To Cloak or not to Cloak…

It really is the question.

Every playtester who tried out A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, without exception, started their games with every ship cloaked when it came to work on the Romulans. They were surprised when they did not just lose, but got absolutely hammered.

Part of it was that their opponents were already used to the fleets they were in charge of (such as the Federation and Klingons).  However, a great deal was that they had read the rules on cloaks, and decided that was the be all and end all of Romulan tactics.

Oh, there is so much more to them than that…

Now you see it...

It should be said that there are times when your entire fleet approaching under cloak is a good idea.  I recently played a game where two Snipes and a Battle Hawk (pretty much the smallest ships in the Romulan fleet) were up against a a Klingon D6 and D7, a mis-match if ever there was one, over a battlefield that had no terrain at all.  There was no way I would cross all that empty space without a cloak!

Oh, and for those wondering, I lost but took out the D6.  Would have got the D7 too, if I had not lost a string of initiative rolls towards the end…

... and now you don't!

On the face of it, cloaks look all kinds of awesome.  For every incoming hit, you roll a die and, on a 2 or more, the hit is completely ignored – it just flies off into empty space! If a hit does make contact, most will just make your shields shudder a little, making you practically invulnerable. You even get to use the Reload Special Action while cloaked, allowing you to bring more of those all important plasma torpedoes on line.

There are downsides, naturally.  And these are what most new Romulan players tend to gloss over! First, you can only move 6″ a turn which means, if you are not careful, your opponent will literally run rings round you, denying the crucial short-ranged plasma shot.  He will keep extending the distance until you get bored, frustrated, do something stupid – decloak and let fly with torpedoes at long range – and then he nails you with every weapon he can bring to bear.

You do, of course, have to decloak in order to fire, which is fine.  If you have popped up in the right place (out of arc ofmost return fire and close enough so your plasma torpedoes do not suffer from Energy Bleed), then your opponent will be panicking, dedicating as many phasers as he can to reducing the strength of your torpedoes, leaving little to fire back at you. The problem comes in the next turn, where you have to make a choice – rely on a handful of phasers while you reload for another attack or try to recloak in which case you don’t get to fire at all and have to weather an absolute storm of firepower with just 4+ Stealth to protect you (it doesn’t – generally speaking, Romulans have great shields but their hulls can take precious little damage).

All this firepower - and it can cloak!

What will be interesting will be the different tactics different Romulan players develop over the next few months.  When you spring out of a cloak, you do not get to move normally at all – instead, you can place your ship up to 6″ in any direction with a free turn.  And this has some interesting implications.  If thinngs have become up close and personal, you can completely wrong-foot an enemy, popping up behind him.  Or you can use that 6″ to pop up from behind a thin asteroid field (You thought I was behind the rocks? Ha!).

The goal, however, is to uncloak as close as you can to the enemy (ideally within 8″) so you can unleash the full power of your plasma torpedoes.  Even the humble Snipe carries 7 Attack Dice worth of these weapons – imagine rolling 7 dice against, well, any enemy.  One hit will seriously cripple or annihilate the shields of a heavy cruiser.  A second salvo will likely 0ut it out of the battle, at worst.  This is why I normally use Snipes in pairs…

My favoured tactics is to group Romulan ships in ‘hunting packs’ of 2 or 3 vessels and spread them around the battlefield as they close in to the enemy.  Decloak one pack and let a choice target have it but, crucially, just as it recloaks, uncloak another so instead of the enemy ganging up on the first, he finds he has to divert phasers to fend off another explosion of plasma.  Add, rince, and repeat.

Sometimes this tactic even works!

You’ll develop your own.  There are several playtesters who swear never to try to recloak once engaged, and this is certainly valid.  Romulan ships are very capable vessels with many that can go toe-to-toe with the heaviest Federation or Klingon ships.  For them, Cloak is just another trait, one that can be used as an aid but in no way entirely defines the ship.

In Other Star Fleet News
Our chaps in the casting facility have been working day and night (literally) to meet all your orders.  We are now looking at starting to ship A Call to Arms: Star Fleet on the week of the 12th, though gamers in the US may see the rulebook a week before that.

More Federation and Klingon ships will be up and available on the web site this week.

Work has already started on the first supplement for A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, due for releaee about this time next year, though we will have a couple of ‘mini’ releases before then.

The official UK launch at Dragonmeet on Saturday was a great success – many thanks for all those who took part in the demos, and we hope you enjoy the ships you picked up!

A few lucky mail order customers are going to be receiving a free Pocket Edition of A Call to Arms: Star Fleet.

High Energy Turns

There are several new Special Actions in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, allowing your ships to engage cloaking devices, overload photon torpedoes or send marines over to an enemy vessel via transporters.

My favourite, however, is probably High Energy Turn.

As has appeared in previous versions of A Call to Arms, this is a way to eke just a little more performance out of your ship, to bring its nose round a little further than is normaly possible, to turn a little tighter and hopefully wrong foot an enemy to bring more weaponry to bear.

