Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Star Wars Starship Battles: Grand Moff Winkie Strikes!

Playing Axis & Allies naval WWII at the game club got me thinking about my Star Wars ships from the Wizards of the Coast brief naval foray - with mixed results - into "Star Wars Starship Battles", and their line of 60 ships. I have a whole bunch of them, which I've acquired in lots over the years as my interest in the story world ebbs and flows. Sometimes I think it is just great, and other times I think it is just ridiculous [and yes, I'm a Jar-Jar Binks disliker]. Some of my forward drive was to acquire a number of capital ships, including a few dozen Mon Calamari / Rebel ones, and - best of all - Imperial Star Destroyers.

This was part of a plan to have great big fleet battles with the ships, but my interest petered out in the search for the right rules. Now, however, I think I've found the right direction and style which would of course be One-Hour Wargame Fleet Battles. There are no naval rules in that book, but the WWI / WWII rules I threw together for my son - posted HERE - worked pretty well and have encouraged me to continue developing them. 

So, I busted open the boxes and the drawers, organized everything and thought about how to adapt them to outer space, specifically to Star Wars fleets. One thing led to another, and it got me pondering 3D gaming, on which I previously posted HERE. But inevitably Wee Willie Winkie saw the pile of ships after a day or so, and his little eyes bugged out and he desperately wanted to play with them. I re-read the original rules and we sat down to bang out a game. 

This was also a good idea b/c it follows with my personal rule to always try the RAW [Rules As Written] before I tinker with them. This is both respectful of the original design and intent as well as educational. Far too often, gamers tinker with rules after one go [or less!] and quite frankly they usually mess them up - including yours truly!

Wizards of the Coast, "Star Wars Starship Battles"

Quick Start Game. It's pretty simple...nearly simplistic. The "section titles" tell most of it:
Choose Sides, How do I win? [destroy enemy fleet!], Setup, Who Goes First? How to Read a Stat Card, Starship Classes, Rounds [Turns] and Phases, Targeting Faces [ship sides], Special Abilities. 
Advanced Rules only add Fleet Building to the mix. Optional Rules are better; they add Special Abilities, Fleet Commander Options, and Team Play, plus an "historical scenario".

The rulebook also has a Starship Concordance, including a brief description of every ship [all 60!] and WONDER OF WONDERS a Glossary! This is excellent and has over 75 entries. Overall, the rule book is very well done: clean writing, great artwork, clear explanations, easy to follow, a paragon of everything a rulebook should be. 

There's also a handy summary sheet that comes with the boxes of collectible ships:

Game Map is a grid 11x17 squares, with a planet on one narrow edge - you fight down the narrow length. Deployment is diced off and seqential, within the first three squares of each side. Starfighters don't start on the table but are Launched from larger ships. Recommended game size is 300 pts.

Ship Classes are in four types, 1-4: 1 are "super-big" [perhaps "silly-big"], 2 are a large ship like an Imperial Star Destroyer, 3 are smaller crewed ships like the Imperial Shuttle and Rebel transports, and 4 are starfighters. Most of the Unique ships are class 3 including the Millenium Falcon, Slave 1, Tantive IV, Outrider, Wild Karrde, and Virago. Class 4 are all starfighters; there's lots of variety but they're all pretty fragile [they represent one ship, not a squadron or flight] altho some hit quite hard. These include the famous Rebel "wing" ships, A, B, X and Y, Imperial TIE and variants, and a number of ships from the Clone Wars. 

All classes have a couple of unique ships in them, famous from the movies or books. The Unique ships have more special rules and "character". Class 3 ships tend to have greater anti-fighter capability [a nod to historical ship classes].

Ships move 1-4 spaces, equal to their class, and exert a Zone of Control into adjacent spaces, blocking most ships from passing through unless they can clear them completely - there's no stacking. Some ships like starfighters only stop each other, and there are exceptions with special rules.

