There’s Klingons on the Starboard Bow…

If any fleet can beat the Federation in terms of popularity, we are betting on these guys.  Everybody’s favourite baddies, the Klingons!

The Klingons are a pugnacious empire, and their fleet is a potent symbol of that.  They have a better Initiative score than the Federation, and a special rule that seriously beefs up their shields in the forward arc.  This tied with most of their weaponry being focussed up front means that you do not want to tackle these ships head on!

Unfortunately, enemy admirals will have their work cut out for them avoiding this, as even large Klingon Battlecruisers have the Agile trait and a superior Turn score.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the ships that populate the Klingon fleet list.  We’ll begin with two very closely related vessels.

D6 Heavy Cruiser

A very familiar shape this one, almost as iconic as the Federation’s Heavy Cruiser.  The D6 is the forerunner of the more famous (and more up to date) D7 Battlecruiser, but it remains a most viable vessel.

With a Damage score of 20 and only 18 Shields (though effectively 36 up front), the D6 seems to give up a fair amount of ground to the Federation Heavy Cruiser.  However, there are a number of things in its favour.  First, it is only 150 points, substantially less than the Federation equivalent.  Second, with a Turn score of 4 and being Agile, it will constantly be able to keep its Federation enemies off balance in a fight, training its heavy weapons on target at every opportunity while avoiding those fired back at it. It also carries Anti-Drone racks, meaning that even the massed swarms coming from Federation Battlecruisers (see last article in Planet Mongoose) can be kept at bay.

In return, it mounts three Attack Dice of phaser-1 which can be aimed in the front or side arcs, and two Attack Dice of phaser-2 cover each of the sides as well.  However, the heavy hitting power comes from the forward firing disruptors – four Attack Dice of Accurate (usually needing just 3′s to hit), Multihit 2 weaponry.  Not as potent as the photon torpedo, but they can be fired every turn without fail (photons need to reload, and you won’t always be able to do that every turn), outrange torpedoes, and can be overloaded to increase their damage potential.

While the Federation goes for the single hard hit, Klingons can pound away quite convincingly, all day, every day.

All of this is backed up with two Attack Dice of drones which will, of course, overwhelm most Federation ships and force them to dedicate their nasty, nasty phasers to defensive fire.  Leaving you free to keep on hammering them with disruptors.

D7 Battlecruiser

So, this is what an extra 25 points buys you – the mainstay of the Klingon fleet, the D7 Battlecruiser.  Very closely based on the D6, our designer Sandrine has managed to demonstrate its greater capability/modernity with a completely redesigned deck house (suggesting more power) and more complex detail on the wings (suggesting a more modern approach to ship design).

It is just as agile as the D6, though it has a couple of Damage points more.  The phaser-2 batteries have an additional Attack Dice each but, more importantly, their fire arcs are greatly extended to cover the entire port and starboard halves of the ship – meaning if the D7 lines up on a target, it gets to throw in the full weight of its secondary weapons on top of the phasers and disruptors.  At short range, that will make a big difference.

There is also a command variant of the D7, adding the Command +1 trait (naturally), but also an additional phaser-1 in each side arc, further adding to the firepower available – get a target lined up and you will be able to throw 5 Attack Dice of phaser-1 (the Federation Heavy Cruiser does 6) and 6 Attack Dice of phaser-2.  That is alongside the 4 Attack Dice of disruptors, each and every turn.

It is also worth pointing out that the Romulans get access to both of these ships, in the guise of the KR and KRC respectively.  However, being Romulan, they chuck out the filthy Klingon disruptors and replace them with plasma torpedoes.  Oh, and they get a cloaking device too!

F5 Frigate

Remember the Federation Frigates previewed here a few days ago?  Well, this is how the Klingons do things!

As Klingon Heavy Cruisers already move like Frigates, you can expect the F5 to be quite sprightly – and you would be right.  It is one of the most agile ships in the game, fully capable of turning 360-degrees in one turn without recourse to the rather frightening High Energy Turn.

Its 12 points of Damage and 16 Shields are certainly comparable to the Federation Frigate, and will even give the Battle Frigate something to think about when the F5 turns head on and gains the Klingon ‘boosted forward shields’ rule. It lacks the labs and tractor beams of its Federation equivalents, but this is not a vessel to go for a scientific jaunt in.  Oh, no – the F5 is intended to hammer other Frigates and give larger vessels a bloody nose, especially when used in agile hunting packs.

Armament is lighter than that of a Heavy Cruiser, of course, but still respectable.  Two phaser-1 keep watch up front and can cover the sides, while three Attack Dice of phaser-2 cover the rear and sides, giving the ship superb all-round protection – just what you need if you go into battle with an equally agile opponent (not that there are many of those, the F5 will turn inside even a Federation Frigate).  A single drone may not cause the Federation many worries, but as the F5 also has an Anti-Drone rack it will happily fire its drones, not having to worry about the response (see the Mutually Assured Destruction tactic in the last article).  Armament is rounded off with 2 Attack Dice of disruptors; though they have a lower range than those mounted on the D6 and D7, they retain their power and can still be overloaded.

All of this for just a bargain 100 points.  And yes, Romulans have access to this vessel too!

Speaking of Romulans, we will be turning our attention to them in the next preview article, starting with the original ships that graced their fleet, before moving onto their very latest designs.

A lot of people have been asking us when all this Star Fleet goodness will go on sale.  Well, pre-orders can be placed on our web site from the middle of next week onwards, and we are aiming to start shipping in the first week of December!

 

 

 

 

Heavy Cruisers and Battlecruisers

It is time to have a look at another couple of ships that will be appearing in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, and this time we cast our eye on two ships that will be the mainstay of any Federation battlefleet – the truly iconic Constitution-class Heavy Cruiser and its big brother, the Kirov-class Battlecruiser.

During the early stages of playtesting, these were another set of vessels that caused us to raise our eyebrows.  Surely, we thought, the Battlecruiser was not worth a whole 60 points more than the Heavy Cruiser?  During subsequent games we found that, yes, it is very much worth the extra points.  In fact, it could be a real powerhouse when used correctly…

First, though, let’s have a look at the Constitution, possibly the most recognisable starship in the world (it was certainly identified immediatly by US Customs when they scanned my luggage after Gen Con this year!).

