A Comparative Essay Regarding the Particulars of Five Popular Two Dimensional Squadron Level Space Combat Games and their Respective Ship Design Systems
Written by Tim White
Edited by Mike Atlin
Whip Cracking by Ken Burnside
Welcome, fellow Admirals, to the first article in a series investigating the ship design processes of five space combat games. The first series of six posts will outline the similarities and differences between the games’ ship design features, and the second will demonstrate those differences by walking through the design of the same ship using each of the five systems.
All five games are generic (not tied to any specific sci-fi setting), designed to be played with squadrons of two to twelve ships a side, and can be played in 2D (either hex or free field). Also, all the ship construction rules include both a set of design constraints (mass or space) and calculate point values for the ships, which are useful for balancing scenarios. The rule sets are:
Full Thrust – Cross Dimensions — Originally published in 1991, Full Thrust is the grand-father of the modern design-it-yourself space games. The last official publication for Full Thrust was in 2000, and fans have been creating their own modifications and add-ons to the rules while they wait for its third edition.. I am reviewing the “Cross Dimensions” edition, which is an updated, streamlined, and consolidated version of Full Thrust 2 and its official fleet books. Ground Zero Games have given it the thumbs up, and it is probably as close to Full Thrust Third Edition we will get in the foreseeable future.
Colonial Battlefleet — Colonial Battlefleet by Steel Dreadnought Games came out in 2010 and quickly gained a strong following. The designer, Harry Pratt, who has an uncanny knack for dropping in on forum discussions at just the right time, always emphasizes Colonial Battlefleet is simple enough to learn in a convention setting, yet enjoyable long term because the design system is unbreakable. May of those who have picked Colonial Battlefleet as their go-to game have either expressed dissatisfaction with other games they have “broken” or gotten tired waiting for Full Thrust 3! Colonial Battlefleet has one supplement with optional rules for a “Not-Battlestar Galactica” setting, however I will not discuss these new design options here as they have not been integrated into the generic design tool from the core rules.
Starmada – Admiralty Edition — Starmada, by Majestic Twelve Games, has been around in its many editions since 1994. The first of two editions reviewed here, Admiralty Edition represents a sharp break with previous editions. More streamlined than before, this game is fast to pick up and the design system is very user-friendly . Its design engine’s claim to fame is that it lets you design almost anything from any genre. This review discusses the options found in the Rules Annex as well as the core rules, as all these features have been incorporated in the standard design spreadsheets.
Starmada – Nova Edition — The latest version of Starmada, Nova Edition, is even more streamlined than Admiralty Edition, but incorporates a level of abstraction displeasing to some fans. I’ve included both Nova Edition and Admiralty Edition to highlight some of the benefits and drawbacks of the changes. Also new to this version, designer Daniel Kast has provided a web-based ship designer, so you can design anywhere you are online and without the need for a spreadsheet program (though of course there are still fan based design spreadsheets for those who cannot get enough of Excel).
Squadron Strike — Squadron Strike, by Ad Astra Games, was originally designed for three dimensional play using tilt blocks and an attitude control sheet called an AVID developed for their other space titles, but streamlined for squadron play. Should the players choose, it is trivial to compress the game to a single 2D plane like the others. While Squadron Strike allows more detail than the other four games, its complexity can be dialed back by the ship designers, and it needn’t be any more complex than Starmada AE. Squadron Strike’s ship design system can emulate almost any science fiction universe and the latest incarnation of the design sheets and post-processor (SSPDF) will now output a 2D or 3D Ship Sheet. After playing a game of Squadron Strike in 2D, most players agree it runs as fast as any of the games listed above, and even in 3D, experienced gamers can shave turns down to under ten minutes.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of all “Squadron Scale” games. I chose these games because when my gaming group was considering what game to use next for our campaigns, they topped the list. They are also among the most commonly recommended games on The Miniatures Page and Starship Combat News.
I’ve had a lot of fun doing this research, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Stay tuned for Chapter 1!