Monday, March 21, 2016

Adventures in Free Gaming: Star Fleet Battles

My favorite price for a game is free.  Therefore, I love getting free games.  I recently discovered that you can download an introductory module for the venerable space combat game Star Fleet Battles.  Is this too good to be true?  Is the module worth my time?  I decided to download it, print it out, and give it a try.

If you are unfamiliar with the game, Star Fleet Battles is a space combat wargame published by Amarillo Design Bureau.  The first version was published on 1979 and was based on the Star Trek universe as it existed at the time.  The company has a convoluted license agreement that allows them to use ships and races from the original series era of Star Trek, but they can use nothing from later series nor can they use named characters.  This allows them to have Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ships.  There are also Gorn, Kzinti (from the animated show), Tholians, and various other races.  If you are familiar with the tone of the original series then the setting will make sense.

The introductory module, or the Star Fleet Battles Cadet Training Handbook, is a 75 page pdf that leads you through a series of missions to teach you the rules of the game.  The pdf consists of rules and scenarios, charts, ship system displays (SSDs), counters, and hex maps.  Star Fleet Battles has a reputation as being a complicated game with thousands of rules, and this product aims to debunk the notion that the game is impossible to learn.

Map, counters, charts, and SSDs printed out and ready for play!
The Cadet Training Handbook introduces the rules for Star Fleet Battles a little bit at a time.  It breaks the game down into scenarios.  I have currently played through scenarios one and two.  The first scenario involves flying a spaceship around the map and shooting drones.  The second scenario is almost the same, except this time the drones track your ship and try to blow you up while you shoot them.  The goal of the two scenarios is to learn how ship movement works as well as learning basic weapons and damage rules.

I really like how the Cadet Training Handbook breaks the rules down and simplifies them through the scenarios.  Star Fleet Battles uses turns that are divided into 32 parts called impulses.  In the first two scenarios you use a turn that is only eight impulses long.  Star Fleet Battles uses a complex energy allocation system.  The  Cadet Training Handbook waits until scenario four to introduce the concept.  More than one of the scenarios are designed for solo play or can be played solo.  As you work through the book you gain all of the rules needed for ship on ship combat.

I am a fan the Cadet Training Handbook.  The scenarios take the right path in introducing rules to the player.  Concepts are taught at just the right level before moving on to the next scenario.  The book has twelve scenarios and includes ships for 8 of the races in the Star Fleet Universe.  If you are a science fiction gamer and have not tried Star Fleet Battles then I would recommend at least giving this book a read through.  If you don't want to print out the counters and map there is a VASSAL module available.  My goal is to work through all twelve scenarios and convince some friends to have some spaceship duels.  Hopefully I will have more posts on the topic at a later date.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Reviews for Gamers: Damnation Alley

When I was younger I played a lot of Car Wars.  In the rules of Car Wars they had a list of books that inspired the setting.  Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny was on that list, and when I saw that book in the bookstore I had to buy a copy.  I recently grabbed a copy for my kindle from the Humble Bundle and reread it.

The cover of the edition that I read as a kid
Damnation Alley takes place in a post-nuclear future.  The Earth's winds are in a constant super-storm that whips around the planet, making flight impossible.  Hell Tanner, the book's protagonist, is a motorcycle outlaw who is captured by the California police.  He is offered a full pardon if he drives across the nuclear wasteland of middle America (Damnation Alley) and delivers a serum that will cure a plague that is devastating Boston.  The book has a funky 70's sci-fi feel (it was written in 1968) with a healthy dose of John Carpenter thrown into the mix.  It is a quick read and has plenty of action.  My favorite part is the description of Damnation Alley and the dangers that are there.  Giant bats and lizards roam the landscape.  Storms that drop rocks and fish tear down from the sky.  I love the idea of the weather being an obstacle.

I know that Zelazny is famous for high concept sci-fi.  This book is pure popcorn.  Hell Tanner races across the country as mutant animals and mutant weather threaten to pound him to dust.  He rides in a souped up car armed with machine guns and flame throwers.  I can see why Car Wars listed this book as inspiration.  If you are interesting in post-apocalyptic books or car combat, I would recommend this book.