NCC 1700 Constitution

This is what 180 points will buy you if you decide to become a Federation player. With a Turn score of 6, this ship can make a maximum of two 45-degree turns in each Movement Phase, which is pretty much average for many fleets (it will make Klingon players laugh though).  However, the Damage score of 32 and Shields of 24 mean it can withstand a great deal of punishment.  Indeed, that is enough for players to often ‘retire’ a battered ship from combat because it is barely limping along from a stack of critical hits, rather than being destroyed by being forced to zero Damage.

It carries a full suite of equipment and auxiliary systems – 4 shuttles in its hangars, 5 Marines, and a good list of traits including Labs 8, Tractor Beams 3, and Transporters 3.

The weaponry the Constitution brings into battle can best be described as ‘solid.’  You will never find yourself lacking for things to fire!  The saucer bears four sets of heavy phasers (we call this the Phaser-1), with two Attack Dice each looking across 180-degree fire arcs forward, back, left and right.  This means you will always have at least two main weapon systems to bring to bear on an enemy, no matter where they are and, if you get things lined up just right, three sets of phaser-1 batteries (6 Attack Dice!) can strike an enemy.

Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that while the phaser-1 is the main weapon for most fleets, it is by no means ‘weak’ in any regard.  With the Accurate +2 trait you will miss close-in targets only on the roll of a 1, while Kill Zone 8 means anything within 8″ will be suffering from an acquired Multihit 2 trait.  Finally, Precise means that any shots that strike the hull have a good chance of causing critical hits, and if you slip a salvo past someone’s shields, that can give them something very serious to think about.

There are two light phasers (phaser-3) that cover a 360-degree fire arc, though you will usually keep these to one side, in case someone throws an unexpected drone, shuttle or plasma torpedo at you.  Finally, there are four photon torpedo tubes and one drone rack to give the ship a heavy punch.

In the Federation fleet list, we have also listed a variant for the Constitution, the Command Cruiser.  An extra 25 points buys you the Command +1 trait (allowing your entire fleet to react better to the enemy), and moves the aft phasers to a 360-degree ‘turret’ mount.  Though we won’t do this for every (or, indeed, many) variant ships, as the base mdoel works just fine for them, we have actually done a limited model of the Command Cruiser that we will be using to promote the game.  You’ll have a chance to grab one in a couple of weeks or so, probably without paying a penny for it – stay tuned!

Overall, this is a very well-rounded ship, able to handle any assignment you care to throw at it, and come through victorious.

So, what can a Battlecruiser do by comparison?

NCC 1751 Kirov

A Heavy Cruiser with cooler looking warp nacelles?  Don’t you believe it…

At 240 points, the Kirov-class Battlecruiser represents a serious investment, especially in smaller games.  It showcases the upper limit of what a mid-sized ship can do in the game, before you start getting into the unweildy Dreadnoughts and other massive ships.

It has the same Turn score as the Heavy Crusier (6), but sports another four Damage (36) and more Shields – 30 of them.  This latter is important as it crosses another threshold whereby (like the Battle Frigate vs. the Frigate in the last column) boosting shields becomes more efficient.  In fact, if the Kirov constantly boosts its shields, it takes a serious assault on the part of the enemy to bring them down, with far more effort required than might first be obvious.  Of course, the crew will always have other demands on their time so this is not usually practical in many games, but you always have the option to turn it into a nigh impregnable phaser-fortress (just watch out for shots slipping past your shields).

There are also more shuttles on board, for a total of 6, and more Marines too, 8 of them with an additional Transporter being placed for their use. It also has the Command +1 trait that Heavy Cruisers have to upgrade to get.

Then we get to the weapons.  The forwardmost phasers on the saucer have been punched up to four Attack Dice and those facing aft on the Heavy Cruiser are now on a 360-degree turret mount.  This means if you get an enemy dead ahead, every phaser-1 on this ship can target them which, frankly, is just plain rude!  10 Attack Dice of phasers will disabuse anyone that this weapon system cannot hold a candle to the likes of photon torpedoes.

There are no changes to the photons or phaser-3 systems, but drones get bumped up to a massive 4 Attack Dice.

During playtesting, we found a kind of Mutually Assured Destruction pattern developed when ‘low drone count’ fleets faced one another.  If you get attacked by a drone, you can roll some dice for your phasers (this is what your phaser-3s are generally used for!), or simply use your own drone to automatically nullify it, no dice rolled. In fleets where every ship generally has just one drone rack, you often get into situations where no one fires a drone, just in case they get targeted towards the end of the Attack Phase.

The Kirov blows this idea out of the water.  With four Attack Dice of drones, it can simply overwhelm most targets.  In fact, in ‘civil wars’ we have played with the Federation facing another Federation fleet, people quickly used the Federation’s special rule of turning their drones from an offensive role to the defensive Anti-Drone trait as soon as the Battlecruiser arrives on the field!

As mentioned earlier, the combination of all these extra pieces, while small by themselves, adds up to a ship with vastly more capability on the battlefield.  Stronger shields keep it fighting longer, and that means its extra phasers and drones are around to do more damage to the enemy. If you don’t know what you are facing, you cannot go wrong with a Heavy Cruiser or three, perhaps backed up by a Command Cruiser.  When you face the big boys, the Battlecruiser starts becoming a very attractive option, even at its elevated points cost.

Speaking of Command Cruisers, there is no such variant for the Kirov (there is no need for one, with its standard onboard systems).  However, there are two variants included in the fleet list, and they are fielded using the ‘standard’ Battlecruiser model.

First up, you have the Bismarck-class, which replaces 2 Attack Dice of drones with two small plasma torpedoes.  This is a way for the Federation to experiment with plasma weaponry, though you will find you need to get very close to an enemy in order to make them work.  However, if you can succeed at that, the variant costs no additional points.