Before this was always known as Come About, and upon a successful Crew Quality check (needing a total of 9, meaning an average ship needs to roll 5 or more), you could make one extra 45 degree turn or increase an existing turn by 45 degrees.  Nice, easy, simple.

High Energy Turns are a little bit different- and remember, in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, you don’t get a choice.  If you want to turn harder, a High Energy Turn is the only way to do it.

Like Come About, it can be done to create a new turn during movement or extend an existing one.  However, you do not just create/increase a turn by 45 degrees.  Oh, no. With a High Energy Turn, you can turn by any amount you wish.  It works like this.

Declare a High Energy Turn during a ship’s movement and, when it comes to the boosted turn, count how many extra 45 degree turns (or part of) you want to make.  For example, a Federation Heavy Cruiser makes a normal 45 degree turn, and then uses a High Energy Turn to make another three 45 degree turns so, in total, it turns round a complete 180 degrees, perhaps to surprise a pursuing Klingon with a salvo of photon torpedoes.

A Crew Quality check is made, but only with a target of 8.  It is easier to do a High Energy Turn than to Come About, with an average ship needing just 4 or more.  And if you make the check, success, the ship swings around, giving you new tactical options.

But if you fail…

A failed High Energy Turn means you do not turn any extra amount at all.  Furthermore, your Impulse Drives take an automatic critical hit, gaining a Critical Score equal to the number of extra 45 degree turns you were trying to make.  So, at best, if you did not push things too hard, your drives will take a hit and will need repairing if you want to get full mobility back.  However, you could almost cripple your ship by failing to pull off a truly ambitious turn.

So, is a High Energy Turn usually worth it? Well, yes – so long as you succeed!

New-Style Romulans

Today is a big day for Romulan fans – we unveil (decloak?) the designs for some of their latest warships, the third generation ‘Hawk’ series, intended to stand against any fleet from any other empire on at least equal terms.

SparrowHawk Light Cruiser

The most numerous of the ‘Hawks,’ the SparrowHawk can be found in most Romulan fleets, no matter who they are fighting against.  With 30 points of Damage and 24 Shields, the SparrowHawk could make a serious claim to actually being a Heavy Cruiser.  However, it lacks the phaser weaponry of Heavy Cruisers (though it retains a respectable amount, capable of all-round coverage), and is far, far more agile, able to keep up with many Frigates.

Added to all this, as with every Romulan ship, is the cloaking device and plasma torpedoes – three launchers in all, totalling a very nasty eight Attack Dice at short range. If the SparrowHawk is able to sneak up on an enemy, decloak, and unload with all weapons, you will find it certainly punches like a Heavy Cruiser! All this for a very reasonable 170 points (remember that it cloaks, and you will see this ship is quite the bargain!).

FastHawk Heavy Cruiser

The FastHawk is a development of the FireHawk, which was itself a development of the SparrowHawk above, and you can readily see the design influences.  However, the FastHawk is designed for very different duties to the ‘hold the line’ SparrowHawk.

FastHawk Underside

As one of the ‘fast’ cruisers in the game, it has the Fast trait which allows it to move further than most other ships, especially when it channels all power to its engines.  For 235 points (getting towards Battlecruiser territory), you get 28 Shields, 40 Damage and a very good turning circle (though it is not counted as being Agile). Plenty of phasers are mounted, including all-round coverage by phaser-3, which will prove to be a lifesaver when enemy drones start homing in.  It packs a serious wallop with two massive plasma torpedo launchers, combining at short range for eight searing Attack Dice.

Condor Dreadnought

Couldn’t cover the ‘new style’ Romulans without taking a look at this big ‘un – the Condor Dreadnought, one of the heaviest ships in the Romulan fleet list and a good showcase of what a little more than 300 points buys you in this game.

Condor Underside

Here, we are looking at 36 Shields and 56 Damage, though don’t expect it to turn with the usual Romulan grace (think more along the lines of a space cow, and you’ll be closer).  However, what it lacks in agility, it more than makes up for in hard hitting power.  A total of 14 phasers cover all fire arcs, meaning nothing can approach this ship without being targeted. Four plasma torpedo launchers combine to unleash a withering 12 Attack Dice of plasma nastiness at short range, but the ship designers thought that was just not enough. So, they added a fifth launcher, a truly massive weapon known as the type-R that adds another 7 Attack Dice at short range (it should be pointed out that each one of these Attack Dice carry the Seeking, Multihit D6 and Devastating +1 traits, meaning any hit against a naked hull is going to hurt).

All of this on a vessel that can be invisible most of the time, if you so wish.

So, changing your mind to a Romulan fleet, are you Admiral? :)

Pre-orders for the first wave of A Call to Arms: Star Fleet products will go up on the web site later this week (along with a very special offer that you will not want to miss). Before then we will be previewing other empires such as the Kzinitis and Gorns, as well as a few other ships in the Federation, Klingon and Romulan fleets.

