Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Movement and Maneuvering 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 to the third installment of Why Does That Thing Have So Many Lasers?, a multi-part investigation into how ships are designed and built in five popular space combat games: Full Thrust, Colonial Battlefleet, Starmada Admiralty Edition, Starmada Nova, and Squadron Strike. This week, we’ll cover ship movement and engine systems.

Movement might be the most important part of a wargame. Weapons and defenses are sexy and cool, but a wargame’s strategy and feeling and fun comes from maneuvering for positional advantage. Science fiction offers many different depictions of how ships might move and fight, ranging from point-to-point teleportation to thrust and vectors.

All of the games we’re looking at give a comprehensive set of options: Full Thrust and Colonial Battlefleet use a simple momentum model – ships travel in the direction they are pointed, and can accelerate or decelerate to change their speed, which carries over from turn to turn. The Starmada games’ pseudo-vector system builds on that model with the idea that a ship moving past a certain speed cannot turn; this effectively turns “speed past your maximum thrust” into a sprint-and-slow-down-to-turn tactic. Squadron Strike offers a pseudo-vector movement system where turning bleeds speed. Squadron Strike, Full Thrust and Starmada also offer vector movement systems in decreasing degrees of fiddliness and realism.

Full Thrust (and Full Thrust Cross Dimensions) both assume that vector movement and cinematic movement can exist on the same map. Cross Dimensions adds some of the widely circulated house rules that keep vector ships from just destroying everything in sight, and they’re a welcome thing to see. Squadron Strike calls its movement rules “Movement Modes” and names them after the number of Newton’s Laws being obeyed, with Mode 0 being “your ship has no momentum,” Mode 1 being the pseudo-vector movement described above, and Mode 2 being Newtonian vectors. The designer claims that all three movement modes can exist on the same map. I haven’t tried all the permutations and am a bit skeptical. Starmada, interestingly enough, flat out states that trying different movement rules on the same game is not recommended.

Ship movement is regulated by the game map. My biases are going to show here – I like hex grids and find rulers to be fiddly; I’m evidently in the minority given the success of games like X-Wing and Warhammer. Four of the five games use hex-maps; the only exception, Full Thrust, uses a map free of any markings. Colonial Battlefleet and both versions of Starmada use a hex grid with a 6-point facing system, where ships can face any of the six hex-sides. Squadron Strike (and optionally Colonial Battlefleet) uses a 12-point system, letting ships face hex sides and hex corners. The 30 degree increments of a 12-point facing system gives most of the movement freedom of a gridless system, while keeping the benefits of a map.

All five games allow wide ranges of engine power, which help model differences between fast ships and slow ships. Maneuverability is a different story. Full Thrust, CB and the Starmadas’ directly link maneuverability to engine power, making it difficult to design a low thrust ship that handles well or a high thrust ship that turns like a pig. Full Thrust’s Advanced drives improve maneuverability, as does one of Colonial Battlefield’s ‘roles’, both still base it on overall engine thrust. Only Squadron Strike makes a ship’s ‘pivot’ rating entirely independent of its thrust. Depending on your technological assumptions, this may not matter. In World War II naval combat (which nearly every single one of these games borrows from in some way), maneuverability was more a function of ship length than engine power, and drag goes up nonlinearly with speed. Still, I like the flexibility of having ships where there’s more than one number determining total thrust and maneuverability; this may be because I cut my teeth on Star Fleet Battles, and it “feels right.” If you’re basing ships off of warplanes, it is kind of nice to differentiate between a Zero and a Hellcat.

Each game has some form of Faster Than Light (FTL) drive available. In Full Thrust these are obligatory on any standard ship, but can be left off of system ships or bases. Full Thrust ships can deploy and disengage by FTL in the game, and buying Advanced FTL allows for a more accurate entry point. FTL rules in Colonial Battlefleet are determined by the scenario, but certain ship roles perform better than others. Starmada’s hyperspace drives only come in one version and are used exclusively for disengaging. Squadron Strike allows you to add multiple boxes to an FTL drive track, and the numbers mean something within the included campaign rules, but it has no real impact on fighting the ship that I’ve seen.

Apart from the standard movement systems, some of the games have special add-ons that can modify maneuver. Starmada Admiralty Edition’s overthrusters let a ship spend thrust to temporarily turn the nose of a ship away from the line of movement during combat, permitting strafing. Squadron Strike’s boosters are one-use systems that can increase the pivot, acceleration, deceleration or roll (in 3D movement) for one turn, and retro-rockets can provide extra braking power in emergencies.

In all but one of these games, movement has no opportunity cost. There’s never a trade-off between “I need more speed” and “I need more weapons.” Squadron Strike is the exception – it allows you to set Action Point (AP) costs for boxes on an engine, pivot, roll or FTL track (and for a lot of other systems in the game). In addition to adding bookkeeping and tradeoffs at the table, using APs reduces the hull spaces costs of a box. Also, in Squadron Strike, different length-to-width ratios impacts the cost of pivot ratings, especially on Mode 1 ships. I’d been contemplating ships shaped like pencils to cheese out the small target modifiers for facing an enemy; it looks like this has a drawback that I hadn’t thought of.

Below, I’ve included a breakdown to help track the different options available. I hope you find it useful, and come back to read the next installment, where we’ll focus on the stuff that keeps your ship in one piece: Defenses and Defensive systems….

Full Thrust:

  • Movement Modes: Momentum and/or vector
  • Map: Open Map
  • Relative Engine Power: 0 to 10
  • Relative Maneuverability: Standard and Advanced, both linked to Engine Power
  • Faster Than Light: Standard and Advanced

Colonial Battlefleet:

  • Movement: Inertialess
  • Map: 6 pt. hex, 12 pt. hex
  • Relative Engine Power: 1 to 5
  • Relative Maneuverability: Linked to Engine and Role
  • Faster Than Light: Standard and by Role

Starmada Admiralty Edition:

  • Movement: Inertialess Movement Vector
  • Map: 6 pt. hex
  • Relative Engine Power: 0 to 20
  • Relative Maneuverability: Linked to Engine Power
  • Faster Than Light: Optional
  • Additional Movement Design Options: Overthrusters
  • Alternate Movement Modes Not Discussed: Open Map, Aether Movement, Wet Navy, Pivots

Starmada Nova:

  • Movement: Inertialess Movement Vector
  • Map: 6 pt. hex
  • Relative Engine Power: 0 to 20
  • Relative Maneuverability: Linked to Engine Power
  • Faster Than Light: Optional
  • Additional Movement Design Options: Overthrusters
  • Alternate Movement Modes Not Discussed: Open Map, Aether Movement, Wet Navy, Pivots

Squadron Strike:

  • Movement: Inertialess Movement Vector
  • Map: 12 pt. hex
  • Relative Engine Power: 1 to 10
  • Relative Maneuverability: 1 to 6, Independent of Engine Power
  • Faster Than Light: Numbers on a Track
  • Additional Movement Design Options: Booster and retro boosters
  • Alternate Movement Modes Not Discussed: Full 3D (including nose up/down and rolling), Tactical Teleportation

One response to “Movement and Maneuvering 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

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