The New Jersey-class Battlecruiser is actually cheaper, at 215 points.  It also loses 2 Attack Dice of drones, replacing them with another 2 Attack Dice of photon torpedoes – that gives you 6 Attack Dice of torpedoes, which is the sort of thing a typical Dreadnought brings into battle. Alas, though, the Battlecruiser is too small a hull to bear the stress of so much firepower, so they cannot all be fired at once.  What it does allow you to do is keep up a constant pounding of torpedoes, one set firing while another reload, though all but the best admirals will struggle to keep that volley going for more than as couple of turns or so – there is always something else you will want to be doing other than reloading torpedoes!

So, that forms our review of the two main ships of the Federation fleet.  Next week, we will start to explore the vessels of the alien empires…

Burke vs. Ramius

We have been playing an awful lot of A Call to Arms: Star Fleet here at Mongoose of late.  At first, we called it playtesting but soon it became clear we were really just having some fun with the game!

Over the past couple of weeks, we have showcased some of the rules to be found in the game, and highlighted how the mechanics have changed to adapt to the Star Fleet Universe.  Now, we are going to start looking at some of the ships!

I wanted to kick off with a comparison between two small Federation ships; the Burke-class Frigate and the Ramius-class Battle Frigate. These two caused some excitement in the early stages of playtesting, as all our costing formulae said we had the right points values for them, as did the actual playtest results.  However, given the small points differential between them, our hearts were telling us that their points values were too close.  This is a look at both ships, what makes them different and what we discovered after (a great deal!) of playtesting.

NCC 301 Burke

Aside from the Police Cutter, the Burke-class Frigate is the smallest ship in the current Federation list, and certainly the tiniest ‘proper’ warship Federation  players will be able to field. It is capable of holding its own in small games and is used to harry the flanks and strike at weak targets in larger battles.

With a Turn score of 4 and the Agile trait, it can make three 90-degree turns in a normal move, allowing you to get this ship exactly where you need it on the battlefield and able to use all its weapons most efficiently. With Damage 12 and Shields 18, it can take a modest amount of punishment, though a full salvo from a Heavy Cruiser or Dreadnought, especially with overloaded weaponry, will melt it into space goo in a single turn – so don’t get caught out!

In return, it has three main phaser points on the saucer, each covering a 180-degree arc to the front and sides (so if you get an enemy lined up dead centre, you can get all three onto it), along with two photon torpedo tubes.  There is also a single drone rack and two phaser-3 mounts that, combined, provide all-round defensive coverage.

Add to that mix a modest Labs 2, Tractor Beam 2, and Transporter 2 traits, and you have a cheap ship that can do a little of everything, all for 95 points.  A bargain, surely?  Well, take a look at its main rival for your attentions in the Federation fleet.

NCC 471 Marko Ramius

The same hull, with a third warp engine added – and in the Star Fleet Universe, more or bigger warp engines do not mean more speed.  They mean more power!  Power that is used to charge up additional engines and better shielding.

So, while the Ramius-class Battle Frigate has the same Damage score (12) of the Burke, it is a little more potent all round.  There are just another 2 points of Shields (20), but this means the ship has enough reserve power to regenerate double the number of shields when it boosts power to them over what the Burke is capable of. So, in a sustained duel where the Battle Frigate has a chance to retire now and again to lick its wounds (perhaps by hiding behind a convenient planet), it will have a far easier job in keeping its main defence topped up.

Another phaser is added to the front of the saucer, meaning it can fire a total of four at a target dead ahead (which is the same a Heavy Cruiser will generally pour out if it does not have a target in its optimum fire arcs) and, tellingly, it has an extra photon torpedo.  The latter may not seem a great deal until you have fired two photons at a target and seen them both trailing off into empty space (has happened to me many a time, and no, I am not bitter about it…).

So, 50% more heavy weaponry, an extra phaser and not only a few more shields but more efficient use of them.  And for all of this we charge you nothing more than 110 points – a mere 15 point increase.

So, what gives?  In a typical 500-1,000 point game, why would you ever choose a Frigate over a Battle Frigate, assuming you do not just need to save 15 points so you can afford that nice shiney new Battlecruiser?

The Battle Frigate is well named.  When it is constantly boosting energy to shields, it has the capability of weathering a great deal of incoming fire, so long as it does not attract the direct attention of one of the ‘big boys’ (Heavy Cruisers and the like).  The three photons can command a fair amount of respect, especially when overloaded, and it can conduct all the normal operations of a larger ship (scientific research, ferrying people down to a planet, etc) though you may need two to match the ‘throughput’ of something bigger.

The Frigate seems somewhat ouclassed by all of this.  However, it has that Agile trait mentioned right at the start – and the Battle Frigate doesn’t.  That, we discovered, made all the difference – and is why, in this case at least, our hearts were telling us the wrong thing.

Once the Frigate gets onto the tail of a larger vessel, nothing short of a High Energy Turn will shake it off (though Klingons may give it a go), and players tend to think very carefully about pulling that move (it tends to leave ships with automatic critical hits to their engines).  This allows it to happily sit there for much of the battle, whittling down the shields and hull of its bigger oppopnent while absorbing the weaker rear arc return fire.  At some point, it will either deliver some telling damage or force your opponent into doing something stupid (see High Energy Turn, above).

The 90-degree turn also makes it a nasty opponent during a close-in ‘knife fight,’ where its Agility really begins to tell.  One vicious trick is to sucker an opponent close in, and then overload the photon torpedoes.  That 90-degree turn means, so long as the range stays short, it can likely get an overloaded shot off without having to worry about the enemy moving out of arc. And, as you might imagine, two overloaded photons from a sub-100 point ship is no joke, even to a mighty Dreadnought.

Combine these two tactics, and you have a tenacious little terrier of a ship that has nothing to prove against its steroid-pumped cousin.

This is what we found in our games, and I still have to think carefully about which of these two I take into battle.  No doubt you and the rest of your group will develop their own favourites and tactics – if so, swing by our forums and let us know!

In the next comparison article on Planet Mongoose, we will stick with the Federation for a little longer as we consider another two ships that caused a flutter during playtesting, again because of what their points values indicated – the iconic Heavy Cruiser and the seriously cool Battlecruiser.

