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Ship Class, Hull and Technology in Five Squadron Level Space Combat Games

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 back to Why Does That Thing Have So Many Lasers? As you might recall, this is the second in a series of posts comparing how ships are designed in five popular space combat games: Full Thrust, Colonial Battlefleet, Starmada Admiralty Edition, Starmada Nova, and Squadron Strike. Today, I’m going to start the discussion by talking about Hulls and Tech: how a ship’s size is quantified and other global parameters affecting the rest of the ship design. Let’s dive right in.

All five games provide a range of hull sizes to choose from. While most have maximum size limits, the two that don’t have limits, Colonial Battlefleet and Squadron Strike, still supply a wide selection of hull sizes that should suit most practical gaming needs.

Full Thrust and Squadron Strike provide some guidance on what hull size should be associated with a given class of vessel, but they are just suggestions for those unsure where to start. While Squadron Strike destroyers are generally size of 12 and cruisers size 18, nothing prevents you from calling your size 20 behemoth a “corvette”. Only Colonial Battlefleet prescribes a naming convention, as the class of ship is a factor later in the design process.

Colonial Battlefleet and both Starmadas directly link the number of hull boxes or damage points to the ship’s hull size. Full Thrust allows some variation, but the number of hull boxes should be between 10% to 50% of the ship’s mass (and others have recommended 20% to 40% for more balanced games). In Squadron Strike, a ship has Structural Integrity boxes equal to the size of the ship, but additional “hull” boxes can be bought, capped at the ship’s size. Additionally in Squadron Strike all internal components (weapons, systems, etc) are located on damage tracks. The designer decides both where they are located (with a few exceptions for core systems) and how many boxes they fill. Thus, the designer controls how much “stuffing” in an SS ship is between enemy weapons and the Structural Integrity track.

In addition to hull size, both Squadron Strike and Full Thrust offer different hull types modifying how damage affects the ship. “Advanced” hulls in Full Thrust make fewer threshold checks, and thus tend to suffer less damage to their weapons and systems, but the ship still takes as much damage to destroy. In Squadron Strike ships with a “Fragile” hull take hits to their Structural Integrity  more frequently, and often explode after taking fewer hits than those with a standard hull. Conversely, “Durable” hulls take Structural Integrity hits less frequently than ships with standard or fragile hulls, and may mount more “hull” boxes. Starmada Nova Edition does not have “hull types”, but does have Weak systems and Reinforced systems. These modify the frequency of damage to internal components, but like Full Thrust Advanced Hulls, do not change the overall amount of damage a ship can take before it dies. Colonial Battlefleet and Starmada Admiralty Edition have no equivalent.

Technology is handled quite differently across these games. In Full Thrust there is no formal overall technology rating assigned to a ship, but certain systems are superior (and cost more points) to others and taking these would represent a more advanced ship. In both Starmadas, technology modifies how much available space there is on a ship, reflecting the “miniaturization” of systems in more advanced ships. Ships with a positive tech value can fit more into their hull and thus tend to cost more, but fight more effectively. Low tech ships have less available space, and thus carry fewer systems and weapons. Colonial Battlefleet takes a different approach; before you design a ship, you must decide what technology your “faction” has. Each faction spends points on several different types of technology. This determines what weapons and systems your ships can use, as well as affecting limits for engines, armor, shields and overall tonnage. Squadron Strike handles tech in two ways: first is the overall tech rating, which has a similar “miniaturization” approach as the Starmada’s (but less extreme), and also affects electronic warfare. A higher tech level ship has a better odds of permanently shutting down a lower tech ships’ ECM. You can also use R&D points (perfect for a campaign and even handy for having more “balanced” faction design) to pick the capabilities of your faction and all the options to design your ship. If you don’t want to get into any of that, you can simply bypass this and just get straight down to designing (similar to Colonial Battlefleet).

“Role” is a trait unique to Colonial Battlefleet. While every ship should fill a role, Colonial Battlefleet gives the roles mechanical weight. Each ship in Colonial Battlefleet must take a role, which carries a set of advantages and disadvantages not unlike Dungeons and Dragons classes: Flagship, Carrier, Scout and Battleline (ship of the line). Certain roles are only available to certain ship classes. These roles are a nice touch and offer diversity to otherwise the most restrictive system presented here.

Starmada Admiralty Edition has rules for designing craft that are larger than fighters but smaller than ships, which form “flotillas”. These have their own design sheet, and mount weapons similar to ships (as opposed to fighters). Unlike ships, an element in a flotilla is destroyed when a single point of damage gets through their collective defenses and thus need not resolve internal damage. These are great for modelling super heavy fighters, gunboats or “fast patrol ships”. Flotillas can be of any size.

