At this point, if you’ve read very much of my blog, you know I am a big fan of Star Fleet Battles. Today is not about SFB. Today I’d like to talk about all of the other games I have played over the years. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite here.
First, a definition: When I refer to Space Combat games, I am referring to games where players control individual spacecraft in a tactical environment. Games like Twilight Imperium do have space combat, but it is very abstract and it is not the focus. I’m referring here to games like Star Fleet Battles, where the scale of the game is such that maneuver becomes important and the best players are the ones who understand the rules, and can out maneuver their opponents. In this case, Star Fleet Battles is among the top games of this category.
Iron Crown Enterprises
At first glance, Silent Death bears a lot of similarities to Star Fleet Battles: It is grid based, and you have to be able to put your targets into the optimal arcs of fire to be able to win. However, there is no energy management system, and most of the ships are fighter scale ships. The vast majority of the weapons are forward mounted, meaning you have to maneuver as if you were in a dogfight, and the one who can slip in behind his opponent is likely to win. The system is also much simpler than Star Fleet Battles. When it was on the shelves, you could get some really nice miniatures to go with it.
When you fire on a target, you roll three dice. The more powerful weapons would use larger dice types, while the lesser weapons would use smaller dice. One of the dice represented your pilots skill, and the better he was, the larger the die type he got. Together, the total of the three dice is compared to the armor of the target to see if you hit.
Ground Zero Games
I have to admit less experience with this one than with others. When I discovered this one, I was still very much a fan of Silent Death, and the simpler record sheets turned me off really quickly. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, but I didn’t care too much for it. As I recall (and people might take me to task with this), aside for the dice mechanic, it is very similar to Silent Death, except it is supposed to represent somewhat larger vessels.
Majestic 12 Games
The problem with universal games is that when they try to do everything, they don’t do any of it well. After years of playing Star Fleet Battles, I went looking for something easier to use (to be able to fight my friends without confusing them), and almost always found something that fell short of the mark. Starmada is one of those systems. It just doesn’t compare. Majestic 12 has created a Star Fleet Universe based game (Klingon Armada, Romulan Armada, and Distant Armada), but I have no experience with those.
Sky Galleons of Mars
Game Designer’s Workshop
This game looked cool, if nothing else. It was my first taste of Steampunk, before steampunk became cool. But, it was initiative based, like so many others on this list. And I really don’t like the whole ‘you move, then I move” system most games have. It’s in large part why I enjoy Star Fleet Battles so much. The little plastic ships were just awesome.
Attack Vector: Tactical
Ad Astra Games
Finally, AV:T. This one is in many ways similar to Star Fleet Battles. You track the levels of your batteries, which you use to fire your weapons. You have to maneuver to put the best weapons into arc at the right time. It has advantages over SFB: energy allocation is pay as you go, the damage allocation goes fairly quickly, and it does reward the players who know the system well and can get every last ounce of advantage from the game. The only hitch is that it is a fully 3d game.
I don’t mean just miniatures. In fact, the core game comes with boxes you fold up instead of miniatures (though minis are available). What I mean is that you track your movement vectors in a three dimensional environment.
You place tiles under your ships to indicate their relative altitude above the plane of the map, and use special tilt blocks to visually indicate the angle your ship is facing. It is vectored movement, which means once you’ve spent thrust in one direction, you will continue to move in that direction until you cancel it with thrust in the opposite direction.
The system works very smoothly, and is actually surprisingly easy to play…once you get your head wrapped around it. In fact, this is the only game I’ve ever played that had multiple (as in 8 or 9 of them) tutorials to work through before you play competitively. And that tends to be it’s downfall. Once you get over the apparent complexity, the game is quick and easy and very tactically deep.
So there you go, a short list of alternate Space Combat games I’ve played over the years. I’m sure I have forgotten some, and of course, if you want to know more about any of these games, I invite you to go to their websites and grab whatever free materials they have available.