This past weekend, I had a game of Starmada with my friend Ken. He and I have been long time Trekkies. We both wanted to try a Star Trek miniatures battle. Ken even purchased the 10-pound grab bag of Starfleet 2400 miniatures from Amarillo Design Bureau. I have been gathering some plastic minis from bargain bins at local game stores and I borrowed a set of metal Starfleet minis from another friend. Between the two of us, we had enough figs to setup a reasonable sized skirmish battle.
I attempted a game of Starmada before with Desert Scribe (some photos are here). We were both unfamiliar with the rules and struggled with some the details. In my recent game, Ken and I did much better but there we still made a few mistakes in game play. Ken played the Federation faction with a 1x Command Cruiser, 1x Heavy Cruiser, and 1x Frigate. I took the Klingon faction with 1x D7C command cruiser, 1x D6 cruiser, and 1x F5 Frigate.
The game took three hours to complete despite the fact the results were decided very early. We played in our FLGS Dragon's Lair and there were a few bystanders who watched our game with odd curiosity. We played on an empty space map so we wouldn't have to deal with terrain. During the first two turns we maneuvered into firing range. On turn three, I rotated the ships 60 degrees for a prime Klingon-style oblique attack with big volley of disruptor cannons. At the beginning of turn four, all three Federation ships faced my ships with fully overloaded photon torpedoes ready to fire. I had to decide whether to put more power to speed and try to stay out of range of the Federation or to turn toward the Feds in hopes of bypassing them before they could fire. I chose to turn toward them and that was the wrong choice. The movement phase ended with all three Federation ships in optimal firing range. They destroyed the D7C easily. My other two ships limped along for a few more turns and nearly destroyed the Fed Command Cruiser. But, the pink skins had gotten the best of me and I eventually conceded.
Over the years, I have tried several different Star Trek-themed rule systems for use with spaceship miniatures. I wanted to lay out a quick review of each one.
Star Fleet Battles
Rules: This game is the grandaddy of them all. If you were a teenager when the first Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek movies came out, then this is the game you would have played. It is more of a simulation than a game and has a gigantic tome of rules. The rules are laid out like an technical manual and are difficult to understand for most players. Movement is on a hex grid. Each turn is broken into 32 impulses and each impulse has a separate phase for movement,actions and combat. Each ship is represented with a 'ship systems display' (SSD) and it tracks all the components of the ship in intricate detail. Every system has a set of rules to govern it and every weapon has a unique chart to determine hits and damage. Newer versions of the rules solve a lot of the wonky game mechanics. Also the game designers, Amarillo Design Bureau, have permission to use the source material from the Original Star Trek series only. They have added races and ships from their own original design to fill out the universe.
Miniatures: Originally a hex-and-counter game, it can be played with miniatures on a 1" or 2" hex map. There are optional rules for a hex-less playing surface but it involves the use of a protractor. Amarillo Design Bureau has produced several versions of metal miniatures for the game but I've never been too impressed. All the figures look like some variation of a main ship body with two warp engines poking out the back and tiny dots on the hull to represent the weapon mounts. The newest versions are supposedly much improved and I haven't seen any yet.
Scalability: This game is so detailed it is ridiculous to attempt to play any battles than involves more than 3-4 ships total. As you add more ships to the game, the record keeping increases exponentially.
Playability: This is a difficult game to play. But, it is the most engaging experience I've ever had with a sci-fi game. You really get the feeling that you are commanding a starship will all the systems at your control. The sheer number of ships available to play create endless replay ability.
Rating: Four Overloaded Photon Torpedoes (out of five).
FASA Star Trek Tactical Starship Combat Simulator
Rules: FASA has a starship combat game to go with its Star Trek RPG from the 1980's. I know little about the game since I have yet to play it. I don't know anyone who has.
Miniatures: The figures for this game are outstanding. FASA has developed its own ship recognition manuals with tons of intriguing and unique ship designs. They look more like Hollywood-style space ships than the purely functional designs from ADB. I am very impressed with the look of these ships.
Rating: Two Phaser-1's, subject to change if I ever play the game.
Rules: ADB has determined that the Star Fleet Battles rules are too cumbersome. So, they have developed a new set of simpler, easier rules. This is essentially the same game but with only 16 impulses and many rules have been streamlined. SSD's are reduced to half-sized standard paper sheets
Miniatures: Almost all the ship designs from Star Fleet Battles are duplicated in Federation Commander. You can use the exact same minis.
