Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Jeffro’s Space Game: Basic Starfighter Combat

I’ve argued often that it is completely pointless to design new games. There are so many underplayed games of varying shades of awesomeness, it’s almost a crime to try to make a new one. And to think that you can make anything that is more fun than everything else that people can possibly do… it’s sheer hubris. But there is one exception to this general rule. What if you really have a hankering for a particular type of game and no one has quite addressed the exact thing that you’re wanting? Well… I guess if that’s the case, then you are excused if you have to go out and roll your own.

Here’s my objectives:

  1. The game must have microgame level of complexity or less. I’m thinking of Ogre and Dragon Rage when I say this. Car Wars, BattleTech, and Star Fleet Battles are all a little on the heavy side even though they all essentially got their start as microgames.
  2. I want the starfighter combat game that FASA, Steve Jackson Games, and GDW never really got around to making. Little spaceships… shooting at each other. That’s what I like! If the entire universe has to be set up just so that tiny space ships can do their thing… that’s fine. Just give me starfighters!
  3. I want to be able to explore the implications of these small ships toss a mass of missiles all at once…. And then having to deal with whatever is left with little or no ammunition.

That’s it, really. Number three is really what it’s all about. After watching several episodes of Robotech, I’ve really wanted to be able to dump a big salvo of missiles like they do in the show. But the setting of that universe doesn’t quite make sense to me and it’s not mine anyway… so I’m going to try to go my own way instead of hacking somebody else’s thing. That idea, though, is really what fires my imagination. I want to do that in a game!

Instead of starting this project and then leaving it half done, I am developing it as a series of standalone games. These sketches are necessarily unpolished, but should contain everything you need to play. This way… whenever I quit developing it, the gaming public is at least left with a working prototype.

The Map: Use a standard Star Fleet Battles type map. These are small enough for table play, but large enough for some maneuver.

Dice: You’ll need four twenty-sided dice to play this. (Usually you just need one or two of them to resolve an attack…. but if you’re throwing all four of your missiles at once at the same target, you’ll want four dice when you resolve that.)

The Starfighters:

  • The starfighter can be set in one of three modes: assault, tactical, and cavalry. The “mode” is a combination of energy allocation, transforming and reconfiguration, and piloting style. 
  • Assault Mode Stats: Beams 2D, Missiles 3B, Point Defense 3, Armor 4, Move 1X, TORP
  • Tactical Mode Stats: Beams 1F, Missiles 5C, Point Defense 4, Armor 3, Move 2Y
  • Cavalary Mode Stats: Beams 1E, Missiles 4A, Point Defense 2, Armor 2, Move 3Z
  • Starfighters have four missiles each. They can fire them all at once or mete them out slowly over several turns.

Basic Movement: Each fighter has a present position counter and a future position counter. The move rating of the starfighter determines how many hexes you can move the future position counter during a movement phase. When you move… put your finger where the future position counter is… move it forward from there to where the ship should end up on the following turn… and then move the present position counter to where your finger is. (This is Mayday style movement.)

Facing: Your starfighter’s facing matters. You must point your present position counter in the direction that your present turn’s thrust took you. Due to side effects of your maneuver drives, your Point Defense and Armor ratings are doubled verses all shots that come through your front facing. Those ratings are halved versus shots that come through your rear facing. If you do not use any thrust at all, you are exempt from both bonuses and penalties for facing. [Note: I intend to allow facing to be towards both the vertexes and the sides of the hex… but I’m not quite sure how to explain that yet– or even if such a distinction will actually matter.]

The Sequence of Play:

  1. Each side rolls for initiative. [Initiative is mostly used to prevent secret and simultaneous actions. It is not meant to have a huge impact on the game, but is a mechanical expedience.]
  2. Apply Thrust: Units declare their mode and their thrust and move their future position counters accordingly. This is done in letter order based on the configuration/mode they had last turn– ie, X’s declare thrust before Y’s.  If both sides have starfighters with the same movement letter, then the side with the lower initiative declares their thrust for those ships first. 
  3. Movement is resolved. Starfighters are moved to their future position location and the future position counter is moved such that the vector is preserved.
  4. Fire is resolved in letter order– ie, A’s declare and resolve fire before B’s. If both sides have starfighters with the same fire letter, then the side with the lower initiative declares fire for those ships first… but effects are applied simultaneously in this one case.

