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Subject: Talon: A Comparative Review with Federation Commander rss

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I’ve been on BGG for 12 years and this is my first review. Why now? I grew up playing the typical household games but Star Fleet Battles (SFB) was the first dripping-with-theme game that I played. It connected to my love of science fiction and Star Trek and showed how a story could be brought to life in a game. I was hooked on tactical space combat and that has now lasted over 30 years with many different game systems played. So with the release of Talon, designed by Jim Krohn and produced by GMT Games, I’ve decided to take this (single?) step into game review.

For comparison, I’ve used ADB’s Federation Commander (FC) which has been one of my favorites for years. I won’t be going through the Talon rules since the 16 page rule book posted at GMT includes around 3 pages of commentary and is an easy read for those that want the details.

Tactical Environment: Both FC and Talon use counters to represent individual ships as they move on a hex board in 2 dimensions. FC has a card for each ship which has a diagram of the ship with its weapons, shields, engines, hull, and systems shown and color coded to great visual effect with damage recorded on this card. Just think of Spock pointing to the computer display to show Kirk the damage Khan has wrought. Talon displays weapons, shields, hull, and systems on the same large hex ship counters used on the board. Think tactical display showing the position of each ship with each ship magnified to display its current status. In terms of game play, Talon has all the information for all ships of both sides on the board for players’ consideration without asking each other “Can I see your ship cards again?”

Accessibility: At its heart, FC is actually pretty straight-forward and I’ve taught a number of people the basics easily by starting with basic Federation and Klingon ships. However, I do like to know all the rules to a game and with the number of rules for weapons, systems, and nuanced edge cases in FC I’m not there. I simply don’t play and read the rules often enough to get there. Also, FC is somewhat ‘mathy’ which detracts for some even if they are quick with basic calculations. With Talon, I knew all the rules after a couple of quick readings. In teaching a gamer I gave the rules before play. I taught my 10 year old by describing the counter items and then rules as they came up. In both cases we were playing in under 10 minutes and they had all the rules down by the end of the first or second round except for the weapons not in use for the chosen scenario. Also, Talon removes calculations through clever design choices. It might be tempting to describe Talon as a boiled down FC but that does not give it the credit due. It has built-in design choices that trim rules overhead while preserving and even enhancing theme, depth, and game flow.

Movement Planning: In FC you set your speed and look that up on its card to determine power used for movement which is then subtracted from available power (calculate something like 40-16). In Talon you set your speed and look that up for the ship type in a chart that gives available (remaining) power and turn rate. Advantage Talon: No math except for maybe subtracting 1 or 2 power for damage and back to the action more quickly.

Movement Execution: In Talon your ship will have a speed of 1 to 6 for the turn which will be received one hex at a time across the round’s 6 impulses. In FC your ship will have its speed (something around 16 can be common for a fresh ship) spread across the turn’s 32 impulses. Okay, wading through 32 impulses and making 16 separate moves per ship when the ships fired near the turn’s beginning is a chore at best. More importantly FC’s 32 impulses is a vestige from Star Fleet Battles where a ship could move and/or fire during an impulse. In FC however, there are only 8 firing opportunities to streamline combat with 4 movement impulses inserted between each. You are left with the slowness of the 32 movement impulses and the need for special rules such as handling missiles that hit between firing opportunities. They hit, but not really, until later, unless they are dealt with in a time traveling fashion. FC did not land quite far enough away from SFB to be internally consistent and fully streamlined.

Weapons: In Talon a weapon charges some at the end of each turn but no weapon goes from ‘empty’ to fully charged at the end of one turn alone. It will need multiple turns and/or extra power from the available power to be readied. If you feed extra power, you have to do it when that power is available which means choosing one particular weapon bank for that power. Better plan correctly. In FC, some weapons take multiple turns to load but the beam weapons can fire once each turn and are paid for when used. This leads to a weapon firing at turn’s end and then being able to fire again at the first firing opportunity of the next turn and then having a full turn wait until firing again. Why this irregular pacing in its recharge rate? No in-game theme is provided. Also, since you pay to fire at the moment of firing, you can use a weapon on the spur of the moment, without pre-planning, when the enemy is in arc and range even though you had not expected that situation to occur in advance.

Damage Allocation: In FC a lot of damage penetrating the shield leads to a break in play for damage allocation. In Talon put the damage on hull, roll for critical effect if applicable, and resume the maneuvering and shooting quickly.