 

Star Fleet – Advanced Rules

Last time we took a look at the forthcoming A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, we concentrated on the differences between it and Babylon 5 & Noble Armada.  This time around, we are going to take a gander at the Advanced Rules and preview another ship…

Cloaks
Some ships, notably those of the Romulan Star Empire, are equipped with cloaks. Once engaged, a cloak will cause a ship to disappear, both visually and on sensors. This allows for a wide range of tactics, from approaching an enemy unseen to launching a surprise attack, to safely escaping after decoying a superior force.

To engage a cloak, a ship must use the Engage Cloak! Special Action at the start of its turn. During this turn, the ship may not move more than 6 inches and may not make any attacks. However, it immediately gains the Stealth 4+ trait.

While cloaked in subsequent turns, the ship gains the Stealth 2+ trait but cannot launch any attacks of its own. It may not move more than 6 inches in a turn and cannot use any Special Actions aside from Disengage Cloak!

Transporters, Tractors and weapons with the Seeking trait cannot be used against a cloaked ship.

To disengage the cloak, a ship must use the Disengage Cloak! Special Action at the start of its turn. The ship may be moved up to 6 inches in any direction and turned up to 45o in any direction before it makes its normal move – the enemy never knows exactly where a cloaked ship is or where it may reveal itself. It loses the Stealth trait but may fire normally.

A ship will automatically and immediately lose its cloak if it enters a dust cloud or asteroid field. A ship may start a game cloaked unless denied by the scenario being played.

The Stealth 2+ trait basically keeps a cloaked ship hidden but, because Stealth is now rolled against every single hit, it allows players to ‘shotgun’ areas of space and get some lucky hits.  The cloaked ship can weather the storm as it retains shields though, as players will soon find out, a lucky hit can still cause immense problems and a cloaked ship cannot attack at all.  The trade off comes when a ship decloaks, as it gains that 6″ repositioning move, which can be very useful.

We noticed in playtesting that players with Romulan ships cloaked all the time.  As they quickly learned, this is not a good idea – cloaks are another tool, one of many that Romulans have, and the rest should not be ignored no matter how sexy cloaking is!

Defensive Fire
A ship need not rely purely on its shields to defend against every attack. Drones and plasma torpedoes can be directly targeted by phasers and neutralised before they strike a ship.

Defensive fire takes place as soon as a ship is targeted by a drone or plasma torpedo and is about to be hit. A phaser may only fire once per turn, whether it is used for attacking an enemy ship or defensive fire, and the owning player must decide which phasers will defend against which attacks if multiple seeking weapons are coming in. Traits such as Accurate apply as normal but Kill Zone will not as drones are engaged beyond this range.

Against Drones: Any phaser with a fire arc covering the attacking ship may be used to defensively fire against drones it launches. Roll the phaser’s Attack Dice as normal. Every successful hit will remove one Attack Die of drones.

Against Plasma Torpedoes: Any phaser may be used against an attacking plasma torpedo in the same way as it can be used against drones. However, every successful hit from a phaser will reduce the Attack Dice of a plasma torpedo by 1. If enough phasers successfully strike it, the plasma torpedo may be nullified altogether.

Using Drones Against Drones: Drones can be used for defensive fire, although they may only target other drones. They are used in the same way as phasers but no Attack Dice are rolled. Instead, each drone launched as defensive fire will automatically nullify one Attack Die of enemy drones.

We tried many variations of this rule and I was initially unhappy with having to traack every phaser used for defence because it is out of sequence for the ship and is more bookkeeping to follow.  In practice it is hardly ever an issue.  Phaser-3s are so short-ranged that they are almost always on defensive duty, so it only becomes a conscious decision to bring the phaser-1s to bear – and unless you are getting swamped by drones or there are no target in that particular arc, you are never going to do this.  The reverse is true too – you tend not to use phaser-3s even at short range unless you know you are safe from drones.  The consequences of not keeping them back from a surprise attack is just too great, even if you have adequate Anti-Drone coverage.

Basically, the rule works, is easy to understand so we kept it!

Labs
Most ships are equipped with laboratories, packed with scientific equipment to aid them in exploratory missions. In some scenarios ships are required to gather a certain number of Information Points from enemy ships, bases, planets or anomalies.

During each turn a ship does not perform a Special Action and is within 6 inches of a target it wishes to scan, roll one die for every Lab it has in the End Phase. The ship will gain this many Information Points from the target. If the target is within 3 inches, each Lab will roll two dice instead.

Probes
Unless otherwise stated, every ship carries one Probe Launcher. A Probe may be fired in any fire arc in any End Phase and will gather four dice worth of Information Points from any target within 6 inches. A ship may not fire another probe in the next turn as it must reload its launcher but it is free to fire another thereafter.

A cloaked ship may not use Labs or probes.

Fairly self-explanatory, these two.  You won’t just be fighting in some missions!

There are some things I have skipped over for now, either because they reference other rules areas or are fairly lengthy (transporters and tractor beams, for example), but we will come back to them soon enough.  So, let’s round this off with a look at another ship, an old staple of the Romulan fleet – the KR Heavy Cruiser (which will also give Klingon fans some clues too!).

KR Heavy Cruiser                            165 Points
Converted from surplus Klingon D6 hulls, these were some of the first warp-powered starships the Romulans deployed. Each ship mounts two type-S torpedoes, all the ageing frame of the old D6 could carry.

Ships of the Class: Praetorian, Patrician, Kestrel, Shrike, Annihilation, Retribution, Retaliation, Proconsul.

Turn: 4
Shields: 18
Damage: 20/7
Marines: 5
Craft: 4 Shuttles
Traits: Agile, Cloak, Labs 4, Tractor Beam 3, Transporter 5

Weapon  /  Range  /  Arc  /  AD  /  Special
Phaser-1  /  18  /  F, P, S  /  3  /  Accurate +2, Kill Zone 8, Precise
Phaser-2  /  12  /  A, P  /  2  /  Accurate +1, Kill Zone 4, Precise
Phaser-2  /  12  /  A, S  /  2 /   Accurate +1, Kill Zone 4, Precise
Plasma Torpedo-S /   16  /  F, P  /  4  /  Devastating +1, Energy Bleed, Multihit D6, Reload, Seeking
Plasma Torpedo-S /   16  /  F, S  /  4  /  Devastating +1, Energy Bleed, Multihit D6, Reload, Seeking

* So long as it has a Shields score above 0, a KR Heavy Cruiser suffering an attack from within its Fore arc will have the number of hits it sustains halved, rounding up, with the exception of any hits that penetrate the shields. These are treated as normal.

