Sunday, April 5, 2015

Game Design: Starship Game

I've been working on my own starship miniatures game.  Well, not really 'miniatures' since all the miniatures I have are for things like Babylon 5, Battlefleet Gothic, and Starfleet Universe stuff.  So really the system exists as an excuse for my friends and I to get our starship miniatures out and push them around the table in imaginary battles.

Although I temporarily named it 'Unrealistic Space Battles', people seem to like that.  But there's a few design points I'd like to bring up about it.

Line of sight doesn't really exist in a space combat game unless you're behind a planet or something of a similar size.  Even then, we are representing a three dimensional space on a two-dimensional board (because nobody has brought a consumer grade holographic projector to market), so we can assume that people are angling for the best shots and they'll go up or down appropriately.  Instead, terrain should affect the ability to get an accurate shot.  Which is what it does by default in USB.

Out of the starship miniatures games I've read, the majority of them have minimum move distances before you can turn your ships (Firestorm Armada uses movement templates for turning and still requires you to move a bit before turning again).  They also talk about how at the scale you're playing at, the miniatures should really be the size of pinheads.  So why represent turning the way they have?  At the scales involved, minimum movement seems rather silly (to me at least).  What I have done is design my game system so that turning costs inches of movement.  Yes, I know, the Star Fleet Battles family of games has the ships fighting at warp speeds and so you'd theoretically have to implement turning radii.

I know it is done for the sake of speeding up gameplay, but the idea of having an all-in-one accuracy + damage rating for weapons and defenses bugs me a bit.  That is, weapons have one number governing how much damage they potentially do and how accurate they are.  And for the ships, they have one number governing how tough their armor is and how easily they can evade fire.  I separated out these two sets of numbers to allow finer control over performance characteristics.  It might bog down gameplay but I think I solved that by examining a different aspect of gameplay.

I've seen issues with scaling games into large battles in the A Call To Arms: Babylon 5 game.  The game gets slow because so much stuff is on the table.  This is one part of the system we have not really tested yet, but the ideal solution to this is to provide players with the tools to group ships together into one 'virtual' ship by placing them together in squadrons.  This allows the players, if they have organized their squadrons well, to combine fire and overwhelm the defenses of the big ships.

While I love painting miniatures, I have to admit that starship miniatures are a special brand of pain in the butt.  They're often on clear plastic stands that are prone to weakening from exposure to light.  Combine that with the fact that these are very top heavy miniatures, and you have a great recipe for stands breaking off inside the model.  There are solutions that involve not gluing the stand into the model, but you then run into the problem of the model possibly turning in place while it's on the table.  If you do glue the stand, you run the aforementioned risk of breakage and you also have some issues with the fact that the model is now harder to store for transport since you have to account for the flight stand taking up space. Then there's the height of the stands too.  If I ever get around to designing actual miniatures, they'll be smallish, mount low on flight stands that aren't terribly big.

One of the brilliant bits about A Call To Arms: Babylon 5 was the fact that Mongoose Publishing provided you with sheets of counters (or at least a page in the back of the book to photocopy from) with the boxed set so you could start playing out of the box without having to invest in miniatures.  Starfleet Battles/Federation Commander/ACTA: SF also has counters available for playing these three games. This is something I definitely want to do when I get to the point where I'm writing and producing fleet lists.  Include the counters with the fleet lists, maybe provide the CUT files for people with their own personal computer-guided cutting machine if I can swing that.

Anyway, those were my thoughts that ran through my head as I was writing this game.  Still in the testing phase for now, but if you have a suggestion for a better name, please leave a comment!