Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Star Fleet Battles… with a Twelve Year Old

The D7’s front shield is totally gone, of course, but I was too busy recording internal damage to remember to mark that…..

This friend of my son’s comes over to the house every now and then. First time he visited, he went nuts when he saw my game collection. I wasn’t home, but he took down every space game on the shelf to look at them. I’ve gotten him to play The Last Starfighter and Ogre a few times, but this past time when I asked him what he wanted to do, he said, “Star Fleet Battles.” There was just no question.

Now… I play Illuminati and Ogre and Commands & Colors: Ancients and even G.E.V. with my son all the time. But Star Fleet Battles really is one of the greatest of the great games of all time. It is a masterpiece. I admit, I was tempted to try to muddle through some Federation Commander instead. But I know the old game so well I could teach it blind folded. The kid got his wish, though… and we played the real thing.

I got out the SSD’s and set up the map. I looked up the starting positions from the duel scenario while he asked me about the shuttle and drone counters. I filled out my energy allocation and explained as I went. Then I explained what his options were and helped him fill out his. I was going speed 27 and he was at speed 24. He hadn’t opted to come in with overloads, so he could move at a fair clip.

I started flipping impulse cards– the ones from Module A+. (They’re so much easier than the speed chart!) At range 15 I fired disruptors and did a minimal amount of shield damage. The next impulse he fired most of his phasers and did very little damage. We started closing in on each other in the traditional new player head-on overrun. On impulse 32 I fired five phaser twos and scored very little damage. He fired his remaining off side phasers at me.

We went through the second round of energy allocation. I recharged my phasers and overloaded disruptors. I was surprised when he could move faster than me. I explained the command cards because the idea of whether or not to hold your fire until you can set up the perfect shot is critical to the game. Both of us chose “no fire” for several impulses… but then at range 3, he let loose with everything he had. I took 28 internals, losing all of my hull, one disruptor, and a couple of phasers. The next impulse, he threw three boarding parties at me and they all died… but I could have lost a couple more disruptors out of that!

He turned away and it dawned on me that not only would I not get to shoot at his damaged #1 shield, but I also would not be able to get that range one shot that I was angling for. Hmm…. You know, overloading that fourth disruptor and totally refilling my phaser capacitors was kind of a waste! I should have invested that energy in raw speed if I was serious about what I was trying to do! I turned to follow him and did some ineffectual damage on his #3 shield. He couldn’t stay long, so I conceded the game and congratulated his combat mettle.

That’s when I got down the Federation Commander ship cards, the deluxe map sections, and the handful of miniatures I have– to give him an idea of what all else there is. He said he liked this game about as much as Ogre… but he requested that the next game be played with several ships on each side. (Those deluxe sized counters were just too nice to only use a couple at a time.) Just based on how he interacted with the game, I’m guessing that Federation Commander played at the fleet scale is going to be closer to what he’d really want to do. It’d be about the same thing, but with no energy forms clogging up the table space. Damage allocation is a lot faster in Federation Commander, too. (We rolled 2d6 28 times in this demo.)

If you want to explode some starships, ADB should have at least one game that will suit your tastes….

Still, one thing that’s great about Star Fleet Battles… if you can imagine it, there’s rules for it. Stupid shuttle tricks. Tractor beams. Electronic warfare. He didn’t have to understand all of that to fight, but I could handle any ship-related question he had. It really is as close to captaining a starship as you can get– you feel like Captain Kirk whenever you outmaneuver somebody, too. I kind of like how I could explain any conceivable ship function that he could ask about.

The rules learning curve is not the thing that makes the game so challenging and daunting. It’s the tactics. Most people can’t handle getting whooped game after game. There’s so much there to master and it plays like all of the best battles from the Honor Harrington series. But you have to know what you’re doing or you’ll die. There is no mysterious “force” here that you can lean on or trust in!

But this kid does know something about maneuver already. I’ve seem him dance around my son’s conventional forces in Ogre, flanking them and picking off the intercepting tanks. I think he could get the hang of it if he could settle down and focus for several games. Of course, he just wants to see space ships explode right now, and that’s okay, too…! We’ve got time to work on this, though. There’s a few more years here while he’s a captive audience and doesn’t have the keys to his dad’s car….


16 responses to “Star Fleet Battles… with a Twelve Year Old

  1. Charlie Warren May 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting into SFB for years but never bit the bullet. I do have the Cadet’s Handbook or something like that – can’t quite remember the name – and thought it was a fascinating read. Your posts on SFB have made me very interested in getting into the game or something similar. I am a fan of the original Star Trek and I like the direction that SFB seems to have taken the universe. I also noticed that you mentioned Federation Commander above. What are the major differences and which would you recommend more? Do you have any experience or opinions on Federation & Empire or A Call to Arms: Star Fleet?

