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Subject: Squadron Strike Review from Council of 5 Nations 2009 rss

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marcus giegerich
United States
New Jersey
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I had an opportunity to demo Ken Burnside’s 3 dimensional space Combat game Squadron Strike at Council of 5 Nations 2009 and here’s my thoughts.

I’ve been a Star Fleet Battles player for years and the concept of a 3 dimensional space combat game was very intriguing to me, especially since SFB is two dimensional. I know that Ken has been a game designer for a long time and I was sure that SS would be a solid product. I was right. Since Ken knew I was a SFB player, he explained the game using SFB terminology to help get me started and I’ll write this from that angle. But don’t be discouraged from trying this game out if you’ve never played SFB because it seems that the game can be learned just as easily for a non-SFB player. In fact, some of the concepts of SS are probably easier to pick up for a non-SFB player who does not have years of SFB play skewing their perception of this game.


Concept and Set Up

Squadron Strike is a space combat game that can integrate ships from any gaming universe and place them into a 3 dimensional environment. Most of the ships I’ve seen used are pulled from either SFB or Babylon 5 wars, but you can really use any ship from any universe with little difficulty as long as you can figure out how to integrate their systems into the SS rule set. You get a display of your ships systems, an AVID sheet that monitors your power usage and course/speed plotting, and another play aid sheet that determines how other ships on the map bear in relationship to your own. You also get a foam rubber ball with a grid map drawn on it to help determine the facings of things on the map. The game is played on a large scale hex map. I think our map was around 4 x 6 feet, but I could be a little off there. The ships are represented by lead or pewter minis that are mounted on stands. These stands have magnetic mounts that can be swapped out to show your ship facing several different angles horizontally. They snap in and out pretty easily. The available facings are: horizontal, 30 degrees up or down, 60 degrees up or down, and straight up or down (90 degrees). There are plastic tiles that snap into the mini bases of the ships that represent the vertical altitude of each ship as well as little stands that indicate the destination of your ship at the end of a game turn. You set up your ships on the hex map according to whatever scenario you are playing. The game I played had me controlling a Federation Command Cruiser against a Hydran Dragoon. Both of these ships are based on SFB ships.

Game Play

Squadron Strike is a turn based game just like SFB. A difference here is that turns in SS go much quicker than in SFB. Power is much easier to manage. Plotting your course takes some getting used to, but once you do it only takes about 5 minutes or so to determine everything for that turn. Movement occurs simultaneously for all ships and is based on Newtonian physics. So if you accelerate to a certain speed on a turn, you will start the next turn at that same speed. So by the 3rd or 4th turn, you can build up quite a head of steam. The downside of this is that the only way to slow down is to turn your ship, so you can easily wind up in the awkward situation having your ship zip by a desired destination on the map. So you need to be careful when you plot your movement. One quirk in the rules makes it entirely possible to fly by your target without getting an opportunity to fire at it. After ships move, they can perform various actions like launching seeking weapons, shuttles, firing weapons, etc... To fire at a target, you must first determine where it is in relation to your ship and that’s where the little foam ball play aid comes in handy. To be honest, this takes some time to get used to. I wasn’t 100% sure how to properly calculate ship bearings until the final turns of my game. Once you get the bearings down, you need to determine which weapons are eligible to fire on your target. Rolling weapons dice can be a bit laborious as there are 3 rolls that occur FOR EACH WEAPON. However one of those rolls also determines the internal damage done to the target, so SS basically makes the weapons rolls difficult so that the damage determination is simplified. This works out to be an even trade in my mind. Allocation of ship damage is pretty straight forward. Compared to SFB, SS ships have a lot more non-weapon or padding systems that make the ships take longer to blow up. Ship shields in SS also regenerate much more quickly in SS. This makes it far less likely for the game to be won in a single battle pass and encourages repeated dogfight-like exchanges. Which equals more fun in the long haul. The game turns go by quickly, but less occurs in them than in a typical game turn of SFB. I still think the game moves a bit faster than SFB based upon what I saw.

