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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stellar Space Fighter Combat, Part 2

Last time I talked about the basic goals and the Initiative Phase of space combat in Stellar. This time, I'll talk about the Movement phases. I've done multiple playtests to arrive at this version of the rules: some on my own, some with 1 other player, and some with 2 other players.

Thanks go out to PintoBean and BabyBat for playing!

To recap, Initiative was the first phase, and the design is to have a Movement Phase and a Weapons Phase after that. This structure allows me to have players more frequently active/involved, and make initiative dynamic yet simple by not having to know everyone's roll before the action starts.

In play, this structure also aids the "feel" of space combat.

Two players vs. six goons, and a whole lotta d12s

Movement Phase

I'll argue that the biggest difference in feel between a ground combat game and a flying combat game is in movement rules. While ground combat is generally better if there is some dynamism to positioning, it frequently involves finding a good position and then staying there.

On the contrary, flying combat (jets, space fighters, dragons) is better when in constant motion. Dogfighting jets are great fun to watch, or else Top Gun would have completely failed. Name one good hovering helicopter dogfight. The famous space battles - Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, even Starship Troopers - all involve rapid motion through an ever-evolving explosive environment.

My approach to movement must involve constant movement, so I make a rules mandate: all fighters must move their entire speed each round. Speed of 5? Go on and move 5. Speed of 12? Get down with your bad self and move that phat 12. Some of that speed can be spent on facing changes, if desired.

Flying a space fighter is pretty much strapping a pilot to a rocket and hitting “go”. Though designed to be as maneuverable as possible, flying a space fighter is not the same as driving a car. These rockets are designed for a specific speed rating (through solid frame design), and their precise engineering makes that speed very reliable. If it didn't work that way, then ships would fly out of control, too fast to have the reliable maneuvering capability needed for combat. (Note: A good game designer can explain anything - it might be a little weak science-wise but it is plausible enough to move on.)

Constant motion. Some readers might feel apprehensive about any forcing action, but having played this several times now on a board, it works out great and the players agreed this feels like space combat without having a lot of extra accounting.

I didn't start here, but I've ended up here. I tried several variations of movement first, most notably including inertial movement that makes space feel more "realistic". Dangerous word, that. Sure, having a facing quaternion that varies from a motion vector is "real". But it is hard to track, and hard for players to think about unless they actually fly space shuttles for a living. And if that's your gaming group, you are AWESOME and you can leave my site now.

So, each craft has what I now call a MV (Maneuverability) rating, which is a number like 5, that represents its normal speed. Facing changes (60 degrees) cost 1 MV, as does moving forward 1 hex.

I want flexibility in a pilot's control, to aid in creating unpredictability of play, so I also have a PP (power points) rating, which is also a number, like 3, that represents discretionary power a pilot can use. In the picture at the top of this post, there are two green poker chips. Those represent the discretionary power that each player has (1 each in this test).

Every round during initiative, PP is restored to its maximum. Use it or lose it.

One of the things that PP can be used for is modifying MV. Each PP spent can adjust MV either up or down - so spending 1 PP on a MV of 5 might adjust the MV up to 6, or down to 4, just for this turn.

I use poker chips for PP, so that players can move chips from the pile once it has been spent. Each round during initiative, they just dump it all back into one pile. Things move fast here, there's no time for penciling and erasing. PP can also be used for enhancing other equipment, like weapons and shields, but I'll get to that later.

There might be a time, especially plot-related, for turning off the main engines. So, I will have some rules for that, which involve using PP to accelerate, decelerate, and turn, without the main engines being on. Might be useful to avoid sensor detection at times.

Even though this is space, and therefore extremely high speeds should be obtainable, it simply isn't feasible to continue accelerating up to speeds of 20 or 30 hexes (or faster) per round and still use game boards. I must impose some sort of limit on speeds to keep the rules coherent. Therefore, I give each fighter an Overdrive value.

A ship's MV rating might look like:

MV 5/10

This means that its normal speed is 5 (unless modified by PP), and its Overdrive rating is 10. If more than 5 PP is spent on MV, or if some other circumstance accelerates a craft past 10, then its safety limit is exceeded. The pilot has to make a skill check or lose control, spinning in random directions until they can regain control. I did it this way so that a pilot can choose to take the risk, but it carries clear danger.

As discussed in initiative, the losing rolls (Success Segment 0) go first in this phase. That's contrary to normal initiative rules, but key here, due largely to the constant motion rule. If a pilot wins initiative, they now get to see where everyone else moves to before they move. In other words, winning initiative means that the pilot more accurately predicted their opponent's movement for the round.

Losers can try to predict, too, but won't be as successful. So winning initiative means a pilot is more likely to get their enemies targeted with weapons.

So far my character sheet might look like:

  • Space Fighter Combat Skill +2
  • Fighter:
    • MV 5/10
    • PP 1
Next in this series, it will be time to bring weapons and shields online and start blowing stuff up!


  1. This movement reminds me of steambirds.


    1. Interesting.

      Everything being in motion every turn makes it feel a lot more like little airplanes than some other games in that genre!

    2. That's what I thought. Mirrors some of the mechanics you have in place as well.

      The author of the game has links with lost garden, the game design blog you've referred to.


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