Basic Combat: D20’s are used for all to-hit rolls. To resolve a shot, find the range and determine the facing modifier if any. Each missile attack is rolled separately, but all missile targets are declared before rolling. The to-hit target for missiles is Point Defense rating times Facing modifier plus (Range divided by Missile Increment rounded down.) The to-hit target for missiles is Armor rating time Facing modifier plus (Range divided by Beam Increment rounded down.) A successful hit destroys a starfighter immediately. If the destroyed ship has not yet fired its beams or missiles this turn due to the sequence of fire resolution, then it has lost its chance. (The only exception here is when starfighters are firing simultaneously with the same letter. In that case, there is a “parting shot.”)

Basic Scenario: The Intruder wants to exit the map with a vector that is more-or-less in direction C and going at a speed of no more than 10 hexes per turn. (Mark out the precise “window” before beginning– this is sort of like making a touchdown.) If even a single ship makes it off the board while meeting this condition, the Defender loses their Cruiser and the defenders will have nowhere to land their fighters! (Fighters have a torpedo that can destroy larger ships in a single shot if they are in the correct position.) The playtest scenario assumes that each side has six starfighters. Intruder enters the map with a vector of C10. The Defender enters the map with a vector of F6.

Campaign Context: Given the deadliness of fighter craft versus larger starships, much of space warfare hinges on detecting intruders and scrambling your fighters in time to repulse them. Many battles would be resolved in the surprise/reaction phase and would therefore not need to be played out at this level of detail.

Design Note: I assume that the various of ratings will need to be adjusted in response to what we want to happen in play. The idea behind the facing rules is to encourage people to break up their squadrons into several different vectors. I’m not yet sure if that is the most reasonable tactic, though! Note that these rules should be fairly playable in a play-by-email format. There is no secret-and-simultaneous stuff to deal with and things shouldn’t take more than a few turns to resolve.

8 responses to “Jeffro’s Space Game: Basic Starfighter Combat

  1. Robert Eaglestone May 28, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Brilliant in how the fighter’s configuration determines order of play — in each phase.
    Is there a reason facing can’t represent forward protection? Then rear protection is a quarter of the front facing. It’s because doubling and halving are easier, right?

    • jeffro May 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      The letters for order of attack is a common trick in block wargames. In Space Empires 4x, Scouts with point-defense change their letters if they are targeting fighters.

  2. Robert Eaglestone May 28, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Another, emergent, purpose of facing rules is to encourage different tactical formations.

  3. RogerBW May 28, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I can see initiative still being quite (overly?) important here, particularly if there’s a best mode for a particular stage of the fight (so that everyone is in it at the same time).

    • jeffro May 29, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      If that’s the case… then I’ll probably have opposing designs be rigged so that they can’t end up with the same letters at the same time. It’s probably best to eliminate the concept of initiative altogether somehow….

  4. Rob May 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    I didn’t find initiative to be a big problem when ship types are declared only once, in the first round, and then are fixed for the duration.

    I think the missile ranges are too long. Instead of 3, 4, 5, I might suggest 2, 3, 3. I annihilated a target 26 hexes away — and my Chessex hexmap is only 50 x 32 hexes. In fact I am unsure of the difference between beams and missiles (and what’s the TORP option for the Assault mode?) except in their ratings and order of fire. In that case, they are simply a way to have two attacks, one earlier, and one later… Which is also a good design, by the way. It’s also a good idea to have the weaker attack come later.

    Only now have I realized that I used Armor against both attack types, rather than Armor and PD. Of course, this only changes the TN by 2.

    • Rob May 28, 2013 at 10:22 pm

      Ah, one other thing, which of course colors all of my comments thus far. Instead of a d20, I used 4d6, which has a nice, reasonably linear plateau in the center… But tends to roll significantly higher than your d20. Oops!

  5. Pingback: Book Review: Game Design by Lewis Pulsipher | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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