Monday, 28 December 2015

2300 AD Star Cruiser - Design Philosophy Done Right (Restrospective Series)

I may make this as the first of a series of "look back" articles discussing games that are not the "new hotness" or mainstream. Older titles, usually, perhaps OOP or relatively recent games which rapidly faded (or are fading) from view. Remember War Rocket and AE: BountyMercs? What about Vor? Rezolution?  These are not proper reviews, but more a discussion of the rules.

So what's this one about?

Traveller has as much fanboy-nostalgia as anything with the word Cthulhu in it, and I suspect many readers will also at least be familiar with the "harder"sci fi 2300AD setting.  (Owned by those incompetents at Mongoose - when is Blue Shift being made, eh?) 

I've discussed the importance of having a strong design philosophy - what do you want your game to play like? and have you made this clear to the player?  and Star Cruiser 2300 is a great example of this, explaining their approach in the approved fashion (i.e. non humorous, and not getting in the way of the rules).




Interesting in concept, 2300AD Starcruiser did not quite live up to my expectations....


I feel a game which focuses on a particular style of gameplay tends to be stronger than a "generic" rule set which attempts to be all things to all people.*   Nothing beats a tool specifically designed for the task. I.e. Swiss Army knives are handy, but if I had to attach a screw or fight for my life, a proper screwdriver set or a K-Bar combat knife would be preferable. 
(*In an era where everyone seeks the Holy Grail of "one ruleset to play every conceivable era/genre", this point might be worthy of its own post)

Anyway, back on track. In its somewhat long philosophy statement,  Star Cruiser decides:

The primary focus of the game is getting a targeting solution.  This means the focus is on detecting/locking a target and maneuvering into good positions, with an emphasis on precision rather than volume of fire.   The feel of the game is intended to be similar to antisubmarine warfare or "hide and seek with bazookas."   The primary long range weapons are missiles (of which a limited supply are carried), though fighters and drones make an appearance.  Through ship positioning and angling and detection/stealth opponents try to manipulate the odds to their advantage.

Hard Sci Fi. It deliberately keeps to  relatively "hard" sci fi with one exception - the stutterwarp drive that propels the space ships.  This is not Newtownian movement but a quantum tunneling drive that makes millions of microwarp jumps per second.   The weapons are lasers, missiles or particle accelerators. Submunitions are disposable bomb-pumped lasers.  The "screens" are not magic force fields which block all fire, but electromagnetic fields which absorb 'some' laser energy.  Ships use radars and infra-red scanners.  There is a definite lean towards plausibility.

Detection is vital.  Ships can switch between active and passive sensors - active sensors also "light up" the ship using them.  Ships have sensor ranges at which they automatically spot enemies, which can be extended by their opponents 'signature' which can increase with battle damage, use of shields, and angle to the detecting ship etc.  (I think the upcoming Dropfleet Commander will mimic this?) 

Maneuver is important.  The angle of your ship can impact its stealth signature; and maintaining or closing range is key.   Direct-fire weapons are relatively short ranged (a maximum of 2 hexes); in  game where warships move 3-4 hexes and fighters and missiles travel 6+, this 1:1 move:shoot ratio tends to favour maneuver more than many similar space games.

Mechanics.  Movement is 1MP to move 1 hex or change facing.  Weapons hit on 2D6 (+/- crew skill, # weapons in a mount, range, target rating, and weapon accuracy/rate of fire); screens provide a d6 saving throw; however each hit "saved" reduces the screens.  Armour works similarly, only it is halved when the ship takes enough hull damage.  Missiles and drones are treated like mini ships.  There is the usual traditional complicated damage charts and hitboxes typical of most space games ever made.

While you can't judge a book by its cover, I DO judge a space or naval wargame by the complexity and record keeping inherent in its "ship data sheets."

......Don't rush out to buy these rules.   Whilst they have interesting design choices and a strong philosophy, the gameplay didn't live up to the promise.  From my hazy recollections of playing it, whilst very '70s' outdated and gluggy, Starcruiser also "fell down" in balance between the Earth nations and the Kafers (who eschew the detection-based gameplay the game was created for and simply had ships with more armour and weapons); stealth was fiddly AND less impactful than it first seemed (or at least, than i expected). (GDW, according to old timers, are notorious for their "playtesting" or lack thereof)  The overcomplicated ship design rules need a math degree. In fact, I reckon the "game design notes" are possibly the most interesting thing about the rules.  The fluff and game universe is excellent though, and this spin off site inspired my interest in high speed fighter submarines (among other things).

Reading through the ship design rules gave me a mild migraine. 