All ships have a card which gives its characteristics including Attacks/Damage, Defense, Abilities, etc. All the cards and a list can be found at Rebel Scum HERE

Following along an alternating Move-Attack-Damage Round, ships move on the grid, possibly to get a shot on a more vulnerable side or rear "Face". There is no range limit, but starfighters only attack and are attacked when adjacent to any ship, so the game can be said to have 2 ranges: infinite and adjacent. Most ships have a special ability of some kind, even if it's just a weapon variation. A D20 is used to resolve Attacks, with most ships having attack bonuses of +1 to +5, with most being in the 1-3 range. Most ships have a Front Defense of 14 or higher, and If your roll beats the Defense of the Face you're attacking you score all of the damage your weapon inflicts.

The turn sequence is:
  1. Initiative Phase. Roll off, loser moves first and winner gets to move in reaction to it.
  2. Move Phase. Initiative loser then winner move sequentially. 
  3. Attack Phase. Initiative winner then loser attack sequentially. 
  4. Damage - all damage from shooting is resolved now, simultaneously [thus, there's no advantage to shooting first, it's just to resolve it in a simple order].
I think that covers everything you need to know, so here we go!

Wizards of the Coast, "Star Wars Starship Battles"

With some trepidation, I prepared for battle with Grand Moff Winkie! [pictured below, posing to strike fear in Rebel Scum across the known galaxy...but "Army" vest??]

Actually, more terrifying to Rebel Scum is the 208 points of Star Destroyers arrayed before him! Speaking of which, here they are:

This is a tough squadron. They have perfectly balanced armor, weapon systems, and hull strength. Their armor is 16-13-10 on Front-Side-Rear, using D20 for combat. Their two shooting systems are a +5/3 Turbolasers [Attack bonus/Damage] and +4/+3 Ion Cannon, that gets a +1 if the target ship is not reduced [partially destroyed, more later]. So for most capital ships, these Star Destroyers have a 50% chance to hit, and with two-three hits will destroy any but the biggest ships. They also have a +2 Point Defense which auto-attacks all starfighters that are in adjacent squares - usually on an attack run, of course!

Opposing their oppression of the galaxy are the Rebel Scum, erm, Alliance, Freedom Fighters etc of the universe, champions of peace, dignity and well, you know the rest:

The squadron comes in at lower points [Grand Moff Winkie, like a Wookie, hates to lose altho he does NOT tear the arms off either life forms or 'droids]. From left to right, are a Rebel Assault Frigate, a Mon Calamari MC80, Home One, and another MC80. The cards are in the wrong order, however. All the ships are close but not quite as good as the Star Destroyers with a point or two less defense or weapon attack/damage. They come in it at 30-44-50-44 pts, for 168 total, vs 52x4 / 208 for the Imps. 
But hey, shouldn't the Rebel Alliance be the underdogs??

The fleets deployed, below, along the narrow edge of the square-grid chart of intersteller space. Seems the Rebels are defending a rebellious planet from Imperial retribution.

Both sides are allowed to deploy up to three squares in, dicing to see who deploys first, with the second having the advantage of watching the opposing deployment.

Should be said here that most of the game mechanics are tried and true, not very inventive at all, and have the same usefulness and limitations they've always had. Nothing to say that one can't change them permanently or by scenario, but the rules do not offer variations. For example, it would be very easy to have multiple deployment procedures:

  1. Player A deploys half his ships, Player B all, Player A the other half of his ships, or,
  2. Player A deploys half his ships in Points, etc, or,
  3. Player A divides his fleet in 2 equal parts by points or ships - then dices randomly between them to deploy one part first, followed by B doing the same, then A's second squadron, then B's second squadron.
  4. Players alternate deploying ships by class, Player A first with his Class 1 ships, then Player B, Player A with Class 2 ships, then Player B, etc.
My point is not that the game can't easily be tinkered with due to the combination of simple setup and ship points, but that the rules don't include any variations. Anyway...

Turn 1 setup - there's not much space in this outer space...wall-to-wall ships here!

Turn 2, an experiment in maneuvering reveals that it is hard to get on a ships flank without some ship also being on YOUR flank - a combo of infinite ranges and cramped map.

Turn 3-4 result in a quick pummeling. Fortunately, the Grand Moff - as usual - rolls much better than I do, making it easier for me to "LTWW", or in this case, LTGMW. 