Scalability: In a wise decision on the designer's part, Fed Commander has three different 'scales'. Each ship has SSD cards in three different sizes. The size you use will depend the size of your fleet. The larger the 'scale', the smaller the SSD and fewer rules to govern it.
Playability: Same as with Star Fleet Battles but there are times when I wish I had more of the details. But it's a trade-off. Less details = More game time.
Rating: Four Disruptor Bolts
Star Trek Tactics (HeroClix)
Rules: This generic game system uses the wide range of HeroClix figures. As with all HeroClix variations, the specifics of the unit are written on the miniature's base and on the baseball-card sized information sheet. WizKids has the license to use all the Star Trek source material including the Next Generation and spin off TV shows. The rulebook is reduced to a simple pamphlet. The game is very abstract and leaves many details out of the game completely.
Miniatures: These are collectible and the information for each ship type comes in the box for each miniature. However, the minis do not represent ship classes. They represent a unique ship. They are made of hard plastic and some have more detail than others. All are pre-painted and the paint jobs are ok but not great.
Scalability: Easy to scale as the rules are very simple.
Playability: Easy to play. But, the game play is very simple. The limited selection of ships really hinders the replay ability.
Rating: One point-defense Phaser, (seriously, it's HeroClix for space combat.)
Klingon Armada (Starmada)
Rules: Uses a hex grid but suitable for miniatures play. Starmada is a generic ruleset and Klingon Armada uses the ships from the SFB universe. The ships use inertial movement, which means you must apply power to speed up, slow down and change direction which is much different than the other games described so far. The rule book is much smaller than SFB but the game still feels like you need to pay attention to a lot of details, particularly with the way weapons fire is resolved. Starmada allows for ship construction and you can even create your own weapons. You can play with any kind of spaceship you invent or use ships from the Star Trek universe. It also allows for customization of existing ship designs. Ships are given a point rating depending on its combat ability and your can modify them quickly. I think the endless range customizable options can slow down the game.
Miniatures: You can use whatever minis you would like.
Scalability: This game can get difficult to manage with larger fleets.
Playability: Fun game! I don't think it fits the Star Trek universe very well but it can provide for unlimited variations.
Rating: Three phaser-1's
A Call to Arms-Star Fleet (ACTA-SF)
Rules: They are designed with miniatures in mind so no hex grid is required. Just like Starmada, ACTA rules are generic and can be modified for any type of starship combat. They should be familiar to anyone who plays lots of miniatures games.
The SSDs are on index cards and there are full color versions available
for purchase. The rules use the same mechanics as many other miniatures games.
At MillenniumCon, we had a game master run a game of ACTA in the Battlestar Galactica universe, the following year, he ran the same game but in the Star Trek universe.
Miniatures: You can use whatever minis you like.
Scalability: Good for playing one ship per person. I expect the larger games to still be manageable.
Playability: A quick easy game though I would like to play a larger scenario to see how it handles with more ships on the table.
Rating: Three Plasma torpedoes.
Star Trek: Attack Wing
Rules: This is essentially the same game as the X-Wing Miniatures game and Wings of War. The minis sit on a square plastic base. Movement decisions are made with playing cards you have in your hand. Ships are moved by placing a cardboard measuring guide on the front of the ship's base and sliding the ship down the length of the guide. The length and shape of the guide depends on the maneuver you have chosen with the cards. The rule book is very short since most of the rules are printed on the playing cards. What sets this game apart is the fact that the designer has the full license for the Star Trek universe. Also, each ship can be customized by adding a crew-member card. The crew-member cards usually represent an important character from Star Trek (like Captain Picard or Mr. Spock) and they will add certain abilities to the ship.
Miniatures: The miniatures look like the same sculpts from the HeroClix game. Like the HeroClix game, the ships represent a specific ship and not an entire ship class. The model for the original series USS Enterprise is embarrassingly small. The minis are pre-painted and the paint jobs are ok but not great. This game does have large impressive models for a Borg Cube and the Deep Space 9 station. But, there are all sorts of cardboard guides and tokens and cards to represent all
the various ship systems and statuses. It seems like a lot of little
chotskies are needed just to play a battle.
Scalability: It plays well with 3-4 ships per side but I've never seen a gigantic game played so I can't comment on how well it scales up.
Playability: It is a fun game and it has a true Star Trek feel. You have all the ships you see in the show and movies and it includes characters as well. The game moves fast and can be finished in less than an hour. The ship selection is limited though.
Rating: Three Fusion Beams, wait... there are no fusion beams in canon Trek!