Extra Angst: In FC you have your pool of power to spend during the turn to adjust speed and fire weapons. Now in a twist that I don’t recall seeing in another game, Talon ties power generation to the impulse chart so that power received is spread across the round’s 6 impulses. Instead of having all the power waiting for use, you are left waiting for it as it comes in one point at a time. Coming from FC, the limited power points initially seemed unimportant . However, their use is critical as a point or two of power can bring a weapons bank back to ready a round or two more quickly. Then again, the power produces angst since one point could reinforce a shield, enable sideslip, turn the ship sooner, charge a battery for later use, redirect a missile, or change initiative. But still, it is one point at a time so you make your decision and move on without calculations.

Initiative: In FC you move according to the impulse chart and a significant number of rules to determine priority. Shooting is simultaneous but has a bank of rules covering how fire is declared including ‘me too’ firing where I wasn’t going to fire but can since you chose to. In Talon, you’ll spend power for all your ships that have it, move all your ships that can, and fire from any ship’s ready weapons. With nothing simultaneous, it is easy with low rules overhead. What makes Talon’s initiative really shine is that it represents investing ship resources into sensors, computers, and counter measures so that you can spend power to give or take initiative at key points in the round. Go first to fire first but second might give you the better arc or range and allows you to see opponent’s choices. See Talon’s errata for clarification on initiative determination.

Speed and Range: Maneuver is what brings me to games like this more than anything else. In FC you can go fast and might cruise 16 hexes or more between shots while firing even overloaded weapons up to range 8. So I was not sure how I would feel about moving about 3 hexes per round with all the current weapons having a maximum range of 4. The systems do feel different but I will say this for Talon, having to get so close to fire makes you work for those best firing and shield arcs. It also makes it harder and riskier for ships to gang up on one since gathering close in the same arc is difficult and risks damage-causing collisions (you cannot safely stack your ships) and the destruction of one ship damages adjacent ships.

Ship Variety and Design: FC doesn’t include ship design rules but has a centillion ships across many races available through expansions. In total Talon comes with 2 races having 14 ship types, 2 base types, 2 transport types, and 1 fighter type. Still, these with terrain allow for lots of scenarios for great value. Talon’s designers have also released documents on ship point values so you could design new ships.

Squadron size (added 11/6/2016): If I want to play a game with 4 or more ships I would choose Talon over Federation Commander. Talon's streamlined rules and mechanisms make it relatively easy to handle a large squadron of ships. However, if I want to drill down into the details of each ship then I would choose Federation Commander for 1-2 (probably 3) ships. Federation Commander's added detail gives you more decision points per ship at the cost of making it less friendly for handling larger squadrons. As a result, in Talon I prefer to play scenarios that don't require destroying every enemy ship since I prefer not to risk the game coming down to two remaining ships battling it out. When playing meeting engagements with only 'destroy the other side' victory conditions I like to set a point value of losses that will result in retreat (loss).

Opinion: So if you’ve read this far your time would have been better spent learning Talon. Keep in mind that Federation Commander has been one of my favorites for years and it is completely safe in my small collection. I currently have FC rated as a 9 with house rules or an 8 without. However at this point I’m making Talon my only 10 in my favorite genre. It is easy to understand, internalize, remember, and teach while delivering excellent play at excellent dollar value.

Bonus, Get Off My Lawn rant:
•Yes, I’m aware that space has 3 dimensions. No it’s not important to supporting the theme for me. Just give me hull buckling as I push the ship to its limits.
•No Federation Enterprise with photons sold separately. Yes I’m looking at you Star Trek: Attack Wing.
•No quintillion rules overrides hidden in cards you haven’t seen (purchased with miniatures already owned) some of which are not balanced and even worse encourage theme breaking such as Fed, Klingon and Romulan ships led by Picard to kill Riker on the Enterprise. Yes, again, I’m looking at you Star Trek: Attack Wing, you full of unrealized potential game you.
•If you design ships then make the sides interesting and fun to play against each other you min/maxer extraordinaire you. You found a way to break the ship design rules? Don’t do it.
•You want different players to design ships separately in isolation from each other for the big in-game reveal? That’s like two alien races at first contact. They both designed by the universe’s rules but they are very unlikely to be balanced and interesting against each other. Hah! You spent all those points on anti-fighter defenses and I don’t even have fighters. So develop both sides or the players should have some interaction to adjust the fleets in response to each other.

edit: changed "firing" to "fire". Bolded "Opinion"
edit: added Squadron Size section on 11/6/2016
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Jim Krohn
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I currently have FC rated as a 9 with house rules or an 8 without. However at this point I’m making Talon my only 10 in my favorite genre. It is easy to understand, internalize, remember, and teach while delivering excellent play at excellent dollar value.