Squadron Strike’s builder tool has a “Universe” tab which makes maintaining a “subset” of its options for a player campaign much easier to manage. This is good, because as extensive as Starmada’s ship design options are, Squadron Strike goes further. For example, Squadron Strike allows you to select whether or not FTL drives take fuel, and what percentage of the ship is needed for a jump – or just leave them fuel-less. Squadron Strike also lets you select the relative effectiveness of fighters by determining maximum weapon size – or turning fighters off entirely. Squadron Strike has five “baseline defenses” and you can set the relative pricing (and thus effectiveness) of each of them to fit the assumptions of the universe you’re emulating. By making sure everyone’s Universe tabs are in agreement, you can make quite tailored and specific setting emulations, and it’s the first thing you do in setting up a campaign game. If all this sounds a bit daunting, there are a range of helpful presets that will help you find the settings you desire. One of those pre-sets even emulate the core universe of Full Thrust, aka “the Tuffleyverse.”

One of the things that can be toggled on or off in Squadron Strike’s campaign tab is a feature called ‘Profile’. A ship’s profile acts as a modifier to hit it, making smaller ships harder to hit than larger ships. While lots of games have a size modifier, Squadron Strike allows you to turn profile off, set it to an “average value” (where it’s a generic size modifier), or set it to vary by ship facing, using parameters for length, height and width. This allows you to make a long, skinny ship that’s harder to hit from the front or back (or Nose and Aft facings in Squadron Strike terminology), and easier to hit from the other four sides. While it’s rarely a huge die roll modifier, it encourages maneuver and firing on easy targets. Three Universe settings are associated with profile.

Below, find a breakdown detailing all the similarities and differences. I hope you find it useful, and come back to read the next installment: Movement and Maneuvering.

Full Thrust:

  • Relative Ship Sizes: No limit
  • Ship Classes: Suggested Class Sizes
  • Damage Capacity: Free to choose within a percentage range of hull size
  • Hull Types: Standard and Advanced
  • Technology: None

Colonial Battlefleet:

  • Relative Ship Sizes: 5 size classes– ~80 tonnage increments within the 5 classes
  • Ship Classes: 5 Classes linked to Ship size
  • Damage Capacity: Linked to hull size
  • Hull Types: 1
  • Technology: Tech Tree
  • Other: Ship Roles

Starmada Admiralty Edition:

  • Relative Ship Sizes: No limit
  • Ship Classes: Up to you
  • Damage Capacity: Linked to hull size
  • Hull Types: 1
  • Technology: Adjusts internal space limits
  • Other: Flotillas

Starmada Nova Edition:

  • Relative Ship Sizes: No limit
  • Ship Classes: Up to you
  • Damage Capacity: Linked to hull size
  • Hull Types: Standard, Weak and Reinforced (Systems)
  • Technology: Adjusts internal space limits

Squadron Strike:

  • Relative Ship Sizes: 24
  • Ship Classes: Suggested Class Sizes
  • Damage Capacity: SI based on hull size, but hull boxes are free to choose with a maximum based on hull size and type
  • Hull Types: Weak, Standard and Durable
  • Technology: Adjusts internal space limits and affects Electronic Warfare
  • Other: Designer selects # of internal boxes of systems and location, Profile, Universe settings

5 responses to “Ship Class, Hull and Technology in Five Squadron Level Space Combat Games

  1. Pingback: New Guest Series: Why Does That Thing Have So Many Lasers? | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  2. Andy Skinner August 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Starmada Admiralty Edition has tech levels or several different things, so you can give one fleet an advantage in weapon technology, and another in engines. I think these are not official in Nova Edition, though I’ve seen comments you can do your ships that way. I think this is built-in to Colonial Battlefleet though I felt constrained by that system.

    • jeffro August 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Ah, you are correct. The tech system is primarily about making “stuff” take up less space in the design, but the tech level is broken out in several chunks. There’s an Engines Tech Level, a Fighter Tech Level, a General Tech Level, a Shields Tech Level, and a Weapons Tech Level. The granularity of how efficient the tech levels/penalties can be tuned by the players, but they all range from half space to double the baseline space. (This is all on page 42 of Starmada: Admiralty Edition, so you don’t even need to dip into an expansion for this stuff.) As an example, in Imperial Starmada, the Negali get +1 on all Tech Levels… and the Kalaedinese get +1 in general and weapons tech.)

      • Jason Packer August 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm

        Also of note in Starmada AE, the increase or decrease in TL allows one to shoehorn in more or less gear into the same size hull, respectively. It does nothing to modify the points that the resulting ship is worth, so point-balanced sides in a conflict can actually skew to the lower-tech side as they are forced to use larger hulls, with greater numbers of hull points, for the same build point costs.

        Don’t recall if this is still an issue in Nova Edition.

  3. Andy Skinner August 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I think Starmada AE makes you pay for the effect, and space is independent. The number of hull points will go into defensive rating, which affects combat rating. So while tech level changes how much space it takes up on your ship, combat rating is based on the actual offensive and defensive systems and sizes you have.

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