Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Additional Systems 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 seventh 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 AE, Starmada Nova, and Squadron Strike. This week, I’ll be discussing Additional Systems.

This section contains a whole slew of miscellaneous items that did not quite fit into any of the above categories. However I felt that they were still significant features and should be presented.

Of the five games, the only one to include “energy allocation” (a term from Star Fleet Battles) is Squadron Strike. It is a completely optional aspect of the game. In Squadron Strike, Bridge and Auxiliary Reactors boxes provide “action points” (APs). Systems can be designed to require 1, 2 or 3 APs to function, which gives a discount on the hull spaces it takes up. If desired, you can put increasing costs for increasing performance on systems, or simply not use them. Weapons, weapon traits and weapon mounts can be given AP costs; a handful of traits require APs, and the amount of options is, well, mind-blowing.

Both Starmada Nova and Squadron Strike provide methods for simulating either superior or inferior crews. For Starmada Nova this impacts the victory conditions of the scenario only (i.e. crew rating = crew morale). For Squadron Strike crew rating affects the ships ability to repair damage, reload weapons and the efficiency of their ECCM. For Starmada Nova the same crew rating must be used on every ship in the fleet. For Squadron Strike it can be individually calibrated per ship. This is a nice feature when trying to balance out the size of fleets when building fleets to a set point limit.

Colonial Battlefleet is the only initiative driven system, and fleets that have command ships get a bonus on their initiative roll. Command is not a specific system in Squadron Strike, but is a function of Bridge systems. While both Bridge and Auxiliary Reactors provide APs, a fleet flagship can lend APs through squadron command ships to any ship in the fleet. A squadron command ship can also lend APs to the ships it’s directly coordinating.

Squadron Strike and Starmada Nova have rules for tractor beams; Starmada Admiralty Edition added them for the SFU conversions. Squadron Strike’s tractor beam rules are kind of head-bendy because they have to account for all three different movement modes, and seem to factor in ship’s mass somewhat. I’m not at all sure the complexity is worth it, though there’s also an option to treat them as a generic point defense weapon.

Each game system supports some form of ship to ship boarding actions. Full Thrust has the fewest options; your ship just has a marine complement based on the ship’s size. All the others offer some aspect of customization. Colonial Battlefleet has 2 types of units, security forces and marines, and marines have three subtypes based on how they get to the enemy ship. Both editions of Starmada have a generic boarding units. Like Colonial Battlefleet, Squadron Strike has two types of boarding units, infantry, which are defensive only in space combat, but feed into the integrated ground combat game, and marines which can be sent to board enemy ships, but aren’t quite as effective when used for the ground combat game. There are boarding shuttles and transporters to get the marines over to the other guy’s ships, with some elements for customization.

All systems save Squadron Strike have rules for mines, minelayers and minesweepers. For Squadron Strike the problem boils down to the 3D nature of the game; fixed items on the map with a height and altitude turn into a lot of fiddly bits during game play. Ken Burnside, the designer, said that mines gave him a headache in testing, so it’s likely everyone else will consider them more work than fun in an actual game. Having done a Star Fleet Battles base assault with all the mine fields involved, I really can’t say he’s wrong in that assessment.

Each of these game engines have a few more odds and end systems that can be picked. A lot of these are used for specific scenarios, or are for campaign support. These range from damage control parties and labs to searchlights and regenerating hulls.

Final Thoughts:

With five game engines, there’s a lot of options out there.

Starmada Nova and Full Thrust are easily the two simplest of the games, but they’re also the ones with the least amount of flavor in my eyes. Colonial Battlefleet and Starmada Admiralty Edition have more flavor, but at the cost of smaller fleets. While Starmada Nova’s sweet spot is running about five or six maneuver elements of 1-4 ships each, and Full Thrust can handle about twenty ships, Admiralty Edition and Colonial Battlefleet are best at about twelve ships per player. In 2D, Squadron Strike is probably an eight to twelve ship game; halve these numbers in 3D. All of these games benefit from “batching” ships of the same type and flying them as a single maneuvering element.

In terms of what you can design, Squadron Strike kind of takes the cake. I’ve never seen a spaceship design engine with that much flexibility. I saw the playtest ships for the aborted Federation Commander adaptation, and they really got the feel of Federation Commander down, in 3D. When we tried them, they also played faster than Federation Commander.

If I want to run a gigantic fleet action, I’ll probably pick up Starmada Nova. If I’m playing a campaign game and want the ships to not feel generic, I’m going Squadron Strike, even if we only play it in 2D. (Don’t get me wrong – I love the 3D play aspects, it’s just that I don’t like re-teaching it to the guys who show up once a month to game.)

In terms of design tools, Starmada Nova’s are probably the easiest to use, while Squadron Strike’s just give maximum flexibility. Colonial Battlefleet’s design sheet is also pretty cool, but doesn’t seem to be maintained by Harry Pratt, the game’s designer – there seems to be a different design sheet for each of the supplements he puts out. Squadron Strike, as you’ll see in the next section of these reviews, produces the nicest ship sheets out of the box, by far.

