This game has taken over at my house. It’s hard to imagine any game successfully taking Ogre: Designer’s Edition out as the top space game out of my entire collection, but Federation Commander has pulled it off. It’s not just the pretty ship cards that my son can spend countless hours poring over. No, the thing that did the trick was that time he successfully blew up his friend’s Gorn BC with a Klingon D7. Yes, people play Settlers of Catan with their friends and have a good time. But it’s outmaneuvering an superior opponent and then destroying him that really captures the budding space gamer’s imagination. There’s no other game on the shelf that provides quite that kind of rush.
I’ve wanted to play the Hydrans and Lyrans for long, long time. And somehow I never got around to playing with fighters in Star Fleet Battles like I wanted to, so I have to give Federation Commander credit for making my gaming dreams come true. The laminated ship cards means there’s less work involved in set up, the top notch map board pieces and counters means the game looks sharp in actual play, and the streamlined rules means that the action does not stop unless we’re allocating damage.
This was a learning game, so a single pass was sufficient to introduce the main tactical interactions between ships armed with hellbores, ESGs, fusion beams, and gatling phasers. My son made the mistake of getting his Lyrans just a hair too close to my Hydrans. I’d toyed with maybe tractoring one of his ships so that my Stinger fighters could get even closer, but when it came down to it I didn’t end up needing to play dirty in order to have an edge.
Turn 1 Impulse 6: All hellbores targeted on the Lyran CA. Its ESGs blocked most of the Dragoon’s hellbores. The Knight missed with one of hits hellbores. Internal damage was light. The Dragoon was slightly worse off, losing one hellbore in the exchange.
Turn 1 Impulse 7: The Hydrans held back their phaser-G’s for this followup impulse but couldn’t concentrate them all on the same ship. They nearly took down the Lyran CW’s #2 shield and thanks to their ability to target weapons, they pretty well defanged the CA. The Stinger flight had the not-so-great range 3 shot, but their 13 points of damage was all through a down shield. It was enough to make this opening pass decisive for them, though…! (Again, they could target weapons because there were no overloads or hellbores in the volley.)
The gatling phaser damage on the CW’s #2 makes for a nice target for the upcoming hellbore hits scheduled for turn 3. The CA is down to one phaser, one disruptor, and hardly any shields.
The Hydran Knight has taken no damage at all. (Woo!) The Dragoon has a down shield, a hellbore that’s currently out of commission, and a whopping twelve power hits. (Ouch!) Letting the Hydrans get to range-2 with the ship-based phaser-G’s was not good for the Lyrans. The Stingers getting to range three was just enough additional damage to completely demoralize the poor cats. So we called the game right there rather than play out the turn 2 hellbore reloading and the turn 3 CW smackdown. (I think it would have been ugly.)
The reason that the Lyran CA is almost completely stripped from weapons is due to the fact that it had to eat three different phaser volleys in impulse 7. The hellbores had been enough to drop the relevant shields and open the victim up to the deathblow. With two ships and a small stack of Stingers all pounding the same weakened ship, they got the benefit of the Federation Commander equivalent to the old Mizia effect, gaining three separate phaser volleys that each could target weapons. A big part of the tactics of the game thus revolve around how to allocate your volleys and when to target engines versus when to target weapons.
(There was some rules confusion in the game due to all the new systems being suddenly in play. I ruled that a stack of three Stingers would combine their firepower into a single volley. I also ruled that hellbore damage in a volley would be totaled altogether first before subtracting out the effects of an ESG shield. That seems about right, but I’m not 100% sure.)
Anyway, my twelve year old son loves loves LOVES this game. His fourteen year old friend a few blocks away bought Klingon Attack a few weeks ago and they played as good of a game as they could put together with it thanks to the spare Klingon Border rule book that I’d passed on to him previously. I expect this game to get played quite a bit in the months ahead. If something else doesn’t catch our eyes before next weekend, my son wants to take a stab at playing the Hydrans now that he’s seen what they can do. He’s talking about taking a Paladin Dreadnought and a Knight Destroyer against my two Klingon D7’s and an F5. We’ll see how that goes…!