Let’s compare it to the Federation Heavy Cruiser we last previewed, as they are very close in points cost (the KR gives away 15 points).

One big difference is with a Turn score of 4, the KR can make three turns in a move to the Heavy Cruiser’s two.  However, it is also Agile, so those turns can be up to 90 degrees, ensuring the KR can always turn tighter than a Federation ship (and yes, most Klingon ships can do this too!).  Romulans will need this as well, for the KR gives away a little in Shields and quite a bit in Damage, so it is by no means as durable (though the Fore Arc Shield special rule, also applicable to all Klingon ships) helps out a great deal.

There are less Labs, but more Tractor Beams and Transporters, suiting the more offensive role of the KR.  Just don’t expect it to perform as well when doing ‘science stuff.’

The three up front Phaser-1s are nice enough (compared to the four the Heavy cruiser will always be able to get on you, or six if it gets you dead in-between firing lanes), but the phaser-2s will always be relegated to opportunity fire or even defensive work, leaving you to rely on shields most of the time to absorb drone hits.  However, with those two plasma torpedoes up front, you will be looking to swoop in, hit hard, and then retreat.

The latter is made much easier by the elephant in the room, the Cloak trait.  Simply fade out, leaving the Federation to lick its wounds – or, better yet, suffer another attack from your second cloaked ship that is now making an appearence!

A Look at A Call to Arms: Star Fleet

We should start seeing some pretty models of space ships in the next week or two (and they will be coming thick and fast!), so now seems right to have a little look at some of the changes we have made to A Call to Arms (whether you are used to Babylon 5 or Noble Armada).  This is by no means a complete list; consider it more a whistle stop tour of the new rules…

Movement Phase
When nominated to move, a ship must be moved in a straight line forward.  No ship can travel more than 12” in a turn, and ships may remain stationary if they wish.

Now that you have your ship in motion, you will at some point want to change the direction of its movement. All ships have a Turn score, which rates how quickly they can turn.  A ship must move forward a number of inches equal to its Turn score before it can make a turn.

A turn can be anything up to 45°.

A ship can turn more than once when it moves, so long as it moves a number of inches in a straight line equal to its Turn score before each turn.  A ship cannot use straight line movement from a previous turn to count towards the distance moved before a turn can be made.

As you can see here, the rules for movement are, if anything, even simpler than before.  The Turn score is no longer how many turns you can make during movement, but how far you must travel before a turn can be made.  A simple change, but far more intuitive.  Also note there is no minimum movement any more – neither needed nor welcomed in the Star Fleet Universe!

Attack Phase
We’ll just look at a few things here…

Fore F – 90 degrees forward
Fore Half FH – 180 degrees forward
Aft A – 90 degrees back
Aft Half AH – 180 degrees back
Port P – 90 degrees left
Port Half PH – 180 degrees Left
Starboard S – 90 degrees right
Starboard Half SH – 180 degrees right
Turret T – 360 degrees all round

If a target lies on the border between two fire arcs, then the attacking player may attack with weapons in both fire arcs.

New fire arcs have been added to cope with the Star Fleet Universe, and the change of rule on what you do if a ship lies between fire arcs makes Federation ships with their FH, PH, and SH phaser banks particularly nasty when they come at you head-on.

A roll of 4 or more on each Attack Dice is a hit.

If a weapon system is firing at a target at greater than half its range, each Attack Dice will suffer a –1 penalty due to the great distance.

Take note: there is no Hull score in this game.  If you can see a ship, it matters little how big or small it is, as the technology is good enough to get the hits.  In fact, with Phasers having the Accurate +2 trait, few of them will miss. Combining this with the new fire arcs means that tactical movement is far more critical in this game, but you still must master the element of chance with the Big Weapons, such as photons.

Every hit will reduce a ship’s remaining shields by one. Any hits that are not absorbed by Shields will go through to the hull.

Shields are not perfect defences, however, and powerful attacks may be able to blast some energy through them.

Every Attack Dice that rolls a 6 will ignore the Shields completely and instead strike the hull directly, rolling on the Attack Table.

Yup, they leak!

Power Drain
Some Special Actions demand a great deal of a ship, so some systems have to be reduced or turned off altogether so enough power remains available to keep a ship flying.  If a Special Action is noted as having Power Drain, then the player must choose one of the following penalties and apply it to his ship.

* May only move up to 6”
*May only fire phasers this turn
*May only fire one weapon system this turn (if the ship only has one weapon system, it may not fire at all)

For a long time in the playtest rules, we had various mechanics that stated if you do Special Action A, then Bad Thing B happens, if you do Special Action C, then Bad Thing B happens, and so on.  A right confusing mess.  In the end, we unified everything under this Power Drain rule, allowing players to decide where their ship’s power would be best used in a turn. For example;

High Energy Turn!
Crew Quality Check: 8
Power Drain: No
Effect: Pushing the ship’s engines to dangerous levels, the Captain orders his ship to turn hard to gain a position of advantage. The ship can increase one turn by up to 180 degrees. If the Crew Quality check is failed, then the ship does not gain an extra turn and automatically increases the Critical Score of its Impulse Drive by +1 for every 45 degrees extra it tried to turn.