All I have to do is look at your displayed microbadges to know your background. I'm honored. Thank you!
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Steve Baker
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This is a terrific review. Thank you very much for taking the time to share it.
 
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Todd Warnken
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This game looks good but I wish it had more factions. Even better would be a version using the Star Fleet Universe.
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Jim Krohn
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Re:<<This game looks good but I wish it had more factions. >>

Well, hopefully one day...

In the meanwhile, there is quite a bit of variation within a faction AND you are able to field far more ships in a single battle. This leads you to having to adjust your strategy based on the mixture of your ships and your opponents.

And then terrain can play a BIG role in this game. It can change everything.

Quote:
Even better would be a version using the Star Fleet Universe.


bag

And lots of it. I'm just thankful GMT agreed to make the game. It is a little outside of the box for a wargame. They took a chance making it.

There is actually a benefit to not being in that universe and that is that I am not bound by any canon. We can go with whatever design decisions make the game better, including weapons and such with interesting game effects that have no parallel in that universe. Plus, we are having fun writing our own backstory.
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Niko
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Jim Krohn wrote:
Plus, we are having fun writing our own backstory.
And it's a good one!
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Mundane wrote:
This game looks good but I wish it had more factions. Even better would be a version using the Star Fleet Universe.


If the game is successful it's only a matter of time before the Star Trek fan mods hit.
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Mark Buetow
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Good review. We tried getting into Attack Vector: Tactical and it's fun if you want to burn the brain power. But it's fun in a simulation sort of way more than a fast and furious fun sort of way.

We've played FC which I think is a pretty good game, a good streamlining of Starfleet Battles mechanics. But it's hardcore old school wargame. The fact is, great designers are improving on games and mechanics. And while that doesn't make FC a bad game, it makes Talon the better game because it's accessible for people today who have less time, etc.

It's like (my personal favorite) Combat Commander. It just does some things better than ASL. An ASL player won't think so, but I think so because I find it easier to play and keep playing CC than trying to get into ASL (though it's a project on my radar). You get the idea, I'm sure: modern games advance beyond their counterparts because they keep fun at maximum levels but reduce the mental workload of game mechanics (still loads of mental workload to play well of course).

Just some random thoughts. (And NO, I'm NOT bashing SFB, FC, or ASL. So don't start...)

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Rory Colling
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Did Jim say "PARALLEL UNIVERSE"?
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Mundane wrote:
This game looks good but I wish it had more factions. Even better would be a version using the Star Fleet Universe.


I'll definitely buy in if more fleets are released and I do see the value of a custom universe and the open paths it gives for design.
In the meantime there is a ton of play in this box.

Still, I'm tempted to create some Star Trek ships for personal use. For that I'd probably look to my FASA Starship Tactical Combat Simulator ships more than ADB's Star Fleet Universe to bring in Reliant, Excelsior, etc. They will be easy enough to design and point cost and I've even found a printable, dry erase, clear plastic that might work for printing a ship and putting on a counter.

I'm not very 'crafty' but I'm tempted to put posts in the middle of custom designs for Micromachines Star Trek ships. Harder for marking and erasing but good for getting it to the table with some minis gamers...we'll see.

All that work could just be spent playing Talon as is.
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Great review, you did a fine run down on the differences and similarities between the two games. You should write more reviews.
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Great review!

Regarding the Star Trek/other IP stuff:

I for one am glad we don't have some other IP to represent with the game (though I encourage player "modding" to Star Trek or whatever other SF you prefer). I think it would have forced our hand in a lot of areas PLUS I'm really happy with our Talonverse.

One thing in Trek is the shows were mostly about conflict avoidance, right? If they started powering phasers, chances are they did something wrong. We kind of get to dance around that issue in the Talonverse (not that war is encouraged by either party in the Talonverse but we don't have to bow to that narrative framework or ignore it completely for the sake of the gameplay).

Also, we don't have a Prime Directive to worry about (and subsequently violate every episode anyway).

But that's just my two cents
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Bring on the Honorverse - what a fantastic series! Highly recommended!

http://honorverse.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorverse
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michaelangelo wrote:
Bring on the Honorverse - what a fantastic series! Highly recommended!

http://honorverse.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorverse


Would love to see something player-made in this realm. I don't have any experience with the series itself (and I'm sure our combat differs in a number of ways) but it sounds awesome.
 