Sub-hunting with Romulans

The Romulan fleet comprises three broad classes of ship.  First, you have the the ‘original’ ships, as seen in The Original Series.  These ships are based on (or actually are) pre-Warp designs that have been retrofitted to make them competitive.  Then, you have the Kestrels, Klingon ships bought and converted by the Romulans.  Finally, there are the latest vessels, often called the ‘Hawk’ series, that are good looking and extremely potent in battle!

All three of these classes appear in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, and all have various components in common.  All carry plasma toropedoes, for example, seeking weapons that automatically hit the enemy and do vicious amounts of damage (the drawbacks being they are best fired at near point-blank range, and can be neutralised by defensive fire – still, when an enemy gets overwhelmed and plasma smashes through his remaining shields, you will find his hull often boils away to nothing!). And all have the Romulan cloaking device that allows the ships to literally disappear from view.

Games against Romulan fleets really require you to ‘change gear’ and approach the battle differently than if you were fighting Klingons, Gorns, or anyone else.  We have sometimes referred to these games as ‘sub-hunts,’ where the Romulans are constantly testing defences and seeking holes in an enemy line, popping out briefly to launch a nasty plasma attack, then cloaking and retreating.

Of course, that is just one way of playing with the Romulans, and more experienced players may find it is better to approach an enemy under cloak, pick the right time to uncloak, and then stay visible for the rest of the battle, allowing plasma torpedoes to cycle as quickly as possible.

That said, it can be quite nerve-wracking when you are playing the Federation and you have to scan a planet that you just know has cloaked Romulans in the area, as you have to approach the danger zone on the enemy’s terms!

To round the cloaking rules off, we are producing ‘clear resin’ versions of every Romulan ship, allowing you to replace a painted model with one that is obviously cloaked, so you can see at a glance which ships in your fleet are doing what.  Plus, having clear ships on the table when they are cloaked is just insanely cool!

Anyway, onto today’s preview, and we are going to be taking a look at the ‘classic’ Romulan ships for now, that appeared in The Original Series, and some larger vessels that are based on the same technology.

Battle Hawk

The Battle Hawk is a good, solid ship for a starting Romulan ship.  Cheap as chips at just 120 points, yet carries two good-sized plasma torpedoes (few ships will be able to stop all of the damage from getting through from just one Battle Hawk, and if several gang up it just gets plain nasty), a decent amount of phasers and 24 Shields.  On top of that, of course, it can cloak and avoid everyone while it reloads its torpedoes!

Only paying 120 points, of course, there will be some downsides, principally the damage it can sustain – just 8 points, so if just a few phasers start slipping past the shields, then trouble is not usually far behind. Battle Hawks need to uncloak as a mob, unload on a prime target (think Battlecruiser or Dreadnought, don’t mess around with the smaller escorts) with massed plasma, then get out of Dodge fast, usually by cloaking again.

It is when Romulans try to cloak in the middle of battle that we have found they are the most vulnerable (hence experienced players not doing it too often) as while they are extremely safe while hidden, they spend a turn in transition where they cannot fire any weapons (and we have found drones are a choice weapon here, as the Romulans cannot even use a phaser-3 to stop them) and must take any incoming fire with just ‘half’ a cloak before they can fade from view. The Battle Hawk, at least, is helped in this as it has the Armoured trait, which creates twice as many painless ‘bulkhead hits’ as normal.

If, however, you are looking for a ship even more extreme than the Battle Hawk, try a Snipe – it has only 6 Damage and 20 Shields, but is as agile as a Klingon Frigate, and has an additional plasma torpedo (kicking out 7 Attack Dice in total!).  A real (shielded) eggshell armed with a hammer!

War Eagle

If you are looking for something larger, try the War Eagle. Just 20 points more than the Battle Hawk, it has 50% more Damage on its hull, and one massive plasma torpedo that, alone, matches all three launchers mounted on the Snipe – when that big ball of gas gets launched, not much is going to stop it getting through!  It also means the War Eagle has the ability to engage from range (as plasma torpedoes diminish in strength over distance), whereas ships like the Battle Hawk andm, especially, the Snipe are better off getting up close and personal.

The Romulan fleet will suit the player who likes to be sneaky – there can’t be anything better than a cloaking device for that – and enjoys delivering knockout attacks that can really smack another ship about in a single blow.  However, they also require caution, as all Romulan ships are vulnerable when trying to cloak and if you spend too much time hiding in a cloak, it just gives your enemy time to boost his shields back up to full strength, forcing you to start all over again.

However, a large Romulan fleet in expert hands is something to behold.  Wings of ships fade in, boil a heavy cruiser into space dust, and then fade out again.  As the enemy begins reacting to them and starts firing into empty space, trying for a luck hit, another group of ships decloak at short range, unload, and then disappear themselves.  A canny Romulan admiral will use this ability to keep an enemy off balance, forcing them to react to him, no matter what the Initiative Dice say that turn.

They are going to be a favourite for a great many players, I think – and dreaded by many more!

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.