Nasty! Moving on, a new universe needs a new set of traits, of course.  Here is a small selection of the new or altered ones;

Agile: The ship can pull very tight turns, allowing it to out-manoeuvre other vessels with ease. This ship can turn 90o whenever it turns, instead of 45o.
Anti-Drone X: Protected by dedicated anti-drone missiles, this ship is all but immune to drone fire.  Roll a dice for every Attack Dice of drones attacking a ship with the Anti-Drone trait.  Each roll of a 2 or more will destroy one Attack Dice of drones.  If any dice roll a 1, an Attack Dice of drones will be destroyed as normal, but the system will then run out of ammunition, reducing the Anti-Drone score by 1. Ships reduced to an Anti-Drone score of 0 will no longer benefit from this trait.
Armour X: Not purely reliant on shields to protect them, some older ships have electro-static capacitors to absorb damage.  The total number of hits from a weapon system against a ship with this trait will be reduced by the Armour score.  Their effects are completely ignored.
Fast: A few ships are specially designed to be faster than normal, trading firepower for increased speed.  A Fast ship may move up to 14” in the Movement Phase, and may move up to 21” if it performs an All Power to Engines! Special Action.
Stealth X: Some ships have superior active stealth systems that can render their ships nearly invisible to their enemies. After an attacker has declared any weapon attacks on this ship, a lock-on must be achieved. For every hit a ship with this trait takes, the owner rolls a dice.  If the dice rolls equal to or greater than the Stealth score, all effects of the hit are completely ignored.

Accurate +X: With superior targeting systems or effects that take little time to travel the gulf of space, these weapons are very accurate and likely to hit their targets. Each Attack Dice rolled for this weapon system adds the Accurate score.
Energy Bleed: This weapon’s power greatly diminishes at long ranges.  If fired at a target over half its Range, it will lose 1 Attack Dice.  If fired at a target over three quarters of its Range, it will lose 3 Attack Dice.
Kill Zone X: This weapon has an optimum range for unleashing its devastation.  Beyond this range its power dwindles but up close, it can be lethal.  If this weapon attacks a target within a number of inches equal to its Kill Zone score it will gain the Multihit 2 trait or, alternatively, double an existing Multihit trait. A Multihit score of D6 will therefore become 2D6.

So, what does all this add up to?  Let’s take a look at a rather familiar ship…

Constitution-class Heavy Cruiser                    180 Points
The workhorse of the Federation, this ship has a good balance of capabilities.  It is more than just a combat ship, as it can conduct research, rescue, and exploration missions, among many other tasks.

Ships of the Class: 1700 Constitution, 1701 Enterprise, 1702 Farragut, 1704 Yorktown, 1706 Exeter, 1707 Hood, 1708 Intrepid, 1709 Valiant, 1711 Potemkin, 1716 Endeavour, 1718 Excelsior

Turn: 6
Shields: 24
Damage: 32/11
Marines: 5
Craft: 4 Shuttles
Traits: Labs 8, Tractor Beam 2, Transporter 3

Weapon  /  Range  /  Arc  /  AD  /  Special
Phaser-1  /  18  /  FH /   2  /  Accurate +2, Kill Zone 8, Precise
Phaser-1  /  18  /  PH /  2  /  Accurate +2, Kill Zone 8, Precise
Phaser-1  /  18  /  SH /   2  /  Accurate +2, Kill Zone 8, Precise
Phaser-1  /  18  /  AH  /  2  /  Accurate +2, Kill Zone 8, Precise
Phaser-3  /  6  /  T  /  2  /  Accurate +1, Kill Zone 2, Precise
Photon Torpedoes  /  15  /  F  /  4  /  Devastating +1, Multihit 4, Reload
Drone  /  36  /  T  /  1  /  Devastating +1, Multihit D6, Seeking

Command Cruiser (CC) Variant (1703 Lexington, 1705 Excalibur)        +25 points
Change AH Phaser-1 to Turret arc.  Add Command +1 trait.

So, what can we tell about this ship?  Well, with Turn 6, it can make two 45 degree turns if it moves at full whack (similar to a Klingon D7, but that ship has the Agile trait, allowing it to turn in tighter).  The Photons and Drones seem to be the ‘sexy’ weapons, but you will quickly find there are several different ways of stopping a Drone hitting you, and Photons have that pesky Reload trait – this time round, not only do you have to skip a turn when firing torpedoes, but you cannot have made a Special Action in the turn previous either.  In practice, Drones are best used to help overwhelm an enemy’s defences, while Photons are superb at the ‘final strike,’ when you have brought down an enemy’s shields completely and are wanting to burn him from stem to stern!  With 4 Attack Dice and Multihit 4, the Constitution-class is more than capable of delivering a death blow to a weakened ship.

That leaves the Phasers, with a mere 2 Attack Dice each.  Don’t sound very exciting?  Well, let’s take a closer gander.  A range of 18 is perfectly respectable in the Star Fleet Universe (you’ll note Photons do not stretch that far), and the fire arcs are pretty wide.  In fact, if the Constitution faces an enemy head on, it can get 6 Attack Dice of phaser on target.  With Accurate +2, you need just a 2 or more to hit at short range; get within 8″ and that Kill Zone 8 trait will kick in, effectively giving the phasers Multihit 2.  That makes an average of 10 Shields knocked down in one salvo, which will halve the shields of a lesser ship or completely strip a smaller one bare (see previous comment about Photons).  Once the shields are down (or even before that, as they do ‘leak’), that Precise trait will bring a good crop of critical hits your way.

The phaser-3 battery is not much cop, admitedly and though it may get used in those ‘kitchen sink’ moments, these weapons tend to be kept in reserve, not fired unless the ship gets surprised by a Drone or Plasma Torpedo – then that little pop gun can make all the difference!

You’ll also notice some other things we have not covered in this preview; with the Labs 8 trait, the Constitution is a serious scientific vessel, able to garner data quickly and efficiently – and yes, we have suitable scenarios in the core book to do just that! It has a good number of Transporters, allowing hit and run boarding actions against unshielded opponents, and a decent amount of Tractor Beams to either cause enemy ships problems, or to be used as a defence against Drones or shuttles that get too close (some of them explode, you know!).

Overall, the Constitution is a good, solid ship, equally at home on its own or within a tight battle formation.  The addition of the Command Cruiser variant is just the cherry on the cake!