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Jim Krohn
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The part of me that wishes that Talon was set in the Star Trek universe is the part of me that misses the exposure that would come with it.

In the Honorverse? Not nearly the exposure, but really, really cool. Combat would be soooo different......this system could be adapted to it, but the combat would be longer, occur at longer ranges, and have some really different effects.

Get me the license and I will start thinking on it.
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Jim Krohn wrote:
The part of me that wishes that Talon was set in the Star Trek universe is the part of me that misses the exposure that would come with it.


Over the years there has been a fairly constant stream of starship combat systems but when it comes to the number of games I've seen played at stores over the last few years we're currently in a bit of a peak period thanks to SW X-Wing, SW Armada, and Star Trek: Attack Wing. However, I wonder if the minis drive that more than the rules themselves. Great rules and minis are not mutually exclusive but if I have to choose great rules win.
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Michael Lange
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It could be worth investigating with Baen, the Honorverse publishing company and David Weber. They're small enough the additional exposure might be worth it for them to throw us a bone. They get more readers for their books and we get a sweet new universe to play in.
 
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Jim Krohn wrote:
The part of me that wishes that Talon was set in the Star Trek universe is the part of me that misses the exposure that would come with it.


Dang it... too many good Talon reviews!

I finally broke down and ordered it so... I guess... I'll commit to releasing Star Trek 'variant' units. whistle

Maps are 11x16 hexes? (Gotta order the felt hex mat big enough for my miniatures you know!)
 
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michaelangelo wrote:
Bring on the Honorverse - what a fantastic series! Highly recommended!

http://honorverse.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorverse


I have read the entire Honorverse, and there is definitely an element of that series in this game, especially if you get a few Talon Missile ships together and start stacking those volleys. However, where Talon takes spaceship combat to a fleet engagement level, it keeps the weapons simple and basic. Honorverse is to weapons design, advancement and implantation like the Silmillarion is to language creation.

So, while Talon could replicate moments in time of the Honorverse, the feel and growth of the Manticore tech fleets just wouldn't do the books justice.
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Doesn't Honorverse have a movie coming out? I think I heard that somewhere.
 
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Doesn't Honorverse have a movie coming out? I think I heard that somewhere.


It did, but the studio that David Weber was working with went out of business. So no one is working on it right now.
 
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I think Talon lends itself well to simulating whatever Sci-Fi ship-to-ship space combat you're interested in save really large fleet battles. Star Trek would be a fun one to see converted and has a wealth of material you can use just via SFB/FC alone. I look forward to seeing what people come up with. Honorverse stuff would also be a great thing to see as I too very much enjoyed the books. It might require a bit more tweaking to make it fit though, but I'd love to see someone try.

I myself was reminded of the old Starfire game by the Terran ship names in Talon. Which then got me thinking that many of the Starfire scenarios from the original game or from the Stars At War supplement could also be done for Talon with not too much tweaking. I plan on fiddling with that at some point.

Did you ever consider releasing a set of starship construction rules for Talon? I realize that might be easier said than done, but that would really get fertile minds working! I think you've got a great system here, and I do hope that this game does well in both sales and player satisfaction as I would really like to see further installments to the 'Talonverse'.
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Jim Krohn
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Quote:
Did you ever consider releasing a set of starship construction rules for Talon?


The point value calculation sheet can be found here:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/128293/point-value-ca...

The cool thing is that it includes the method for calculating a weapon's value - so you can come up with a brand new weapon. More explanation can be found in these Talon Tuesdays:

http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=3585

http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=3709

I'm sure these are not perfect, but these formulas....they have been playtested and adjusted to death. I can't tell you how much work has been put into revising them. GMT wanted to print the game a year ago and the primary reason I delayed it was these formulas. The Talon system is nearly identical to the original system I submitted years ago (a lot more chrome was added), but the valuation of every specific thing was played, revised, played incessantly.

Again, let me take a moment to thank the development team. They were great.
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Thank you for this comparison. Reading it I can't help but think the differences are like those between Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror - where Arkham Horror gives me pleasure by the level of micromanagement and detail it provides me, while Eldritch Horror gives me pleasure by the smoothness and accessibility of play.
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Verbosity wrote:
Thank you for this comparison. Reading it I can't help but think the differences are like those between Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror - where Arkham Horror gives me pleasure by the level of micromanagement and detail it provides me, while Eldritch Horror gives me pleasure by the smoothness and accessibility of play.


There definitely is room for both...which is why I have so many space combat rule sets.
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