Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away… There was a game called Star Fleet Battles. It was a rules bloated, counter and hex, mess of a spaceship combat game. And… I loved it!
Yes, it’s true. This statement alone could give my readers reason to suspect my mental stability.
The game was loathed by some players, revered by some players and possibly both loathed and revered by many others.
So, what was it that drew me to this game? I am a self-described Trekker and this game IMHO was the best simulation of ‘Star Trek’-style starship combat ever made. The game was so detailed that it really gave players a sense that the simulation could be based on actual starships. For the analytical players , the tactics were rich and engaging with new strategies to consider with every new ship design.
Games like this often come with a rulebook so large that you might be killed if you were to fall asleep while reading it. SFB is no exception. The original game included ships from only seven races common to the ‘Star Trek’ franchise; the Federation, Klingon, Kzinti, Gorn, Tholian, Romulan, and Orion Pirates. But, players demanded more races and new, unique technologies. The publisher would oblige them and consequently, the list of expansion sets would increase. Every player seemed to have their own favorite race and when a group got together to play, it was important to have the corresponding expansion for every race represented. Thus, the rules grew into a gigantic tome.
I had a complete set of all the expansions, twice. First, I collected the complete set of Commander’s edition rules (think version 2.0). Second, I bought everything again when the publisher improved the game with the Captain’s edition rules (think v3.0).
SFB was my game of choice from the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s. At one point, I realized that I had become obsessed. I gave the whole collection away and promised my wife that I would never play again. By the end of the 90's, I figured no one else would be interested in this game anyway.
So recently, my friend Brian picked up a copy of ‘Prime Directive’ which is the RPG game based on the SFB universe. He wanted to roleplay some ‘Star Trek’ and I volunteered to be the game master. The our campaign game is on paused status but you can view the details of the game on Obsidian Portal, http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/classof143. The campaign was good fun. As the game progressed, I felt like we needed more background info on the universe and I regretted the decision to get rid of my inventory. I started craving a chance to play SFB again but, I had resigned myself to the idea that no one played this game anymore.
To my great surprise, there was a LFG post on the bulletin board at our local game shop. Scott was looking for some SFB players so, I gave him a call. We met up at the game shop, broke out the china markers, hex maps, paper counters, and of course the giant rulebook and had a great game of Star Fleet Battles.
Since it had a been a long time since I had played, I thought I would stick with my favorite race, the Kzinti. I did choose a ship I had never used before, the Kzinti Medium Command Cruiser. The ship had weak direct fire weapons but had a large amount of drones (think seeking missles) which carry a large explosive payload. Scott countered by choosing a Federation Medium Cruiser which had the powerful direct fire photon torpedoes with plenty of power to arm weapons and move quickly. We setup a standard encounter scenario with no terrain, just open space.
Here’s the recap:
Turn 1 – The two ships approached each other, I wanted to avoid getting to range 8 to his ship, where his photon torpedoes would be most effective. We did reach range 8 but Scott did not fire his torpedoes, perhaps he was waiting for a better shot.
Turn 2 – I launched a volley of drones, the Fed ship was able to destroy them with phasers and anti-drone devices. Disappointing, but every phaser cannon used to destroy a drone was a phaser not fired against my ship.
Turn 3 – I launched a ‘Scatter-Pack’ shuttle. This is a shuttlecraft loaded with drones. The shuttle is programmed with a predetermined range to a target. When it reaches that range, it will launch all the drones, thus putting more drones on the map for the opponent to shoot at or evade. Wisely, Scott shot down Scatter-Pack at long range before it launched drones. I turned away from the Fed ship to increase the distance between us. The Fed took a range-8 shot with his photons and did some good damage to my ship. Most of his phasers had been used in that volley, so I launched more drones which he could not shoot down. Several drones hit his rear shield, causing good damage. The Fed ship had less internal structure and could not endure the damage as well as my ship.
Turn 4 – I was able to maneuver behind his ship again and fired disruptors and phasers through his open shield. He endured more damage and the situation was looking pretty bad for the Federation.
Turn 5 – I closed the range and tried to setup another drone volley. The Federation ship was wounded by not yet disabled. He was able to make a High Energy Turn (an immediate 180-degree U-turn at warp speed) and returned fire with overloaded photon torpedoes and phasers. I didn’t expect he had the energy to do this so I was caught by surprise. Lucky for me, two of the three torpedoes missed. I still took a lot of damage. At this time, the Fed was moving at a very slow speed, most of his energy spent on arming weapons and the High Energy Turn. I got close enough to hit with my remaining disruptors and phasers. I launched one more drone volley which hit the Fed ship and destroyed it.
It was a fun, satisfying game. Scott will undoubtedly demand a rematch which I am obliged to give him.
While SFB is a counter and hex game, I am inspired to host a miniatures version of the game for the LSHM guys. I just need to purchase and paint the corresponding miniatures, which will probably go to the bottom of my painting priority list. The DakkaDakka website has a image of a typical SFB miniatures game
The publisher did release a faster, simpler version of the rules using the engine of the Starmada game. I picked up a copy of those rules called Klingon Armada. Alternatively, I may just use the cadet rules for SFB, which is intended to be a training tool for new players to the game.