    • jeffro May 5, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Man, it’d take several posts to answer that! Here’s the short version:

      SFB starts with the original series, the old cartoon, and some ancient ship blue prints and extrapolates from there.

      FedCom boils down the essence of the rules into a single magazine sized book. (SFB is notorious for being the Advanced Squad Leader of Space Games, but you never use more than a fraction of it at any given moment. Nevertheless, the inherent crunch of the game may be extraneous for a lot of people… hence FedCom!)

      F&E is a monster of a game. If you can get to whatever convention where the die hard fans of the game are playing it, it’s worth it. Warning: It takes a good week to play the game. Play at the con if you don’t have a cat-free basement!

      ACTA:SF has really nice models and appeals to a wider range of slightly more casual gamers. It’s a different beast. Based on one of the top space games of the last decade.

      • Charlie Warren May 5, 2014 at 8:44 am

        Oh, wow! That actually does help, though. I am more interested in both games now knowing that there are lots of differences.

        Yes! That’s the SFB setup I’m talking about. I don’t hate the Next Generation or later series but I enjoy the original much more.

        FedCom may be what I’m looking for on the crunchier side of things since boiling “the essence of the rules into a single magazine sized book” has a great appeal to me. I can definitely relate to the Advanced Squad Leader of Space Games reputation for SFB but it is encouraging to know that you never use more than a fraction of the rules at any given moment.

        I am intrigued by the idea of F&E but I have a 6 and a 7 year old so I can not make that kind of commitment. That’s basically the same as not having a cat-free basement available…lol. Still, I am fascinated by the commitment it would take to play a game of this.

        Is it fitting to think of ACTA: SF as something similar to Basic to AD&D? I realize that ACTA: SF and SFB are vastly different but the contrast in complexity and options is what I am referring to when I ask that.

        I have more studying to complete on this topic but I think I may take a hard look at Federation Commander or ACTA SF.

        [Jeffro: ACTA:SF is more of a “British” approach to gaming. It’s straight up models on the table top with no hex maps. It’s a more recent design and is focused on being “as simple as possible but not simpler.” Even so, it can still take hours to play out a six-on-six fleet battle– though admittedly, people don’t tend to try that with SFB very often. It lacks the sense of maneuver that SFB has, but is probably easier to learn and teach.]

      • Ryan Opel May 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm


        Not knowing where you live but the F&E crowd is planning a week long get together in Muffresboro, TN from 7-14 Jun. There will for sure be some FedComm being playing as well as some other SFU games that may have players available. If you are interested in coming you can either go to our FB page at F&E at STRATCON or the ADB BBS at and express your interest.

        Ryan O
        F&E Staff

        P.S. There will be several F&E staff members there as well as staff members for some of the other SFU games.

  2. Ken Burnside May 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Roughly 20 years ago, I wrote this up for teaching SFB. I find the Cadet Book is a great introduction to wargames, but it encourages (with the lack of overloads) a style of play that isn’t SFB – the winning tactic in the Cadet Book is to creeeeeep along with standard loads and a lot of general reinforcement.

    If you’ve got a couple of younger kids, you may also want to look at Star Fleet Battle Force.

    • jeffro May 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

      I really hesitate to deviate from SFB– it’s just that great of a game in terms of how it plays out. I’ve never been particular happy with any attempt to simplify it or dumb it down.

      • Ken Burnside May 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

        Read through the tutorial there, Jeff. I’ve taught somewhere north of 100 players how to play full on SFB from that – it teaches the full game, it just teaches it in stages.

        [Jeffro: Something got lost in the translation there. At any rate, if it’s “real SFB”, then I approve. (The “Introduction to Star Fleet Battles” booklet I have is pretty well a different game… and if you want to learn SFB, it actually teaches you the wrong thing. I most assuredly wasn’t picking on your training program!)]

  3. dgarsys May 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Digging through the company’s site – I’m going to have to buy both.

    I fondly love the detailed overkill encyclopedia full of rules in SFB – you really could do bloody near anything. That said, something that plays faster would also be nice.

  4. Charlie Warren May 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for the info and the invite, Ryan. If only I was still stationed at Fort Campbell! I am out of the Army now and living in Oklahoma. I will investigate a little further into the information. Sounds like a help of a good time. :-)

  5. Edward Grondin May 13, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    If he wants exploding ships now why not run a PFT duel, or even a PFT v CVA duel? Then he gets the multiple ship aspect without resorting to FC.

  6. Terry O'Carroll May 14, 2014 at 6:47 am

    If you go with Federation Commander, you can download the Federation Commander: First Missions intro booklet from e23, Wargame Vault, or DriveThruRpg for free. I think it’s also available for free on the website.I think that would be pretty suitable for a beginner.

  7. Pingback: Federation Commander: The Kids Love It! | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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