“Khan!!!” Thoughts on Star Fleet Battles

I’ve been playing a boardgame called Star Fleet Battles with Jon lately. Jon found a nifty program which enables you to play the game over the internet, and so, using Skype to chat during the games, we’ve thus far played out two moderately-epic space battles between a Federation heavy cruiser and its Klingon equivalent.
I’m really enjoying it so far. Star Fleet Battles is a fascinating game. It simulates spaceship combat in the Star Trek (original series–no Next Generation stuff) universe. It’s quite complex–it hails from the same era that gave birth to games like Advanced Squad Leader, but, like many games of this sort, you can play a satisfying game using only about 10% or 20% of the rules. (The rest of the rules cover advanced options and special situations, which you use if and when you feel up for it.) It’s still a difficult learning curve; after each of our games I’ve come across rules that I handled incorrectly. (Jon, I confess: in our last game, I was dipping into my reserve warp power every turn without realizing it… can we just assume that Scotty was coaxing a little extra juice out of the warp engines, or something?)
SFB is basically a game of resource management. Each ship in the game generates a certain amount of energy each turn, which you must allocate to the various systems on the ship. Firing weapons requires the allotment of a certain amount of energy, as does moving, adjusting shields, using a tractor beam, doing fancy maneuvers, etc. The challenge lies in the fact that you never have enough energy to do everything; at the start of every turn, you must make painful decisions about which ship systems are going to receive energy and which won’t. Since you allocate most (if not all) of your energy at the beginning of each turn, you have to think ahead and try to anticipate what your opponent is going to do–is he putting all power to the engines so as to dart out of combat range, or is he putting all his energy into shields and weapons in the hopes of knocking you out with a broadside at point-blank range?
In addition, each ship has its own particular set of advantages and disadvantages. The Federation cruiser is slow-moving, but is very heavily armed and shielded. The Klingon cruiser, on the other hand, is a bit more fragile, but is more maneuverable and can fight at longer ranges. In the two full games we’ve played so far, we haven’t strayed too much beyond very basic tactics, but I’m looking forward to incorporating more advanced rules into the game as we go along.
Thus far, I’m really enjoying SFB. It only downside–and it’s a somewhat big downside–is the sheer complexity of it. Even though you don’t need to pay attention to most of the rules to get started, learning the basic rules is still a bit of a chore, and the rulebook itself is a less-than-thrilling read (filled with things like “Section H7.48: Use of Reserve Warp Power”). I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for complex rules like these, but it’s not something you can pick up and be playing competently in an hour.
Oh, and did I mention it’s the perfect outlet for all those Star Trek II quotes you’ve got stored away in your head? Quotes like this are difficult to work into everyday conversations, but they’re 100% appropriate in the context of SFB:

  • “Scotty, I need warp speed in two minutes or we’re all dead.”
  • “Full. Impulse. Power. Full power, damn you!”
  • “Sir… our shields are dropping!” “Raise them!” “I can’t!”
  • And, of course, “FIRE!!!” and “KHAAAAAN!!!” (both preferably screamed out loud while you shake your clenched fists)

So, then. Star Fleet Battles. It’s fun.

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3 thoughts on ““Khan!!!” Thoughts on Star Fleet Battles

  1. Bill

    Great post. In fact, of all the blog posts I have encountered on my travels, yours was the most…human.

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