Full Thrust:

  • Energy: No
  • Crew Rating: No
  • Command: No
  • Tractor Beams: No
  • Transporters: No
  • Marines: No
  • Mines: Yes
  • # Other systems: Cargo; Ortillery; Advanced Sensors

Colonial Battlefleet:

  • Energy: No
  • Crew Rating: No
  • Command: Yes
  • Tractor Beams: No
  • Transporters: Yes
  • Marines: Yes
  • Mines: Yes
  • # Other systems:

Starmada Admiralty Edition:

  • Energy: No
  • Crew Rating: No
  • Command: No
  • Tractor Beams: No
  • Transporters: Yes
  • Marines: Yes
  • Mines: Yes
  • # Other systems: Searchlights; Regeneration; Cargo; Science; Transport; Hospital; Repair (other ships)

Starmada Nova:

  • Energy: No
  • Crew Rating: Optional
  • Command: No
  • Tractor Beams: Yes
  • Transporters: Yes
  • Marines: Yes
  • Mines: Yes
  • # Other systems: Cargo; Science; Transport; Hospital; Repair (other ships); Flares; Probes; Regeneration

Squadron Strike:

  • Energy: Optional
  • Crew Rating: Yes
  • Command: Part of Bridge
  • Tractor Beams: Yes
  • Transporters: Yes
  • Marines: Yes
  • Mines: No
  • # Other systems: Weapon reloads; Damage control; Ground Combat Transport; Logistics Packs; Cargo/Storage; Component Armour; Towed Decoys; Labs

 This concludes the first phase of this comparison. The second phase, coming up next week, will take one ship that’s fairly readily identifiable, and statting them out in each game engine, showing the design process.

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7 responses to “Additional Systems 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. Jason Packer September 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Given that SS seems intent on providing maximum flexibility wherever possible, and options for pretty much everything, it surprises me that mines went by the wayside. Can you elaborate more (or maybe Ken will) on just what was so fiddly about fixed location and height/altitude mines? Is it to do with the idea of a floating map, perhaps, that caused the most grief?

  3. Ken Burnside September 24, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Jason – it’s a number of factors.

    1) A mine in 2D more or less needs one coordinate pair to track per mine. On a hex map, that one coordinate pair is a single hex number. In 3D, that mine needs a coordinate triplet. So you’re constantly checking to see if something ran over a given XYZ coordinate (or hex number and altitude) That coordinate checking requires that someone be constantly running bearings, or constantly checking positions against not only hex numbers but altitudes plus hex numbers, and it quickly turns into more hassle than it’s worth.

    2) People seem to want more than one mine at a time. They want a belt. Or a shell, in 3D. Or nested shells. The number of mines you’re tracking (if you’re bothering to track individual mines at all…) increases in 3D at the ratio that surface area increases over circumference for a sphere.

    If your geometry is a little rusty, the relevant formulas are 2*pi*r versus 4*pi*r^2. For a given defense at a given radius, you need about 4x as many mines to track.

    3) Many games with mines kind of want them to be hidden. So, now every time the player without a mine field moves, the player with a mine field has to run a bearing – even if they know there’s no mine there – just so that human factors don’t give the mine field away. Couple this with “move X hexes per turn” rather than “move one hex per impulse” movement systems, and now you have to backtrack and run this check for *every hex the target moved through* every turn. Shudder..

    4) Mines, by their nature, make maneuvering less effective. In general, they make it less effective by ensuring that the player without mines is running to analysis-paralysis at the table, because a mine that’s worth having is a mine that’s doing enough damage that someone will be deterred by it. I happen to like maneuver in games, and much of the fun of flying in 3D is getting around/above/behind someone when they weren’t expecting you and firing on them. Mines completely eliminate this and replace it with exhaustive iterative recordkeeping.

    • Jason Packer September 24, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Definitely one of those times that a computer could be helpful in ensuring things work the way they are supposed to without the overhead becoming impossible. I, for one, would love to see a game like SS ported to the PC, where much of that overhead could be handled. We need more turn-based space combat video games, methinks.

      • jeffro September 24, 2013 at 10:30 am

        When I first saw Microsoft Access twelve+ years ago, my first thought was… we can now play Star Fleet Battles!

      • Ken Burnside September 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        I’ll be making some announcements about computerized support for SS next month. My experiences, in developing this support, is that computerization doesn’t ALWAYS mean easier to play…there’s a lot of UI goodness with pen and paper and being able to turn your head and eyeballing things.

        It is, for example, still FASTER to use the laminated cards and a grease pencil than to tap, type, hit enter, and repeat on a tablet. This speed delta becomes noticeable when running multiple ships…

        (One of my High Horses is user interface in game designs – in the interview Jeffro did with me, I pointed out the UI we did on the AV:T fuel track. Getting UI right is hard.)

  4. Lee December 6, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Would love to see a true hybrid between Table Top and a Device.
    Where the ships are detailed in the Device and damage is figured that way, taken into account all the mods that in Table Top we leave out to keep the game flowing.
    A game that allows one to play the game with a min knowledge of the math.

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