Turn 5, below, has two Imp Star Destroyers facing a lone MC80. This won't last long...
Total destruction is quickly accomplished and the MC80 dies altho it manages to Reduce the left Imp before de-atomizing in a flashy glow.

Grand Moff Winkie striking a martial pose! This sector of space is now cleansed of Rebel Scum, but the price was high - two Star Destroyers destroyed and one Reduced. Still, Empire loyalists can sleep better tonight knowing the flames of rebellion have been dampened by the boys in blue and their fearless leaders.

Nice pose, but I forgot to have him sneer, which seems the Grand Moff thing to do.

Well, that was not that hard to get through. But I kept asking myself...why are we moving at all?? The game looks pretty cool, and we like the ships and the feel of them, overall, but yeah, there's some serious problems with the game.


  • The pre-painted ships are mostly quite good - better than most gamers paint!
  • Love the cool cards, and the flipping them for reduced values when damaged.
  • Game parameters are simple enough to teach a 7yo Grand Moff.
  • Fluff presence is pretty good - Ion Cannons, Tractor Beams, Targeting and sensors all offer variety but without it being distracting or overwhelming.
  • The general feel is pretty good, with nice graphics on the playing pieces.
  • Turn sequence is easy to follow.

  • Game is beyond simple, it's "simplistic" and that reduces its play value.
  • Some of the fluff presence is incorrect according to canon. Some is just incorrect according to English or reality [e.g. a frigate that is bigger than a cruiser].
  • The map board is way too small for 300 point fleet battles. You'd just HAVE to get two at least and fight them together.
  • That being said, ships die so fast - especially the smaller Class 3 - that space gets made pretty quickly. The infinite shooting ranges compound the problem.
  • There are only two ranges; unlimited and adjacent [for starfighters and tractor beams]. This means there's nearly no reason to maneuver. 
  • unlimited ranges also means class 3 ships are blasted immediately - they have fewer hull points, lower defense, and it just makes sense.
  • Since the defense of ships thins to the side and rear, your best bet is to keep your butt against the back of the board - ideally in a corner - then starfighters can't attack your vulnerable flank or rear!
  • If you maneuver to get on a ships flank, you are usually flanked yourself, somewhere in your force.
  • hardly any weapons have an arc - they just shoot anywhere. Two variations are straight ahead on the "spine" of the ship, and broadsides directly away, but few ships have them.
  • There's only four facings, the flat side of each square on the space grid. This is a bit awkward at times. Using the diagonals for facing adds only a little complexity and it's actually easier to differentiate the sides of the ship.
  • All shooting is effectively simultaneous and there's no target priority; You just start shooting at a ship until you destroy it. Then you move on to the next ship you want to destroy. So combat is basically about matching weapon damage to the remaining hull points on a ship for efficiency.
There are times when its just frustrating that they didn't make it about as complex as the miniatures game - which would have made it infinitely better. It almost seems like they said to themselves, that the little people figures deserve lots of characterization and depth, but ship fighting is just like playing with glass bottles and hammers - smash them up and be done with it!

Overall, I am inspired to add some variations and improve it, altho it is also tempting to just can the whole thing and start from scratch. We'll see, I took some notes on possible tweaks.

As for the ships, I really like them overall. While I can paint better in general it takes me a lot longer to do it! Some of the ships are nice enough that I wouldn't bother painting them better, anyway. There's a lot to be said for relatively cheap models that are ready for table.

Some of the ship models are hard to find [old original, e.g. infinite TIE Fighter], but their prices aren't bad - no worse than Shapeways or Odyssey Slipways, altho those are super-detailed models. While Millenium Falcon is about $18, and an Imp Star Destroyer about $20, the Geonosian Starfighter is usually 99 cents! I find it annoying that the classic TIE fighter is usually $3-5 EACH no less. However, if you average out the cost of a fleet that you purchase on the basis of likes and fluff, you still save money compared to most gaming projects. And of course the time factor is significant for those of us with family or who are not yet retired.

Some models you buy may not have cards anymore, and you have to download and print them yourself - not an insurmountable task given our friends at Rebel Scum.

In summary, you will be seeing more of these ships and some more reports - I just don't know how much of the rules will be left in the end!

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