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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pure Naval Theory: The "Starfire" System and Space Battles

Some will cry, "Heresy!" when they see me putting space ship battles up on this blog.  However, most space battle games are directly derived from "wet navy" games.  The designers are often inspired by WWI and WWII surface actions, altho today's candidate has a healthy dose of modern naval.  None by Age of Sail far as I know - too far a stretch?  There are some "solar wind" inspired vehicles in Star Wars, and the GW Eldar also.  Anyway...I've heard people say that Battlefleet Gothic is the best WWI naval game ever.  I politely disagree and am pursuing ODGW's "Fleet Action Imminent" their GQ3 game for WWI.  Still, BFG is an excellent game, and _would_ make a great WWI game if redesigned a bit!

Anyway, in our last move, I discovered my old pocket editions of Starfire I [WWI in space] and Starfire II [conveniently, WWII in space, introducing powerful small ships, aka Fighters, Torpedo Bombers, et al].  I say WWI and II, but there's some modern naval war in there also with missiles, point defense, and a Datalink system to network multiple ship weapons systems together.  However, one could leave out such fanciness and run with just the simpler systems. Actually, aside from the high speeds of the ships relative to the weapon ranges, one could actually make a fine wet navy game from this, including building one's own ships!

Anyway, simply couldn't resist cracking them open now and seeing how the 1979 games have withstood the test of time.  Cheap graphics and nothing interesting game board [sky blue...really?  Not even black?? yes, this is definitely a wet navy game!] invoke real nostalgia at this point in my middle ages:
 Pocket edition - arama!  Starfire I, Starfire II.  Amazing graphics, yes??  Well, maybe for 1979... [under the lovely sky-blue mat is the map from Avalanche Press' "Jutland".  See, I _really am_ a historical gamer!]

Yes friends, the counter sheet comes in THREE COLORS - woohoo!  Beside is Starfire 3: Empires, the full exploration and campaign game for multiple players.  Dying to try it out...

 A simpler time...but not a "simplistic design".

There is no vector movement.  Ships have a hex speed equal to number of Ion engines. There's a Turn Mode to restrict maneuver based upon "wet navy" inertia, i.e. facing changes of one hex side, so 60 degrees. The game is especially designed for the interaction of weapons.  Per the design notes, "Starfire is designed to emphasize the inter-relationships of various weapons and support systems".  Especially pleasing is the point system that enables one to design ships from scratch within generous parameters.  As a Task Force Games pocket game, it is a boardgame with very basic components, but lots of play.

The scenarios are nicely thought out with progressive "future history" matched to progressive learning of the rules.  Each one presents an escalating fictional struggle btw the Terrans [us'ns] and the Khanate [them-uns, no details really explained in this pocket edition]  So one gets a feel for the game with escalating scenarios of complexity that represent the arms race between the two, uhm, races.  So "a race btw the races", you might say.  Combat is relatively simple. One rolls "to hit" on a chart and then usually inflicts 1 damage point, with some weapons only 1/2 and some up to 5.  Hit damage is inflicted in a linear pattern from left to right, knocking out systems along the way.  So a small escort looks like this: (2) S S A H I F I I I (4) which is (Turn Mode), Shields, Armor, Hold, Ion engine, Force beam, etc, and (Max Speed) in hexes.  So the first hit on the ship would knock out a Shield.  

Part of the fun is that some weapons skip Shields, some skip Armor / Holds, and some skip both!  Depends on how advanced your tech is.  The weapons systems are nicely balanced, and lend an intriguing complexity to ship design.  Everyone wants to find that perfect balance of cost, weapons and defense!  Of course, the game presents the two official races with plenty of examples of ships completed over the course of the First Interstellar War [IS1], and adds a third race with more unusual ship designs right at the end, the Ophiuchi.

These three pocket editions comprise what is now known as Starfire First Edition.  As was the wont of players and designers and publishers in that era, an "upgrade" to a bookshelf box edition was inevitable.  Some real benefits were seen in the Second Edition which were a single booklet comprising all the rules of I and II, with a great index and a number of clarifications and loophole closures.  The released box looks like this:
with the back cover on left, front to the right.  My used copy has them taped together on one side.  Have to say, I like the cover's ship design, it has that "near-future" quality to it and it always pleases me to see obvious weaponry on a space combat ship!.

In essence, my case for including my space battle interest in the same blog, is that space battles are mostly naval battles with earthly restrictions removed.  Gravity, waterlines, surface fleets v. submarines, and air, and costly budgetary restrictions and such, are all very much present in the history of war at sea.  But the future and outer space give us new limits to push ship technology, and new geographies to fight over.  How exciting is that!?  So in essence, I'm making a case that the best of sci-fi space battles are a mirror that reflect both our present-day limits, and our future possibilities for naval gaming.  In essence, they let us pursue "pure naval theory" as far as our imaginations take us!

The funny thing is that now I'm wondering if I COULD modify this into a near-future ship combat game...!  I guess you can't take the "wet navy" out of this gamer.  

More to come, including the interesting paradigms of the first couple of scenarios.

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