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Category Archives: Wargaming

Boldly Going

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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Boldly They Rode And Well

This past weekend I got try Napoleonic wargaming for the first time!

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Yes, I know the headline isn’t from a Napoleonic poem, but you can’t say no to the Light Brigade.

For all the years I’ve been a gamer historical wargaming is not something I’ve done much of, so this was something I was looking forward to. I was not disappointed. Six of us gathered round a large table to lead the Franco-Polish alliance against the Russian Empire, our armies arrayed in 15mm glory.

The rules set we used was Grande Armee, written by Sam Mustafa. It’s an excellent set of rules, crunchy enough to give you the feel of managing armies while streamlined enough that it is easy to pick up and run with. Only two of us had played the system before, but all of us were quickly up-to-speed without substantial pre-game instruction.

The game is divided into Turns and Phases. The number of Phases per Turn is variable, so unlike most games it’s best to measure the game by how many Phases were played instead of Turns. At the beginning of each Phase a die is rolled. If it’s higher than the last Phase number, the Turn continues. If it’s equal or lower, the Turn ends.

This is important for two reasons. The first is that each army has a number of Command Points to spend. These are used to automatically activate your sub-commanders, who can then issue orders to their troops. These commanders can also be activated by a sufficient die roll, but spending Command Points ensures that they are active and doing what you want them to do. Command Points are only replenished at the beginning of a Turn.

The second reason ending a Turn is important is that it gives you a chance to reinforce damaged units and rally routed units. Units have Strength Points. At the beginning of a Turn you can roll to “heal” them. A unit that has run out of Strength Points is routed and removed from the board, but you can try to return them to the field at reduced strength on the beginning of the next Turn. If that unit is routed again it is removed from the game.

The end result is that if a Turn drags on your command-and-control becomes strained as you run out of Command Points and your forces wear down.  Our first Turn had five Phases and by the end it felt like our armies had been spent, slamming into each other without the opportunity to regroup for too long. It was a neat effect.

Another thing I like about the rules we used is that there is little down time. Everyone is planning, moving, and fighting and not waiting around for long. Even if one of your commanders doesn’t activate it doesn’t mean they are out of the action. A commander may sit inactive, but the corps will still defend itself. It may re-position itself without attacking. It may choose to go full attack on the nearest enemy forces. But an inactive corps isn’t truly inactive, it’s just not doing exactly what you want them to do. This does a good job of giving the feel of confusion that happens on a battlefield.

Best of all an inactive corps will not do anything stupid. It won’t choose to run away or move in an inane manner just because you failed your command role. This means that the mechanics of the game do not frustrate the players, which is a major plus for the rules.

After we’d gone through two turns we decided to assess the battlefield and decide if we should proceed with another Turn or call the battle. The scenario allowed for another Turn before the end of battle, but we decided that thanks to heroic efforts by the Don Cossack forces and a dramatic push by Russian guard troops, the Franco-Polish alliance would withdraw in good order, give the Russian Empire a marginal victory, and live to fight another day. Meanwhile we the players all had a great time and look forward to taking the field again.

This was a great first exposure to large scale historical miniatures gaming for me. I can see why so many people become ardent fans of the genre and if I had the time and resources to collect and paint my own armies, I could easily get sucked in. Maybe someday.

For now I’ll revel in the glory of past battles and look forward to leading lead across the field once more.

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Polish and Russian Cavalry about to have a close encounter.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Gaming, History, Wargaming

 

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