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.


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