Next time – we plumb the mysteries of the Advanced Rules chapter and cast a critical eye on another vessel…

How We Beat Plasma

** Disclaimer: These rules are as the current draft, and may change (again) before release  **

A lot of you have been asking when we are going to start revealing our plans for A Call to Arms: Star Fleet.  Let’s just say we have been busy getting all our ducks in a line, and October is going to be a busy month if you want to keep up on all the details!

However, for now, I want to talk about plasma torpedoes.  Because these (and, to a lesser extent, drones) have taken up more Games Design Brain Capacity (known as GD/BC in Games Designer College) than pretty much anything else in the game.

Sure, we had some challenges effectively balancing photons against disruptors, and just how do you reflect a Klingon’s strong shields to the fore with only one Shield score in the game? But it was plasma torpedoes that we came back to, time and again, with a multitude of different systems, trying to get them right.

The problem was the fundamentally different approaches between A Call to Arms and Star Fleet Battles (or Federation Commander).  SFB models as much as possible, as accurately as possible.  It makes you feel like you know enough to command a real spaceship.  A Call to Arms is supposed to concentrate on fleets as a whole and purposefully keep the rules as far away as possible, so they become almost invisible to the game (never quite managed that, but it is a goal…).

Step One
So, the first thing we did was make drones and plasmas torpedoes (collectively, Seeking Weapons) ‘direct fire’.  You picked a target, rolled Attack Dice, and did damage, like any other weapon.  Simple, sure, but absolutely not how they work in the SFU.

Step Two
We knew we could not have torpedoes and drones wandering about the battlefield.  SFB is designed to take care of details like this, but CTA will break down in a pile of smoking wreckage if you try to shoehorn something like that in.  So, we didn’t even try.

Instead, we borrowed the torpedo system from Victory at Sea, specifically the way we handle the Japanese Long Lances.  Basically, pick a target, and place a counter next to it.  The torpedoes hit in an End Phase, either the current one if you are close or the one next turn, if you are far away.

We also had some rules about going very fast and keeping torpedoes away from your fore arc to avoid them completely.  And we figured we could make some funky 3D plasma and drone ‘counters’ and give them away in the fleet box sets.  One model drone for every Attack Dice the salvo represented.  Oh, and if we did that, we could start taking away counters/Attack Dice every time a plasma torpedo travelled a long way or got shot by a phaser.

We also tied ourselves in knots with Defensive Fire, with players having to remember which ship shot what weapon, so they did not accidentally fire it again when their ship attacked another.

With the abstraction present in CTA, this modelled the SFU very well.  And everyone hated it.

Games were taking an age to play, and I really disliked the ‘bitty’ nature of the rules.  They just weren;t elegant, which is something games designers like (and that probably says more about them than their games, but I digress).

Game Design Epiphany
These epiphanies hit a lot during a game’s development.  Normally when you discover just how far up your own rear end you have managed to climb by building successive rules on top of one another, and a fresh breeze of common sense eventually manifests itself.

It happened with CTA: SF. It suddenly hit me that, for all this time (and not just with the Seeking Weapon rules), I had been trying to model Star Fleet Battles, rather than the Star Fleet Universe.  And what was the point of that?  People already have Star Fleet Battles, they have had it for a good many years.  They are not going to suddenly junk that in just because something similar has come out.  More to the point, we never intended to challenge or compete with SFB anyway, as that really would be a backward step in our partnership with the guys at Amarillo.

What we were creating was A Call to Arms: Star Fleet – in other words, taking the Star Fleet Universe and looking at it through the lens of A Call to Arms.

The key was not to model everything in careful, redundant detail but instead to take the effects of what happens in Star Fleet Battles and look at how that can be represented in A Call to Arms.

What happened next did not just change seeking weapons but brought down a lot of existing rules that were too complicated, too confusing or just plain took too long to play out.  We took a good, long look at every new rule we had put into the game and if it did not improve the play in some way, it was either deleted or replaced.

Step Three
I got it into my head that, however complicated they might potentially be, Seeking Weapons should be able to be boiled down into a single trait.  That is how a good CTA rule should work – simple, and easily understood in one paragraph.  If it takes more than that, it needs work.  So, to begin with, I came up with this;

Seeking: Seeking weapons must travel across space to their target but will doggedly pursue it until they impact and explode with deadly effect. A weapon with this trait will automatically hit its target, without rolling any Attack Dice.  With the damage spread around the entire target ship, no rolls are made to see if the weapon penetrates Shields.

I lie here a little – Seeking weapons originally had half their hits automatically penetrate the Shields but that made them nasty!  This way, the rule is much cleaner and the game better balanced.

Anyway, here we had managed to define Seeking weapons in just a couple of lines.  Perfect!  However, now came the tricky part.  How do we model all the special things that can happen with Seeking weapons in SFB, but keep this rule clean and simple?

We had modelled how Seeking weapons hit their target (automatically).  In fact, how these weapons cause damage was never the issue (by and large, they do a lot of damage!).  The complications came with how enemies reacted to them.

The next stage was to (re-) introduce Defensive Fire.  However, I did not want to fall into the old trap of ships having to choose which weapons were going to attack and which were going to defend, with players remembering which was which, for every vessel, throughout a turn (yes, one version of the rules actually did this…).  In CTA if you get fired at and react, you roll some dice, figure the result, and move on. It has to be that quick.  Or it isn’t CTA.

However, as it stood, it wasn’t SFU either.  So, under the Advanced Rules (you won’t need to bother with this when you first start playing – unless you are already a CTA veteran!), I write this;

Defensive Fire
A ship need not rely purely on its shields to defend against every attack. Drones and plasma torpedoes can be directly targeted by phasers, and neutralised before they strike a ship.

Defensive fire takes place as soon as a ship is targeted by a drone or plasma torpedo and is about to be hit.  A phaser may only fire once per turn using defensive fire, and the owning player must decide which phasers will defend against which attacks if multiple seeking weapons are coming in.  Traits such as Accurate apply as normal, but Kill Zone will not as drones are engaged beyond this range.

Against Drones
Any phaser-3 with a fire arc covering the attacking ship may be used to defensively fire against drones it launches.  Roll the phaser-3’s Attack Dice as normal.  Every successful hit will remove one Attack Dice of drones.

