Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

On the Table: Federation Commander’s Battleships Attack

If you have boys that are age 12 to 14 or so, then this supplement is serious trouble. They will not want to play anything but battleships if they find out this thing exists. That will leave you with two not-so-good options:

  1. Play games that take a lot longer to play out due to all the extra die rolls and damage allocation.
  2. Play games at fleet scale rather than the more “correct” squadron scale.

Being a purist, having a conservative temperament, and being practically hidebound when it comes to the “correct” way to play this game, neither one of these options look sensible to me.

That said, I have to tell you: the Klingon B10 is a monster of a ship in Federation Commander. I mean I just had no idea. When my son handed me a Federation DNG and and Old Light Cruiser to take up against it, I thought it’d be a fair fight. But I really could not wear it down. Granted, he went speed-8 for five consecutive turns and dropped twenty points of power into shield regeneration at the start of most every turn. (That’s about as close as this game gets to allowing for the dreaded “Star Castling” of Star Fleet Battles!) But those twelve batteries mean that he apply a massive amount of shield reinforcement to each of the two volleys my ships would be throwing at him on a battle pass. Its power seemed all but inexhaustible. And if I did manage to penetrate a shield and take out a weapon or two, he could have them back on line immediately thanks to the ship’s awesome repair rating.

The battleship is a surprisingly resilient beast. And yes, it took a twelve year old to school me on this. The plus side to this game taking longer and being less decisive in the early stages is that we could finally start to dig in to the heart of the game: maneuver.

Here I am swooping in at speed-24, paying extra energy to go even faster. My plan was to take my shot and then be as far away as possible while I was reloading. My son opted to hold his fire because he wanted to maximize his damage output. But then I did this:

My son was shocked, too. I’d noticed before that he would take a range five shot and then keep coming towards me anyway. That’s what let me end games on the first pass previously, because I would be dealing enough additional damage in the exchange that we would agree to stop playing. But now… suddenly every stinking hex counts. My son has to take a range 8 shot as well or else he will lose his chance to fire altogether!

Needless to say, the succeeding turns became engrossingly, incomprehensibly fun. Getting into position for my second pass was not trivial. That B10 was sending out massive stacks of drones at my dreadnought! Figuring out the best way to incorporate the Old Light Cruiser into mopping them up was not easy to figure out. (One more way in which a great big ship has an advantage over two small ones.) Losing two drone racks in that first exchange made it even harder than it would have been, though. And coming back in for my second pass, most of my phasers were tied down defending my ships!

After all the dust settled with those two battle passes, it looked to me that my son had the advantage, but then there was still a surprise in store for me:

Here I am trying to get set up for my third battle pass. And the thing is… not only did I inadvertently expose a down shield… but I also exposed it to a surprising amount of firepower. If you think the B10’s disruptors are more or less restricted to the standard FA arc that the cruisers have to deal with, you are in for a rude awakening. My son rolled poorly, but if he hadn’t– and if the damage allocation had been just a bit more wrong than it was– then this really could have been devastating. As it stood, taking nine internals just then that I didn’t have to take was utterly demoralizing. I mean… I just got done repairing that photon torpedo launcher…!

And speaking of repairs, they introduce a lot of challenging decisions into the gameplay. As you can see above the B10 is going to have to spend its repair points reloading the drone racks if he wants to continue tying my phasers up with drones. He can reload two per turn, but doing so means he’s not repairing boxes on his SSD! Meanwhile on my end, my Old Light Cruiser is reloading its drone rack every single turn for “free”. But my dreadnought has to forgo repairing phasers and torpedoes in order to keep its drone racks in play!

We spent hours playing this session, and I can’t tell you how much of a blast my son was having. I don’t know what all is going on in his brain, but he’s starting to think about what is actually going on as far as the tactical situation is concerned. And he’s not a pushover, either. When I asked him if I could retroactively pay for an extra movement point, he calmly suggested that it would make sense for me to adhere to the sequence of play. (Dude, that’s my line!) There’s lots of decisions like that in the game– like where you have to declare what shield repairs you’re going to make upfront at the start of the turn before you really know how the action is going to shape up. Choices have consequences, including being judged by one’s choices. And judgement in this case means watching your starship steadily be defanged by a guy that’s cutting you apart as if he were some kind of championship level fencer!

If you had asked me before this year, I would have told you that a twelve year old probably wouldn’t go for a game like this. But the reality is, the complexity and the playing times are not much of a deterrent at all. Indeed, the richness of the decision making environment and the brutality of the direct conflict are exactly what’s going to sell a young man on this game.

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8 responses to “On the Table: Federation Commander’s Battleships Attack

  1. Runeslinger November 17, 2015 at 10:19 am

    It hooked me the same way. I loved every chance we could take dreadnoughts and destroyers ‘out to play.’

    We used to only joke about the B10, though, and be glad it was just a dream in our play era.

  2. Cirsova November 17, 2015 at 11:02 am

    A booth at a comic expo I was at over the weekend had a fairly large stack of Star Trek games. I was very disappointed that neither this nor Fleet were among them…

    • jeffro November 17, 2015 at 11:04 am

      The best thing about this line is that their license never goes away. It’s the only Trek setting to get almost continuous development for over thirty years…!

      • Cirsova November 17, 2015 at 11:07 am

        What a coup that must’ve been!

      • Ken Burnside November 17, 2015 at 1:18 pm

        That license is something of a golden bonbon. And it came about because they sent in a check for “back royalties” along with a contract that had a paragraph inserted saying “depositing the check means agreement with the contract terms.”

        It has some odd restrictions on it, however.

  3. Rindis November 17, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Some day, I need to figure out how I’m going to put together people, space and time for playing “A Meeting of Giants”. (Two Andromedan Dominators vs a B-10, and consorts and a Fed CVA + escorts and a CX. Not going to happen in FC, I’m afraid.)

    I’m glad you’re having fun discovering the maneuver bits; it’s what makes SFB/FC shine.

    But, the group is currently playing back in Y158 anyway. These ‘dreadnought’ things are still pretty new, and undergunned.

  4. Pingback: Nine Kzinti Ships Take on the Death Probe…! | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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