Damnation Alley as Gaming Material

The plot of this book is ready to be lifted for a role-playing campaign.  Heck, it can even be used as a scenario for miniature games or wargames.  Can you get the package to the other side of the map/table while fighting off mutants, gangs, and environmental hazards?  In fact, the environmental hazards are one of the most interesting aspects of the book that can be used in a scenario or campaign.  While the book is science fiction, I think that you can apply the framework of the story to many genres.  Here are some ideas for running a Damnation Alley style rpg adventure for other genres.

Fantasy - The party has to transport a magical potion across the Chaos Desert.  This is a desert that was created by a magical war between the Wizard-Gods years ago.  The desert is full of whirlwinds, glass storms, strange creatures, and marauders.

Space Opera - The party has to deliver a load of cargo across a sector of space that is full of anomalies.  The sector has black holes, radiation storms, gravity tsunamis, and is the perfect place for pirates to hide.

Steampunk/Pulp - Tesla has created a weather machine that has gone haywire.  The area around the machine is a death zone where lightning strikes at random and storms tear up the ground.  A rival faction is also headed there to capture the machine.  Can the heroes get there first?

How I would run this game:

The parts of the story that resonate with me are the delivery of the McGuffin through the danger zone and the use of nature and the elements as an adversary.  I like the post-apocalyptic setting of the book and the car combat, so I would choose a game system that has both of those traits built in.

I would us Palladium's After the Bomb rpg along with the Road Hogs supplement.  After the Bomb is a post-apocalyptic game full of mutant animals, and Road Hogs adds rules for cars with guns strapped to them.  The Empire of Humanity has released a virus tailored to kill mutant animals.  The party will have to deliver the cure by driving across the US, while avoiding radiation zones, super-storms, and outlaw gangs.  It would basically follow the plot of the book except it would take place in the After the Bomb setting.  That is how I would run it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two Articles Got Me Thinking About Inclusiveness in Gaming

I recently read two interesting articles.  One was about inclusiveness in games and was written by Sophie Lagace.  The other one was on PAXsims and was about gender imbalance in hobby and simulation wargaming.  Lagace's article mentioned how rpg books back in the 80's and 90's would have a paragraph explaining how "he" would refer to male and female players.  I totally remember those paragraphs.  I definitely prefer the mixed pronoun usage that is common today in rpg books, such as how Pathfinder books will alternate using "he" and "she" between sections.  I am also a big fan of diversity in images of characters and also in images of players in rpg books.

Inclusiveness can only help our hobby.  Analog gaming, especially the niches of role playing and wargaming, are small hobbies.  By accepting and including more types of players we grow the hobby and add new influences.  I introduced my daughter to role playing games, although now she mainly role-plays online.  I always want her to feel welcome and represented in the hobby.  Board games and rpgs are one of the coolest hobbies out there.  They are social activities that allow you to use your imagination while promoting higher-order thinking.  This hobby deserves to be enjoyed by as many different people, and types of people, as possible.  We stand to gain more people to play with!

The two articles I read are much more eloquent than anything I could write on the subject of inclusiveness in hobby gaming.  I recommend that you read them yourself.  Here are links to them (again).

Inclusiveness in games (part 1)

Gender and national security gaming

Sunday, March 6, 2016

April A-Z Blog Challenge

I am signing up for the April A-Z Blog Challenge.  I tend to post better when I have an extrinsic motivator.  I think it will be fun.

On a side note, I downloaded the free intro module for Star Fleet Battles.  It is a wargame of spaceship combat based on the original Star Trek series.  I've cut out my counters and plan to play through the training scenarios soon.  You can check out the free module here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Games I am excited about: Delta Green!

The new Delta Green role playing game is currently in development.  For those who are not familiar with the game, Delta Green is a secret organization dedicated to battling the Cthulhu mythos.  Think of it as the X-Files meets Call of Cthulhu.  Delta Green had a kickstarter, but I could not afford to pledge at the time.  One of the cool things that Arc Dream (the company producing the game) did was that they released the playtest rules of the game online.

They are awesome.  I must admit that I am biased, as Call of Cthulhu is probably my personally highest rated game product.  Delta Green uses the Call of Cthulhu rules with plenty of nice modern editions.  It looks like all CoC 6th edition material will be easily adaptable to the new system.  The additions to the system really make the game run smooth.  There are rules for automatic skill checks, heavy damage for modern weapons, and sanity rules that make sense.  Characters develop disorders based on the situation instead of some random chart.

The best part is that the quickstart rules have been released as a pay-what-you-want file on  Go check them out.