning in Y175 and later. Most ships had to pay for a “Y175 refit” to get the extra reloads. In Weapon Status II and III, the scatterpacks can be loaded from the reload supply without the racks themselves having to go offline. You’re right, however, that it is very important to nail those things down before starting.

    You might try looking at the campaign materials online – I’ve researched a lot of that stuff in terms of what things are available when.

  2. JS July 14, 2009 at 12:00 am

    The Fed BCG has 4 drone racks, not 2. Further, there are 2 B-racks and 2 G-racks, giving him a fair number of reloads. Also, the drones in the G-racks can be replaced in any number by anti-drones, not the half-n-half configuration you mentioned.

    Also, the BCG was produced after Y175, so will automatically have the Y175 refit included. That may be the reason you thought it was not explicitly stated.

    Dirk: no ship has to pay for the Y175 reloads. Kzinti Y175 refits often changed the type of racks, which is why they cost BPV. No Fed ship that I’m aware of has any cost associated with it’s Y175 refit.

  3. Dirk July 14, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Well…what I said wasn’t as clear as perhaps it should have been.

    For some ships, there is no BPV cost to the Y175 refit. Other ships replace A racks with B racks, or replace B racks with G racks, or whatever, and DO pay a BPV cost for the Y175 refit.

    Either way, the extra drone reloads are included. But if you have to pay for the refit, then in a sense you do have to pay for the “extra” drone reloads (you don’t get them until you get the refit).

    JS also makes a point I forgot to make – the selection of a certain ship, like the Kirov, automatically sets at least a minimum date, and therefore allows (or disallows) specific other refits or Commander’s Options (like drone speed upgrades).

  4. jeffro July 14, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Yes… that was the big gaffe.

    Those Y175 drone rack upgrades are not a refit in the usual sense. They’re more of a sort of game designer fiat type thing. Ships didn’t gradually get them over time as they cycled back from the front– they just all magically appeared on January 1, Y175.

    My theory is that games the utilize large numbers of attrition units are completely unbalanced with the old ships… and this was the only way to make the crazy games work.

    At any rate, no ship with Y175 “refits” should ever fight a ship that doesn’t have them. That’s not just ahistorical… it’s outside the intent of the game designer.

  5. Dirk July 14, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    “Those Y175 drone rack upgrades are not a refit in the usual sense. They’re more of a sort of game designer fiat type thing. Ships didn’t gradually get them over time as they cycled back from the front– they just all magically appeared on January 1, Y175.”

    I gotta disagree on that point.

    From the isolated “Hey, let’s play a 300 BPV Y175 battle….” perspective, yes, the refits just “magically appeared” on 1-Jan-Y175… in that it is customary, when setting a Year for a battle, to not get too far down into the weeds about precisely when, within the year, a particular refit was on a specific ship.

    But my reading of R2.R4 indicates that the refit was automatically applied to all drone-equipped Fed ships *built* 1-Jan-Y175 or later. Ships already in service on that date would still have had to visit an FRD or base (to upgrade the racks – for example, B to G – and enlarge the drone storage.

    From the campaign-designer’s perspective, the Y175 drone refit would require an existing ship to be refitted – it would be automatic on all ships built during or after that year (no option to decline it – R2.R4 indicates that it was a decision pushed from StarFleet Command).

  6. Runeslinger June 8, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks for the detailed post~ I really enjoyed reading it.

    As another gamer nearing his 40’s with a large pile of mostly unused SFB stuff glaring at him tauntingly each time he enters the room, some of your comments really resonated.

    I am currently working on a campaign which will hopefully spark an interest in local roleplayers to try SFB, by running a story using Prime Directive. It may never get off the ground, but it is better than the nothing which has preceeded it~

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