Conclusion

To be honest, I was very lost for the first few turns of game play. Maybe it was because my brain thinks in SFB terms in regard to space combat. Having to add the additional dimension of up vs. down to my 2 dimensional way of thinking took a lot of getting used to. But once I started to “get it”, things started going much more smoothly. I have the feeling that the first couple of times you try this game that it will be slow going for you due mostly to the intricacy of course plotting and ship bearings calculations. But after it clicks I can easily see the game play doubling in speed because I feel that the relatively steep learning curve should only last a short time with this game. The game play has a very organic feel since the turns go by quickly, which is nice. This game does take up a bit of space and you’re probably not going to be able to play it on your kitchen table. You’ll need a bit of floor space, or a large table. Personally, this is not a game I see myself playing often at home with friends (I just don’t have that kind of time any more) but it is something I’d consider playing at a convention as long as most of the other players knew what they where doing reasonably well. I certainly had fun and I can see this game being an absolute blast in a squadron engagement. I rate the game 4/5 stars.

Pros:
-Fluid game play
-Ability to integrate ships from various gaming universes easily
-Ability to easily create your own ships for game play
-3D baby! This really changes the way you look at space combat
-Visually appealing game. This game WILL get attention at a convention
-Simplified damage procedure
-Easy power management
-Game can go quickly once you get past the learning curve which was not quite as steep as I anticipated
-Realistic rules for movement
-This game uses 10 sided dice, which adds a much more subtle layer of possibilities than 6 sided dice. You’ll have to ask Ken what the pink ones are for.

Cons:
-Lots of play aids can cause confusion at first. Especially when determining the movement and ship bearings.
-You must paint the foam rubber ball yourself. Ken tells me they have a template for this, but it still looks like it can be a monumental pain.
-It seems like you’ll need to make about a $100 investment just to get minimally started in the game and you can sink a lot of money into it since you need minis. To offset this I’d say that you’re going to have to deal with this sort of thing if you’re going to get into any game of this type anyways.
-The quirk in the rules that makes it possible for you to fly by a target without having an opportunity to actually fire upon it is the one glaring thing that I think needs to be fixed. I don’t understand how this can occur in a game that is otherwise very realistic.
-The ship systems display doesn’t actually have a graphical representation of the ship. While it’s not necessary, I feel that having one could be really helpful.
-The only way to slow your ship down is to turn it. Why no reverse or decelerating thrusters?
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Ken Burnside
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
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designer
mb
RushAss wrote:

-The quirk in the rules that makes it possible for you to fly by a target without having an opportunity to actually fire upon it is the one glaring thing that I think needs to be fixed. I don’t understand how this can occur in a game that is otherwise very realistic.
-The ship systems display doesn’t actually have a graphical representation of the ship. While it’s not necessary, I feel that having one could be really helpful.
-The only way to slow your ship down is to turn it. Why no reverse or decelerating thrusters?


The 'teleporting ships' problem is ameliorated by the future position markers. You can see where someone will be and plot your movement to avoid the 'arrrgh! I overshot' situation about 85% of the time. Fixing the problem requires segmented movement.

There's also an optional rule that has you place a midpoint marker, and you move to the midpoint marker, do the combat phase, move to the end marker, do the combat phase again with whatever weapons are still ready, and then do crew actions.

The SSDs can put pictures of the ships under the shield/armor diagrams. I was just an idiot and forgot the SSDs at home that had the artwork in place.

The 'turn to slow down' issue comes from two things that didn't show up in the games we played, and some design decisions.

1) The ability to decelerate at a whim makes it easier to avoid seeking weapons (since you can plot a course next to them but 90 degrees off their course, and force them to overshoot more easily with decelerations)

2) When mixing Mode 1 (cinematic) and Mode 2 (vector) movement, if Mode 1 can decelerate at whim, Mode 2 stands no chance, so certain types of crossover battles aren't possible.

3) I really don't want to see reverse movement in the game for Mode 1 ships - it's bad enough in SFB, it would be even worse here.

I would generally figure that one SS turn is about the same as 1/2 to 1/3 of an SFB turn; there's more shooting and things regenerate faster, but that's about the ratio.
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marcus giegerich
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New Jersey
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OK, that clarifies a lot of things. Especially about the movement. One thing I neglected to mention is that I really like the way that the rule set encourages ships to maneuver and does not provide benefits to ships that just sit there and force their opponent to do all the work.

Also nice to see that SSD's are available. Not needed for gameplay, but they are a nice touch.
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