23 February 2012

Ships That Pass By In The Night - A Space Fleet Combat Play Test

For quite a while now I have been having fun developing my own set of space combat wargame rules descriptively titled 'Space Fleet Combat', needless to say Beth and I do actually manage to occasionally play a game and recently I came across these photos I took of a play test game between Beth and myself played last year (2011). I thought I might post them here with some explanatory notes about the game and what you see in the photos.

Space Fleet Combat (SFC) is an attempt to allow players to field moderately large fleets of miniature spaceships on the table top, the game is based on the Piquet family of wargaming rules and more specifically inspired by a unpublished, player developed supplement written for the age of sail titled 'Tough Men With Iron Balls' by James Roach.

Anyone familiar with Piquet will know about the sequence deck, basically it's a turn sequence which is broken up into a deck of cards. The one card might allow units to reload, while another allows them to move. A deck can be customised to reflect the forces on the table top, for instance a poorly organised force will have more cards titled 'dress the line', 'milling around' or in the case of SFC 'SNAFU' when compared to a better trained, more efficient force. Scenario specific cards can also be added to a sequence deck. When will the Prussians arrive? When the card that says they can is turned of course.

And when will that card turn up? Well that really depends, the sequence deck is shuffled at the start of every turn and players turn the cards by spending initiative points. Initiative points are determined by an opposed dice roll between players, the winner has the initiative and the number of initiative points available is the difference between the dice. Once the initiative points are spent another roll is made.

A turn finishes once a players exhausts his sequence deck or if the initiative roll is a tie. So by now you should see the challenge to the players, the random order of the deck, the opposed initiative rolls and the possibility the turn could be cut short provides a degree of uncertainty and friction which is often absent from a wargame.   

When I decided to develop SFC I thought long and hard about how to organise the miniatures on the table top. We have often played large games of Full Thrust, with 20 to 30 ships a side. As you can imagine we spent quite a lot of time carefully moving our fleets around the table and things got very interesting once the ships, fighters and missiles started to mingle and then try to share the same space. Ships were set aside to make room, lifted to see what counters might hiding underneath or accidentally knocked over and in some cases damaged. 

To avoid this in SFC I decided to group ships in a fleet into one or more subgroups. Each subgroup or task force is grouped around a large task force counter. All measurements are made to and from the task force counter not to individual ships within the task force. Instead of measuring movement for every ship, you measure once for the task force marker. If two groups interpenetrate you can adjust the miniatures positions around their respective counters.

In the first photo you can see ships of Neu Swabian League (NSL) ready for battle clustered around their task force marker.

Next we have Beth's Federal Stats Europa (FSE), The group's speed and course, it's vector, is indicated by the end point marker out in front of the group (it's the counter with the blue arrow).  The group's vector is changed by moving the end point marker in any direction, how far the endpoint marker can moved is limited by the movement allowance of the slowest ship in the group.

Below we see the set up at the start of the game, there is a second, smaller NSL task force to the left of the main task force. All the miniatures are grouped around their respective task force counters and the corresponding end point markers are placed indicating the vectors of each group.

The game is underway now and Beth has been busy firing beams at my NSL ships. Although I had made some nice task force counters some of the other counters you see in the photo are pressed into service from Full Thrust. The coloured markers by Beth ship's indicate that ship has fired and are in process of cycling their weapons (reloading).

As well as firing beams Beth launched a salvo of self guided missiles. Anything launched whether it's fighter or a missile inherits the vector of the launching ship, which is why three arrows representing the end point markers for the missile salvo are on the task force counter's end point marker. A single arrow and missile counter would have been sufficient but Beth pointed out that since she was launching a lot of missiles, approximately 50 so she wanted to see a lot on the table.

My NSL ships are returning fire as indicated the red counters beside them in the photo below and the DDG group has launched missiles, but Beth has concentrated all her ships' beam fire on my battleship knocking out it's network capability.

In SFC ships can be have the capability to network with one another sharing things like fire control or point defence systems. The larger NSL group started the game with three sub or network groups. The battleship and it's attendant light cruiser, a heavy cruiser and escort cruiser and finally another light cruiser riding herd on two destroyers. To show these groupings on the table top the networked ships are placed beside each other, which is why in this game the Battleship and the cruiser which are no longer networked has been separated. No doubt the battleship captain is encouraging the damage control parties to hurry up and get the network back up.

Seen above are some Ship Status Display forms we are using, the influence of Full Thrust can easily be seen in these. Below, finally the NSL DDG group is seen close up.

The next three photos show the climax of the game. Beth has lost her Battleship to NSL beam fire (it exploded in a flashy and spectacular fashion) and she was forced to break her group up as two of her ships after taking damage to their sub light drives were unable to keep up with the rest.

While the rest of the FSE ships powered away from the NSL, rotating to keep their forward batteries pointed toward the enemy. One of the damaged ships, a cruiser found itself in particularly dire straits, unable to manoeuvre, it coasted right by the NSL fleet.

Fortunately for the cruiser the NSL ships were focused on the incoming FSE missiles which Beth had added to by launching another salvo before manoeuvring away, the missile count was now close to 100. The missiles were allocated to their targets and the point defence fire was resolved. Although none of the NSL ships exploded like the FSE battleship had, there was a lot of damage and only the two destroyers escaped unscathed. This was simply because they hadn't been targeted by any of the missiles. 

At this point the current turn came to an end, with the majority of the FSE missiles expended and the distance between the two fleets increasing Beth and I decided that now was a good as time as any to finish the game.


pancerni said...

Looks cool. Around here, we are getting some ships to counter Peter's old Superior Model ships he showed on his blog.

derek said...


Thanks. I'll look forward to seeing them up on your blog.