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Boldly Going

25 Aug

This past weekend a friend and I cracked open a game I haven’t played since the 1990’s, the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator by FASA.

This is the space combat game that FASA released to go with their Star Trek role playing game and it was a favorite of ours back in the 80’s and 90’s. The FASA Star Trek line was an excellent example of a licensed game. FASA never created a set of role playing rules that I cared for, but they excelled at world building and the Star Trek universe they created was a beautiful melange that combined the original series, the animated series, the movies, and most of the book timelines into a working whole. It was a more complete and solid continuity than what the shows actually provided.

And while I was not a fan of the RPG rules, the Combat Simulator played to FASA’s strengths. It’s a solid and versatile set of light wargaming rules that convey the feel of starships slugging it out in deep space. We found the rules far more accessible than the venerable Starfleet Battles, and for the time period the production values were excellent. The counters are on thick cardboard with full color illustrations. They are so nice that over the years I’ve used them for other space games.

This is a game I’ve been wanting to get back to the table for a while now and for our first combat I picked a battle between classic foes; two Starfleet Constitution class cruisers named Hawk and Broadsword and two Klingon D-7M Deathbringers named Blood Penguin and Wilhelm. We used a moderate sized map with several planets, asteroids, and moons to thread through and set up on the far sides. By random draw I took command of the Starfleet forces and my friend marshaled the Klingons.

Federation ships are tanks, less maneuverable and with fewer weapons, but those weapons are more powerful, have more complimentary firing arcs, and longer range. Klingon ships are faster and more maneuverable, with more weapons and a penchant for rear firing guns. While Starfleet would rather pound targets at range, Klingons prefer to over run their enemies and fire weapons where their targets have lower shields.

With this in mind my Constitution ships came out at a cautious pace hoping to get a long range alpha-strike in, while the Klingons came fast and dodged through the sensor shadows of the planets. This proved to be a tactical mistake on my part, as I severely underestimated how much distance a starship can cover. My slower speed also gave the Klingons a tactical advantage, letting them move after I’d moved my lumbering cruisers. Before I knew it, the D-7’s had overflown me and opened fire.

The Broadsword was lucky, taking evasive action and avoiding harm. Hawk was not so lucky. The Blood Penguin came in behind her and unleashed all her forward weapons at point-blank range. The Hawk barely survived, her hull savaged by the attack.

I realized I needed to up my game to have any chance of survival. Throwing caution to the wind I dumped my shield power into the engines, trying to match the D7’s. The Hawk surged across the sector, the Blood Penguin in pursuit and looking for the kill. Broadsword broke off from the Wilhelm and moved to provide long range support for the Hawk, while Wilhelm dodged behind a planet. Hawk turned to make a last stand, damaging the Blood Penguin, but the ruthless Klingon ship unloaded again. The Hawk exploded, however the Blood Penguin had miscalculated and was too close. The D7 was smashed by the explosion, barely surviving, but too weak to endure the Broadsword’s avenging salvo.

A running battle ensued as Broadsword and the more nimble Wilhelm danced for position. In the end Wilhelm was able to win position over Broadsword and deliver a killing blow, but again the captain had miscalculated and was too close. The combination of the Broadsword’s final attack and her death explosion was too much for the D7 and she also exploded.

It was a lot of fun to bring this game out of retirement and it was fun to see that even though the game is more fiddly than modern designs, it’s still a lot of fun. In fact I think it still fills its role well as something that can introduce players into more complex wargames.

I’m looking forward to bringing the Starship Tactical Combat Simulator out again soon, perhaps with another player or two. Maybe add some Romulans, pull out the cloaking device rules, or maybe write up rules for a Doomsday Machine.

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