TL:DR  There isn't a moral to this post; just a description of an interesting but flawed set of rules with great fluff and philosophy.  (Although the moral could be: it's all well and good to have a cool concept, but playtest the bloody rules They rules will always have a space on my shelf (or HDD rather) due to their interesting nature, but they've got 0% chance of making it to the tabletop....

Re: "Retrospective series" - if there's a old game, be it OOP or just weird and obscure you'd like to see discussed, put a note in the comments.

18 comments:

  1. I too really enjoyed the whole 2300AD 'hard sf' setting, far more in fact than the actual Traveller game and its space opera style. Frustratingly, I really *wanted* Star Cruiser to be great it just...wasn't. I had no problem with the intricacies of ship building etc - I quite liked that aspect. Very Jackie Fisher style feeling of trying to balance several competing aspects of ship design. I also thought SC could have incorporated limited levels of armour on critical systems too, adding another interesting aspect to ship design balance

    Aside from the balance aspects you rightly point out, SC tried to do everything from individual ship encounters to big fleet actions. Nothing can do that for any genre. You need to pick a focus and stick with it. You also need to make the game fun - if ships are too fragile it looses its entertainment value. Basically, this game wasn't fun to play.

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    1. Think Paul O'G, has it right here, some rules try to be all things to all people, none succeed. I personally love the story line and fluff of 2300 however, the ship
      stats and combat are seriously flawed. Having rerun this
      a few years ago, went for the compromise of doing the ship combat with GZGs Full Thrust, and ground combat with
      GZGs Stargrunt II. Worked out well enough for us.

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    2. I like GZG rules for these too, though a myriad of modern versions like TW and Gruntz would work well too.

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    3. I agree Paul they were not available at the time I was planning this, TW in particular would have been a very nice fit!

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    4. The TW generic "setting" is VERY similar to 2300AD, with human countries in the future, even down to the single powerful race of invaders.

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    5. I never got the impression of SC being a fleet scale set of rules, or even attempting to - the scenarios tended to have half a dozen ships per side max. I thought they were aiming at "modern naval task force" size.

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    6. From memory I thought they had a few scenarios with a half dozen BB plus escorts but maybe that was in the Invasion sourcebook now that I think about it.

      The concept was good, even great. Very reminiscent to me of the pre dreadnought era in that ship designs were very different from one another with all sorts of foibles and novelties. Unlike WW1+ where there wasn't much to distinguish between light cruiser design all around the world for example. It's that kind of mindset I would like to recreate in an Iron Stars reboot. If you only have 2-6 ships on the table I dont think that special rules for particular classes is too much to handle while adding a lot of flavour (like limited ammunition tracking or very specific gun arcs)

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    7. Iron Stars rules are hitpointy but quite playable. It's the minis that are the issue - they require a lot of drilling and pinning, and also there's only a handful of mini designs from navies out of the 30 or so in the rules...

      I take the unassembled models out of their box periodically, look at them, and go "nah, not worth the effort" and chuck them back....

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  2. I would be interested in your take on this home-brewed, free-to-play game: Launch Fighters! http://www.launchfightersgame.com/

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    1. Whilst I welcome free rules, I don't tend to review them extensively - after all, they are free - and people can download them, try them, and make up their own minds.

      It might be worth updating the free rule link threads since you remind me, though.

      http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/recommended-good-free-wargames-rules.html

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  3. I'd enjoy a retrospective on Legions of Steel, I think. Or Shockforce & GWAR. But mostly Legions of Steel.

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    1. Aren't a bunch of the Demonblade rules being Kickstarted?

      Sadly didn't play them, as they were around back in my "GW period" (over which we will draw a curtain)

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    2. Are they? Must have a look... otoh, I never really cared for the miniatures, just enjoyed the rules.

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  4. I have never played SC. I was introduced to Full Thrust a while ago and I was surprised at how close up the ship fighting got - it was almost Napleonic fighting sail.
    Have you read any of David Weber's Honor Harrington SF novels? I've always thought that would be a good template for an SF game. All human vs human navies, and mostly missile/countermissile fighting done at long range but it seems to be a realistic model of how SF space combat should work.

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    1. Isn't that ALREADY a game? - Sagnami Island Tactical Simulator by Ad Astra?

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    2. It may be. I've never heard of it. Will check it out.

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  5. Have you looked at Traveller Battle Rider? Limited intelligence, variable scenario victory conditions, and card driven combat resolution are some of the things I remember about it.

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    1. I'm considering modifying the fast-attack craft (modern PT boats) game Bulldogs Away! to use vector movement.

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