Against Plasma Torpedoes
Any phaser-3 may be used against an attacking plasma torpedo in the same way as it can be used against drones.  However, every successful hit from a phaser-3 will reduce the Attack Dice of a plasma torpedo by 1. If enough phasers successfully strike it, the plasma torpedo may be nullified altogether.

Simples.

Phaser-3s are not the most awesome weapons in the game and we can afford to have them used defensively and maybe fire again to attack something (for all the good they will do).  This meant all a player needs to figure out is how many of his phaser-3s he is going to use against an incoming attack, knowing that once used in this way, he cannot use them again.  If you only have one enemy in a particular fire arc, blast away with all weapons.  If you are surrounded, though, a clever enemy may get you to throw your defences at one attack, while saving something really nasty once all your phaser-3s have been expended.

Easy and it encourages tactics.  Sorted.

It also made Anti-Drone racks easy to model;

Anti-Drone X: Protected by dedicated anti-drone missiles, this ship is all but immune to drone fire.  Roll a dice for every Attack Dice of drones attacking a ship with the Anti-Drone trait.  Each roll of a 2 or more will destroy one Attack Dice of drones.  If any dice roll a 1, an Attack Dice of drones will be destroyed as normal, but the system will then run out of ammunition, reducing the Anti-Drone score by 1. Ships reduced to an Anti-Drone score of 0 will no longer benefit from this trait.

Loved this rule too because, as well as being simple, it had that old B5 ‘interceptor’ feel to it, with the knowledge that even the best defence could, eventually, be overwhelmed.

However, there were a couple more tweaks needed to make all of this tie in properly to the SFU.  First of all, you should also be able to use Phaser-1s (and 2s) in Defensive Fire, if you are desperate.  However, there was no way I was going to let a player fire those willy-nilly whenever he liked.  So, time for a Special Action;

Intensify Defensive Fire!
Crew Quality Check: Automatic
Power Drain: No
Effect: The captain orders phaser and drone crews to concentrate on incoming threats.  For the rest of the turn, the ship may not use its phasers or drones to attack enemy ships.  However, it may use all of its phasers to destroy drones and plasma torpedoes (see the rules for Defensive fire on pXX).

In addition, it may use its drones to intercept attacking drones.  Every Attack Dice of drones used in this manner will automatically destroy one Attack Dice of incoming drones.

Finally, the ship may contribute its phasers and drones to the defensive fire of any friendly ship within range and arc of the weapons.  As always, each weapon may only be used once per turn.

Basically, you can make your ship very difficult to breach, but you will tie up a lot of your own resources to do it.  Also allowed for the ‘escorting’ of friendly ships – again, more tactical possibilities.

Oh and no, I won’t be explaining Power Drain here.  Let’s just say that rule ties up a lot of loose ends that were always in CTA’s Special Actions.  Now they have all been formalised.

Next, we had to model the possibility of the enemy hitting the gas and trying to outrun/outrange a seeking weapon – happens all the time in SFB, had to be possible in CTA.  However, we had already eliminated the moving of counters on the table (which was a Good Thing), and we didn’t want to go back to that.  However, as a certain set of circumstances needed to be fulfilled to evade seeking weapons in this way, we could handle this with an advanced rule that could be invoked only when needed, rather than the whole bundle effecting every aspect of the game (as it had before).

Evading Seeking Weapons
Very fast moving ships may be able to evade seeking weapons long enough for all their energy to dissipate or until they run out of fuel.

If a ship has moved more than 12” in a turn (usually by using the All Power to Engines! Special Action) and is attacked by a seeking weapon in any fire arc except its fore, it may be able to evade the weapon long enough to escape any damage.

Under these conditions, the ship makes an opposed Crew Quality check with the ship attacking it with seeking weapons.  If the ship manages to win the check, then the seeking weapon attack is ignored.

So, if you are moving fast enough and not flying straight towards a seeking weapon, you get a chance to avoid it based on the skill of your crew to evade and the skill of the enemy to launch at the right time – abstracting all of that from SFB into one opposed Crew Quality check.

There was just one last dollop of icing that was needed on this cake, concerning plasma torpedoes and the fact they weaken as they travel.  Without counters and torpedoes moving over subsequent turns, we needed to be inventive.  As it turned out, just one small trait was needed;

Energy Bleed: This weapon’s power greatly diminishes at long ranges.  If fired at a target over half its Range, it will lose 1 Attack Dice.  If fired at a target over three quarters of its Range, it will lose 3 Attack Dice.

This means that if you have a tiny plasma weapon, you need to be really close to do any damage.  Bigger ones can be fired over greater distances.

Tentatively, I bundled all of this up and sent it to the playtesters.

Our playtest groups are divided into three.  There are the die-hard CTA veterans who know this game system inside out.  There are the SFB veteran, who know the SFU inside out.  And there are the ‘others,’ either those who know both games or those who know neither.

It was the first two groups I was most nervous about.  What would they say?  How would they find their games going?  Would I have to delete everything and start all over again?

The first reports we got back were from the SFBers and they were universally good. The main comments were that while the mechanics were very different, the effect was very similar between SFB and CTA. Which, as you may recall, was exactly what we were aiming for.

Next, the CTAers weighed in and, again, the comments were good.  The new rules were much easier to understand and the final blockage on the time it was taking to play games was finally gone.  If anything, games of Star Fleet were now taking less time than any other version of CTA.

Means we can have bigger fleets, I thought :)

Anyway, I just wanted to give you all a run down on this section of the new rules, partly to showcase some of the changes that have been made but also to illustrate part of the design process and how we approach things.  Sometimes, far too rarely, a games designer might hit upon a rule that just works first time out (though Games Workshop’s Jervis Johnson would tell that games designer to murder his darling immediately!). Usually, you end up bouncing about from one bad rule to another before something finally clicks in your befuddled brain and the confusion clears into something a little more coherent.

So, there is every chance these rules may change again (I would be amazed if they did not get at least a little tweaking), but I think they illustrate these points well.  Their introduction also marked the point where I started to get the warm fuzzy feeling that tells a games designer ‘this might just be a good ‘un!’

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